George Perkins Marsh Institute

Current Research Projects

The Marsh Institute draws on expertise from the social, natural, and technical sciences to conduct multidisciplinary, integrated research programs, both nationally and internationally. Its studies typically represent the interactions in various ways of humans and the environment. Many diverse themes exist.

The following are some of the Institute's current projects, listed alphabetically by principal investigator:



Conserving Small Natural Features with Large Ecosystem Functions in Urbanizing Landscapes

Principal Investigator at Clark University: Dana Bauer
Collaborators: Kathleen Bell, Aram Calhoun, Malcolm Hunter, Cynthia Loftin, and Michael Kinnison (University of Maine), and Erik Nelson (Bowdoin College)

Funding Agency: National Science Foundation

Many landscapes have small natural features whose importance for biodiversity or ecosystem services belies their small size. Management challenges for these areas include: uncertainties over their location and contributions to ecosystem services; tensions between private property rights and public rights to environmental protection; and the spatial mismatch between the broad, regional accrual of beneficial services and the concentrated, local costs of protection. Conservation strategies are undermined by limited scientific knowledge, especially of mechanisms that link ecological and social processes. In the forested landscapes of the Northeast, small, seasonally inundated wetlands (vernal pools) emerge as an excellent model system to study the dynamics of small natural feature management. This project brings together a team of ecologists and economists from multiple sub-disciplines and institutions to: (1) explore the biophysical and socioeconomic components of one type of small natural feature, vernal pools, as a coupled-systems model for management of these features; (2) improve strategies for conserving vernal pools and other small natural features with large significance; and (3) share results with local and state-level stakeholders and policy makers.

Informing Conservation Program Targeting for Cost-Effective Integrated Pollinator-Pest Management

Principal Investigator: Dana Bauer

Funding Agency: US Department of Agriculture

Pollinator-dependent crops--mostly fruits, vegetables, and nuts--tend to be high-valued, high-nutrition food and shortages in the availability of pollination services could be devastating from both nutritional and economic perspectives. Recent declines in both managed and wild pollinators have been attributed in part to habitat loss and pesticide exposure. Growers of pollinator-dependent crops are thus confronted with potential on-farm tradeoffs between effective pest control and successful pollination and their decision making is further complicated because pollinators and pesticides often cross property boundaries. However, growers differ in their knowledge of both the pollination services provided by insects as well as impacts of pesticide exposure on such services. They also differ in their willingness to adjust management practices to address these impacts, and these differences likely depend on the particular cropscape (i.e., the land-use patterns and specific crops grown) within which the grower operates. This research project will first develop an integrated pollinator- pesticide cropscape typology that places each county in the continental U.S. along a pollinator risk-reward gradient. The research will then conduct grower surveys in select cropscapes to answer the following questions: (i) How aware are growers of the different pathways through which pollinators are exposed to pesticides? (ii) Will provisioning of information regarding the damages of pesticides and the benefits of pollinator habitat offer enough private incentive for growers to change their management practices or are additional policies or programs, such as payments for habitat conservation or pesticide abatement, warranted? (iii) How do differences among growers and cropscapes vary across the U.S. and how can we use this information to guide cost-effective spatial targeting of federal, state, and local pollinator conservation programs?

Navigating the Trade-off between Pest Management and Pollinator Conservation

Principal Investigator: Dana Bauer

Funding Agency: US Department of Agriculture


Originally introduced in the mid-1990s, neonicotinoid insecticides ('neonics') experienced an exponential rise in use on farmland over the past two decades and are now the most widely used insecticides in the world. Unfortunately, the attributes that make neonics versatile and powerful pest management tools also make non-targeted insects vulnerable to their effects. Specifically, neonics have been implicated as a factor in sudden die-offs of managed honeybee hives and long term declines in native bee populations. Thus, farmers growing pollinator-dependent crops, which represents a large fraction of all fruits and vegetables, are confronted with a potential trade-off between two competing aspects of crop production: effective pest suppression and successful pollination. The overarching goal of this $3.6 million, 5-year project is to develop holistic pest-pollinator joint management regimes that are effective, profitable, and sustainable. Specifically, this project will: identify insecticide management strategies that simultaneously optimize pest suppression while minimizing non-target exposure to pollinators; determine the consequences of neonic exposure for honey and wild bee health; and assess the ecological and socioeconomic trade-offs among pollinators, pests, crop yield, and farm profitability resulting from alternative pest management regimes. This interdisciplinary research partnership involves collaborators from the George Perkins Marsh Institute at Clark University, Purdue University, Michigan State University, Ohio State University, and the University of New Hampshire. Marsh Institute assistant director Dana Bauer is leading the economic analysis of grower preferences, profitability, and decision-making.

