“Blood, sweat and tears” earn a $1.5 million grant for UNCW’s Dr. McNamara


Genevieve Guenther

Tyler Newman, Staff Writer

Dr. Dylan McNamara, Associate Professor at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, has recently been awarded $1.5 million in grant funding from the National Science Foundation.

A grant of $1.5 million from the National Science Foundation was recently awarded to UNC Wilmington’s Dr. Dylan McNamara, associate professor in the Physics and Physical Oceanography Department.

The grant is expected to bring together a team to conduct research and investigate coastal environments as the sea levels rise and environments change. Coastal communities will be modeled using computer software to help draw similarities to East and Gulf Coast locations.

While public policy plays a role in the research, the main focus will be investigating the changing coastlines that come as a result of climate change.

“The overarching umbrella is understanding how the coastlines are going to evolve in the face of climate change, and everything associated with that,” Dr. McNamara said. “The physical stuff, the economics… and we are hoping that part of the outreach of what will happen once we do the science is that we will be able to make inroads with actual policy suggestions so that people who are actually out making decisions about what to do along the coastline will understand the science enough to change and alter their policies, if necessary.”

There are two main communities upon which Dr. McNamara plans to collect data: Nags Head, North Carolina and Ocean City, Maryland.

While the project is far-reaching in scope, its impacts will be felt in Wilmington and surrounding coastal communities, as the research aims to bring new information to the ongoing topic of sea level rise and how it effects towns and cities up and down the coastline of the United States.

“Absolutely, yeah. Wrightsville Beach for sure. Carolina Beach. Everywhere that’s sort of low-lying and facing rising sea level.” Dr. McNamara said, in reference to the research’s potential impact on local communities.

Hurricanes are also possibly involved in the upcoming research.

“Hurricanes are going to play a role. We will be investigating how those locations are going to evolve as the rate of sea level rise is increasing, and also as the storm climate changes,” Dr. McNamara said. “We will explore things like hurricane frequency, how often you get hurricanes, [how often they stay] the same as [they’ve] been historically, what if it changes? So we’ll definitely look at those kinds of things as well.”

According to some sea level rise predictions, parts of New Hanover County may be inundated more frequently by water over the coming decades.

“There are places in Wrightsville Beach, like where I go to the beach with my family, that’s about one and a half meters above sea level. So there are some worst-case scenarios where that will be water level in about fifty years. If that’s water level in fifty years? That’s a problem,” Dr. McNamara said.

He also spoke on locations up and down the East Coast that are currently threatened by sea level rise, including Miami, Florida and Norfolk, Virginia, the latter of which is home to numerous military installations that are being threatened by sea level rise.

Dr. McNamara’s project abstract, listed on the National Science Foundation’s webpage, lists this:

“This project will analyze the ways in which coastal processes and economic decisions about land use and coastal engineering interact to determine the nature and timing of adaptation to climate risk. It addresses the interactions of natural forces, economic decisions, and public policies over long time horizons to determine how the built environment and patterns of human settlement react to rising seas and related coastline changes.”

“We’ve [McNamara and his team] been working on this stuff for a long time. We’ve kind of in a way formed a super team, my little team and another team, we got together,” Dr. McNamara said. “The project funding lasts for four years, so that’s the amount of time that we’ll have the resources to spend on going out and getting the data, hiring the people we need to hire, like the graduate students, the post-docs. Traveling to the conferences and doing those kinds of things.”

While the project is expected to last four years, Dr. McNamara does not seem to plan on shifting his focus when it is over.

“But the work won’t stop when the grant ends,” he said. “For the good part of my career, I’m sure I’ll be doing stuff related to how the coastlines are going to deal with climate change.”