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News Release 13-171

NSF awards first coastal sustainability grants for research on world's most populated areas

In wake of storms such as Hurricane Sandy, grants will lead to better management of coastal environments

House sinking into sand by a coast

Coastal systems are crucial to regional and national economies.

September 27, 2013

This material is available primarily for archival purposes. Telephone numbers or other contact information may be out of date; please see current contact information at media contacts.

More than half the world's human population lived in coastal areas in the year 2000; that number is expected to rise to 75 percent by 2025.

With our large footprint in coastal sands--and in the wake of severe storms such as Hurricane Sandy--how do we co-exist with our coastlines? How do we use them sustainably?

A sustainable world is one in which human needs are met equitably, without sacrificing the ability of future generations to meet their needs. The National Science Foundation (NSF)'s Science, Engineering, and Education for Sustainability investments aim to address this challenge.

NSF's coastal SEES program is focused on the sustainability of coastal systems: the swath of land closely connected to the sea, including barrier islands, wetlands, mudflats, beaches and estuaries, as well as coastal cities, towns, recreational areas and maritime facilities; the continental seas and shelves; and the overlying atmosphere.

NSF's coastal SEES program has funded its first awards for studies of coasts in the U.S. and around the world. The 11 awards total $13.1 million.

Coastal systems are crucial to regional and national economies. They host human-built infrastructure and provide ecosystem services that sustain our well-being, says David Conover, director of NSF's Division of Ocean Sciences.

"We benefit from coastal environments for enjoyment, housing, food, industrial uses and commerce," says Conover. "In the process, however, we alter them physically, chemically and ecologically."

"These changes influence and interact with natural variability, extreme events and long-term directions to affect the system as a whole, including the benefits humans derive."

We need to better comprehend this coupled human-natural system, he says, so we might make better decisions about its future.

Toward that end, NSF's new coastal SEES projects address topics such as developing high-performance green infrastructure to sustain coastal cities; sustainability of the largest estuary in the U.S., Chesapeake Bay; planning for the hydrologic and ecological effects of sea level rise on coastal water resources; brine discharge from desalination plants; achieving sustainable urban estuaries; and the resilience of coral reefs.

2013 Coastal SEES Awards

Patricia Culligan, Columbia University: Coastal SEES (Track 2), Collaborative: Developing high performance green infrastructure systems to sustain coastal cities

Wayne Geyer, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution: Coastal SEES (Track 2), Collaborative: Toward sustainable urban estuaries in the anthropocene

Thomas Fisher, University of Maryland Center for Environmental Sciences: Coastal SEES (Track 2), Collaborative: Improving Chesapeake Bay water quality by creating sustainable coastal watersheds

Andrew Pershing, University of Maine: Coastal SEES (Track 2), Collaborative Research: Resilience and adaptation of a coastal ecological-economic system in response to increasing temperature

Christopher Hein, College of William & Mary Virginia Institute of Marine Science: Coastal SEES (Track I), Collaborative: Sediment Supply in a Regime of Accelerated Coastal Erosion (SedS-RACE): Paleo-perspectives, anthropogenic influences and future challenges

Carl Hershner, College of William & Mary Virginia Institute of Marine Science: Coastal SEES (Track 1), Collaborative: Chesapeake Bay sustainability: Implications of changing climate and shifting management objectives

Sally Holbrook, University of California-Santa Barbara: Coastal SEES (Track 1), Collaborative: Adaptive capacity, resilience, and coral reef state shifts in social-ecological systems

Jonathan Martin, University of Florida: Coastal SEES (Track 1): Planning for hydrologic and ecological impacts of sea level rise on sustainability of coastal water resources

Steven Murawski, University of South Florida: Coastal SEES (Track 1): Novel approaches to understanding human use patterns and mobility for coastal natural resources management

Adina Paytan, University of California-Santa Cruz: Coastal SEES (Track 1): Brine discharge from desalination plants--Impacts on coastal ecology, public perception, and public policy

Tamara Ticktin, University of Hawaii: Coastal SEES (Track 1): Understanding the links between local ecological knowledge, ecosystem services, and community resilience


Media Contacts
Cheryl Dybas, NSF, (703) 292-7734, email:

The U.S. National Science Foundation propels the nation forward by advancing fundamental research in all fields of science and engineering. NSF supports research and people by providing facilities, instruments and funding to support their ingenuity and sustain the U.S. as a global leader in research and innovation. With a fiscal year 2023 budget of $9.5 billion, NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 colleges, universities and institutions. Each year, NSF receives more than 40,000 competitive proposals and makes about 11,000 new awards. Those awards include support for cooperative research with industry, Arctic and Antarctic research and operations, and U.S. participation in international scientific efforts.

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