Austin Becker

The changing climate is a motivating factor in Austin Becker’s research to make coastal communities stronger and more resilient to the effects of storms, sea level rise, and other hazards.

That research just received a big boost. Professor Becker was just named a 2017 Sloan Research Fellow in Ocean Sciences by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, one of the most prestigious fellowships available to early-career scientists in the United States. He is the first URI faculty member to receive the honor, which he said recognizes the importance of “bringing the latest ocean science information to the public and the decision makers who need it in order to make choices that benefit society.”

Working between the social sciences and the ocean sciences, Professor Becker and his team of graduate students and research associates are developing tools to better understand the impact of climate change on coastal communities. The tools include a virtual disaster impacts model, techniques to visualize the impact of disasters, techniques to better understand the relative vulnerability of North Atlantic seaports, and methodologies for engaging stakeholders in resilience planning.

“My group develops tools that engage people in thinking about the long-term implications of natural hazards,” he said. “Stakeholders need to understand how they share the burden of risk. Often, stakeholders assume that the responsibility to invest in resilience lies with someone else—the insurance company or the emergency planners or the private business owner. Our tools help people understand how results from hydrodynamic models developed by oceanographers translate into social and economic costs. That, in turn, helps us to make smarter choices in planning and policy.”