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Katie Peek - Western Carolina University. Cullowhee, NC, US

Katie Peek

Coastal Research Scientist | Western Carolina University






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Katie McDowell Peek is a Coastal Research Scientist at the Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines (PSDS) at Western Carolina University (WCU) and a Licensed Professional Geologist in the state of North Carolina. 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.

Peek is a local to the mountains of western North Carolina, but has spent significant time along the coastlines of the U.S. She received a BS degree in Geology from Western Carolina University and a MS degree in Coastal Geology from East Carolina University, where her research focused on the paleoenvironmental history of the Cape Hatteras region of coastal North Carolina. Peek has also obtained graduate certificates from North Carolina State University in Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and Climate Adaptation.

Since joining PSDS in 2010, Peek has been the lead coastal scientist on several National Park Service vulnerability projects and has worked with over 100 coastal parks across the U.S. Peek and the PSDS team have completed a climate change vulnerability analysis of marine and coastal habitats at Cumberland Island National Seashore, and a natural hazards vulnerability assessment at Yellowstone National Park. She is one of the lead scientists on a National Park Service project building a coastal hazard and sea-level rise vulnerability assessment protocol being utilized by parks across the nation.

Peek has also been involved in numerous other projects, including research on the controls of hurricane storm surge, the effects of sea-level rise on communities and regions, the impacts beach sand mining on the island of Montserrat in the West Indies, and a community resilience study for Horry County, South Carolina. She teaches environmental geology at WCU and has co-instructed a geology field course on San Salvador Island in the Bahamas.

Areas of Expertise (8)

Hazard Mapping

Climate Change Adaptation

Sea-Level Rise

Coastal Processes

Natural Hazard Vulnerability Assessments

Storm Surge & Tropical Storms

Flood Exposure & Resilience

Geographic Information Systems (GIS)

Education (4)

North Carolina State University: Graduate Certificate, Climate Adaptation 2021

North Carolina State University: Graduate Certificate, Geospatial Information Science 2017

East Carolina University: M.S., Geology 2009

Western Carolina University: B.S., Geology 2007

Media Appearances (2)

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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From the mountains to the sea, WCU alumna and coastal scientist helps to ensure longevity of coastal parks through $295k NPS grant

WCU Stories  online


Growing up in Franklin, Katie Peek never dreamed she would be living in the mountains and working as a coastal scientist in Western Carolina University’s Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines. But here she is, helping to develop protocol for assessing the vulnerability of coastal hazards and sea level rises for the National Park Service, from the Statue of Liberty to a road in the Sitka National Historic Park in Alaska, all while continuing to reside in Western North Carolina.

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Event Appearances (1)

[Presenter] A New Approach to Flood Mapping: Creating Supplemental Flood Zones Using Data from the Storm of Record in Horry County, South Carolina

North Carolina Planning Conference  NC


Articles (3)

Coastal Hazards & Sea-Level Rise Asset Vulnerability Assessment Protocol: Updated Project Description & Methodology

National Parks

2022 The National Park Service (NPS), in collaboration with the Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines at Western Carolina University, developed a standard natural hazards and climate change vulnerability assessment methodology for infrastructure in coastal national parks. The Coastal Hazards & Sea-Level Rise Asset Vulnerability Assessment Protocol evaluates the vulnerability of NPS buildings and transportation assets to sea-level rise, flooding, and shoreline change. This document describes the developmental history of this protocol and provides a detailed description of the methodology.

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Climate Change Vulnerability Assessments in the National Park Service An integrated review for infrastructure, natural resources, and cultural resources.

National Parks

2022 Climate changes are affecting virtually all National Park Service units and resources, and an assessment of climate vulnerabilities is important for developing proactive management plans to respond appropriately to these changes and threats. Vulnerability assessments typically evaluate exposure and sensitivity of the assessment targets and evaluate adaptive capacity for living resources. Chapters in this report review and evaluate climate vulnerability assessments of National Park Service units and resources including infrastructure, natural resources, and cultural resources. Striking results were the diversity of approaches to conducting vulnerability assessments, the small number of vulnerability assessments for National Park Service cultural resources, and the large differences in the “state of the science” of conducting assessments among the three resource groups.

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Climate Change and Coastal Hazard Vulnerability of Infrastructure in National Parks: Adaptation along the Southeast and Gulf Coasts

National Parks

2021 The Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines, in partnership with the National Park Service (NPS), has established an approach for assessing the climate change and coastal hazard vulnerability of NPS infrastructure. This vulnerability assessment (VA) protocol standardizes the methodologies and data used, allowing managers to compare the vulnerability of assets across local, regional, and national levels. Asset-specific results can also be used to develop short- and long-term adaptation strategies. This VA protocol evaluates multiple coastal hazards, including sea-level rise, flooding, storm surge, tsunami, coastal erosion, and cliff retreat. Exposure and sensitivity are assessed to determine vulnerability for each asset; adaptive capacity is evaluated separately

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