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Robert S. Young - Western Carolina University. Cullowhee, NC, US

Robert S. Young

Professor | Western Carolina University


Robert S. Young is a licensed professional geologist in three states (FL, NC, SC).




Robert S. Young Publication Robert S. Young Publication



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WCU scientists respond to oil spill in Gulf of Mexico The Arithmetic of Coastal Retreat with Rob Young Retreat Plan for North Topsail Island - Dr. Rob Young, 3/3/21 Coastal Adaptation: We Have No Plan - Dr. Robert Young, 3/29/17




Robert S. Young is the Director of the Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines, a joint Duke University/Western Carolina University venture. He is also a Professor of Geology at Western Carolina University and a licensed professional geologist in three states (FL, NC, SC). The Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines (PSDS) is a research and policy outreach center serving the global coastal community. The primary mission of PSDS is to conduct scientific research into coastal processes and to translate that science into management and policy recommendations through a variety of professional and public outreach mechanisms. The Program specializes in evaluating the design and implementation of coastal engineering projects.

Dr. Young received a B.S. degree in Geology (Phi Beta Kappa) from the College of William & Mary, and M.S. degree in Quaternary Studies from the University of Maine, and a Ph.D. in Geology from Duke University where he was a James B. Duke Distinguished Doctoral Fellow. Dr. Young has approximately 100 technical publications and he serves on the Editorial Board of the Journal of Coastal Research and Environmental Geosciences. He currently oversees more than $3.5 Million in grant-funded research projects related to coastal science and management.

Current research projects include: 1) an NSF-funded project examining the coastal impacts of the Elwha River dam removal project; 2) a major scientific effort to restore native rivercane Arundinaria gigantea to the southern Appalachians; 3) building a national, geo-referenced storm surge database in partnership with NOAA; 4) a National Park Service funded project to map coastal engineering activities in coastal parks; and 5) working at the local level to help communities plan for rising sea level.

Dr. Young is a frequent contributor to the popular media. He has written numerous articles for outlets like the New York Times, USA Today, Architectural Record, the Houston Chronicle, and the Raleigh News and Observer, among others. He is co-author of The Rising Sea and co-editor of Geologic Monitoring, both released in 2009. Finally, Dr. Young has testified before congress and numerous state legislatures on coastal issues. He currently serves the State of North Carolina as a member of the Coastal Resources Commission Science Panel and the State of South Carolina as a member of the Blue Ribbon Committee on Shoreline Management.

Industry Expertise (2)



Areas of Expertise (6)

Holocene landscape evolution in the southern Appalachians


Coastal Management

Coastal Processes


Environmental restoration

Accomplishments (1)

Fulbright Senior Scholar (professional)


Education (3)

Duke University: Ph.D., Geology 1995

University of Maine: M.S., Quaternary Studies 1990

College of William and Mary: B.S., Geology 1987

Affiliations (2)

  • Coastal Resources Commission Science Panel : Member
  • Blue Ribbon Committee on Shoreline Management : Member

Languages (4)

  • English
  • Spanish
  • German
  • Bulgarian

Media Appearances (18)

EDITORIAL: Down East deserves the county's support

Carolina Coastline  online


Dr. Rob Young, director of the program for the study of developed shorelines, a geology professor at Western Carolina University, expressed concern, as did the other presenters over the rapid and questionable residential construction Down East. “I would not be surprised if half of the in-ground septic systems Down East are functioning,” he opined. Dr. Young then turned his attention to the attendees, expressing his disappointment that county officials who are crucial in facilitating the changes needed to make the region more resilient were not present. He noted that to keep people dry, to facilitate transportation and infrastructure for the region, will require county level support. In describing these needs, Dr. Young noted that infrastructure dollars are hard to come by for unincorporated areas like Down East, and as a result county government is crucial in acquiring funds for projects that will assure the survivability of the community and its economy.

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Scientists, officials warn it’s time to prepare for rising sea level, major weather events as Down East remembers five-year anniversary of Hurricane Florence

Carolina Coastline  online


Dr. Rob Young, director of the program for the study of developed shorelines, a joint Duke University/Western Carolina University venture and professor of geology, said he was frustrated with areas of Down East where some houses are being built. “I would not be surprised if half of the in-ground septic systems Down East are functioning. Most wells are deep enough you don’t have to worry about that, but if I lived in certain areas of say Davis Shores, I wouldn’t let my kids play in the storm ditches. I’m frustrated where they are building Down East where we know that the systems cannot possibly be perking.”

