The coastal zone has become increasingly important to the economic well-being of the United States. Recreation, tourism, residential and commercial development, and ports and harbors are all expanding along the shoreline, and populations in coastal counties are growing faster than anywhere else in the country. One in every three jobs is now generated in a coastal county, 90 percent of foreign trade passes through U.S. ports, and 33 percent of the GNP (gross national product) is produced in the coastal zone (NRC, 1990). More tourists from abroad visit beaches than national parks. Ninety percent of all foreign tourist dollars, an estimated $80 billion per year, is spent in coastal states. This constitutes more foreign exchange than is derived from the export of manufactured goods (Houston, 1996).
As populations along the shoreline increase, so do the threats and impacts of natural hazards, such as hurricanes, storm waves, tsunamis, and rising sea level. Most of the sandy coastlines in the United States (including the Great Lakes shorelines) are undergoing erosion caused by a combination of natural processes (e.g., wave impact, coastal bluff failure, rising sea level, and land subsidence) and human activities (e.g., impacts of coastal structures and beach sand reduction). Along the East and Gulf coasts alone, about $3 trillion in infrastructure adjacent to the shoreline is vulnerable to erosion and other natural hazards. Yet national policies for shoreline protection are either inadequate or poorly implemented (IIPLR, 1995; NRC, 1990).
Damage from coastal hazards continues to rise as a result of the increase in vulnerable coastal infrastructure. Hurricane damage from waves, erosion, wind, and flooding now routinely exceeds $1 billion dollars a year. El Niño and north-
easters plague the West and East coasts of the country. Tsunamis are a threat to the West Coast. Long-term climate changes, such as sea level rise, may further increase the damage caused by coastal hazards.
As international trade has expanded, the nation's economy has become dependent on increasing volumes of both exported and imported goods, which has intensified pressures on U.S. ports and port facilities. Most harbors must be regularly dredged and often deepened to accommodate large cargo ships. At the same time, contaminants concentrated in the sediments that are deposited in many harbors, along with increasingly stringent dredging and disposal standards (as well as water quality criteria and concerns about wetlands), have made port maintenance and expansion a major economic and environmental issue. In addition, as the density of ship traffic in harbors increases, the design of breakwaters, navigational channels, and ship navigational procedures in harbors will be critical to the safe and efficient operation of ports.
Coastal engineers, along with coastal geologists and physical oceanographers, have traditionally been responsible for studying shoreline and nearshore processes and solving the engineering problems generated by human activities. The domain of the coastal engineer includes port and harbor design, maintenance dredging, the planning and construction of breakwaters, jetties, and groins, and solving shoreline erosion problems. More and more, the role of the coastal engineer is also expanding to encompass environmental and ecological issues, as the role of wetlands and water quality becomes more important. There are also opportunities for environmental remediation in areas where previous coastal engineering practices have caused adverse impacts. As coastal populations continue to expand and dependence on the coastal ocean and shoreline grows, the need for well trained coastal engineers will also grow.
The number of practicing coastal engineers is relatively small, however, as is the number of academic programs training coastal engineers for the future. Although the number of academic institutions that provide graduate education has grown from one to more than 20 in the last 30 years, most of these university programs do not have sufficient laboratory facilities or faculty to provide the necessary education for the coastal engineers of tomorrow. Only four programs have four or more faculty members, and the largest program has only seven. Altogether, the committee found that there are only about 50 faculty members teaching in this field—less than the faculty of a medium-sized school of engineering. Nevertheless, these programs graduate about 60 M.S.-level students and about 20 Ph.D.s annually. These graduates find employment with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, consulting firms, state or federal government agencies, and a few academic departments (one or two academic positions are filled per year).
The number and status of various academic programs in coastal engineering and the number of graduate students being trained are determined by a combination of the funding available to support research contracts and grants and the existing job market. Funding for academic research is a strong indicator of the
direction of graduate programs in engineering schools: subject areas that are well funded grow; those that are poorly funded decay. Based on its investigations, the committee believes that because coastal engineering is a relatively small field and because research funds are scarce, the number of academic programs (and thus the number of new professionals being trained) is likely to decrease. Furthermore, the current faculty is too small to meet the increasing need for coastal engineers who can help solve the serious problems facing the nation.
