Johnston receives grant for research that will help protect Northeast coastal communities

Clark University Professor of Economics Robert Johnston, director of the George Perkins Marsh Institute, was recently awarded a $199,947 grant from the Northeast Sea Grant Consortium for his project titled “Climate change adaptation and ecosystem service resilience in Northeast coastal communities.” The grant will support his research on the vulnerability of Northeast coastal communities to hazards from a changing climate and how communities can best adapt to these vulnerabilities.

These hazards include sea level rise and the increasing magnitude of storm-related floods; coastal communities are beginning to grapple with the realities of adapting to these threats and seek information to help them in their efforts. Johnston’s team will develop an economic valuation component to accompany the Nature Conservancy’s Coastal Resilience modeling and visualization tool.  The project will quantify the benefits realized by communities under alternative adaptation scenarios, and will give particular attention to ecosystem-based adaptation.   This form of adaptation relies on the natural capacity of marshes, dunes and other natural areas to reduce flooding and provide other ecosystem services.  The information gathered can help decision-makers better protect natural resources and human populations in these communities.

“This project will help communities plan for sea level rise and coastal storms in a way that is most beneficial to the public.   This requires strategies that  protect homes and infrastructure, but that also recognize the benefits that the public receives from natural areas such as beaches and salt marshes,” Johnston explains.

Johnston’s research will focus on selected coastal communities in southeastern Connecticut. Results for each community will provide a comprehensive perspective on economic benefits, costs and tradeoffs of alternative adaptation scenarios, including effects on the ecosystem.

Prof. Johnston’s research interests include valuation of non-market resources and ecosystem services, benefit transfer and meta-analysis, and the management of aquatic and coastal systems.  He has also conducted significant work in fisheries economics, and currently serves on a National Research Council Committee on Evaluating the Effectiveness of Stock Rebuilding Plans under the Fishery Conservation and Management Reauthorization Act. His recent research projects address such topics as the use of meta-analysis for non-market benefit transfer and the coordination of economic and ecological models to evaluate aquatic ecosystem restoration. In addition to his grant-funded research, he works closely with international organizations, government agencies and non-profit organizations to assist in the appropriate use of economic information to guide environmental and natural resource policy development.

The Northeast Sea Grant Consortium awarded a total of $919,695 in grants for new research projects focused on the human relationship to coastal and marine ecosystems. The research grants were selected based on their merit and importance to the region. The funding is awarded to Sea Grant programs by the U.S. Department of Commerce, through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Founded in 1887 in Worcester, Massachusetts, Clark University is a small, liberal arts-based research university addressing social and human imperatives on a global scale. Nationally renowned as a college that changes lives, Clark is emerging as a transformative force in higher education today. LEEP (Liberal Education and Effective Practice) is Clark’s pioneering model of education that combines a robust liberal arts curriculum with life-changing world and workplace experiences. Clark’s faculty and students work across boundaries to develop solutions to contemporary challenges in the areas of psychology, geography, management, urban education, Holocaust and genocide studies, environmental studies, and international development and social change. The Clark educational experience embodies the University’s motto: Challenge convention. Change our world.