OSU-Cascades professor receives $750k grant to study people displaced by floods

Elizabeth Marino (Submitted photo)

Oregon State University-Cascades anthropology assistant professor Elizabeth Marino received a three-year, $750,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to study the effects of repetitive flooding on coastal communities, and how the federal government handles their relocation.

Marino said her research could show the United States’ government the most effective and humane methods to helping communities relocate due to flooding, which will become more common due to climate change.

“I don’t think anyone wants to see money put into disaster mitigation plans that are inequitable or inefficient,” she said. “How can we manage these relocations in a way that respects peoples’ human rights?”

Marino has spent more than a decade studying the Iñupiaq tribe of Alaska Natives on the remote island of Shishmaref, and how their island land was slowly eroding into the Bering Strait, due partially to climate change. Her book, “Fierce Climate, Sacred Ground,” is about the island community.

Marino said she’s already visited the island again this fall for the new research project, but plans to also visit other parts of the U.S. that have experienced repeated flooding, such as the Gulf Coast, the East Coast and communities along the Mississippi River. The focus on studying these areas is to find out who has been displaced from flooding, how the move was handled and how other communities dealt with the influx of displaced flood survivors.

Because U.S. disaster policy has historically focused on rebuilding flooded areas instead of relocating communities, current government policy isn’t set up to help groups of people that need to leave their land, Marino said. These policies also can ignore distinct needs of tight-knit indigenous communities, she added in an OSU-Cascades press release.

“(This research) has a lot of potential to help the U.S. adapt as we deal with climate changes occurring today and in the future,” she told The Bulletin Monday. “I believe this is a place where a lot of good can be done.”

Along with traveling around the country with a team of researchers, Marino will also bring the project back to OSU-Cascades with a series of discussions. In these meetings, experts on climate change research and anthropology will discuss potential solutions for helping people displaced by flooding or other climate-related events with undergrad students, Marino said.

“I’m really excited to bring our students into a high-level session about one of the greatest challenges of the 21st Century: how to create bi-partisan support for a response to the sea level rising,” Marino said. “Exposing our students to that high level of problem solving is exactly what a university experience is about and is a way to broaden our students’ vision of what they can accomplish.”

This is not the only major national grant an OSU-Cascades professor has received this year. In March, the U.S. Department of Energy awarded nearly $3 million to energy systems engineering professor Bahman Abbasi to develop new technology to treat wastewater caused by hydraulic fracking.

— Reporter: 541-617-7854, jhogan@bendbulletin.com

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