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Sustainability Events

Repeated Hurricanes Reveal Risks and Opportunities for Social-Ecological Resilience to Flooding and Water Quality Problems

Danica Schaffer-Smith

  • Assistant Research Professor, The Nature Conservancy

Hurricanes that damage lives and property can also impact pollutant sources and trigger poor water quality. North Carolina has experienced 4 "500-yr" storms within 3 years. Under these conditions, wastewater treatment plants and sanitary sewer overflows can occur far inland, as well as coal ash spills, breaches of conned animal feeding operation waste lagoons, and fish kills; yet, in-situ sensors can go offline and hazardous conditions preclude field sampling needed to monitor surface waters.

Publicly available satellite data enables delineation of flooding over broad areas, which can aid in quantifying the extent of flood exposure and potential water quality impacts. In our recent study, we used satellite-based radar to map flooding from Hurricanes Matthew (2016) and Florence (2018), examined risks to water quality, and identified opportunities to improve resilience in light of social, ecological, and infrastructure vulnerabilities.

Our results suggest that current hazard mapping is inadequate for resilience planning; increased storm frequency and intensity necessitate modification of design standards, land-use policies, and infrastructure operation. Implementation of interventions can be guided by a greater understanding of socialecological vulnerabilities within hazard and exposure areas. Our methods can support future disaster response and recovery efforts, as well as long-range planning to improve resilience in flood-prone regions.

Danica uses remote sensing and geospatial analysis tools to address questions related to global change and natural resource management. She earned a BS degree in Environmental Science at the University of Redlands and an MS at University of California-Santa Barbara. With professional experience as a field biologist and environmental planner, she gained a keen awareness of the need to link science to policy and practice to promote biodiversity, ecosystem services and a high quality of life for communities. Danica completed a PhD in Environmental Science and Policy at Duke University, focusing on characterizing surface water extent and variability at important migratory shorebird stopover sites and assessing bird response to spatiotemporal habitat changes, in collaboration with Point Blue Conservation Science and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. As a NatureNet Science Fellow with The Center for Biodiversity Outcomes and The Nature Conservancy, her postdoctoral work examined the implications of more frequent and intense hurricanes for water quality and social-ecological resilience in North Carolina. Her current work investigates solutions for water quality and flooding issues under extreme events via the management of both human and natural infrastructure..

Join via Zoom.

This event is sponsored by the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning, Arizona State University.

Monday, September 14, 2020
2:00 - 3:00 p.m.