CUC NSF Climate Strategy Input

Research and Education Priorities to Address Climate Change, Boost Environmental Resilience, and Advance Coastal Communities at the National Science Foundation

The Coastal Universities Coalition (CUC) is an ad hoc consortium of the nation’s leading academic institutions convened to develop science-based solutions to the most pressing issues facing populated coastal regions. By leveraging stakeholder-driven, interdisciplinary research collaborations to directly inform public policy, the CUC is developing solutions to make coastal communities more sustainable and resilient for the 21st century and beyond.

The below recommendations were compiled from researchers and affiliates of the Coastal Universities Coalition in order to inform and aid in the National Science Foundation’s pursuit of expanding climate and environment research. The proposed new Directorate for Technology, Innovation, and Partnerships provides several opportunities to conduct research to contribute to countering, mitigating, and adapting to climate change. In addition, existing programs and directorates can play a major role in this effort through expanding successful programs and filling gaps in emerging environmental research areas.

Expansion of the Coastlines and People Program

Following the outline set forth in the fiscal year (FY) 2022 President’s Budget Request, NSF should expand the Coastlines and People Program to support additional hubs that will prioritize a wider array of topics. For example, the program could expand to include studies of the interactions between ecological processes, biodiversity change, and people along coastlines, rather than its current focus primarily on geohazards. While initial awardees have not yet been announced, the wide expanse of coastal issues and community impacts will only grow with worsening climate change. Additionally, the program should also expand to prioritize environmental justice in management implementation, as well as increasing diversity in the coastal sciences pipeline.

Expand community resilience and justice research partnerships

Research is needed to further understand environmental resilience, environmental justice challenges, and build better tools to address future needs. Agencies including the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) offer environmental resilience grants (Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities (BRIC) and Environmental Justice grants respectively), but these are not open to academic researchers directly. NSF should develop research programs based on these concepts or partner with FEMA and EPA to ensure that these programs enable future-oriented research and academic partnerships.

Grow risk assessment and decision science research with particular emphasis on climate readiness

Climate and resilience science and preparedness can only be useful if there are reactive systems in place which are able to make use of the information. NSF’s Decision, Risk, and Management Sciences Program is a good starting point for this work, but should be improved to take into account environmental justice, technology adoption as it relates to equity, and partnerships with local decisionmakers and risk managers. This program should also have additional emphasis on fast- and slow-moving climate risks, public interest in understanding these risks, and policy solutions.

Support training and hiring of scientists conducting publicly engaged, convergent climate research

Creating a strong pipeline to support the next generation of climate researchers will be vital in supporting communities in the fight against climate change. NSF should develop training and hiring programs focused on publicly engaged climate scientists, including through a topical focus within the IUSE, IGE and NRT calls on publicly engaged, convergent climate research; a new graduate fellowship following the model of the GK12 fellowship, and direct funding for new faculty hires. NSF should ensure that the institutional knowledge developed by such programs is retained by developing incentives for the retention of researchers performing the long-term work of community engaged scholarship.

Support use-inspired fundamental research on impact of climate change on weather extremes

Preparing for and adapting to expected changes in climate will be crucial for coastal states over the course of the decades to come. Although the broad outlines of expected changes are known, the greatest impacts will come from extreme weather events (e.g., hurricanes, winter storms, extreme precipitation, heatwaves) and their impacts (e.g., storm surge, wind damage, riverine and flash flooding, wildfires). Greater investment in fundamental research on climate change and extreme weather events through existing programs would provide the basic science required to inform policies that protect vulnerable communities and ecosystems.

Support research at the intersection of climate change, biodiversity change, and people

Ecological communities and ecosystems along coastlines are being transformed not only by the direct impacts of climate change, but also the indirect impacts through changes in human behavior. Effects such as coastal eutrophication, wildlife diseases, changing species abundance and diversity, sustainable fisheries and aquaculture, marsh loss, and invasive species present major challenges for society. There is an urgent need to better understand the links from climate change (including extreme events) to coastal biodiversity change, the feedbacks through human behavior, and the feedbacks to the climate system. Such knowledge will help develop effective solutions for mitigation and adaptation. Greater investment in use-inspired fundamental research that involves partners inside and outside academia will enable communities to address the challenges they face, including those communities most vulnerable to climate change.

If you have any questions or would like to discuss further, please reach out to Christina Laridaen, to be connected to contributors and researchers directly.

Last Updated on November 3, 2021