No one federal agency is responsible for supporting research and education in coastal engineering. Funding for academic research comes from a variety of sources, including the National Science Foundation, the Sea Grant Program of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Office of Naval Research, the Army Research Office, and the Waterways Experiment Station of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and totals about $4 million per year. This relatively low level of support means that the number of research projects being funded and, therefore, the number of coastal engineers being trained is small. This situation is already having a negative impact on research in coastal engineering and on international competition for coastal engineering projects. Although support for coastal engineering research in the United States is low, the nation's use, protection, and enjoyment of coastal areas will depend on developing and maintaining shoreline infrastructure, reducing the impact of deleterious natural forces on human activities, and mitigating the effects of human activities on the coastal environment. The amount of funding and the mechanism for allocating funds for research and education in coastal engineering should be reevaluated in terms of emerging national needs.
Solving the problems outlined in this report will require both basic and applied research. Basic research focuses on the scientific underpinnings of coastal engineering, such as sediment transport, and applied research focuses on mitigating shoreline erosion, dredge disposal technologies, and environmental issues, such as water quality and habitat protection and restoration. The committee recommends that a consortium of universities coordinate the use of existing academic research facilities to ensure that these valuable resources are used efficiently and effectively to benefit the research community. The committee also recommends that a lead government agency be designated to provide support for each type of academic research—the National Science Foundation for basic research and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for applied research.
Conclusions and Recommendations
Coastal engineering is important to the vitality of the nation's shorelines and ports. However, academic research in coastal engineering is poorly funded, and the level of funding has not increased in the last decade, which has affected the competitiveness of the United States. The lack of sufficient funds has affected the availability and quality of laboratory facilities and the ability to conduct extensive
field experiments. Unlike several other countries, the United States does not have a central government agency that is responsible for the field. The following recommendations are intended to address these problems.
Recommendation 1. The committee recommends that the coastal engineering academic community establish a consortium to improve research and education through cooperative arrangements for leveraging major research facilities and educational capabilities. This consortium should assess the available facilities and determine which ones are critical to meeting the national needs. Budgets for maintaining these facilities should be prepared and proposals submitted to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the National Science Foundation under the funding programs recommended in this report, along with a plan for ensuring fair and equitable access to these facilities for researchers whose projects are funded under these programs. The consortium should be responsible for scheduling the use of these facilities.
The consortium should provide academic leadership in coastal engineering education at all levels, from elementary school through postgraduate continuing education. It should also provide guidance to academic programs concerning the evolution of graduate curricula to include courses in port engineering, environmental issues, and public policy. The consortium should also provide leadership in educating the general public about coastal processes.
National Science Foundation
Recommendation 2. The committee recommends that the National Science Foundation establish a program in its Engineering Division to fund fundamental research on coastal engineering. This program should be separately identified and should be directed by a highly qualified coastal engineer. The 1984 Ad Hoc Committee for the Civil and Environmental Engineering Division recommended that funding for this program be gradually increased to $10 million dollars per year. This committee agrees that a comparable level of funding is still appropriate. Funds in this program should also be allocated to the support and maintenance of large experimental coastal facilities.
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
Recommendation 3. The committee recommends that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers establish a substantial program to fund applied research in academic coastal engineering programs. The level of support should be comparable to the funding level for basic research. Most of this funding should be used for extramural grants, with a small percentage (less than 5 percent) for administering the
program. The committee believes these grants would encourage stronger partnerships with the academic community in coastal engineering, which would strengthen all research and applied programs, as well as the pool of candidates from which the Corps of Engineers recruits coastal engineers.
A review board for academic research should be charged with overseeing the research-funding process. Half of the members should be agency representatives, and half should be qualified external individuals. (The civilian members of the Coastal Engineering Research Board could serve in this capacity, along with academics and others from outside of academia.) The review board would establish research priorities, oversee the solicitation of proposals, and review the external/internal peer-review processes. Matching funding by coastal states could be used to bolster this program.
The nation's needs in coastal engineering are becoming increasingly urgent to the economy and to our quality of life. However, these needs have far outstripped financial support for research and education in coastal engineering, and the United States is falling behind other coastal nations in its support of research and laboratory facilities. In response to developmental pressures on our coastlines and the international demand for coastal engineering services, the United States must maintain a healthy and vigorous program in coastal engineering education and research.
Houston, J.R. 1996. International Tourism and U.S. Beaches. Shore and Beach 64(2): 3–4.
IIPLR (Insurance Institute for Property Loss Reduction). 1995. Coastal Exposure and Community Protection: Hurricane Andrew's Legacy. Boston: IIPLR.
NRC (National Research Council). 1990. Managing Coastal Erosion. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press.