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At risk from rising seas, Norfolk plans massive, controversial floodwall

VPM PBS  online


And the debates happening in Norfolk are an example of conversations that will increasingly play out across the nation, as climate change imposes major new costs on coastal communities, said Rob Young, a geologist who studies coastal engineering at Western Carolina University. Local officials need to think hard about how to prioritize limited resources, Young said: "We know we don't have all the money in the world." For their part, city officials see the floodwall project as a "once in a lifetime opportunity" for Norfolk to protect itself.

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Ticking Tide Bomb: Few options on eroding OBX beach, but homebuyers continue to flow in

Wavy News  online


“It would be less expensive to buy those properties and tear them down, than it would be to try and hold the shoreline in place in front of them,” said Western Carolina University professor Robert Young, who grew up in Hampton Roads. “It has one of the highest erosion rates on the East Coast – 10 to 15 feet a year.”

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In Florida, seawalls are not the answer. Here’s why. | Column

Tampa Bay Times  online


On the heels of Hurricane Ian, the Florida Legislature this year passed the Hurricane Restoration Reimbursement Grant Program. The program allocates $50 million to reimburse oceanfront property owners for the construction of seawalls in the name of coastal protection. Any beachfront parcel owner may apply for $150,000 with a 50/50 percent homeowner match to construct seawalls that protect private property.

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Rob Young of the Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines discusses fast-eroding shorelines

NC Newsline  online


Sea-level rise driven by climate change: What once was a controversial topic in some circles is now an indisputable and deeply problematic reality for coastal communities across the globe – including dozens on the North Carolina Outer Banks, where beaches are disappearing at a frightening clip. The hard reality of this situation is quickly presenting policymakers with some extremely tough decisions, but as is made clear in a new report on the situation in the Outer Banks town of Rodanthe, there’s little doubt about what makes the most sense from both a scientific and financial perspective, and recently we got a chance to learn more about both in a conversation NC Newsline had with one of the nation’s top experts, the head of the Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines at Western Carolina University, Professor Rob Young.

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NC - Report: Buyout Of Rodanthe Homeowners Less Costly Than Beach Nourishment At Cape Hatteras

Coastal News Today  online


The report, by Rob Young, director of the Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines at Western Carolina University, places the cost of buying 80 houses — one dating to 1965 — at risk of being pulled into the Atlantic at Rodanthe at nearly $43 million. The cost of dredging up tons of sand to place on the beachfront at Rodanthe to protect the houses is estimated at about $120 million over 15 years, according to Rodanthe Sand Needs Assessment Dare County, North Carolina, which was prepared by Coastal Science and Engineering.

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North Carolina beach houses have fallen into the ocean. Is there a fix?

CT Post  


Around the time the county's latest estimate was released, Rob Young, a Western Carolina University professor and director of the Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines, was finishing a different kind of estimate about Rodanthe.

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Islanders Ponder How to Handle Rising Tides

The Vinyard Gazette  online


In a climate change panel hosted by MVY Monday and inspired by the Martha’s Vineyard Commission’s climate action plan, experts discussed how to strategically plan around rising tides, a concept known as managed retreat. In addition to Islanders, Rob Young, the director of the program for the study of developed shorelines at Western Carolina University, spoke about the potential for managed retreat and its application on the Vineyard.

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Clock ticking for recommendation on Topsail Beach request

Coastal Review  online


Dr. Rob Young, professor of coastal geology and director of the Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines at Western Carolina University, stated in a letter to the planning board, “Any willingness of the Coastal Land Trust to accept the remaining property as conservation easement should not be a consideration.”

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Science In Action

BBC  online


Although there is no one solution to the climate crisis, Roland loves a brainstorm on Science in Action. Climate activist Stuart Capstick, a Cardiff University psychologist specialising in public attitudes to environmental issues and environmental scientist Robert Young from Western Carolina University take the conversation one step further. Questioning how public perceptions of scientists change when they take evasive action and protest.

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Florida beaches were already running low on sand. Then Ian and Nicole hit.

Coastal News Today  online


“I think we’re starting to discover that, despite our best efforts and wanting to throw as much money at this as possible, it has become very difficult to keep these beaches as wide as we would like to keep them,” Robert S. Young, a geology professor at Western Carolina University and director of the Program for Developed Shorelines, which helps identify long-term solutions for imperiled coastlines. “We simply don’t have the capacity to hold all of these beaches in place.”

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Hurricane Ian Is a Warning From the Future

Wired Magazine  online


What realistic and smart growth will actually look like might be a bitter pill to swallow for those living in coastal inundation zones. Rob Young, a geologist and director of the Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines, says we need to start changing how we rebuild in the aftermath of these devastating storms. “There are probably areas that we simply shouldn’t put any infrastructure back in,” Young says. “But it’s really difficult to make that call after an emergency when everybody’s just trying to make themselves whole again.”

