climate change

As seas rise, communities can turn retreat into opportunity

Kristin Walker, project engineer for the USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Service, explains how the former home site is now being planted with native species to create a flood plain habitat.
Kristin Walker, project engineer for the USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Service, explains on Oct. 22 how the former home site is now being planted with native species to create a flood plain habitat.

Story and photos by Judy Benson

Retreat isn’t defeat.

It’s deliberately stepping back to make a better future.

“Retreat is very difficult, but it’s going to happen,” said A.R. Siders, assistant professor in the Biden School of Public Policy and Administration at the University of Delaware. “Wouldn’t it be better to have a managed process? It can be an opportunity to do something more exciting than elevating a few houses, and there are resources available.”

A national expert and keynote speaker at the “Managed Retreat in the Age of Climate Change” virtual workshop on Nov. 13, Siders challenged the audience of about 130 municipal and state land-use officials and others to rethink notions of what’s possible. Rising seas and more frequent flooding of coastal and riverine areas means getting people out of harm’s way is necessary, she said. But can also be a chance to improve our waterfronts for everyone.

Siders said she began focusing on how retreat can be done in an orderly, methodical way—rather than as a haphazard reaction to a disaster—after Superstorm Sandy in 2012. It’s the better alternative to the other options: avoidance, fortifying shorelines with concrete or accommodating rising seas by elevating properties, she said.

To begin the hard conversation with communities, Siders urged land use professionals to pose it as challenge to realize a positive vision for the future: “What do you want your city or community or coast to look like in 30 years? 100 years?

“I don’t want to see a coast that’s armored with sea walls, but I would love to see open beaches all the way from Maine to Texas, so everyone can access them. It won’t happen if we don’t plan for retreat,” she said.

The workshop was the latest in a series hosted by the Climate Adaptation Academy, a partnership of Connecticut Sea Grant and The Center for Land Use Education & Research (UConn CLEAR). Juliana Barrett, CT Sea Grant coastal habitat specialist, and fellow organizer Bruce Hyde, extension educator with CLEAR, emphasized that this workshop is considered the first in a series on managed retreat that will delve into this complex and important issue.

“We see this as just getting the conversation going,” said Barrett.

Hyde set the stage for the presentations with a story and slides from Connecticut’s past. After the 1938 hurricane destroyed a beachfront community in New London, the city acquired the property, razed what remained of the homes and turned it into a large public beach. Today Ocean Beach Park is one of the city’s jewels.

“This is an example of using managed retreat 60 years ago and it has been very successful,” he said.

Siders also noted that there have been more recent examples of successful managed retreat projects across the country, including 12 in Connecticut. Most of these have been small scale, however. At the same time, though, new homes are still being built in vulnerable areas. In Connecticut alone, she said, 478 new homes were built from 2010 to 2017 in a 10-year flood plain.

In the second half of her talk, Siders outlined the multiple issues that arise and kinds of expertise needed to carry out managed retreat. Planners must be mindful of income equity issues—not favoring high income over low income properties, for example—the layers of regulatory and financial considerations/ Also critical, she said, is keeping the process transparent and communication lines open between residents and government. Offering financial incentives, help with finding new homes and working through nonprofit groups to build trust are some of the strategies that might be used, she said.

After Siders, Attorney Marjorie Shansky addressed the legal issues of managed retreat. “Can we adapt policies and regulations to promote managed retreat?” she asked.

These could include mechanisms that favor living shorelines over shoreline hardening, enacting stricter coastal setbacks and buffers and limiting and prohibiting coastal development altogether. She noted that the Florida Keys will no longer issue new building permits after 2023.

Starting the discussion about reimaging a local coastline where people aren’t constantly in a futile fight with rising waters is a good first step, she said. But communities need to start doing more.

“We must move from planning to action,” Shansky said.

Two examples of that kind of action offered inspiration for what can be accomplished. In downtown Meriden, a $13 million project funded by various state and federal agencies has transformed a blighted, flood-prone area into a municipal park. Public Works Director Howard Weissberg, City Engineer Brian Ennis and Assistant Planning Director Paul Dickson took turns describing various aspects of what one of them described as “a flood control site first, a park second, and an economic development parcel third.”

