June 27, 2018


New Report Identifies Three Critical Areas of Research to Fill Gaps in Scientific Knowledge of the Gulf Coast's Interconnected Natural and Human System

WASHINGTON - Improved understanding of the coupled natural-human coastal system will help promote resilience of coastal communities and ecosystems under rapidly changing environmental conditions and support informed decision-making, says a new report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.

The physical and ecological systems, people, and economy in the Gulf Coast are inextricably linked. The natural system includes processes such as sea-level rise, subsidence, storm surges and flooding, sediment management, marsh and wetland loss, and conservation and restoration activities. The human system encompasses land use and coastal development, adaptation, and migration or relocation.  The interactions and feedbacks between the natural and human systems are what make up the coupled system.

The committee that carried out the study and wrote the report identified three critical areas of research that could address gaps in high-priority scientific knowledge, helping to inform decision-making and research planning related to the strategic initiatives of the National Academies' Gulf Research Program (GRP):

The report recommends that GRP create an integrated research program that focuses on understanding of the evolution of the coupled coastal system. This research program should support collaborative, multidisciplinary research teams; encourage comprehensive, Gulf-wide integrated observational and modeling efforts; offer research opportunities that are longitudinal and multidecadal; and deliver easily accessible observational data and model results. Such an effort has the potential to positively transform living along the Gulf Coast and in coastal zones around the world by informing decisions from local to federal levels, says the report.

Turning research products into actionable policies for a re-envisioned future Gulf entails communication and collaboration between scientists and stakeholders such as city planners or emergency managers, but current barriers prevent effective communication. The report identifies opportunities to overcome these barriers, such as targeted funding that would allow stakeholders  to better interpret and use scientific information, creating an incentive structure that fosters information sharing between the energy industry and other stakeholders, and encouraging scientists to engage substantially with stakeholders from product development to delivery stage.

Such a research program will enable significant advancement toward understanding the feedbacks and interactions among the physical, ecological, and human components and the resulting evolution of the coupled system along the Gulf Coast, in the context of both human and climate drivers.

The report recommends focusing planning efforts on a near-decadal scale (10-50 years) and a decadal-century scale (50-200 years). These periods encompass the time scales of the physical and ecological drivers of anticipated changes and the motivating factors for human response and decision-making.

The study was sponsored by the Academies’ Gulf Research Program, which was established at the request of the U.S. government as part of legal settlements in the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.  The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine are private, nonprofit institutions that provide independent, objective analysis and advice to the nation to solve complex problems and inform public policy decisions related to science, technology, and medicine.  They operate under an 1863 congressional charter to the National Academy of Sciences, signed by President Lincoln. For more information, visit http://nationalacademies.org. A committee roster follows.

Kacey Templin, Media Relations Officer
Andrew Robinson, Media Relations Assistant
Office of News and Public Information
202-334-2138; e-mail news@nas.edu


Division on Earth and Life Studies
Board on Earth Sciences and Resources and Ocean Studies Board

Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education
Board on Environmental Change and Society

Committee on Long-Term Coastal Zone Dynamics: Interactions and Feedbacks Between Natural and Human Processes Along the U.S. Gulf Coast

Tuba Özkan-Haller (chair)
Professor and Associate Dean for Research and Faculty Advancement
College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences, and
School of Civil and Construction Engineering
Oregon State University

Gregory A. Carter
Department of Geography and Geology, and
Chief Scientist
Gulf Coast Geospatial Center
University of Southern Mississippi
Long Beach and Stennis Space Center

Just Cebrian
Senior Marine Scientist III
Dauphin Island Sea Lab, and
Department of Marine Sciences
University of South Alabama

Robert A. Dalrymple*
Distinguished Professor
McCormick School of Engineering
Northwestern University
Evanston, IL, and
Willard and Lillian Hackerman Professor Emeritus of Civil Engineering
Johns Hopkins University
Baltimore, MD

Jordan R. Fischbach
RAND Water and Climate Resilience Center,
Senior Policy Researcher
RAND Corp., and
Affiliate Faculty Member
Pardee RAND Graduate School
Pittsburgh, PA

Jennifer L. Irish
Professor of Coastal Engineering
Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

Alexander S. Kolker
Associate Professor
Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium
Chauvin, LA, and
Adjunct Professor
Tulane University
New Orleans, LA

Shubhra Misra
Marine and Coastal Subject Matter Expert (until May 2018)
Chevron Energy Technology Co.
Houston, TX

Laura J. Moore
Associate Professor
Department of Geological Sciences
Curriculum for the Environment and Ecology, and
Coastal Environmental Change Lab
University of North Carolina
Chapel Hill

Martin D. Smith
George M. Woodwell Distinguished Professor of Environmental Economics
Nicholas School of the Environment
Duke University
Durham, NC

Torbjörn E. Törnqvist
Vokes Geology Professor
Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences
Tulane University
New Orleans, LA

Gabrielle Wong-Parodi
Assistant Research Professor of Social and Behavioral Sciences
Department of Engineering and Public Policy
Carnegie Mellon University
Pittsburgh, PA


Deborah Glickson
Senior Program Officer

*Member, National Academy of Engineering