Preparation of Land Sector Policy Papers

Principal Investigator: Cynthia Caron

Funding Agency: Global Land Alliance/Millennium Challenge Corporation

The Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) works with developing countries to promote sustainable economic growth and reduce poverty. The objectives of MCC's land investments include improved land tenure security and access to land for investment purposes to boost economic activity and growth, as well as to support improved use and productivity of land. In an effort to support decisions on land policy and legal reform actions in Sri Lanka, this project will produce a policy paper investigating the benefits of co-ownership of permits/grants and joint titling between spouses of land and inheritance reform in order to increase land productivity, reduce poverty, and promote gender equity. The research will address the following questions: (1) How will greater gender equity in land rights and inheritance of land benefit the economy and social stability in rural areas? (2) Does the evidence of effects on the economy support a Government of Sri Lanka initiative for changes in policy, law, and implementation?

Belmont Forum Collaborative Research: Migration, Transformation and Sustainability

Principal Investigators: Edward Carr and Anita Fabos

Funding Agency: National Science Foundation/Belmont Forum

There is currently unprecedented concern over involuntary migration globally affecting insecurity and human rights. However, both domestic and international migration has enormous transformative potential for individuals and societies. Existing theories of transformation fail to recognize both positive and negative impacts of the movement of people. This gap limits explanations and intervention strategies for sustainability. The objective of this research is to expand knowledge of transformations to sustainability by incorporating specific migration dynamics including: the impact of aggregate flows of people on sustainability; the individual life course dimensions of sustainability; and the governance of migration and sustainability. This project will develop a comprehensive migration-sustainability model and identify insights on sustainability strategies at local, national, and international scales. As part of a large interdisciplinary social-science led consortium from Europe, North America, Asia and Africa, this research will build global capacity of social science to explain and engage with migration dimensions of transformations to sustainability.

Toward a Learning Agenda: Generating Knowledge and Evidence for Climate Information Services (CIS) Design and Implementation

Principal Investigators: Edward Carr, Sheila Onzere and Robert Goble

Funding Agency: USAID/Mercy Corps

Climate information services (CIS) involve the production and use of climate knowledge in climate-smart decisions, planning, and policy-making. Easily accessible, timely, and relevant scientific information can help society cope with current climate variability and limit the economic and social damage caused by climate-related disturbances. The goal of this project is to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of future investments in CIS delivery, and ultimately increase the number of users of CIS who will benefit through livelihood practices. Through literature reviews, analyses of existing CIS systems, and a pilot evaluation program using the Humanitarian Response and Development Lab (HURDL) Livelihoods as Intimate Government (LIG) approach, this project will (1) increase understanding of, and access to, knowledge on the effectiveness of current CIS programming, (2) expand the current understanding of how CIS systems function in the context of broader social, cultural, and institutional systems within which they operate, (3) increase evidence on the degree of effectiveness of CIS on livelihoods, and (4) escalate dissemination and uptake of new knowledge.

Linking Gender Based Violence, Gendered Forest Governance, and Forest Outcomes

Principal Investigators: Edward Carr, Sheila Onzere, Denise Bebbington, and Cynthia Caron

Funding Agency: World Resources Institute

This project will explore the connection between different levels of women's participation in forest governance and forest outcomes. Gender-based violence emerges as a means by which households and communities discipline women and therefore shape their participation in forest governance, producing different levels of participation. A small number (2-3) case study communities in will be selected based on differences in the level of women's participation in forest governance. Using remotely sensed forest cover data and Humanitarian Response Development Lab (HURDL) Livelihoods as Intimate Government (LIG) ethnographic approaches, an understanding of the connection, if any, between these differing degrees of women's participation and differences in forest outcomes will be developed. Results from this work will support calls for future work on changing/improving women's participation in forest governance.

Developing and Scaling Up the Mapping Africa Active Learning Platform

Principal Investigator: Lyndon Estes

Funding Agency: Omidyar Network

This need for both growth and reform of agriculture is particularly urgent in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), where populations are expected to double and economies quintuple by 2050, leading to a tripling of food demand. Existing agricultural maps for SSA fail to quantify even the most basic agricultural characteristics (where and how much cropland there is), and must become much more accurate at much finer resolutions if we are to adequately solve agriculture's challenges.