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Virtual Managed Retreat in the Age of Climate Change Workshop

salt marsh
Image by Judy Benson, Connecticut Sea Grant

When talking about community response to climate change issues, retreat is the “R” word. But it is already happening in coastal states throughout the country, including here in Connecticut. Is it a good or bad idea? Will we be forced to retreat due to sea level rise in 30 years or 50 years? What does it mean to a community and how do we manage it?

This workshop is intended to begin the discussion about managed retreat in the face of climate change. Dr. AR Siders, a national expert in managed retreat, will provide a national perspective. Attorney Marjorie Shansky will speak on legal issues. Other speakers will focus on issues and examples related to retreat in Connecticut.
 We would like to hear what you think and what questions you have about managed retreat.
LOCATION: ONLINE
DATE: November 13, 2020
COST: Free
Program runs from 12:30 pm to 4:30 pm
To register click here.

Lesson on climate change and marshes created for high schools

salt marsh
Image by Judy Benson, Connecticut Sea Grant

UConn Professor Beth Lawrence collaborated with two high school teachers to create a salt marsh-climate change teaching module for high school students.

In the “Impacts of Climate Change on Long Island Sound Salt Marshes” module, students learn about the natural and anthropogenic impacts of climate change on salt marshes, delve into how scientists are studying the various impacts on salt marsh habitat, and gain a overview of different techniques for climate change research.

The module is suitable for ninth and tenth-grade biology or general science students as well as upper-level elective courses such as environmental science or marine science.

Connecticut Sea Grant support enabled Lawrence to collaborate with the high school educators to develop the inquiry- and evidence-based instructional materials about local climate issues.  Leveraging an ongoing Long Island Sound Study research project, they developed an interactive climate change module for high school students that integrates “Mystery Scientist” activities to highlight different avenues of inquiry and a case study on how sea level rise is altering coastal ecosystems associated with Long Island Sound communities.

The module is aligned with Next Generation Science Standards, providing evidence-based, student-centered instructional materials highlighting how global issues impact local environmental issues. The module is being made broadly available through various platforms to encourage adoption by high school teachers throughout the region.

Module materials can be downloaded here.

Original Post

Another Summer Chapter for a Climate Corps Student

By Sarah Schechter, UConn Class of 2021

In the fall of my sophomore year at UConn, I enrolled in EVST 3100 – “Climate Resilience and Adaptation: Municipal Policy and Planning.” This is a course about climate change that allows students to look at real world problems and learn how to solve them in a classroom setting. This course was followed by an independent study for the Climate Corps in the spring. Developing this background and experience with climate change, I was hired for a summer internship with UConn Extension and Connecticut Sea Grant. During the summer of 2019, I worked with Juliana Barrett on a video titled “Rising Waters: Planning for Flooding in Connecticut”. This video explains coastal and inland flooding and the impacts of climate change. Municipal officials and commission members viewing the video can use this information in planning for flooding in their communities. I traveled to sites on and around the Connecticut River as well as locations on the coast of Connecticut, and I visited historical societies in order to create a photobank of past floods as well as vulnerable areas and adaptations that are being made. This project allowed me to apply what I had learned about sea level rise and flooding through the Climate Corps, as well as expand my knowledge on the subject, which I will apply to future projects. 

Rising waters -Planning for flooding in CT video thumbnail

During the summer of 2020, I have been working with Juliana Barrett again, this time to complete a video about climate change, which will also be shown to municipal officials so that they can better convey the subject to their citizens. This summer internship was funded by The Rockfall Foundation and Connecticut Sea Grant. The video explains the science behind climate change. It discusses ways to adapt and mitigate issues associated with climate change as well. I have enjoyed working on this project as it has allowed me to learn more about how the climate emergency is impacting Connecticut, and I am excited to share this information with town officials and citizens within my home state. Throughout this internship, I also visited some sites along the Connecticut River, this time to take pictures of salt marshes, which are valuable, but fragile, ecosystems. The final product of this project is titled “Climate Change in Connecticut”.

