News Item

Lander Professor Joins Research Team to Prepare S.C. Coastal Regions for Climate Change Effects

April 21, 2016

Dr. Daniel M. Harrison, professor of sociology at Lander University, has been invited to take part in a two-year, $159,000 study that will be used to develop safeguards to protect South Carolina’s coastal water infrastructure from the effects of climate change. Joining Dr. Harrison will be three civil engineer professors from Clemson University.

While the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is providing funding for the project, the findings will be presented to the S.C. Sea Grant Consortium.

Dr. Harrison’s background in environmental sociology made him a natural selection for participation in the study. “Environmental sociology is the interaction between nature and society,” he said. “In a study such as this, it’s crucial to anticipate the strains put upon society in times of adversity caused by environmental changes. These can include lost wages by not being able to get to work, and anxiety caused by significant damage to our homes and overall way of life.”

S.C.’s Fragile Vulnerability to Climate Change Effects
According to data released by NOAA, climate change conditions have directly resulted in a sea level rise of 1.7 millimeters per year over the last century and over 3.2 millimeters in the last few decades. The Southeastern coastal regions of the U.S. are particularly vulnerable to effects from climate change, and some areas are already experiencing potentially devastating impacts, including:

  • salt water intrusion into freshwater aquifers,
  • increased soil erosion, and
  • rising water tables.

Several scientific models already project another two-foot rise in the sea level along S.C.’s coastline over the next century. This is particularly troubling as three of the nation’s 20 fastest-growing metropolitan areas are located along the state’s 190-mile coastline: Myrtle Beach, Hilton Head and Charleston.

How the Team Will Work
Harrison and the rest of the research team will initially focus their efforts on the Charleston area. Collaborating with municipal engineers and other officials, the team will analyze and document the current levels of climate change impact on the state’s coastal water infrastructure. For example, Charleston’s pipeline infrastructure, which is already strained by age and flooding, will be further examined to predict its performance in the wake of increased stresses caused by climate change.

In addition to addressing the social dimensions to sea level rise in the Low Country, Harrison and his team will also be looking at the environmental, economic and policy constraints faced by water infrastructure stakeholders. The research team will take existing strategies developed by the municipalities and compare them with coastal regions across the U.S. and other countries. “There may be significant lessons that can be learned from the climate change adaptation strategies from these other regions,” said Dr. Harrison. 

Daniel Harrison_Web

Dr. Daniel M. Harrison of Lander University will team with civil engineer professors from Clemson University in a study designed to protect South Carolina’s coastal water infrastructure from the effects of climate change.