I am an Assistant Professor at the University of South Carolina in the School of the Earth, Ocean, and Environment (SEOE) and a member of the Critical Ecologies Lab. My training and education span from marine sciences to human geography. As a geographer trained to work across ways of knowing socio-environmental challenges, my research investigates landscapes as socio-natural, drawing on environmental justice studies, political ecology, hazards geography, and critical race theory. Broadly, my research examines racial formations as socio-ecological. My work seeks to combine critical race theory on the socio-historical processes that shape race relations (aka "racial formations") with socio-ecological studies that conceptualize society and nature as mutually produced, or co-constituted.

Current research project sites.

Current Research Projects


Funded by the NSF Geography & Spatial Sciences Program for three years (2018-2021, Award #1759594), I am collaborating with Dr. Nik Heynen on a project in affiliation with the NSF-funded Georgia Coastal Ecosystems Long-Term Ecological Research Program, the local Gullah Geechee non-profit Sapelo Island Cultural and Revitalization Society, and the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. We are examining the deeper history of uneven racial development by asking how racialized agricultural development, exurbanization, and sea-level rise are combining to exacerbate already existing racial inequalities for Black coastal communities under a changing climate. Intervening in theory on political ecology, Black geographies, and Long-Term Socio-Ecological Research, we are using Sapelo Island’s drainage ditch networks—dug in the 19th century via the exploitation of enslaved people’s labor—as the conceptual coupling device for this socio-ecological system. Our work will examine how the antebellum plantation system transformed not only the socio-ecological landscape via racialized agricultural development, but also how the plantation system’s legacy may be perpetuating racial inequity through the drainage ditches flooding Gullah Geechee efforts to resist displacement via gentrification.

Through this project, I strive to advance transdisciplinary research via community engaged scholarship, bringing my skills and expertise out of the “ivory tower” and into the communities where I work. I am an affiliate of and contributor to the Cornelia Walker Bailey Program on Land and Agriculture on Sapelo Island, which is working to preserve Gullah Geechee cultural heritage through teaching, service learning, and policy recommendations.


From 2005 to 2015 private land under conservation easement in the United States increased by 175%, growing to more than 16 million acres held by local, state, and national land trusts. Despite their increasing centrality to conservation strategies, there is little scholarship on the ways that private land easements relate to broader geographies of inequality. Partially funded via the Institute for Human Geography, I am collaborating with Dr. Levi Van Sant and Dr. Bryan Nuse to examine the environmental justice of public versus private environmental conservation. Our research analyzes the political-ecological dynamics of conservation easements, focusing on the coastal regions of Georgia and South Carolina (USA). We are employing interviews and spatial analyses to ask if conservation easements are a strategy for the preservation of plantation geographies in the US South’s Lowcountry region, and asking if that strategy has equity implications.


I am working with several colleagues from Georgia State University and the University of Georgia to re-imagine segregated space as socio-ecological by examining segregation/diversity indices using Atlanta’s urban watersheds as the unit of analysis. In this project, we conceptualize the landscape as socio-ecological in how hydro-social relations shape—and are shaped by—socio-ecological segregation.

Previous Research

My postdoctoral research at the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center examined how flood risk transformations occur through the process of territorial racial formation, which is shaped by ongoing uneven racial development and changing socio-ecological relations. I focused on synthesizing social and environmental data from Sapelo Island, Georgia, a place with extensive documentation of its cultural and environmental change available via studies of its people’s Gullah Geechee heritage as well as ecological research by two research programs (the University of Georgia Marine Institute and the Sapelo Island National Estuarine Research Reserve). The results show how the historical geography of race relations continues to shape today's flood risk, what I refer to as "legacy vulnerability." Moreover, this work shows that current socio-demographic and climatic change via rising seas may create a "double dispossession" of Sapelo's Saltwater Geechee people. In other words, if Sapelo's African American population resists displacement via gentrification and rising property values, they will inevitably face sea-level rise in the future. Through this project, I endeavored to show how vulnerability is never a static predetermined state, but a responsive condition to a multitude of factors that are always changing.

My dissertation research examined how quantitative and qualitative methods of vulnerability could be combined to produce more robust analyses of uneven risk to sea-level rise. The project involved modeling of sociodemographic change and sea-level rise inundation as well as narrative analysis of interview and participant observation data collected during nearly a year of ethnographic fieldwork in communities on Georgia’s (USA) coast. My findings show that when population characteristics are modeled alongside forecasts of sea-level rise, the projected population with indicators of higher risk are five times the estimates obtained from unprojected population data. Moreover, my work shows that colorblind adaptation planning ignores the significance of structural racism. I argue that mitigating vulnerability in underrepresented communities will require race-aware adaptation planning.