 

Founders Memorial Park, Old Saybrook, CT
Founders Memorial Park, Old Saybrook, CT

As the summer of 2020 comes to a close, I have been contemplating what I can do next. I plan to utilize at least one of the videos I created throughout my internships as I write my honors thesis, which I will complete during the coming spring semester. My goal is to attend various town meetings and show one or both of the videos I created. I will survey the officials before and after viewing the videos, to gauge how understandable and useful the material is, and to find out how city officials plan to respond to climate change and/or sea level rise. I look forward to working on this project and continuing to expand my knowledge on the subject, while also educating others on the effects of climate change. 

Climate Change and Aquaculture in Connecticut’s Long Island Sound

Workers at Briarpatch Enterprises in Milford, CT, load and unload clams onto a machine that sorts and bags the shellfish according to size.Tessa Getchis, one of our Connecticut Sea Grant Extension educators, and David Carey of the Connecticut Department of Agriculture look at the challenges that climate change is creating for Connecticut aquaculture producers in this new report available from the USDA Climate Hubs. 

Marsh migration research paved way for new NOAA fellow

Mary Schoell
Mary Schoell spent two years researching this stand of cedar trees at Hammonasset as part of her master’s degree program at Yale. Judy Benson / Connecticut Sea Grant

Most visitors to Hammonasset Beach State Park in Madison, Conn., probably drive by the small stand of cedar trees along the main road without noticing the stark differences.

One group presents healthy deep green funnels pointing skyward. Adjacent is another group partially bare of needles. A few feet away is a clump of standing dead wood, spiny gray branches fully exposed.

The contrasting conditions in this short wooded stretch may be easy for beachgoers to overlook, but Mary Schoell has given it countless hours of attention over the past two years. She’s examined nearly every angle of the health and environment of the same stand of trees, using techniques of dendrochronology to measure growth from tree cores, then assessing impacts of water stress, soil types and elevation. With this data she pieces together a story of how encroaching salt water from sea level rise is affecting tree growth. What she learned there helped pave the way for the next phase in her career, as a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association digital coast fellow.

“I’ve been trying to understand the pace and the drivers that convert coastal forest into wetlands,” said Schoell, 27, who grew up in East Haddam and earned her undergraduate degree from UConn and her master’s from the Yale School of the Environment this spring. Between the degrees, she worked for three years for the Environmental Protection Agency’s Atlantic Coastal Science Division in Rhode Island as a contractor on a living shoreline project.

Nominated by Connecticut Sea Grant for the digital coast fellowship, Schoell is one of nine candidates nationwide chosen in 2020 for the two-year program.

“The NOAA Digital Coast Fellowship is relatively new and Mary is the first candidate from a Connecticut institution to receive one,” said Syma Ebbin, research coordinator for Connecticut Sea Grant. “We’re excited to see what she can do with this opportunity and how it contributes to her professional development as a coastal scientist.”

Schoell will begin her assignment in August, working out of the National Estuarine Research Reserve (NERR) on Prudence Island in Narragansett Bay in Rhode Island. There she will work on projects that tap her wetlands expertise to refine and compare different modeling approaches used existing to predict how and where salt marshes will migrate inland as sea level continues to rise. One well recognized model is called SLAMM (Sea Level Affecting Marshes Model). By bringing together modelers from throughout the country, she hopes to assess the potential for a standardized, national mapping tool.

Read more: https://seagrant.uconn.edu/2020/06/17/marsh-migration-research-paved-way-for-new-noaa-fellow/

Article by Judy Benson / Connecticut Sea Grant

Meet Sydney Collins: NRCA Intern

Sydney CollinsHello all! My name is Sydney Collins, and I am excited to announce my partnership with UConn Extension as a NRCA Intern for the Natural Resources Conservation Academy (NRCA) in Summer 2020. 

More about me, I am a rising sophomore at the University of Connecticut studying Environmental Science with a keen interest in Urban and Community Development. My love for the outdoors spawned from the beloved stream I regularly paddled around in growing up in the backwoods of Willington, CT. I was able to interact with a plethora of ecosystems right in my backyard and experience the beauty of the environment, that almost appears untouched by human influence.

