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E-IPER Dissertation Defense: Austin Becker

Date and Time: 
Thursday, August 15, 2013 - 09:30
Y2E2 299
Event Sponsor: 
Emmett Interdisciplinary Program in Environment & Resources

Building seaport resilience for climate change adaptation: Problem identification, impacts assessment, and stakeholder strategies


A growing body of research indicates that climate change will continue to have a range of impacts on human-environmental systems. Attention must be given to reducing vulnerability and increasing resilience of these systems. Because climate change increases storminess and sea level rise, seaports are expected to be especially vulnerable. Many ports are constrained to environmentally sensitive and high-risk locations. They comprise a complex network of stakeholders that depend on their functionality. Understanding the dimensions of their vulnerability and the efficacy of current planning processes intended to increase resilience is important. This dissertation uses empirical evidence collected through surveys and case studies to examine how port stakeholders perceive climate impacts and vulnerability and to evaluate how well planning processes address these perceived concerns. Results suggest the following: 1) Globally, port planning practices do not consider climate change and the resulting storm impacts, though port managers recognize climate adaptation as an emerging challenge; 2) Impacts of a hurricane hitting the ports of Gulfport (MS) and Providence (RI) include direct damages, indirect costs, and intangible consequences, resulting in costs borne by all port stakeholders and society as a whole; 3) In Providence and Gulfport, stakeholders have not directly engaged in resilience planning for the port due in part to vulnerability assessments that focus on a scale inappropriate for the stakeholder cluster; 4) Stakeholders in Gulfport and Providence, both internal and external to the port itself, identified a wide range of strategies and all stakeholders may play a role in implementing them to build port resilience for the benefit of the port and society at large. These results indicate that all port stakeholders face increasing but different risks from the impacts of increased storminess. Today only port operators appear to hold responsibility for implementing strategies to build resilience, but their planning processes likely fail to address the broad range of stakeholder concerns. Moreover, the research suggests that all stakeholders are poised to implement at least some strategies that would build resilience for the port. With its focus on the initial steps in the process of preparing for a stormier future for maritime infrastructure and its stakeholders, this work contributes to the emerging field of climate change adaptation.