This project refines and tests a methodology for a scalable, fast, and cost-effective land cover mapping platform based on active learning, a next generation computer vision/machine learning algorithm that directs human mappers (based in SSA) to collect training data over the most difficult to classify locations, iterating until maximal accuracy is achieved. Active learning produces maps that are more accurate across a broader range of agricultural types than conventional classification methods. The maps will not only distinguish agricultural from non-agricultural areas with unprecedented accuracy, but will go beyond pixel-based classifications to map individual fields. The platform will be tested in Ghana.

Impacts of Agricultural Decision Making and Adaptive Management on Food Security

Principal Investigator: Lyndon Estes

Funding Agency: National Science Foundation

Despite significant attention from governments, donor agencies, and NGOs, food security remains an unresolved challenge in the context of global human welfare. Both technical and conceptual limits have prevented the collection and analysis of rich empirical datasets with high temporal frequency over large spatial extents necessary to investigate how changes to seasonal precipitation patterns are affecting food security. Working with collaborators at UC Santa Barbara and Indiana University, researchers will integrate physical models of hydrological and agricultural dynamics with real-time environmental data obtained from previously-developed novel cellular-based environmental sensing pods and real-time reports of farmer decision making submitted via cell phones. The research addresses three critical research questions: (1) How do intra-seasonal dynamics of both the environment and social systems shape farmer adaptive capacity? (2) To what extent does intra-seasonal decision making enable farmers to adapt to climate uncertainty? (3) How can intra-seasonal data improve the ability to model, predict, and improve adaptation to climate variability in ways that enhance food security?

Integrating Crowdsourcing, in situ Sensing, and Spaceborne Observation to Understand the Sustainability of Smallholder Agriculture in African Wet Savannas

Principal Investigator: Lyndon Estes

Funding Agency: National Aeronautics and Space Administration

Livelihoods in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) rely heavily on small-scale farming. This dependence could deepen as SSA's wetter savannas will be increasingly farmed to meet growing food demand, while economic growth strategies promote the expansion of smallholder farming. This large-scale, smallholder-based agricultural development in a region with a highly variable climate raises two important sustainability questions: (1) Do strategies for increasing smallholders' productivity increase or decrease their resilience to climatic variability? (2) Will productivity gains minimize the amount of new land needed for agriculture? This project will use a novel approach that integrates crowd-sourcing, in situ environmental sensing, and Earth Observing satellites to achieve three main objectives: (1) identify patterns of cropland change in smallholder farms; (2) identify landscape-scale trends in smallholder productivity; and (3) understand the relationships between changes in crop productivity, land cover, and climatic variability. The project focuses on maize farming in Zambia, a bellwether for regional agricultural development that has seen recent maize yield increases and farmland expansion.

Linkages and Interactions between Urban Food Security and Rural Agricultural Systems

Principal Investigator: Lyndon Estes

Funding Agency: National Science Foundation

Meeting urban food demand due to population growth, the changing nature of food consumption patterns, and the vulnerability of both local and regional food production to environmental variability presents future challenges. Globalization and international flows and trade of food and commodities are key aspects of how urban areas will meet future food demand. But urban areas exhibit different levels of connectivity to international, regional, and local food systems. Additionally, most urban food security research has focused on large metropolitan areas, despite the reality that significant numbers of urban residents live in small to moderate sized urban places. Given complex patterns of urbanization and their differential engagement with global, regional, and local food supply chains, new research is needed to understand what types of urban places are most vulnerable to impacts of local and regional crop production, and what type of urban agglomerations can mitigate those impacts through food imports from distant areas. This project evaluates the impacts of environmental variability on rural agricultural production and how this affects urban food security, and, in turn, how urban population growth affects the demand for local and regional agricultural production, as measured through food trade and other flows. This large-scale interdisciplinary research partnership involves collaborators from University of Arizona, University of California Santa Barbara, and University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Clark researchers are responsible for characterizing rural agricultural production using remote sensing and modeling the land use impact of different urbanization scenarios.

