CUC Research Agenda


The Coastal Universities Coalition (CUC) is a consortium of the nation’s leading academic institutions convened to develop science-based solutions to the most pressing issues facing populated coastal regions. By leveraging stakeholder-driven, interdisciplinary research collaborations to directly inform public policy, the CUC is developing solutions to make coastal communities more sustainable and resilient for the 21st century and beyond.

Grand Challenge

Sea-level rise, storm surge, extreme weather events, harmful algal blooms, over-exploitation of coastal resources, and other phenomena pose an existential threat to America’s coastal communities. According to the Fourth National Climate Assessment, coastal hazard impacts could reshape population distribution, with 13.1 million people potentially forced to migrate by 2100 due to sea-level rise alone.

Yet, despite this reality, federal leadership on coastal issues remains lacking. Existing federal research programs are chronically underfunded, poorly coordinated, spread across multiple agencies, and often poorly positioned to tackle the multifaceted challenges facing coastal communities. A deliberate and coordinated effort is necessary to make up lost time in catching up to the climate crisis before us. Therefore, in order to effectively combat the threats facing coastal communities across the nation and around the world, we are calling for a comprehensive federal plan for coastal sustainability research to:

  1. Ensure that federal coastal research programs are designed for maximum effectiveness.The complexity of coastal-based research is compounded by bureaucratic challenges. Coastal research cuts across many scientific and engineering disciplines, but also the fractured agency jurisdictions significantly hinder this cross cutting research to effectively take place. Federal research programs must confront this reality and better facilitate the development of data-driven solutions for coastal communities by:
    • Incentivizing interdisciplinary collaboration at individual agencies;
    • Leveraging existing interagency research efforts, such as the National Oceanographic Partnership Program (NOPP), to enable better interagency strategic planning in addition to using this program as a model to establish new interagency mechanisms;
    • Better linking basic and applied research;
    • Supporting efforts that seek equitable results for all coastal community members and which reflect the full diversity of those communities;
    • Expanding opportunities for participatory and community-developed science and solutions, such as the NSF Consortium for Ocean Science Exploration and Engagement (COSEE); and
    • Facilitating better evaluation of longitudinal impacts and ensuring sustainable community impact by supporting longer award durations.
  2. Increase funding for existing federal interdisciplinary research programs. Existing federal coastal research programs are consistently underfunded given the urgency of the challenges. As the vulnerability of coastal communities and their economies continues to grow, the federal government must dramatically increase investment in federal research that promotes sustainability and resilience. The CUC urges a 10% increase in funding annually for the next 10 years to adequately support multidimensional, interdisciplinary coastal research through the following programs:
    • NSF Coastlines and People (COPE); Ocean Sciences Division (OCE) core programs and cross-foundational programs Coupled Natural Human Systems (CNH); Long-term Environmental Research (LTER); and Environmental Sustainability in addition to workforce programs such as the Science, Engineering and Education for Sustainability (SEES) Program.
    • NOAA Ocean and Atmospheric Research extramural programs, Climate Program Office competitive programs, Marine Aquaculture, National Estuarine Research Reserve programs, as well as the NOAA Coastal Resilience Fund Grant program.
    • EPA STAR program;
    • DOD programs that support coastal research, including ONR and SERDP
  3. Re-focus federal coastal research programs on areas of critical need: Existing federal research programs focus on a wide array of research topics. Given the complexity of the challenges, this is important, but we’re not doing enough to prioritize areas of critical need. Congress and funding agencies alike must ensure that federal coastal research programs place particular emphasis on key areas, such as:
    • Socio-ecological decision-making in the coastal zone, including the measurement and understanding of multi-dimensional benefits and costs.
    • Design and implementation of smart shorelines, estuaries, and wetlands, including nature-based coastal protection and solutions.
    • Ecosystem restoration program evaluation, including the development of best practices and the science of effective management.
  4. Develop a diverse next-generation coastal workforce. Meeting the complex challenges facing coastal communities will also require a diverse, inclusive, and well-trained workforce. The CUC recommends that federal research agencies reimagine their portfolios of undergraduate and graduate education and training programs in order to better tackle these challenges by:
    • Promoting early career cross-disciplinary training, as well as lifelong learning and certificate programs that ensure that the coastal workforce continually adapts to an ever-changing landscape.
    • Promoting corporate social responsibility programs and stakeholder trainings, as well as public-private partnerships that help educate the public and other stakeholders about the challenges facing coastal communities and the timely actions that must be taken to help address them.
  5. Accelerate technology transfer for coastal communities: Solving the challenges facing coastal communities will also require accelerating federal investments in solution-based technologies that help coastal communities and economies and better facilitating public-private partnerships at the state and local levels. The CUC recommends reimagining programs like the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program and the NSF Innovation Corps (I-Corps) to enhance innovative solution development, creating pilot programs that leverage public-private partnerships that inform sustainable business development and practices, and improving decision support tools for all levels of government.


The path to cleaner, safer and smarter coastal communities requires coordinated, long-term, strategic investment in practical, actionable, science-based solutions. Coastal communities are already seeing the devastating impacts of sea-level rise, storm surge, extreme weather events, degraded water quality, over exploitation of coastal resources, and other phenomena. The time for action is now. As representatives of the scientific community, we urge the federal government to seize the moment and develop a national strategy for coastal sustainability and resilience research in order to ensure that coastal communities remain sustainable and resilient into the 21st century and beyond.

Last Updated on November 3, 2021