Research Grants & Fellowships

2018 - 2021. NSF Geography & Spatial Sciences ($288,652). A socioecological investigation of the impacts of uneven exurban development and sea-level rise on socioeconomically differentiated communities. Nik Heynen (PI), Dean Hardy (Co-PI). Award #1759594

2016 - 2019. Postdoctoral Fellowship, National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center, University of Maryland ($305,925). Land use histories and futures: The socio-environmental context of vulnerability.

2017. Institute for Human Geography ($4,991). Protecting nature, protecting property relations: Conservation easements and the political ecology of racial capitalism. Levi Van Sant (PI), Dean Hardy (Co-I).

2017. John A. Knauss Marine Policy Fellowship, National Sea Grant (declined).

2015 - 2017. NSF Doctoral Dissertation Research Improvement Grant, Geography & Spatial Sciences Program ($15,998). Mapping socioeconomic vulnerabilities to coastal hazards. Marguerite Madden (PI), Dean Hardy (Co-PI). Award #1458978

2012. Rainforest Alliance Research Grant ($4,000). Systematic land cover change analysis of the Juabeso and Bia Districts in Ghana. Dean Hardy (PI).

Publications (Google Scholar)


“I am Sapelo”: Racialized uneven development and land politics within the Gullah Geechee Corridor. Online first, January 18, 2021. Environment & Planning E: Nature and Space. D. Hardy & N. Heynen. Accepted version (not typeset by publisher, but same content).

Conserving what? Conservation easements and environmental justice in the coastal US South. Online first, Oct. 21, 2020. Human Geography. Van Sant, L., D. Hardy, & B. Nuse. Read only version.


Qualitative data sharing and synthesis for sustainability science. Nature Sustainability. Alexander, S., K. Jones, N. Bennett, M. Cox, E.T. Game, J. Geary, R.D. Hardy, J.T. Johnson, S. Karcher, N. Motzer, P. Pinto da Silva, J. Pittman, H. Randell, J. Silva, C. Strasser, & C. Strawhacker. Read only version.


No landward movement: Examining 80 years of population migration and shoreline change in Louisiana. Population & Environment, 40(4). Hauer, M., R.D. Hardy, D.R. Mishra, & J.S. Pippin. Read only version.

Explaining differential vulnerability to climate change: A social science review. WIREs Climate Change 10(2). Open access. Thomas, K., R.D. Hardy, H. Lazrus, M. Mendez, B. Orlove, I. Rivera-Collazo, J.T. Roberts, M. Rockman, B. Warner, & R. Winthrop.


A sharing meanings approach for interdisciplinary hazards research. Risk Analysis. Hardy, R.D. Read only version.

Social vulnerability projections improve sea-level rise risk assessments. Applied Geography 91. Hardy, R.D., M. Hauer. SocArXiv preprint.


Racial coastal formation: The environmental injustice of colorblind adaptation planning for sea-level rise. Geoforum 84. Open Access. Hardy, R.D., R.A. Milligan, N. Heynen.


Global sea-level rise: Weighing country responsibility and risk. Climatic Change 137(4). Downloadable self-archived version. Hardy, R.D., B.L. Nuse. Check out @HankGreen feature this work on his Vlogbrothers Youtube Channel.

Prioritizing conservation easement recruitment efforts: A policy-informed conservation assessment of private land. Southeastern Geographer 56(1). Hardy, R.D., J. Hepinstall-Cymerman, L. Fowler.


A pedagogical model for integrative training in conservation and sustainability. Ecology and Society. 19(2). Open access. Welch-Devine, M., D. Hardy, J.P. Brosius, and N. Heynen.

Acknowledging trade-offs and understanding complexity: Exurbanization issues in Macon County, North Carolina. Ecology and Society. 19(1). Open access. Vercoe, R. M. Welch-Devine, D. Hardy, J. DeMoss, S. Bonney, K. Allen, J.P. Brosius, D. Charles, B. Crawford, S. Heisel, N. Heynen, R. de Jesus-Crespo, N. Nibbelink, L. Parker, C. Pringle, A. Shaw, and L Van Sant.

Impacts of mountaintop removal and valley fill coal mining on C and N processing in terrestrial soils and headwater streams. Water, Air, & Soil Pollution, 225. Burke, R. A., K. M. Fritz, C. D. Barton, B. R. Johnson, S. Fulton, D. Hardy, D. A. Word & J. D. Jack.

Newspaper Articles


State Legislature working to permit sale of Heritage Preserve lands to private entities. Darien News. Hardy, D., M. Bailey, N. Heynen. June 11. (PDF)


Hurricanes of coastal Georgia: Past, present, and future. Darien News. Hardy, D., December 14. (PDF)


Getting to know sea-level rise: Part 3, impacts. Darien News. Hardy, D. September 8. (PDF)

Getting to know sea-level rise: Part 2, Measurements. Darien News. Hardy, D. August 25. (PDF)

Getting to know sea-level rise: Part 1, Causes. Darien News. Hardy, D. January 28. (PDF)