Understanding Cross-Scale Interactions of Trade and Food Policy to Improve Resilience to Drought Risk

Principal Investigator: Lyndon Estes

Funding Agency: National Science Foundation

Food security in regions affected by drought is influenced by a complex set of interactions between hydrological, agricultural, and social systems. Previous models examining the impact of drought on food security have not incorporated food trade and food movements at fine spatial scales, yet these components are critical parts of regional food systems. In sub-Saharan Africa droughts and floods account for approximately 80% of fatalities and 70% of the economic losses that are due to natural hazards. This project's goal is to understand the effect of drought hazards in subsistence agriculture using a novel integrative framework that merges data, models, and knowledge of drought risk and crop production; their interactions with the dynamics of trade-based and aid-based responses; and their effect on household food security and consumption. With collaborators at Princeton University, this project addresses three questions: (1) What are the spatio-temporal scales of drought risk across Zambia and how does risk transfer into agricultural impacts? (2) What is the role of trade and domestic food policy on food security at local to national levels? (3) Can drought impacts be more effectively reduced by integrating an understanding of policy and food transfers into an agricultural drought early warning system?

Developing Remote Sensing Capabilities for Meter-scale Sea Ice Properties

Principal Investigator: Karen Frey

Funding Agency: US Office of Naval Research

An increasing array of higher resolution commercial satellite assets has created the opportunity to directly track meter-scale sea ice properties over large areas. These high resolution satellite assets provide panchromatic optical, multispectral optical, and synthetic aperture radar (SAR) capabilities at high enough resolution (0.5-2.0m) to directly resolve features like melt ponds, floe boundaries, and individual ridges. These features have not been resolved by most earlier space-based remote sensing assets but are of substantial geophysical importance. Collecting imagery of the sea ice using these assets and applying this imagery to track these meter-scale processes at carefully chosen, regionally-representative sites will provide an important set of data products for modeling and process studies, and permit a newly comprehensive assessment of the processes driving ice loss in the Arctic. Throughout the program we will focus on disseminating both data and techniques developed to ensure the broadest possible impact of the work. The work will directly address a particular focus of the 2013 ONR core program solicitation by contributing to "the development of sea ice and ocean products derived from remotely sensed data."

Collaborative Research: The Distributed Biological Observatory (DBO) -- A Change Detection Array in the Pacific Arctic Region (Phase 1)

Principal Investigator: Karen Frey

Collaborative Principal Investigators: Robert Pickart (Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution) and Jacqueline Grebmeier (University of Maryland Center for Environmental Sciences)

Funding Agency: National Science Foundation

Several regionally critical marine sites in the Pacific Arctic sector that have very high biomass and are focused foraging points for apex predators, have been reoccupied during multiple international cruises. The data documenting the importance of these ecosystem "hotspots" provide a growing marine time-series from the northern Bering Sea to Barrow Canyon at the boundary of the Chukchi and Beaufort seas. Results from these studies show spatial changes in carbon production and export to the sediments as indicated by infaunal community composition and biomass, shifts in sediment grain size on a S-to-N latitudinal gradient, and range extensions for lower trophic levels and further northward migration of higher trophic organisms, such as gray whales. There is also direct evidence of negative impacts on ice dependent species, such as walruses and polar bears. To more systematically track the broad biological response to sea ice retreat and associated environmental change, an international consortium of scientists are developing a coordinated Distributed Biological Observatory (DBO) that includes selected biological measurements at multiple trophic levels. These measurements are being made simultaneously with hydrographic surveys and satellite observations. The DBO currently focuses on five regional biological "hotspot" locations along a latitudinal gradient. The spatially explicit DBO network is being organized through the Pacific Arctic Group (PAG), a consensus-driven, international collaboration sanctioned by the International Arctic Science Committee. This project will be a U.S. contribution to the DBO effort in the Pacific Sector, and the scientific needs to be met are consistent with research needs identified in the US National Ocean Policy planning effort, and the NOAA strategic plan. The implemented project will serve as a contribution to the US-led Arctic Observing Network and will improve international cooperative efforts for evaluating ecosystem impacts from high latitude climate change. Identifying and collecting key prey-predator biological data in the context of high priority physical and chemical measurements will allow for integration of these data into scientific community analyses and ecosystem modeling efforts. Outreach to local communities and media will ensure that both those immediately impacted and the broader public will be made aware of changes going on in this sensitive area of the Arctic.

