Social Science



CREST research will have a strongly integrated social science component across its four themes. The research is synergetic with NOAA’s Social Science goals of defining and measuring the impact of NOAA and CREST research products on society, and well as how the research supports societal decision-making. It is designed to be in line with the Decision Science, Risk

Assessment and Risk Communication as outlined in the Strategic Research Guidance

Memorandum. CREST research will focus on adaptability and resilience to climate and weather stressors in coastal urban areas. There are also a number of other proposed research projects where this integrative approach will be applied (see examples detailed below). Each of the projects will incorporate an exploration of risk and assessment of the impacts to human communities and ecosystems, with a view towards increasing CREST research projects’ contributions for planning, decision-making, and policy recommendations and better understanding of societal implications. Training CREST’s highly diverse pool of students in innovative interdisciplinary science and technology that has both environmental and socio-economic importance is central to the proposed research activities, and responds to NOAA’s education mission “to advance environmental literacy and promote a diverse workforce in ocean, coastal, Great Lakes, weather, and climate sciences.”

Project 1: Addressing Present and Future Climate Change Associated Urban Stormwater Challenges: A Coupled Environmental and Socioeconomic Systems Approach

This project creates “modeling and analysis tools that apply to assessments concerning

water, including vulnerabilities of the interdependent systems, both human and ecosystem-based.”

Developing a systems approach and series of models will allow the determination of how to best distribute a modular hybrid green infrastructure (MH-GI) within urban sewersheds to maximize stormwater interception (and hence watershed pollutant loading), reduce carbon emissions and enhance overall urban livability. A network of MH-GI sites within the city sewersheds will be identified to intercept stormwater by generating high resolution maps for each sewershed for the radar rainfall, impervious cover, ground elevation, and travel distance to the wastewater treatment plants (WWTP). Simple quantitative models will be developed to estimate pollutant loading reductions for various storm scenarios, and will integrate the use of the Urban Livability Index (ULI) to model how the strategic siting of MH-GI can offset urban heat island effects and enhance public health for demographic populations that are most susceptible to climate risks such as extreme heat. Cost benefit models using GIS will be created to understand the economics of hybrid green infrastructure mitigation down to a finer resolution that includes WWTP energy savings during peak flows, reductions to the electric grid by offsetting UHI, and reclaimed coastal ecosystem services (i.e. fisheries, tourism, and recreation) from reduced CSOs. The strategic placing of vegetated modular hybrid green infrastructure in urban areas not only has the dual benefit of stormwater runoff mitigation and carbon emissions reductions, but also the social benefit of enhancing living conditions for at-risk populations.

Project 2: Ecosystem health towards sustainability: Water quality indicators in urban coastal ecosystems

Coastal environments are among the most vulnerable yet economically valuable ecosystems on Earth. Estuaries and coastal oceans are critically important as essential habitat for marine life, as highly productive ecosystems, as a strong economic driver for coastal communities, and as a highly dynamic interface between land and ocean biogeochemical cycles. Improved monitoring and predictive modeling of coastal ecosystems from space has enormous value to society, beyond basic science and research. Effective monitoring of coastal water quality is critical for achieving coastal ecosystem health and sustainability and improving management of coastal resources. It is also important for developing enhanced decision support systems for predicting potential responses of coastal systems to future pressures and assessing the services (regulating, provisioning, and cultural) these ecosystems may provide in a changing climate. The proposed development of advanced coastal ocean satellite retrievals and products relevant to coastal water-quality indicators and ecosystem health would provide invaluable optical tools for coastal zone environmental assessment from space. This directly supports NOAA’s leading role in addressing societal problems and supporting policy and management activities through innovative uses of high-quality satellite observations. Through interactions with relevant stakeholders from state and federal agencies, the improved tools and datasets that emerge from this project will be integrated into management efforts, providing direct societal benefits.

Project 3: Impacts of Climate Change: Vulnerability and Resiliency of Coastal Populations

The intention of this research is to discern which elements of vulnerability exert the most influence on overall risk from climate change, and how this influence varies with location.

Examining vulnerability and risk at local scales can better illustrate how pre-existing characteristics of neighborhoods contribute to a landscape of high and low overall risk values. The significance of this research and the policy implications are as follows: 1.) An exposure and vulnerability index can be used to locate the most vulnerable areas and populations of urban coastal areas, for purposes of pre-disaster planning, management, and mitigation, as well as recovery efforts. 2.) Land use planning, zoning, and other public and private development efforts can take into account the vulnerability index results in assessing proposals for new development and policy initiatives, in order to better protect the most vulnerable populations and natural and built infrastructure. 3.) Municipal and state resources can be distributed more equitably, and allocated in proportion to the actual risk anticipated to be borne by vulnerable populations and natural and built infrastructure due to potential hazards. Urban coastal areas will be examined in order to assess and estimate the extent of impacts from climate change and its related hazards. Population and infrastructure vulnerability will be identified and quantified, in order to help prioritize the appropriate response. Pilot study areas will be compared and analyzed so as to extract the salient factors, with the goal of developing a universal model that can be applied more generally. Using Geographic Information Science (GISc), geo-spatial analysis, and robust data sets, the objective is to capture, map, and visualize a composite physical exposure, social and health vulnerability, and critical facilities index for populations exposed to the potential impacts of climate change.

Project 4: The Human Impact on Terrestrial Hydrography: Global Water Transfers

Current scholarship on global water transfers (WTs) and mega engineering waterworks reveals the extent of human impact on terrestrial hydrography. These analyses also suggest the vulnerability of many of the largest WTs and the vulnerability of human processes and settlements depending on these transfers. WTs with diverted volume to natural discharge ratios approaching 100% may be at very high risk for delivery failure in the event of changing weather patterns. The example of Colorado River diversions to the highly populous and heavily farmed regions of southern California and the American southwest serve as a cautionary tale for WT based development. Population growth and acres in irrigated agriculture in the arid American Southwest have outpaced water diversions. Snow pack in the region’s donor basins has decreased. With many of the WT projects in the American southwest at least half a century old, water use in the receiving basins is severely curtailed. Sustainable water resource planning requires a significantly different approach than the current tightly geographically-focused demand based water supply design. Responsible water supply development can only proceed as an interdisciplinary process. Among the essential inputs to sustainable water planning are current and predicted land use/land cover, the range of predictable climate variation, and location based ecosystems services valuation. 

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