November 18, 2021

Interview with Professor Ann Bostrom, Co-Principal Investigator at Newly Established Cascadia CoPes Hub

The National Science Foundation (NSF) funded a multi-institutional team (the Cascadia Coastlines and Peoples Hazards Research Hub, or Cascadia CoPes Hub) to advance hazards sciences and increase coastal resiliency in Pacific Northwest communities across Northern California, Oregon, and Washington. UW Evans School Professor Ann Bostrom serves as a co-principal investigator. Here she elaborates further on how the hub strives to increase communities’ adaptive capacity and mitigate devastating impacts from natural hazards like earthquakes and tsunamis. Key to this work is engaging local communities as a part of scientific research and design. A list of Cascadia CoPes Hub coalition members can be found at the end of the interview, learn more and stay up to date with hub activities at their website here.

Why was the Cascadia CoPes Hub Formed?

We’re responding to needs identified locally, regionally, and nationally for improved coastal resilience, particularly in Cascadia, which stretches from Humboldt and Del Norte Counties in California to the Salish Sea. We face a confluence of coastal hazards that include not only three types of earthquakes, but also tsunamis, landslides, and of course sea level rise, changing patterns of storminess, and the increasing risks of intense precipitation due to climate change that can have compounding effects. Concerns about these risks and calls for increasing research on coastal resilience were clearly articulated in the 2017 Ruckelshaus Center Washington State Coast Resilience Assessment report, and the Oregon Resilience Plan of 2013.

The hub also responds to a suite of grand challenges identified in recent years by the National Academies and others, calling for better understanding of the causes and consequences of topographic change, along with more systematic research and better understanding of inclusive science with community engagement, and science communication. We’re grateful to reviewers and NSF for recognizing the value of these scientific endeavors and co-production of science the hub plans in response to these challenges.

What groups live along the Cascade coast? What are some of the environmental issues (and consequences) that our region collectively, and these communities specifically, are facing? 

Coastal areas in Cascadia are incredibly diverse! As noted in the Ruckelshaus report’s executive summary, but applicable to all of Cascadia: “The Washington coast and coastal communities are at an extraordinary confluence of cultures, unique ecosystems, influences, and potent threats. The coast is home to several tribes, is a gateway to iconic natural treasures, and the people are stewards of distinctive ecosystems that support shellfish growing fishing, cranberry growing, and timber production.” Intra- and inter-community disparities in residential longevity, economic precarity, and political exclusion are extreme, leading to differences and large variations in hazard preparedness.

Most communities on the Pacific Coast of Cascadia, and many on the Salish Sea, are rural and easily isolated—geographically, economically, and culturally—from urban cores. These communities have maintained place-based identities and cultures, and their stewardship results in natural, social, and cultural capitals, resources, and assets that are important for resilience; indigenous communities have knowledge of coastal processes from time immemorial.

Why do you believe it’s important to engage local communities in environmental hazards research? What is are some examples of the ways you are doing this? 

Environmental hazards research has the potential to inform coastal community planning and resilience in very immediate ways. The hub is chock full of projects that we plan to co-develop with collaboratories (specific areas of the coast where the project has the potential to leverage ongoing research and relationships). The hub also includes research broadly relevant across Cascadia, such as better understanding the recurrence rate of megaquakes on the Cascadia Subduction Zone, and examining how geological events – like increased sedimentation and erosion – may be affecting biodiversity and the marine ecologies on which coastal communities depend (e.g., shellfish habitat).

The hub also includes environmental hazards research projects focused on integrating diverse epistemologies into hazards mitigation planning and practices – to increase the exchange of information about hazards and resilience between communities with very different ways of knowing. And we have projects and processes, including community liaison leads for each research team in the hub, focused on helping coastal communities integrate new scientific advances into their planning. In addition, the hub will be funding seed grants to bring in new research ideas and projects over the five-year span of its activities.

Another way the hub is engaging local communities is through research co-design and educational engagement. Across Cascadia, Hispanics/Latinos are 14.8% of the population, Blacks/African Americans are 2.3% of the population, and American Indian/Alaska Natives are 1.6% of the population (as defined by the 2019 ACS). Hispanics/Latinos and American Indian/Alaska Natives are underrepresented in both undergraduate and graduate enrollments overall and particularly in science and technology degrees in the universities that are a part of the CoPes Hub; the hub will support hazards science projects and data collection in coastal schools, and actively recruit and support students from these coastal community groups.