Collaborative Research: The Distributed Biological Observatory (DBO) -- A Change Detection Array in the Pacific Arctic Region, 2019-2024

Principal Investigator: Karen Frey

Funding Agency: National Science Foundation

The Pacific Arctic Region (PAR) is experiencing major reductions in seasonal sea ice and increases in seawater temperatures. A key uncertainty is how the marine ecosystem will respond to these shifts in the timing of spring sea ice retreat or delays in fall sea ice formation. Recent observations of reduced sea ice extent and duration and seawater warming are linked to shifts in species composition and abundance, as well as northward range expansions in higher trophic predators (e.g. gray and humpback whales, and commercially harvested fish). There is also direct evidence of negative impacts on ice-dependent species such as walruses. Some distribution shifts may be driven by changes in lower trophic level productivity that directly cascade into higher trophic levels. Spatial changes in carbon production and export to the sediments—as indicated by macrofaunal community composition and biomass, changing sediment grain size, and range extensions for lower trophic levels—are additional observations that have grown out of recent sampling efforts. An international consortium of scientists has implemented a coordinated Distributed Biological Observatory (DBO) that undertakes selected biological measurements at multiple trophic levels, simultaneously collected with hydrographic surveys and satellite observations. The DBO approach provides multiple repeat sampling each year and new, more seasonally continuous data on the status and developing trends for the PAR ecosystem. This continuing project will focus on the following research questions: (1) Will an earlier sea ice retreat and changes in seawater hydrographic properties (salinity, temperature, and nutrients) influence the composition of pelagic and benthic prey species, and how will upper trophic organisms be affected? (2) What is the impact of seasonal changes in hydrography on the lateral and vertical distribution of primary production and export production to the benthos? (3) What will be the ecosystem responses to latitudinal changes in environmental drivers and can we forecast the biological response to components of the food web through ecological modeling?

Collaborative Research: The Distributed Biological Observatory (DBO)-A Change Detection Array in the Pacific Arctic Region (Phase 2)

Principal Investigator: Karen Frey

Collaborative Investigators: Jacqueline Grebmeier (University of Maryland Center for Environmental Sciences), Kathleen Stafford (University of Washington), and Robert Pickart (Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)

Funding Agency: National Science Foundation

Within the Pacific Arctic region, the northern Bering and Chukchi Seas are among the most productive marine ecosystems.Recent shifts in seasonal sea ice cover are having profound consequences for seasonal phytoplankton production as well affecting intimately linked upper trophic level species, including those harvested locally for subsistence. Many organisms are changing their distribution, migration and foraging patterns. However, key uncertainties remain as to how the marine ecosystem will respond to seasonal shifts in the timing of spring sea ice retreat and/or delays in fall sea ice formation. The internationally-coordinated Distributed Biological Observatory network provides a change detection array that allows for consistent sampling and monitoring of productivity hotspots by all participants. The overarching goal of this continuing project is to use coordinated south-to-north observations as a "space for time" strategy in which a suite of physical, biochemical, and biological measurements evaluate ecosystem change both seasonally and inter-annually over the spatially diverse latitudinal gradient. Specific questions for Phase 2 include: (1) Will an earlier sea ice retreat and changes in seawater properties influence the composition of pelagic and benthic prey species that can cascade to upper trophic organisms? (2) How will plankton and the benthos change on the Pacific Arctic continental shelves with reduced sea ice persistence over a south-to-north latitudinal basis, both seasonally and temporally? (3) What is the impact of seasonal changes in hydrography (salinity, temperature, and nutrients) on the lateral and vertical distribution of primary production and export production to the benthos?

Observing and Understanding the Impacts of a Thinning and Retreating Sea Ice Cover on Light Propagation, Primary Productivity, and Biogeochemistry in the Pacific Arctic Region

