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How to Fight 'Coastal Squeeze' By Engineering Nature

A Rutgers professor restores natural processes to help shorelines adapt to rising sea levels.
March 13, 2018, 12pm PDT | Katharine Jose
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In The Harvard Gazette, Alvin Powell reports on the work of Professor Steven Handel, who is using green infrastructure to combat the phenomenon known as "coastal squeeze."

Coastal squeeze occurs in habitats that exist between a naturally migrating shoreline and a man-made immoveable barrier, like a road.  

Or as Powell writes, "what people may view as scenic coastal roadways, the natural communities of plants and animals may experience as terminal barriers, blocking their migratory response to rising seas." 

Handel is a Rutgers professor visiting who worked on the development of the Fresh Kills landfill site on Staten Island; his approach is not unlike what the Dutch have been doing for many years, or what is now being done in coastal cities like San Francisco. 

"The approach Handel described begins with accepting that the seas will rise. It takes projections for how sea levels will change familiar landscapes and moves forward from there, looking for opportunities such as inland water bodies and waterways that may soon be brackish, making them potential sites for future salt marshes. Newly engineered marshes can replace those drowned by the rising tide, buffer storms, and provide breeding grounds for fish and birds. Other opportunities lie in brownfields and abandoned sites that could be rehabilitated into places where communities meet the sea and around which fresh development can grow." 

In cities across the United States, green infrastructure is an increasingly popular tool to mitigate the effects of climate change, especially in the wake of natural disasters.

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Published on Saturday, March 10, 2018 in The Harvard Gazette
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