NOAA’s National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science is responsible for working with researchers from across sectors to provide internal, regional, state and local coastal and ocean resource managers with the best science tools for monitoring and mitigating existing and emerging threats to the nation’s coastal and ocean resources. Researchers at NOAA’s National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science, OCRM and the University of Wisconsin recently published the first national climate sensitivity indicator using NOAA’s National Estuarine Research Reserve System (NERRS) of research sites as the background. For this blog series, NOAA Ocean Science Blogger sat down with key members of the research and coordination team to learn more about what they did and its role in assisting NOAA, regional and state resource managers with overseeing the nation’s coastal and ocean resources.
This series also includes Part 2 featuring A.K. Leight about NCCOS’s biophysical research and Part 3 featuring Dr. Patrick Robinson of University of Wisconsin who tells us more about the socioeconomic component of this project. The NOAA press release is available online here.
Thank you for speaking with our readers, Dwight.
Great to be here.
Here at NOAA, there are many offices focusing on a variety of ocean science research. Why do you feel NOAA’s Natonal Estuarine Research Reserve System (NERRS) and NOAA’s National Center for Coastal Ocean Science are good partners for projects like this?
The NERRS is a network of 28 estuaries representing different biogeographic regions of the United States that are protected for long-term research, water-quality monitoring, education, and coastal stewardship. This makes them ideal locations to do this type of research project. The reserve scientists work directly with their local communities so they are highly attuned to the local natural resource management needs of each reserve. An environmental issue like climate change has both local and national dimensions so with this project we wanted to tap into the research expertise of each reserve and see if we could synthesize that information into a larger national picture of climate impacts on estuaries and the communities that depend on them around the country. The NCCOS scientists we worked with on this project had the experience and expertise to synthesize large, environmental data sets. Since we needed both local and national research perspectives for this project it just made sense to reach out and involve NCCOS scientists in the project.
What did the scientists learn from this study?
First we learned that all reserves around the country are sensitive to climate change to some degree. This may seem like an obvious conclusion, but this study is the first that I’m aware of that systematically looked at quantitative and qualitative data in estuaries around the country to make this determination. Second we learned which socio-demographic factors are important to look at – estuarine areas where people were most likely to be affected by climate change were dependent on fishing, tourism and shipping industries. Low incomes, high percentages of minority populations and undereducated populations make communities highly sensitivity to climate change. Finally, temperature change and sea level rise exposure are key factors in determining a reserve’s sensitivity to climate change.
Why is this report important to NOAA and the national managers who benefit from NERRS climate research efforts?
The research in this study is important because it is the first attempt to synthesize the socio-demographic impacts of climate change with the biophysical impacts. We feel our approach provides a more holistic view than simply looking at one of these disciplines by itself. I think the collaborative nature of the research is also a major strength of the study. Involving local reserve scientists in the research allowed us to tap into local knowledge about the estuaries we were studying and provided a critical understanding of the ecological resiliency of the reserves, something we couldn’t have understood by simply looking at the biophysical and socio-economic data only. We need to understand how people and natural resources will be impacted to make smart decisions about which climate mitigation measures to make.
What do you think will be the most useful parts of this report for those looking at cross-system studies related to climate sensitivity?
I hope the integrated analysis approach we took will be adopted by others. We also developed some unique indices for the socio-demographic and biophysical analyses which I hope others will find useful to adopt. The information at both the reserve level and national level will also be useful to natural resource managers looking to do estuarine vulnerability assessments to assess their community’s risk to climate change.
Can you tell readers a bit more about how OCRM and NERRS program is planning to use this data in its climate studies and research?
Local communities are just beginning to understand the potential issues they are facing from climate change – flooding, habitat loss and increased property damage to name a few. The information in this report provides some summary information the reserve communities can use to conduct climate change vulnerability assessments in order to begin planning what steps reserves and local communities need to take to adapt and mitigate climate change impacts locally.
Where can readers find out more about this research and the report?
Where can readers learn more about the NERRS?
The best place to learn more about the NERRS is at our website – NERRS.NOAA.GOV.
Guest Blogger Biography: Dr. Dwight Trueblood is the NOAA Program Manager for the National Estuarine Research Reserve Science Collaborative, which develops approaches to better link science to decision making. Dwight has worked at NOAA for 22 years serving as the NOAA Co-Director of the Cooperative Institute for Coastal and Estuarine Environmental Technology which fostered the development and effective transfer of science and technology for clean water and healthy coastal habitats. In his tenure at the NOAA, Dwight also has served as chief scientist for the Deep Seabed Mining Program (1991–1994) and Science Coordinator for both the National Estuarine Research Reserve System (1994–1999) and the National Marine Sanctuary Program (1994–1996). Dwight obtained a B.S. in Biological Oceanography at the University of Washington (1979), an M.S. in Marine Science at the University of Puerto Rico (1985), and a Ph.D. in Environmental Sciences, at the University of Massachusetts at Boston (1990). He was a postdoctoral fellow at Rutgers University’s Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences (1990). Dwight’s interests include marine ecology, coastal monitoring, the environmental impacts of deep-seabed mining and ocean energy, and fostering better communication and technology transfer between scientists and coastal managers.