Social-Ecological Resilience and Adaptation on the Eastern Shore of the Chesapeake Bay

EPA Grant Number: FP917492
Title: Social-Ecological Resilience and Adaptation on the Eastern Shore of the Chesapeake Bay
Investigators: Miller-Hesed, Christine D
Institution: University of Maryland - College Park
EPA Project Officer: Zambrana, Jose
Project Period: August 1, 2012 through July 31, 2015
Project Amount: $126,000
RFA: STAR Graduate Fellowships (2012) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Academic Fellowships , Fellowship - Anthropology


Sea-level rise related to climate change threatens both wetland ecosystems and rural communities on the Eastern Shore of the Chesapeake Bay. Successful adaptation will require an understanding of what factors contribute to the resilience and adaptive capacity of the social-ecological system in the face of environmental change. Drawing on methods from cognitive environmental anthropology, this study will integrate research on environmental justice, social-ecological systems and adaptation to identify and evaluate factors important for resilience to climate change impacts in the present and future.


Four to six rural communities on Maryland’s Eastern Shore will be selected that are susceptible to flooding related to sea-level rise. Ethnographic methods (including interviews, workshops and surveys) will be used to research how these communities have experienced and adapted to flooding in the past and how they anticipate coping with flooding related to sea-level rise in the future. In addition, regional scientists and policymakers will be interviewed and surveyed to analyze the degree to which these different stakeholder groups share knowledge and perspectives on vulnerability and possibilities for the successful adaptation of the social-ecological system. Throughout the research, the presence of key resilience factors will be assessed, which include living with uncertainty, nurturing diversity, combining different types of knowledge and creating opportunities for self-organization.

Expected Results:

It is expected that this research will yield methods for operationalizing and assessing the presence of factors of resilience in social-ecological systems, as well as further understanding on the relationship between vulnerability, adaptation and resilience. In addition, it is anticipated that this research will result in transdisciplinary and transcultural learning between stakeholder groups and reveal areas in which under-represented communities (especially environmental justice communities) can engage in the policy-making process.

Potential to Further Environmental/Human Health Protection

Adaptation to sea-level rise from climate change potentially will involve trade-offs between wetland conservation and protecting rural communities from flooding. By using a holistic social-ecological system framework to study resilience and adaptive capacity on the Eastern Shore, this research will explore possibilities for adaptation that simultaneously can help to ensure that adequate ecological resources are available for future generations, and that people living today have equal access to clean, healthy environments.

Supplemental Keywords:

adaptation, climate change, environmental justice

Progress and Final Reports:

  • 2013
  • 2014
  • Final