PhD Thesis Defense: Emma Cutler

Thursday, July 18, 2019, 10:00am

Rm 201 (Rett's Rm), MacLean ESC

“Analysis and Tools for Climate Change Adaptation and Resilience Planning”


Climate change presents a wide range of risks to human communities in the United States, including extreme weather events and sea level rise, with associated coastal erosion, flooding, and inundation. Here, I present a set of new tools and recommendations for considering systemic risk and community disaster resilience in climate adaptation decision-making at the federal level. The first recommendation of this thesis is to eliminate the word “protect” from the scientific discourse on climate change, and I present evidence from the literature that continued use of the word “protect” may be maladaptive. To assist with the transition away from so-called protective measures, I develop a dynamic shoreline model that can be used as a screening tool for beach nourishment projects, which reconstruct eroded beaches and dunes to mitigate coastal hazards. With minimal data and computational requirements, the model estimates the frequency of nourishment episodes necessary to maintain a given level of hazard reduction and can, therefore, help inform the decision of whether to pursue higher cost life-cycle shoreline modeling studies or to, instead, invest resources in other coastal adaptation options. The shoreline model is then coupled to an economic model of coastal development, and discrete dynamic programming is used to evaluate trade-offs between beach nourishment and managed retreat in human-coastal systems over timescales ranging from decades to centuries. Finally, to better understand where climate impacts may be most disruptive, I use regression analysis to predict spatial variation in property damages and disaster declarations following extreme weather events. Using county-level social, economic, and environmental data together with observed disaster impacts, I develop a top-down community resilience indicator. The models and recommendations in this thesis are intended to improve risk communication and provide new frameworks and insights for including systemic impacts of climate change in federal adaptation decisions and resilience planning.

Thesis Committee

For more information, contact Daryl Laware at