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Florida population surge means millions more in Hurricane Ian's path

The Washington Post  print


“Everybody in the room agrees this is a major problem that we still haven’t come to grips with,” said Rob Young, a professor of geology at Western Carolina University and director of the Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines. “This is a national problem. But Florida has been particularly good at putting more things in harm’s way.”

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Homeowners’ lawyers helped draft research pitch that left sandbags on affluent SC beach

The State  online


Despite arguments in favor of granting a research exemption, leaving the sandbags is not innovative or new technology, Western Carolina University coastal geologist Rob Young told The State last year. Gayes disputed that, saying how the sandbags react to the ocean’s waves could help the state with future coastal policy decisions.

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The sea will rise 12 inches by 2050. Here's what we can do to get ready | CivicCon

Pensacola News Journal  online


Rob Young doesn't know why climate change and sea level rise are such political hot buttons. Part of the problem, he suspects, is that there are a lot of people who profit by keeping our country divided. But, he said, another part of the problem is scientists like himself haven't done a good job explaining to people how and why these issues will affect their livelihoods and communities.

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Our coasts are in danger. We're doing the wrong things to get ready. See why at CivicCon.

Pensacola News Journal  online


Professor Rob Young is an expert on how climate change, sea level rise and storm impacts will affect America's coastal cities. Perhaps more importantly, he shares his expertise with communities to help them stay economically and environmentally sustainable even as our shorelines change.

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We keep rebuilding our beaches, but what are the long-term costs?

WFAE  online


Not including this year's projects, federal, state and local governments have spent more than $1 billion on North Carolina beach renourishment since the 1950s, adjusted for inflation. In South Carolina, the figure is more than $600 million. That's according to data collected by the Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines at Western Carolina University. Those dollar figures don't capture the environmental cost, said coastal geologist Rob Young, the program's director.

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Research Focus (3)

Marine vulnerability assessment of Cumberland Island National Seashore

Determining the vulnerability of marine habitats at Cumberland Island National Seashore to climate change stressors


The goal of this project is to develop a methodology framework for assessing the vulnerability of NPS-managed marine habitats, beginning with a pilot project at Cumberland Island National Seashore (CUIS). This framework employs an assessment approach in which vulnerability is defined as the sum of exposure (the magnitude of the stressor), sensitivity (how strongly a system is affected by the stressor), and adaptive capacity (the potential to adjust in response to the stressor).

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Adapting to Climate Change in Coastal National Parks

Estimating the Exposure of FMSS-Listed Park Assets to 1 m of Sea-Level Rise

The first phase of this collaborative project between WCU and NPS has focused on identifying NPS assets that may be threatened by a future 1 m rise in sea level within 40 coastal units. A 1 m rise in sea level can be expected to occur in the next 100 to 150 years. Many of the assets identified are already vulnerable to existing coastal hazards (erosion and storms).

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Understanding the Controls on Storm Surge through the Building of a National Storm Surge Database

The Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines at Western Carolina University (WCU) is using relational tools (Microsoft Access) and a geographic information system (ArcGIS) to build a national storm surge database. The database is comprehensive, queriable, and will provide one central location for coastal scientists, engineers, and the general public to access storm surge and high water-mark data. The national database currently contains over 5800 storm surge data points from 42 hurricanes.

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Articles (3)

Will Hurricane Katrina Impact Shoreline Management? Here's Why It Should

Journal of Coastal Research

2005 The hurricane hit the Mississippi coast head on. Orrin Pilkey immediately rushed to Waveland to bail out his parents whose house was 4 blocks back from the Gulf of Mexico. Their house had been flooded up to the 5-foot level and a half dozen trees had crashed through the roof.

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Reef morphology and sediment attributes, Roatan, Bay Islands, Honduras

Carbonates and Evaporites

2001 A reef monitoring program off Roatan, Bay islands, Honduras has produced base line data for platform bathymetry, major macrofauna distribution, and sediment attributes. Because erosion accompanying accelerated island development will be increasing in the near future, measurements of total suspended solids and sedimentation rate were made.

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Coastal wetland dynamics in response to sea-level rise: Transgression and erosion

ProQuest Dissertations Publishing

1995 Much research has been devoted to understanding the processes and dynamics active in coastal wetlands. Yet, very little of this work has been undertaken explicitly to study the landward migration (transgression) of coastal wetland systems in response to sea-level rise.

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