Climate Change and Adaptation Solutions for the US Northeast

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A map of the coastal waters of southern New England indicating the project’s geographic scope. The sea-level rise and water quality components are concentrated on Buzzards Bay, which lies between the Massachusetts south coast and Cape Cod and is identified with the black box in the left panel and enlarged in the right panel. The Buzzards Bay watershed is outlined in the right panel. The study region for climate change and fisheries component is displayed by the onshore-offshore set of red grid boxes (left panel) spanning from nearshore waters to the continental slope. The maps also highlight the location of different parts of the Pioneer regional ocean observation network (black dots; blue and green boxes) that is being built off southern New England as part of the NSF-funded Ocean Observatories Initiative and that will provide a link between our local and regional field work and the national oceanographic research community.

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» Presentation for MIT Knight Science Journalism Fellows
PI Scott Doney gives presentation to MIT Knight Science Journalism Fellows

Project Summary

While often discussed as a global phenomenon, human-driven climate change inherently affects people and the environment at regional and local scales. For a variety of reasons, the coastal boundary between the land and the sea will be especially vulnerable to ongoing and future climate change. Along the coast, highly productive terrestrial and marine ecosystems are intertwined with populous and economically valuable urban centers, as well as more rural, coastal communities with rich and long maritime heritage. Both natural and human-built systems are threatened by a combination of warming air and water temperatures, changes in rainfall and storm patterns, and rising sea level. Growing atmospheric carbon dioxide levels, at the heart of climate change phenomena, also cause ocean acidification that endangers many types of ocean plants and animals. Climate change and acidification overlay a host of more local, coastal issues including urbanization, wetland and habitat destruction, pollution, and over-fishing. 

The role of natural and social science in addressing these problems is varied and multi-faceted. Research contributes to identifying and quantifying climate change impacts, targeting and assessing the efficacy of adaptation strategies, and providing a framework for discussing trade-offs among possible solutions. For some coastal climate change issues, the underlying science is relatively well understood; in these cases, the path forward for the scientific community involves improved communication and engagement with relevant stakeholders including the general public, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), businesses and local, state and federal resource managers and policy makers. However, major unresolved science questions remain for other aspects of coastal climate change. In particular, these questions revolve around the effects of multiple climate-related stressors and other human factors occurring simultaneously (e.g., warming and acidification in conjunction with nutrient pollution).

This project pairs scientists from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) with regional stakeholder groups. Our work will integrate research and outreach efforts on three key and interrelated coastal ocean climate impacts that are affecting many coastal communities in Southern New England:

1)      sea-level rise and coastal flooding

2)      coastal water quality and ocean acidification

3)      ocean climate warming and fisheries

The project focuses specifically on the coastal waters of Buzzards Bay and adjacent ocean continental shelf off of southern New England, but many of the lessons learned will be applicable broadly to coastal communities of the Northeast and entire U.S. eastern seaboard. The three identified issues present both specific and general challenges for coastal communities of Cape Cod, the Massachusetts south coast, and Rhode Island that are shared by many other East Coast regions. These communities must develop strategies to deal in a comprehensive and integrated fashion with a range of changing of environmental conditions, each of which exhibits uncertain, long-term trends. The three themes are at different levels of maturity in terms of scientific understanding, public awareness, and decision support.

The research underlying the sea-level rise and coastal flooding theme is relatively well advanced, and the main challenge involves improved translation of the basic science related to the coastal inundation threat to reach end users, educate the public, and facilitate better decision making. Building from an existing citizen scientist monitoring network, the coastal water quality and ocean acidification theme expands new field sampling and synthesis capabilities to assess the impact of multiple stressors on coastal ecosystems, identify locations particularly vulnerable to climate-related change, and enable better long-term planning decisions to be made. The ocean climate warming and fisheries theme develops important connections between the commercial fleet, scientists, and decision-makers and expands our capability to cost-effectively monitor oceanography on the coastal shelf. 


January 2017: Check out our new publication on nitrogen loading, water quality, and climate change.

April 2016: The New Bedford Standard Times highlights our work in a feature article on coastal climate change!

August 2015: Check out the Coalition's blog post on our collaboration and water quality analyses!

August 2015: The first synthesis paper on coastal water quality, nutrient pollution, and climate change around Buzzards Bay is published as discussion paper in Biogeosciences.

June 2015: Water quality sampling with the Buzzards Bay Coalition Baywatchers program begins! Research Associate Jennie Rheuban and Research Assitant Shanna Williamson participate in water quality sampling for nutrients and carbonate system parameters. 

June 2015: PI Scott Doney is member of Curriculum Committee for Association of Climate Change Officers (ACCO) Training Bootcamp, Climate-103: The Basics of Sea Level Rise and Impacts on Coastal Assets & Infrastructure. This bootcamp was presented initially at ACCO Climate Strategies Forum, Washington, DC. 

June 2015: PI Glen Gawarkiewicz with summer student fellow Jacob Forsyth publishes a study in the Journal of Geophysical Research describing accelerated warming of the continental shelf off the northeast coast. 

April 2015: PI Scott Doney speaks about ocean acidification at the Northeast Coastal Acidification Network (NE-CAN) stakeholder workshop in Barnstable, MA. 

March 2015: Research Specialist Hauke Kite-Powell featured in Boston Globe article Rising acid levels in oceans imperil region’s shellfish.

February 2015: Research Specialist Hauke Kite-Powell from WHOI's Marine Policy Center gives testimony the National Caucus of Environmental Legislators (NCEL) event at the State House, organized by the office of Rep. Tim Madden. Several NCEL staff were in attendance, and ~two dozen legislators and staffers.

February 2015: PI Jeff Donnelly publishes study on historical hurricane activity in the AGU journal Earth's Future. 

February 2015: Partner Rachel Jakuba from the Buzzards Bay Coalition gives presentation to the Woods Hole Science and Technology Education Partnership about citizen science monitoring of Buzzards Bay.

December 2014: PI Scott Doney gives webinar to the Sustainable Adaptive Gradients in the Coastal Environment (SAGE) Program (, College of Engineering at Northeastern University, titled: "Climate Change and Adaptation Solutions for the Coastal Ocean along the US Northeast". 

November 2014: PI Scott Doney gives presentation in New Bedford, MA to the United States Power Squadrons Districts 12 & 14 titled Climate Change and Adaptation Solutions for the Coastal Ocean along the US Northeast

October, 2014: Research Assistant Shanna Williamson wins best poster prize in her session at the NOAA EPP conference at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore!

October 2014: WHOI sponsors the Woods Hole Research Center's event: Ocean Acidification and Southern New England: A Conference

October 2014: PI Jeff Donnelly gave a presentation open to the general public at the Snow Library in Orleans entitled "A Perfect Storm: The Collision of Tropical Cyclones, Climate Change and Coastal Population Growth". Approximately 100 people attended.

October 2014: PI Jeff Donnelly gave a talk at Massport about tropical cyclone risks and climate change which was attended by about 35 senior managers.

October, 2014- CFRF interns visit WHOI for CTD training. 

September, 2014 - PI Glen Gawarkiewicz and Frank Bahr give CTD demo on dock in Newport RI.  

Cape Cod Wave - WHOI Scientists receive MacArthur Foundation Grant

WHOI recieves funding from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

Project funded by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation

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Last updated January 6, 2017
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