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NOAA Grant Will Fund UNH Study Of Coastal Roadway Resilience

Kim Reed

Researchers at the University of New Hampshire received a $1.8 million grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to study the ways increasing water hazards are damaging roadways that serve coastal communities.

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Summer storms caused major damage to roads and bridges across around 20 New Hampshire towns this July, which was one of the wettest months on record in the state.

Scientists say that climate change will drive increased precipitation and more frequent extreme weather events in New England, along with increased sea level rise.

Even a 1.7-foot rise in sea levels would cause flooding for five miles of New Hampshire roads, the Rockingham Planning Commission found in a 2015 report. A 2019 state assessment found that in the most likely scenario, water levels on the coast of New Hampshire would rise one to three feet by 2100.

The team of researchers will use field data, historical information and models to study how water damages roads. The project will help determine what causes roads to fail and how communities can make their roadways more able to withstand high tides, sea level rise, groundwater, and extreme weather going forward.

Working with communities is an important part of the study, lead researcher Jo Sias said. Throughout the project, her team will develop tools for local officials to use as they make decisions about how to adapt to increasing water threats and become more resilient to the effects of coastal hazards.

“It’s putting tools into the hands of folks so they can make the decisions on what can be done and how best to spend resources to keep the transportation networks open,” Sias said.

UNH will work with the University of South Alabama and the Rockingham Planning Commission to study two distinct coastal regions with diverse geographic and geologic contexts — the northeast coast of New Hampshire and the southeast coast of Alabama.

Mara Hoplamazian reports on climate change, energy, and the environment for NHPR.

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