UNCW Professor Awarded $1.5 Million NSF Grant to Research the Future of Coastal Communities

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Dylan McNamara, associate professor and chair of the UNCW Department of Physics and Physical Oceanography, has been awarded a $1.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation to investigate ways public policies will affect both economic decisions and the coastal environment.

McNamara will lead an interdisciplinary team of researchers from seven universities — from geomorphologists to economists —to address the interactions of natural forces, economic decisions and public policies to determine how the environment and patterns of human settlement react to rising seas and related coastline changes. The NSF grant will fund the research for four years, and the project is already underway.

“Our team is excited to receive this grant as these resources will allow us to work together as a coherent multidisciplinary team, which is fundamentally necessary to understand the human-occupied coastline system,” said McNamara. 

Researchers from UNCW, Duke, UNC-Chapel Hill, the University of Georgia, The Ohio State University, East Carolina University and the University of Colorado will create and investigate computer modeled coastal communities similar to those found along U.S. East and Gulf Coast barrier islands.

“We are heading into a critical phase where coastal communities will have to make important decisions about how they are going to adapt to the future,” McNamara said. “We are hoping we can inform some of that policy. The stakes are high for communities along every coastline, as the recent storm tragedies highlight. Our goal is to understand the complex dynamics at play along human-occupied coastlines. Rather than reactively dealing with a disaster event, we aim to proactively understand the dynamics that so often lead to disaster. 

The results of the team’s research will provide insight into how real estate markets respond to complex changes in environmental conditions, public policies, scientific knowledge, and individual attitudes and values. Research is a key priority of the university’s Strategic Plan.

“Human and natural environment interactions are very complex, highly interconnected, and directly affect how erosion and storms impact physical surroundings,” said Ron Vetter, associate provost for research and dean of the Graduate School at UNCW. McNamara “has assembled an impressive team of scientists from several different academic fields” to study coastal systems, he added.

-- Venita Jenkins


Dylan McNamara

The National Science Foundation’s announcement can be found at, alongside Dr. McNamara’s abstract entitled “Climate Change Adaptation in a Coupled Geomorphic-Economic Coastal System.”