Connecting Coastal Communities (CCC)
Lead PI:
Robert Chen

This NSF S&CC grant explores the role of quantitative information (e.g. data) and qualitative information (e.g. images, stories, social media) in forming relationships between people and the coastal community in which they reside. The project will explore whether the combination of quantitative and qualitative information is more effective at connecting people with their coastal environment compared to using only quantitative information. Members of a Cape Cod community and a Wampanoag tribal community across Cape Cod Bay from each other will engage in separate workshops to document and share the stories, data, and images that connect them with their coastal settings. While these coastal residents live in similar environmental settings (i.e., similar quantitative data), they hold different qualitative information (i.e., different cultural or social perceptions of the local environment). Comparisons of these two case studies will reveal the similarities and differences between communities, and also help to uncover how and which stories have influence across communities. This project will provide a new understanding of the types of information, perspectives, and actions that form robust, resilient, and sustainable coastal communities in the face of climate change.

The overall goal of this NSF Smart and Connected Communities grant is to develop effective and sustainable responses to the climate change impacts that affect coastal communities. Specific objectives include: 1) To promote deep personal connections with the coast through unstructured data such as images, videos, and social media and through structured data from both embedded sources as well as community science efforts using distributed sensors; 2) To expand connections across geographical boundaries among communities with similar relationships with their coasts; and 3) To enhance sustainable connections with place through history and traditional ecological knowledge. The project is based on the premise that the deficit model of education is inadequate for influencing behavior change. Instead, the project is designed to test McGuire's (2015) hypothesis that intuition, emotion, and community norms are more important to impact behavior change than simple presentation of facts. A series of deliberative stakeholder workshops will result in a co-created list of data needs, communications strategies, and overarching research questions. The project will produce best practices both for increasing diversity among stakeholders consulted in response to climate change, and guidance for effective engagement with communities that will lead to sustainable decision making.

This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

Robert Chen
Robert F. (Bob) Chen is a Professor and Interim Dean of the School for the Environment at the University of Massachusetts Boston. He received his AB from Harvard University in Chemistry and Physics in 1986 and his PhD in Oceanography from Scripps Institution of Oceanography in 1992. After an NSF Postdoctoral Fellowship at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, he has remained at UMass Boston since 1993, serving as Graduate Program Director, Director of the Center for Coastal Environmental Sensing Networks (CESN), and presently Interim Dean. His research interests include the cycling of chromophoric dissolved organic matter (CDOM), carbon biogeochemistry in coastal systems, and the development of sensor networks in shallow water systems. He has explored dissolved organic carbon (DOC) outwelling from salt marshes, remote sensing of coastal water quality, and indicators of estuarine health. He is also dedicated to ocean and environmental science education and outreach at the local, national, and international levels and transforming K-12, undergraduate and graduate environmental and aquatic science education. He was the Principal Investigator of the Watershed-Integrated Sciences Partnership (, COSEE OCEAN (, the Boston Energy in Science Teaching (BEST) (, and Coasts and Communities IGERT projects, and he has been involved in Ocean Literacy and Energy Literacy efforts. He was Chair of the COSEE Council from 2013-2014. He has published over 70 peer-reviewed articles and is an active researcher in the area of coastal observations, carbon cycling, and contaminant distribution and fate.
Performance Period: 10/01/2021 - 09/30/2023
Institution: University of Massachusetts Boston
Award Number: 2125264