Climate: First Climate Sensitivity of the National Estuarine Research Reserve System blog series, Part 3 of 3, Interview with Dr. Patrick Robinson on socioeconomic findings, University of Wisconsin-Madison and University of Wisconsin-Extension

NCCOS 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 University of Wisconsin recently published the first national climate sensitivity indicator using the NOAA’s NERRS system of research sites as the background.  In 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 states with managing our coastal and ocean resources.

This series also includes Part 1 where Dr. Dwight Trueblood from  OCRM/NERRS who provides an overview of this project and Part 2 featuring NCCOS’s A.K. Leight on the biophysical component of this research. The NOAA press release is available online here. 

Thank you for speaking with our readers, Patrick.
My pleasure!

Can you tell me briefly about your interest in this field?
I am an environmental studies specialist with a strong interest in interdisciplinary, applied work. That interest has resulted in me pursuing interdisciplinary training and conducting research that integrates the natural and social sciences. I am very interested in helping to build vital bridges between these two sciences and other disciplines. I believe we are much smarter and effective when we work across disciplines in a collaborative manner. In this project, I was fortunate to work with the talented biophysical scientists at NCCOS and my gifted social science colleagues at the University of Wisconsin. Beyond that, I also worked on designating the newest reserve, the Lake Superior NERR, for four years, and I have a strong interest in, and fondness for, the NERRS.

How did you come to partner with NCCOS on this project?
The NOAA Estuarine Reserves Division (ERD) really deserves the credit for developing this partnership. ERD reached out to me and the NCCOS researchers in the early stages of this project. One of the unique aspects of this study is the full integration of social and biophysical concepts and approaches from the start. I think ERD deserves a lot of praise for being leaders in that regard. They have provided a valuable model for others to follow.

What needs were you hoping to fill by completing this project?
This project was really intended to meet multiple needs. Importantly, we wanted to provide an integrated social and biophysical analysis of the NERRS sensitivity to climate change. We hoped that this analysis would help guide future ERD and individual reserve decisions related to climate change investments across the system. Our work will, hopefully, dovetail with the growing NERRS Sentinel Site program, which is designed to help reserves further understand vulnerabilities to climate change. In addition, we anticipated that this work would provide a foundation from which individual reserves could embark upon developing more detailed climate vulnerability analyses and adaptation strategies at the local level; I am happy to share that some examples of that are already happening. Looking beyond NERRS, we were also intending to provide an interdisciplinary example of a large-scale assessment strategy for understanding national sensitivity to climate change in coastal systems.

What is socioeconomics and why was it the focus of your part of this project?
Socioeconomics refers to those social and economic factors that influence communities and the interaction among those factors. I had previously researched factors influencing the broader integration of social science into NERR programming at the site-level; so, even prior to this research, I was interested in looking at how a deeper understanding and integration of socioeconomics could enable more effective accomplishment of NERRS goals and objectives. I have also been doing a fair amount of work related to climate change during the past few years, so that topic was certainly an area of interest for me as well. To top it all off, I work with some incredible people at the University of Wisconsin, and we were able to assemble a talented project team with expertise in sociology, demography, social indicators, and geographic information systems. We couldn’t have completed this project without the expertise of my University of Wisconsin colleagues, Katherine Curtis, Jing Gao, Ken Genskow, Jerrett Jones, and Dan Veroff.

Can you describe additional types of thinking behind this approach as it relates to other studies done on climate sensitivity?
Our socioeconomic work on this project, as is often the case, involved understanding and adapting some great work previously done by others. The approach we used for our analysis of social sensitivity for the NERRS modified a Social Vulnerability Index methodology developed by researchers at the University of South Carolina. In addition, we drew insights from published work looking at the effects of sea level rise on community vulnerability and the built environment.

What’s next?
In a prior answer, I shared that some reserves are already looking at using the information developed through this research as the foundation for additional analyses, planning, and strategy development at the local level. That is very exciting for us and we look forward to helping to move that process along. In addition, we would like to work toward making the data and results from this research accessible online. We are hoping that we can work with NOAA partners to make that a reality.

Were can readers find this report and other climate science taking place at NOAA and University of Wisconsin?
The report is available online at NERRS Climate Sensitivity Report. In addition, the University of Wisconsin has a number of interesting things going on related to climate science. I Co-Direct the Environmental Resources Center ( We have ongoing work related to understanding the impacts of climate change on traditional lifeways, American Indian communities, and local cultures. We are also involved in outreach efforts related to community climate adaptation planning, and we are researching and developing climate change core competencies for community outreach professionals. The Wisconsin Initiative on Climate Change Impacts ( is also a great source of information and several staff at the Environmental Resources Center are involved in efforts through the initiative.


while male with brown hair

Dr. Patrick Robinson

Guest Blogger Biography: Dr. Patrick Robinson is the Co-Director and Environmental Studies Specialist for the Environmental Resources Center, which is a center jointly administered by the University of Wisconsin-Madison and University of Wisconsin-Extension. He has a doctorate degree in environment and resources and a Master of Science degree in ecosystem studies. His areas of interest include collaborative natural resource management, interdisciplinary approaches to solving environmental challenges, and ecosystem studies. Patrick worked for several years on the designation process for the Lake Superior National Estuarine Research Reserve. He has a broad range of experience that includes previously working in state agency and private sector employment.

This entry was posted in General, National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NOAA, NOAA's Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management, Oxford Coopertive Laboratory, Science for Coastal Ecosystem Management and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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