The Gulf Research Program (GRP) seeks to support use-inspired research to improve understanding of how coastal ecosystems in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico region are affected by or interact with natural processes (e.g., sea level rise, watershed hydrology) and human activities (e.g., coastal development, energy-related infrastructure, recreational and commercial fisheries) as part of a coupled natural-human system.
As highlighted in a recent National Academies report, Understanding the Long-Term Evolution of the Coupled Natural-Human Coastal System: The Future of the U.S. Gulf Coast, the Gulf Coast is a complex system with deeply interconnected natural and human interactions and feedbacks. The physical landscape is dynamic and subject to processes such as hurricanes, sea level rise, and subsidence. Within this landscape, diverse ecosystems experience changes in external inputs, including quantities of nutrients, freshwater, and sediment that in turn affect the function and dynamics of those ecosystems. In parallel to these natural processes, human activities, such as coastal development and the presence of industrial activities, also affect the natural landscape. Given these interconnectivities, supporting the resilience and maintaining the habitability of the Gulf Coast in the future requires:
Improved understanding of the different components of this coupled natural-human coastal system and their interactions and feedbacks, and
Effective use of this understanding in related decision-making and management actions.
To advance overall understanding of the coupled natural-human system of the U.S. Gulf Coast, we seek projects that address critical research gaps related to increasing understanding of the function and dynamics of U.S. Gulf Coast ecosystems within the broader context of the interactions and feedbacks between ecosystems and natural processes and/or human activities (e.g., those related to sea level rise, changes in hydrology and sediment loading, increasing storm intensity and frequency, coastal development, industrial activity). It is expected that projects will be directly applicable to informing decision-making and management actions in the Gulf Coast region either through conducting needed foundational science and/or by developing a new or improving an existing actionable output (e.g., decision tool).
The GRP is especially looking for projects that increase understanding of:
- the effects of current and predicted future physical and environmental conditions on the distribution and abundance of key ecosystems along the Gulf Coast, including – but not limited to – salt marshes, oyster reefs, dunes, beaches, seagrass meadows, barrier islands, and mangrove forests; and/or
- the individual or combined role of specific environmental conditions, physical forcing, climate change, and coastal development on the function and dynamics of Gulf Coast ecosystems.
Examples of potential projects could include:
- A modeling study that focuses on understanding the relative importance of specific physical and/or human factors (e.g., a hurricane or an oil spill) on a particular ecosystem function (e.g., nutrient processing) or ecosystem distribution (e.g., mangroves).
- A field study that includes collection of critical data to inform an integrated model for planning; for example, how an oyster reef might change in response to a coastal development project or other human activities.
- A data synthesis study that combines existing data from multiple disciplines, and perhaps includes some original data collection, to provide new insight into how rising sea levels may affect marsh distribution.
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