USGS 2017 Excellence in Leadership Award Honors Scientists Who Assess Coastal Flooding Threats

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Patrick Barnard and Li Erikson of the USGS Pacific Coastal and Marine Science Center in Santa Cruz, California are recognized for their leadership in developing the Coastal Storm Modeling System (CoSMoS).

Three men stand together in front of the United States flag smiling for the camera.

Patrick Barnard (center) accepts the 2017 USGS Excellence in Leadership Award on behalf of himself, his co-awardee Li Erikson, and their many collaborators and supporters. Left: James Reilly, USGS Director. Right: Tim Petty, U.S. Department of the Interior Assistant Secretary for Water and Science.

This article is part of the July 2018 issue of the Sound Waves newsletter.

Patrick Barnard and Li Erikson of the USGS Pacific Coastal and Marine Science Center in Santa Cruz, California, received the USGS 2017 Excellence in Leadership Award for guiding efforts to better assess coastal vulnerability to flooding. The award was presented in a ceremony at USGS headquarters in Reston, Virginia, on May 15, 2018. It recognizes the scientists’ leadership in developing the Coastal Storm Modeling System (CoSMoS).

“One of the most vexing natural hazards facing California and the U.S. is coastal flooding caused by storms and exacerbated by rising sea level,” reads the award citation. “Coastal communities have struggled with what to expect, previously relying on overly simplistic and incomplete models. Barnard and Erikson envisioned a better solution—CoSMoS.”

CoSMoS uses oceanographic models derived from the latest Global Climate Models (also called General Circulation Models) to analyze and forecast coastal flooding under multiple storm conditions and a suite of sea-level rise scenarios. This tool helps communities assess their degree of risk and plan for future flooding hazards.

Screenshot from interactive mapping tool that displays projections of flooding given sea level rise and other factors.

CoSMoS-based map from “Our Coast, Our Future” shows projected future flooding at Pacifica, California, considering 1.25 meters (4 feet) of sea level rise with the added impacts of an extreme storm.

Research geologist Barnard initiated CoSMoS in 2005 and serves as the project’s research director. He soon enlisted research oceanographer Erikson, who is the modeling director. They assembled a large and diverse team, engaging collaborators from federal and state agencies, other USGS science centers, universities, and non-profit organizations.

“Li and I are honored to accept this award, but we do so on behalf of an amazing modeling team in Santa Cruz and a large number of highly talented scientists from throughout the USGS and beyond who have contributed to this effort over the last decade, in addition to the unwavering support of the Coastal and Marine Geology Program, our science center leadership, and numerous state and local agencies,” said Barnard.

Creating powerful modeling results was the crucial first step, but Barnard and Erikson realized that providing the highly detailed flooding projections in a clear, usable way was equally important. They partnered with Point Blue Conservation Science to make a web-based viewer for CoSMoS products called “Our Coast, Our Future.” Barnard also hired a science communications expert, Juliette Finzi-Hart, to lead the education of managers, politicians, and the public on the likely impacts of sea-level rise and the value of CoSMoS in planning for them.

A man points to an area on a large map, explaining the information to a man and woman who look on.

Patrick Barnard (right) discusses some initial CoSMoS projections with City of Los Angeles planning officials at a 2016 meeting co-sponsored by the City of Santa Monica and University of Southern California’s Sea Grant Program. Photo credit: Holly Rindge, USC Sea Grant.

CoSMoS flooding projections are already in use by many federal and state partners as well as local communities throughout California. The state’s major utilities use CoSMoS to assess their assets’ vulnerability to sea-level rise and coastal storms. Barnard, Erikson, and the CoSMoS team are currently developing the next generation of models and have plans for expanding the project to other high-need coastlines around the U.S., including Puget Sound in Washington.

“They have greatly improved our understanding of the extent and response of the U.S. coast to sea-level rise, which is vital to preparing and managing for the safety of coastal communities and critical infrastructure,” notes the award citation. “The problem solving, development of collaborative working relationships, and focus on customer service skills exemplified by Drs. Barnard and Erikson are precisely the type of scientific leadership the USGS needs to maintain our excellence as the premier Earth science agency.”

Congratulations, Patrick and Li!

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Date published: April 16, 2018

USGS 2017 Excellence in Leadership Award honors scientists who assess coastal flooding threats

Research geologist Patrick Barnard and research oceanographer Li Erikson have been recognized for leading efforts to better assess coastal vulnerability to flooding.