Coastal Resilience Approach

In this image, the Coastal Resilience DSS is displaying marsh habitat types (green and yellow areas) and piping plover habitat (red areas on barrier beaches). These and other data layers can be turned on and off as desired. Click image to enlarge.

In this image, the Coastal Resilience DSS is displaying marsh habitat types (green and yellow areas) and piping plover habitat (red areas on barrier beaches). These and other data layers can be turned on and off as desired. Click image to enlarge.

Enabling Users to Develop Solutions

Rather than presenting users with a pre-defined set of alternative solutions, the Coastal Resilience DSS enables community members and decision-makers to:

  • Visualize scientifically justifiable scenarios of inundation and flooding on their coast
  • Examine the potential ecological, social, and economic impacts of these changes
  • Identify reasonable alternatives that reduce losses and vulnerability of coastal communities for people and ecosystems

While the current version of the Coastal Resilience DSS does not explicitly quantify and analyze tradeoffs between planning objectives, this functionality could be added to the DSS.

Easy-to-Use, Transferable Technology

The target audience for the Coastal Resilience project is municipal government staff, local elected officials, community groups, and individual citizens. To ensure that the DSS would be easily accessible to this audience, the DSS collaborators decided to create a Web-based tool that operates in ordinary Web browsers with no special hardware, software, or skills. Built with widely available technology, the Coastal Resilience DSS could be transferred relatively easily to other geographic areas, target audiences, and computing environments.

Platform for Multi-Objective Planning

The Coastal Resilience project addresses two objectives related to inundation associated with sea level rise and storm surge:

  • Objective 1: Protecting people and infrastructure (coastal hazard mitigation)
  • Objective 2: Sustaining biodiversity

Example of map showing marshes, critical facilities, community vulnerability, and barriers to marsh migration. Click to enlarge image.

Example of map showing marshes, critical facilities, community vulnerability, and barriers to marsh migration. Click to enlarge image.


Because its mission is to sustain biodiversity, The Nature Conservancy seeks to protect significant coastal habitats from sea level rise and increased storm activity. In contrast, the main focus of the government and many stakeholders with respect to sea level rise is usually the protection of people and infrastructure from flooding and inundation. Normally these two objectives would be addressed completely separately. The Coastal Resilience project was designed to support decision making to address both objectives simultaneously.

Example of Balancing Objectives

Salt marshes play many important functions in the ecosystem, and they can protect people and infrastructure by absorbing storm surge. The Coastal Resilience DSS enables planners to take both  functions into account when making decisions about land use. Salt marshes may drown under rising seas unless they can migrate inland into adjoining undeveloped land. Multi-objective planning could ensure that salt marshes have the space they need to migrate, especially near neighborhoods vulnerable to flooding—simultaneously protecting biodiversity and reducing coastal hazards.

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