Climate Change Adaptation and Ecosystem Service Resilience in Northeast Coastal Communities: Quantifying Economic Values and Tradeoffs for Regional Decision Support (Regional)

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Robert Johnston Clark University Principal Investigator
Adam Whelchel The Nature Conservancy Co-Principal Investigator

Students Involved:

Christos Makriyannis Clark University
Liuyang Yao Clark University

The proposed project will develop rigorous social science methods that, when integrated with natural science data and scenarios from Coastal Resilience and supplementary sources, will enable users to evaluate economic benefits, costs and tradeoffs of adaptation strategies. Unlike incomplete estimates based solely on infrastructure and engineering costs, the proposed results will incorporate a more comprehensive perspective including ecosystem service values provided by vulnerable coastal ecosystems, yielding new mechanisms to inform adaptation that generates sustainable benefits. The project engages with partners seeking to assist coastal communities with hazard adaptation to ensure that results will have immediate impact. Outcomes will serve as models for communities region-wide facing similar hazards.


Project objectives include: (1) building upon natural and socioeconomic data in the extant Coastal Resilience platform, adapt economic frameworks developed to quantify ecosystem service values for application to coastal hazard adaptation in pilot communities; (2) coordinate biogeophysical data with choice experiment modeling to quantify benefits/costs related to changes in ecosystem services and other outcomes realized by the public under alternative scenarios; (3) evaluate implications for adaptation benefits/costs and test hypotheses on: (i) the magnitude of ecosystem service values, (ii) links to biogeophysical conditions, and (iii) differences across communities and implications for regional adaptation; (4) coordinate with partners on communication and extension to inform local/regional adaptation.


The project will adapt established stated preference valuation frameworks to biogeophysical and socioeconomic data within Coastal Resilience (, reflecting adaptation scenarios in Old Saybrook and Waterford, CT. Grounded in these scenarios and data, economic values will be estimated using survey-based choice experiments that quantify values and tradeoffs for ecosystem services and other natural/socioeconomic outcomes, revealed through households’ voting choices over multi-attribute adaptation alternatives. Results will provide a comprehensive perspective on economic benefits, costs and tradeoffs of adaptation scenarios, including effects on ecosystem service values. Results from pilot communities will be combined to assess implications for local and regional adaptation, with hypothesis tests distinguishing between community-specific versus regionally-transferrable patterns. Combined with workshops, engagement, and communication leveraging multiple partners, the project will provide a practical, regional perspective on economic consequences of adaptation options and ecosystem service resilience in Northeast coastal communities.



Northeast regional project provides insight into how two coastal Connecticut towns view climate change adaptation

Researchers funded by the Northeast Sea Grant Consortium developed and used valuation tools to estimate the non-market economic benefits of alternative approaches to coastal adaptation in the towns of Waterford and Old Saybrook, Conn.
Relevance: Hazards related to a variable and changing climate are a challenge facing coastal communities. Strategies to address these challenges involve tradeoffs between development, ecosystem health, costs and community needs. In order to evaluate these tradeoffs, a comprehensive approach that includes social science methods integrated with natural science data is needed.
Response: In 2015, researchers funded by the Northeast Sea Grant Consortium focused on surveys, estimation of models, and development of the final valuation tool to estimate non-market economic benefits of alternative approaches to coastal adaptation. The survey's goal was to understand residents' attitudes concerning coastal storms and flooding, and priorities, preferences and values related to the protection of built infrastructure and natural resources. Survey data also enabled estimation of benefit functions predicting the non-market value of coastal adaptation alternatives, and the degree to which residents would support or oppose these alternatives in a town vote.
Results: Results of the surveys provide insight into the way that Waterford and Old Saybrook residents understand the risks facing their town, their preferences for how those risks should be addressed, and their willingness to pay additional taxes/fees for different types of adaptation programs. Results suggest that residents perceive a growing sense of urgency regarding coastal hazard mitigation and are willing to support actions to reduce the associated risks. While results show the value that residents place on the protection of coastal structures (homes), residents are particularly concerned with – and willing to pay for – programs that protect public natural resources such as beaches and coastal marshes. There was less concern with effects such as road flooding.


Sea Grant developed a tool to identify and prioritize hazard mitigation actions in two Connecticut communities
A research project funded by the Northeast Sea Grant Consortium provides non-market valuation tools that can be used to forecast the economic benefits of alternative coastal adaptation strategies in Old Saybrook and Waterford, Conn. The tool enables users to identify the types of hazard mitigation actions that would provide the greatest value to – and would be most supported by – Old Saybrook or Waterford residents. Workshops are being scheduled in both target communities. These workshops will present project results to community leaders and stakeholders, and discuss the implications of these results for coastal adaptation choices facing each community. The goal will be to help community leaders and stakeholders better understand the values and preferences quantified by the research project, and the implications of these results for the type of adaptation that would be most beneficial in each community.


Dialogue on Coastal Hazards and Adaptation Started in Two Coastal Communities
Working to assess the vulnerability of Northeast coastal communities to hazards from a changing climate and evaluate how communities can best adapt to these vulnerabilities, outreach efforts to date have fostered important dialogue on the issue of climate and extreme weather preparedness in two coastal communities in Connecticut, Waterford and Old Saybrook.