Project Summary

Overview

The long term sustainability of coastal ecosystems is influenced by anthropogenic activity,   and in particular, climate change. Informing effective decisions to prevent and respond to these threats  can only be accomplished through an enhanced understanding of the interplay among social, biological, and physical systems. Anticipating and managing future changes is a unique challenge requiring accurate representation and integration of climate drivers, biophysical responses, economic impacts, and   adaptation decisions, but also the production of model outputs that are usable for decision making. To enhance usability, our approach uses collaborations between scientists and stakeholders to foster mutual learning and the production of information that can support real-world decisions towards sustainability.   In this proposal, we focus on advancing understanding of (1) the coupled human-natural system and (2) knowledge co-production, using harmful algal blooms (HABs) in the Great Lakes as a test case.  As HAB events have been increasing globally over the past decade and directly impact ecosystem services for coastal communities (e.g., drinking water provision, fishing and recreation), understanding, predicting   and alleviating this water quality issue is a problem of great societal relevance.  We will study western Lake Erie because of our ability to build upon previous research and existing datasets and our previous involvement the region’s policy networks.

Intellectual Merit: The proposed work is organized around the overarching question:  How does climate influence the biophysical dynamics of freshwater ecosystems and ecosystem services, and how can scientist and stakeholder co-production of information enhance coastal decision-making and sustainability? We will advance the fundamental knowledge of (1) the role of precipitation change and how uncertainty in climate model precipitation affects simulations of phosphorous loading, (2) the role of cold season processes on climate and phosphorous loading, (3) primary climate versus anthropogenic drivers that alter phosphorous loading, (4) the drivers over time and space controlling the size and  location of future HABs, (5) how humans and the valuation of ecosystem services respond to HABs, and

(6) information usability, by better understanding drivers of use and the kinds of decisions that may emerge from the co-production process. We will focus on four stakeholder sectors:  water treatment, beach management, recreational fishing and agricultural management and policy. Workshops will develop decision-relevant information for and feedback from those responsible for preventing future HABs (considering watershed loading simulations) and those required to adapt to current HABs (considering HAB forecasts).

Broader Impacts:  Because of the nature of the co-production framework, intellectual merit and broader impacts are closely intertwined. In practice, the high level of iteration between the science team and stakeholders at the proposed workshops will both inform our scientific goals and shape broader impacts through close communication and stakeholder engagement.  Our integrated modeling approach is transferable and our results applicable to other coastal areas where stakeholders are attempting to manage complex ecological systems.  Beyond the scientific activities planned in the project, we will communicate our results widely and leverage the fact that our team members are actively engaged in regional and trans- national policy networks to purposefully disseminate our approach and lessons learned. We will train a cohort of four graduate students and five postdoctoral fellows in an integrated interdisciplinary context, as the broad range of discipline amongst the investigators fosters a systemic approach in studying coupled human-natural systems.  We will hold annual stakeholder meetings and intensive workshops to co- produce knowledge, and as such, integrate stakeholder knowledge and perspectives into our scientific outputs. Our stakeholder workshops create pathways by which project outputs (co-produced integrated model output for water treatment, recreational fishing, beach management, and agricultural policy and management sectors) can inform decisions that will enhance coastal sustainability (a project outcome).

Broad dissemination will also occur through publication of research results, media videos, existing and new coursework at academic institutions, and public talks and lectures.