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Saturday, August 27, 2016

Unique perspective to the study of climate change

URI graduate student awarded humanities grant for climate change study

URI grad student Alanna Casey poses in front of a historic ship at San Francisco Maritime National Park, where she is conducting research on climate change. (Photo by Jennifer He.)

URI grad student Alanna Casey poses in front of a historic ship at San Francisco Maritime National Park, where she is conducting research on climate change. (Photo by Jennifer He.)


Alanna Casey is bringing a unique perspective to the study of climate change at national parks in the United States.

A graduate student in the University of Rhode Island’s Department of Marine Affairs who already earned a master’s degree in history from URI, she is analyzing three parks from the perspective of science, policy and history to help them prepare for the inevitable challenges they will face as sea level rises due to the warming climate.

“I’m taking a dual approach,” said Casey, a native of San Ramon, Cal., with an undergraduate degree from Smith College. “I’m conducting historical research, archival work and oral histories to get historical perspectives on how the parks may have adapted to changes in the past, and I’m also interviewing site managers about how this information can be interpreted in the present.”

Casey is one of a very few students in URI’s College of the Environment and Life Sciences to ever be awarded a research grant from the URI Center for the Humanities, which she will use to conduct research at Gulf Islands National Seashore in Pensacola, Fla., San Francisco Maritime Historical Site in California, and Colonial National Historic Park in Jamestown, Va.

“I chose those sites because they have already been documented as having high climate change vulnerability risk, they have cultural resources to protect, they have different coastal morphologies, and they are all in different places in their vulnerability assessment process,” Casey said.

Gulf Islands, for instance, combines colonial history with military history and has already completed a climate change vulnerability assessment. 

San Francisco Maritime protects unique ships along the Hyde Street Pier and has an unusually high vulnerability risk for a West Coast site. Colonial also has a high risk and is in the middle of its vulnerability assessment, which is being managed by URI’s Coastal Resources Center.

Casey has already completed her research visit to San Francisco, where she made her own environmental observations about the site, spoke with site managers, and studied its archives.
“I was surprised by the changes they are already observing in species ranges,” she said. “They already noticed more biodeteriogens in the wooden ships, especially wood-boring worms. And there are a lot more sea lions than in previous years.”

These results make her excited for her visit this month to Pensacola.


“I haven’t made it through all the archival documents from San Francisco yet,” she said. “I think that’s where I’ll find the most surprises.”