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A University of Central Florida researcher is part of a new, nearly $20 million award from the U.S. National Science Foundation that will develop a Megalopolitan Coastal Transformation Hub.

The hub, known as MACH, will be led by Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, and will involve multiple universities and experts from across disciplines.

The project, under NSF’s Coastline and People program, aims to create climate-resilient decision-making frameworks to equitably support coastal communities. It will focus on the New York City, through New Jersey, to Philadelphia megalopolis region with results expected to be applicable to other megalopolis regions. A megalopolis is a heavily populated area that contains multiple metropolitan areas.

NSF’s Coastlines and People program supports diverse, innovative, multi-institution awards that are focused on critically important coastlines and people research that is integrated with broadening participation goals.

Thomas Wahl, an assistant professor in UCF’s Department of Civil, Environmental and Construction Engineering, is one of the senior personnel members of the project. UCF will receive about $1 million of the award, and Wahl’s group will work on analyzing co-evolving hazards, including sea level rise, storm surges, compound flooding and coastal erosion, and how these will be affected by climate change in time and space.

Wahl says the information will be absorbed by other project partners to assess the impacts to society and investigate different adaptation strategies and timelines in close collaboration with local stakeholders.

MACH will be led by Robert Kopp, a climate scientist, geobiologist, and climate policy scholar with Rutgers University, and will include co-investigators from Columbia University, University at Albany, Tulane University, Clark University, Montclair State University, and Carleton College. The project will involve experts from fields including climate and sea-level science, impacts and adaptation, geomorphology, urban planning and design, engineering, ethics, economics, public policy, and decision analysis.

Wahl will bring his expertise in understanding atmospheric, oceanic and human engineering factors related to coastal hazards, such as sea level rise and flooding, to the project.

“It’s a great honor to be part of such a big interdisciplinary team with world-leading scientists, and I look forward to these new collaborations and making real impact in helping communities to manage their climate risks,” Wahl says.

The MACH project will study, for example, how high social vulnerability households understand and respond to hazards, how these households interact with housing and insurance markets, and how natural-human system dynamics impact municipal fiscal capacities to manage climate risks.

“We have to understand the dynamics of how humans and the coastline interact in such complex, urbanized regions so that we can thrive despite rising sea levels and intensifying heat and rainfall, and take advantage of new opportunities like offshore wind,” says Kopp, director of the Rutgers Institute of Earth, Ocean & Atmospheric Sciences and professor in the Department of Earth & Planetary Sciences. “The lessons we learn here should have application to urban megalopolises around the world.”

The project will also work to broaden participation in the STEM workforce by engaging community college students and faculty in community-engaged research experiences and in the dissemination of results locally through research symposia at community colleges.

Additionally, MACH will train a new generation of leaders, who are currently students, postdocs, junior faculty, and professionals in tools, concepts, and professional skills. For example, filmmakers and undergraduate students will produce documentary films to share compelling stories about climate risk and its management.

The project will be initially funded by the NSF with $7.9 million for the first two years, with the remaining funds to be awarded following annual progress reports on the research and results.

Wahl earned his doctorate in civil engineering from the University of Siegen, Germany, and joined UCF’s Department of Civil, Environmental and Construction Engineering, part of UCF’s College of Engineering and Computer Science, in 2017. He is known for his work looking at coastal risks around the world. Wahl has served as a contributing author to the 6th Assessment Report by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and has numerous publications in journals such as Nature Climate ChangeNature CommunicationsNature Scientific Data, and Science Advances. He is also a member of UCF’s National Center for Integrated Coastal Research and Sustainable Coastal Systems faculty cluster.