Ideally, what would show that CoPes has been successful should a natural disaster like a tsunami or earthquake occur in 25 years? 

Ideally, coastal communities would be better prepared than they are now and would bounce back better than ever after such an event! And even more importantly, the intent is for the hub to help communities focus, protect, and develop the assets they value, across time and spatial scales. For example, we know that there are likely issues with “islanding” after hazardous events – that some communities might end up isolated due to damaged infrastructure, including bridges, roads, and communications. If we’re successful, we will help communities find ways to reduce islanding and its risks, so that they are not left stranded without essential supplies or support in the immediate aftermath of a tsunami. Some coastal tribal communities are already beginning the process of moving uphill, away from increasing risks of storm surges and sea level rise, and from the risks of tsunami inundation, which tribal coastal communities have long understood, and others have only begun to better appreciate over the last few decades.

On a broader scale, why should those not living in/near the CSZ care about this research? Where else in the world or in what other aspects could the research and collaboration modeled by CoPes be vital? 

Here in Cascadia we have the privilege of living on the Pacific rim ring of fire, as it is called. It’s a magnificent living landscape, even with the “Really Big One” lurking on the horizon. Cascadia CoPes Hub researchers are already collaborating with colleagues in British Columbia, Japan, New Zealand, and Chile – around the Pacific rim – but also with colleagues in other parts of the Americas and the world in productive exchanges of knowledge that will help all of us better understand and plan for the coastal dynamism and climate changes we know are on the horizon and that include increasing risks from extreme hazards.

Coastal populations are among the fastest growing in the world, which only increases the urgency of this work. The hub hopes to leave a legacy not only of more knowledge about the coastal hazards and risks we face in Cascadia, but also advance interdisciplinary hazard analyses, modeling and simulations, and inclusive decision support, community planning processes, and science communication. The hub is dedicated to bringing science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics (STEAM) to coastal communities, and coastal community members into STEAM, training a new generation of hazard and resilience researchers to lead this work forward in the future.


The Cascadia CoPes Hub represent a broad coalition including:
  • Nearly 50 individuals who participated in writing the grant as active investigators—such as:
    • Peter Ruggiero (Principal Investigator, Oregon State University)
    • Alison Duvall (Co-Principal Investigator, University of Washington)
    • Harold Tobin (Co-Principal Investigator, University of Washington and Pacific Northwest Seismic Network)
    • Dwaine Plaza (Oregon State University)
    • and other stellar scholars at:
      • Oregon State University
      • University of Washington
      • Washington State University
      • The Ruckelshaus Center
      • University of Oregon
      • Humboldt State University
      • the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community
      • Washington and Oregon Sea Grant
      • S. Geological Survey
  • Nearly two dozen entities who signed letters of collaborative intent, such as:
    • Oregon State Resilience Office
    •  Surfrider
    • the Humboldt State Seal Level Rise Initiative
    • Washington Department of Natural Resources
    • City of Westport (WA) Public Works Director
    • Regional tribal representatives
  • Beyond the Evans School, the UW contingency on the grant includes faculty and researchers in:
    • Applied Mathematics
    • School of Public Health
    • Urban Design and Planning
    • Civil and Environmental Engineering
    • Earth and Space Sciences and the Pacific Northwest Seismic Network
    • School of Marine and Environmental Affairs
    • School of Oceanography
    • Climate Impacts Group
    • Cooperative Institute for Climate, Ocean, and Ecosystem studies (CICOES – a collaboration of the UW, OSU, and the University of Alaska Fairbanks)
    • S. Geological Survey and WA Sea Grant collaborators at the UW

The hub builds on strong relationships established by hub members with coastal communities throughout Cascadia, including through the Ruckelshaus Center, and WA Sea Grant, and relationships developed in prior research projects (e.g., Oregon Coastal Futures; NSF-funded Hazards SEES M9; NSF-funded CoPe EAGER, CoPe Research Coordination Network, and PREEVENTS projects at the UW; the HSU Sea Level Rise Initiative; and the WA Coastal Resilience Project).