Findings, Conclusions, and Recommendations
As population densities and investments along the nation's shorelines increase, so do incomes and the quality of life. Fifty percent of the nation now lives within 75 kilometers of a coast, and this number is expected to increase to 60 percent by 2010. One out of every three jobs is now generated in a coastal county; 95 percent of our foreign trade passes through coastal ports; and 33 percent of our GNP (gross national product) is produced in the coastal zone. Ninety percent of foreign tourist dollars, an estimated $80 billion annually, is spent in coastal states, most of it at beach resorts (Houston, 1996).
As the population of coastal regions increases, so does the need for transportation, recreation, waste disposal, and other services. Growing populations also increase the risks of damage from natural coastal hazards, as well as the effects of human development on this fragile environment. Recent hurricanes along the Atlantic coast caused billions of dollars in damage. Eighty-six percent of the coastline of California is eroding, and the last two El Niño events along the Pacific coast caused significant damage. Beaches, upon which most coastal tourism depends, are eroding nationwide as a result of a combination of reductions in sand supply, interventions in natural littoral drift systems, and the continually rising sea level. Ports must be dredged to keep up with the requirements of modern vessels and to control natural shoaling processes, but environmental constraints on dredging and the disposal of dredged materials have led to serious unresolved conflicts.
Because specific knowledge of coastal processes is necessary for designs at the shoreline, the field of coastal engineering is now a separate discipline. More and better research will lead to better coastal designs, and as the ongoing debate about erosion mitigation (retreat, nourish, or armor) shows, there is much more to be learned about coastal processes. In the future, coastal engineers will have to be knowledgeable in fields that were not originally part of the coastal engineering curriculum, such as the Earth and environmental sciences and public policy.
The United States faces many problems that could be solved, or at least mitigated, by well trained coastal engineers. Solving these problems will require new approaches and greater attention to environmental considerations than in the past. Only a few academic programs, however, are training coastal engineers, and very few students are educated in port engineering or environmental sciences. In addition, funding for academic research is limited, reducing the likelihood that innovative solutions to problems will be developed. The committee believes universities should have stronger incentives for maintaining and building coastal engineering programs, which would be provided by the establishment of a division within a federal agency responsible for supporting academic research and education in this field. A substantial increase in research funding would ensure the long-term survival and health of the coastal engineering discipline.
Institutions with programs in coastal engineering have a preponderance of full professors and very few assistant professors on their faculties. New junior-level appointments would ensure the continuity of these programs and bring new energy to solving multidisciplinary problems. Currently, there are about 50 coastal engineering faculty nationally. The danger today is that because of limited research funds, existing positions may be eliminated as senior professors retire; in other words, university administrators may decide to fill academic vacancies with faculty in fields that are more generously funded or that have larger student enrollments. Thus, increasing the number of faculty in coastal engineering will depend on substantial increases in research funding.
Faculty could be increased rapidly in several different ways. First, a national fellowship program for coastal engineering graduate students could be established to ensure that the number of graduates increases significantly in 10 years. Fully qualified professors could be drawn from the pool of trained coastal engineers who have gone into environmental, civil, or ocean engineering because of the limited funding for research in their own field.
The Engineering Division of the NSF is devoted to single-discipline basic research. Although coastal engineering is inherently multidisciplinary, many of the difficult fundamental problems, such as those related to hydrodynamics, turbulence in nearshore waters, and the transport of sediment and pollutants, are well suited to NSF's peer-reviewed, basic research approach. The committee believes a separate program in coastal engineering should be established in NSF's Engineering Directorate. Support may be small at first and increased regularly for
several years. An Ad Hoc Committee for the Civil and Environmental Engineering Division of NSF made essentially the same recommendation almost 15 years ago (see Box 3-1).
USACE has congressionally mandated responsibilities in every phase of the practice of coastal engineering and, therefore, has a strong interest in the success of coastal engineering research and education. USACE is also the largest single employer of coastal engineers and already has the expertise in place to administer applied engineering research contracts in this field. At present, the USACE
Box 3-1 Recommendations of the Ad Hoc Committee for the Civil and Environmental Engineering Division, National Science Foundation
research program is almost entirely internal, is often closely linked to the immediate needs of specific projects, and provides only limited support for academic research and education.
Sea Grant, which has a very diffuse regional management structure, has a broad mandate that involves almost every aspect of applied oceanography and ocean engineering. Although Sea Grant programs in some states actively support coastal engineering, programs in other states do not. Without major restructuring (which would substantially disrupt its remaining programs) or the establishment of a new national plan for coastal engineering (such as the National Sediment Transport Study, which was conducted over a five-year period in the 1970s), Sea Grant could not administer the national coastal engineering research program described in this report.
ONR funds basic and applied research related to coastal engineering, but the Navy's research needs cover only a small part of the broad area of coastal engineering as defined here. ONR has been, and is expected to continue to be, a major supporter of coastal sciences that interact synergistically with coastal engineering, and the committee encourages ONR to continue providing this support.
Many coastal engineering research facilities have the potential to support the research described by the committee. However, the major capabilities are clustered at a few institutions, and support for maintaining both laboratory and field facilities at these institutions, including technical, data-collection, and instrument capabilities, has been inadequate. No practical arrangements are in place for investigators to use these facilities, as there are for oceanographic research vessels, for example.
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.