This love soon turned into a passion when I uncovered the atrocities occurring to our planet, and thus the stream that I grew quite fond of. This was due to human dependence on fossil fuels to supply our ever growing energy demand and also the poor maintenance of our resources through dumping and pollution. I am fascinated by the intersection of social science and natural resources, particularly in the realm of environmental justice, to best curate human experiences founded on sustainable and accessible development. My engagement in organizations that address various local issues emphasize the importance of community-based initiatives, especially in reference to sustainability, hence my excitement to be involved in UConn NRCA. My interests are particularly focused on areas of food and energy production and how they influence the ever-dawning threat of climate change.

While I’m not interning at the office, I can also be found planting and plucking crops at a local farm in Coventry, where I work to better understand the farming practices that support the food we eat. I look forward to further engaging with my local communities at farmers markets to provide fresh grown vegetables, and thus decrease the carbon footprint of families shopping locally. When you’re not looking for a bite to eat, feel free to pop by the beautiful hiking trails of Vernon, where you can find me as a Trail Manager up-keeping the local landscape. 

I am so excited for all I have to learn at the “office” this summer through this distance internship, and all the wonderful workshops and community-initiated projects I have the pleasure to engage with. NRCA is a wonderful office, but we also would not be anything with the splendid engagement with local youth, volunteer adults, and professionals that bring great dedication to our programs. So here is to an amazing summer and all we have to learn!

Original Post: https://blog.nrca.uconn.edu/2020/06/11/meet-sydney-new-nrca-intern/

Green Farms Academy At UConn Environmental Action Day

Climate Change Challenge Winner Spotlight:
Greens Farms Academy

We were fortunate enough to have Greens Farms Academy’s Middle School Green Team attend our Environmental Action day event.

Here is a short video about their experience at the summit:

Find more at:

https://www.gfacademy.org/about/gfa-blog/single-post-gfa-blog/~board/sustainability-2019/post/cross-divisional-climate-action-planning

Summer Environmental Education Academy

man sitting at an Apple computerConnecticut educators are invited to participate in FE3: Facilitating Excellence in Environmental Education, Climate Simulation Workshop and Resources professional development program from July 14 to 16.

To meet changing health directives this workshop will be offered electronically from a.m. to 3 p.m. A flier for the Summer Environmental Education Academy can be found here.

This series for secondary, upper elementary, and university education professionals will focus on bringing understanding of climate change action to students through interactive model simulation using the EN-ROADS Simulator from MIT.

The three-day training will provide educators with integration of environmental resources into curriculum.  Participants will:

  • Receive a $100 stipend for your participation
  • Run climate action policy simulations for application with students.
  • Work with state scientists to understand local climate actions
  • Introduction to participation in the Climate Youth Summit for 2021
  • Support NGSS applications to weather, climate and system understanding for data use, argumentation and presentation aspects.
  • Obtain a library of resources to support your curriculum, including new climate materials & lessons

This series is open to all educators in the state of Connecticut.  Registration is required and can be completed electronically using this link.  For more information or to answer any questions please contact any of these state coordinators:

  • Susan Quincy: susan.quincy@ct.gov
  • Susan Robinson: susan.d.robinson@ct.gov
  • Beth Bernard: bbernard@ctwoodlands.org
  • Kristen Bellantuono: kristen.bellantuono@ct.gov.

The workshop is sponsored by the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection; the Connecticut Forest and Park Associationthe Connecticut Department of EducationProject WildProject WETConnecticut Sea Grant; and EN-ROADS.

Original Post by Connecticut Sea Grant: https://seagrant.uconn.edu/2020/06/04/summer-environmental-education-academy-announced/

Grant Will Fund Creation of Climate Impacts Video

beach houseAdapt CT, an outreach partnership of Connecticut Sea Grant and the Center for Land Use Education and Research (CLEAR), has been awarded a $2,978 grant to fund a student intern to work on a video about climate change in Connecticut. The video is intended primarily for municipal commission members.

The grant is one of 14 awarded to non-profit organizations for environmental projects and programs this month by the Middletown-based Rockfall Foundation. It will fund student salary and mileage costs for the project, set to begin in May and continue for one year.

Part of a new resilience training series created in partnership with PREP-RI, the video will provide current climate change information to help municipal board and commission members as they make decisions at the local level. Both coastal and inland towns as well as areas in and around the Connecticut River will be highlighted in the video to show climate change impacts on local natural resources and infrastructure, according to the Rockfall Foundation.

Read more…