Date of Award


Document Type

Campus Access Dissertation



First Advisor

Kirstin Dow


Understanding barriers to adaptation and revealing how these barriers differ across scales of management and decision making has emerged as a major theme within the literature on climate change adaptation (CCA). However, research that analyzes the process of adaptation in order to inform practical adaptation initiatives remains limited in the climate change field. This study investigates three research questions that analyze the process of adaptation and support for CCA planning in US coastal communities. First, this study evaluates differences between planner expectations and climate projections of the magnitude of change and range of uncertainty of global temperature and sea level rise by 2030 and the likelihood of potential climate change impacts by the mid-late 21st century. Second, this study investigates cross-scalar differences in adaptation priorities, including current planning efforts, perceptions of the level of support, and the desired role of the state in local-level planning. Third, this study evaluates the influence of perceived risk, uncertainty, and trust on support for CCA planning.

A web-based questionnaire (n =137) was used to investigate these three research questions. Alaska, Florida, and Maryland were selected as the study areas because each state has adopted a state-level CCA plan and face different coastal management challenges. Participants included city planners and engineers, county and borough planners, employees of non-governmental organizations, and division heads of state government offices. This group was selected for analysis because they play a critical role in the development of CCA plans and have received limited attention in previous coastal survey-based research.

Findings indicate that: 1) coastal planners hold notably different expectations of climate change than climate science projections and these differences are a potential barrier to CCA planning; 2) there are significant differences in CCA adaptation priorities among planning entities; and 3) higher levels of perceived risk and trust in climate scientists significantly increase the odds for a higher level of support for local-level CCA strategies. Together, these findings advance our understanding of adaptation processes and potential barriers in multi-level systems.