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Pieces of Eight


Economic Impact of Coastal Disaster is Focus of Study

By Erica Plouffe Lazure

East Carolina University received a grant from the North Carolina General Assembly as part of a UNC System-wide economic development initiative.

The grant, totaling $288,694, was awarded to Stephen Culver, chair of ECU’s geology department and the co-leader of a project underway by ECU’s Institute for Interdisciplinary Coastal Science and Policy. Titled “N.C. Coastal Hazards: Economic Implications of Severe Storms and Sea Level Rise,” the project will draw from the expertise of 17 researchers from five North Carolina universities to study the economic impact of severe disasters on the state’s coast.

Culver said the geologists’ working knowledge of vulnerable spots along the coastline could help economists assess the impact of erosion to the communities around it. The aim is to anticipate where weak spots are along the coast and to determine the real-life impact of erosion caused by a major storm.

“The question geologists can pass onto our colleagues in economics is, if we know where the weak spots are along the coast; if we know an inlet could form between the ferry landing on Ocracoke and Ocracoke village, what is the impact of that?” Culver said.

A hurricane that creates an inlet in June, for example, would have a greater impact on tourism and the local economy than a hurricane in October. And salt water entering the sound as a result of a newly formed inlet, Culver said, could affect fisheries as well.

“We’re trying to put on the table scientific knowledge about the coastal environment to preserve what we have right now,” he said. “We hope to continue to add to the knowledge base we already have.”

More than $3.8 million was distributed across the 16-member campuses, funding 18 projects in all. They were chosen from 35 proposals submitted by 13 campuses, leverage more than $4.4 million in private and federal funding.

Researchers from ECU involved in the project include: Stanley Riggs, Dorothea Ames, D. Reide Corbett, David Mallinson, Michael O’Driscoll, J.P. Walsh (Geology); Tom Allen, Tom Crawford (Geography); Okmyung Bin, Mohammad Jahan-Parvar, and Craig Landry (Economics); Hans Vogelsong (Recreation and Leisure Studies); Nancy White (Coastal Studies Institute director); along with researchers from UNC – Wilmington, Appalachian State University, and Western Carolina University.

The UNC grants awarded focused primarily on proposals that would create new ideas and jobs in biotechnology, nanotechnology, optics, health care, natural products, environmental science, and marine science.

The awards also coincide with the recommendations released by the UNC Tomorrow Commission that included strong support for more direct University involvement in shaping the state’s economic future.


This page originally appeared in the Jan. 25, 2008 issue of Pieces of Eight. Complete issue is archived at