PhD project

Evaluating earthquake impacts on sea levels - and their implications for conservation and climate change

Resilient Shorelines is a case study that is investigating the fate and potential recovery of shoreline environments following a natural disaster event (the Canterbury Earthquake Sequence of 2010-11). A novel aspect of the study involves the assessment of similarities between relative sea level change induced by ground displacements, and the potential impacts of climate-induced sea level rise.

The research context is characterised by a  coastal rivermouth environment where there are a complex set of considerations for water resource management - even without the difficulties posed by sea level rise. Due to the popularity of the coast and waterways, there are often many values to be managed. As well as being a boundary zone between land and water, and fresh and saltwater systems, rivermouths and estuaries are incredibly popular places for human settlement and other intensive land uses. They also straddle jurisdictional boundaries and this requires a high level of integration between organisations with management responsibilities and other interested stakeholders. These characteristics are typical of low-lying coastal areas and contribute to their vulnerability with regards to natural hazardss and the physical effects of climate change.

To address the acceleration of climate change, strategic planning is becoming increasingly important and more urgent. It can be supported by methodologies to evaluate outcomes under different management scenarios. Applying a risk-based approach is also a useful to address the uncertainty inherent in predictions of future change.

Nature-based solutions for disaster recovery and climate change
Nature-based solutions involve working with nature to help solve societal challenges. Many coastal waterways are exposed to natural disaster events and the effects of climate change, and action is already needed to halt the degradation of biodiversity and natural resources in environments such as beaches, rivermouths, and riparian floodplains. To be effective in a changing world, environmental management must incorporate resilience to natural disturbance events as well as the incremental effects of climate change. This is encapsulated within the notions of natural disaster recovery, risk reduction, and climate change adaptation.The overarching goal is to identify actions that can prevent losses and are also achievable in a given situation.

Seeking and enabling synergies between the needs of nature and people provides a practical avenue to help improve the long term resilience of both natural and built environments. Ecosystem-based approaches based on the maintenance of ecosystems are one of promising and proactive directions we can take. These appraoches recognise the interconnectedness of things we value, especially those that are ultimately supported by nature and the natural world. In this context the synergies we are looking for often take the form of ecologically engineered land-use arrangements or infrastructure design, and 'natural solutions' to issues such as climate change. Identifying these synergies will become increasingly important for holistic policy and planning arrangements in what is now a fast changing world.

A significant component of the Resilient Shorelines study involves methodological development to support ecosystem-based research on aspects of the study system with the objective of making a contribution to the challenges discussed above. We have also engaged in collaboration with research partners and potential end-users as well as utilising participatory methods to incorporate local knowledge within the research approach. Together, these aspects have helpe to generate valuable concepts for the goal of maintaining healthy and resilient shorelines for now and the years to come. Articles elsewhere on this site describe some of the findings and examples of their application in the real world.

We are very grateful for the support and interest received from local stakeholders, many of of whom are making use the research results. The Resilient Shorelines study has also benefited from the support of many research partners, colleagues, funders, and volunteers. Thanks to everyone who has been involved!

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