Principal Investigator: Karen Frey

Funding Agency: National Aeronautics and Space Administration

The Arctic sea ice cover is undergoing tremendous changes. There has been a pronounced decrease in the summer sea ice extent, an overall thinning of the ice, a lengthening of the summer melt season, and a fundamental shift to a primarily seasonal sea ice cover. Some of the greatest changes in the sea ice cover have been observed in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas, where there has been substantial loss of summer ice in recent decades. These changes in the physical system are profoundly affecting biological and biogeochemical systems as well. Results from the NASA-sponsored Impacts of Climate on the Eco-Systems and Chemistry of the Arctic Pacific Environment (ICESCAPE) program demonstrated how physical changes in the sea ice impact primary productivity and biogeochemistry by altering sunlight availability. Massive phytoplankton blooms in the water column were found directly beneath a melting, yet fully consolidated, sea ice cover in the central Chukchi Sea in July of 2010 and 2011. Unexpectedly high levels of transmitted sunlight through the ice cover into nutrient rich waters below enabled these blooms to occur. Furthermore, subsequent laboratory experiments have demonstrated that this available sunlight is also sufficient for significant photodegradation of chromophoric dissolved organic matter (CDOM) in the water column beneath the ice, which has important implications for the absorption of sunlight and heat balance of the upper ocean. The overarching goal of this proposed work is to determine the impact of physical changes in the sea ice cover of the Chukchi and Beaufort seas on biological productivity and biogeochemical cycling in waters beneath and associated with this ice cover. We propose an interdisciplinary and multi-methodological approach to address this goal, with integration of field observations, satellite remote sensing, process studies, and large-scale modeling. Our geographic domain is focused in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas of the Pacific Arctic region, where replacement of multiyear sea ice with seasonal sea ice has taken place over recent decades. Because of the interdisciplinary nature of this work, we plan to integrate this research with several ongoing projects including leveraging various observations from previous and ongoing field programs. Furthermore, we plan a strong educational component to this research, which includes the training of two Ph.D. students, multiple undergraduate students, and comprehensive student involvement in research subcomponents at all involved institutions (Clark, Dartmouth, CRREL, University of Washington, and NASA GSFC).

Engaging Students in Science for International Decision Making

Principal Investigator: Elisabeth Gilmore

Funding Agency: National Science Foundation

Addressing global environmental issues involves working at the intersection of science and decision making. Graduate students and early career researchers who engage in environmental research, however, have few meaningful opportunities within academia to gain the knowledge and training on how their research can be employed for social innovation and collective impacts. This project provides an innovative and immersive three-part experience for students on communicating science for decision making through student-led presentations and outreach at a meeting on international environmental issues. First, a three-day university-based workshop will convene students from multiple institutions and provide intensive training by experts in environmental negotiations and science policy. Students will also work together to develop team presentations on their science research for delivery at a decision-making body. Second, at the UN Framework Convention Conference of the Parties (COP25) in Santiago, Chile, the students will present at an official event for the delegates and an event for the public, conduct media outreach, and participate in daily debriefs led by faculty to link the training at the workshop to the COP agenda. Finally, the students will develop materials stemming from their presentation and experience, such as blogs, press releases and reports. By coupling training and authentic, real world engagement, students will learn how to navigate environmental issues in decision making, gain intercultural and diplomacy skills, and build professional networks.

Forecasting Armed Civil Conflict under Alternative Climate Change and Socioeconomic Scenarios

Principal Investigator: Elisabeth Gilmore

Funding Agency: US Department of Defense

The impact of climate change on conflict is complex as the pathways are likely indirect and conditional. Changing weather patterns and other physical processes associated with climate change can amplify common drivers of armed conflict, such as economic underperformance, food insecurity, and human displacement, but these effects will vary because the immediate and long-term impacts of climatic shocks depend on the affected societies' resilience and adaptive capacity. This project investigates the joint role of socioeconomic and climate change for forecasts of future armed conflicts. Currently, migration as an indicator of social stress, which may then lead to social unrest and violence in both receiving and originating communities, is being evaluated by eliciting experts' mental maps of the potential pathways.

Assessment and Scoping of Infrastructure and Extractive Industries in Relation to Deforestation - Part 2

Principal Investigators: Denise Humphreys Bebbington, Anthony Bebbington, and John Rogan

Funding Agency: Climate and Land Use Alliance (CLUA)

Large-scale infrastructure and extractive industry projects have attracted significant private and public investment, with direct and indirect synergies between them. However, while the effect of roads on deforestation has been widely studied, the extent to which extractive industry affects forest cover and forest-dependent livelihoods is less clear. Although the actual footprint of operations is modest in absolute terms, the footprint of pollutant-based externalities can be far larger. In addition, the drivers of these different processes are multiple and complex. With a focus on three regions (Brazil, Mexico/Central America, and Indonesia), this project: (i) describes the recent geography of infrastructural and extractive industry investments; (ii) assesses the current state of knowledge regarding the impacts of these investments on forest cover and quality, and the rights, organizations and livelihoods of forest dependent communities; (iii) examines the work different organizations are already doing on the relationships among infrastructure, extractives and forests including what their successes and failures have been with different types of strategy; and (iv) identifies feasible strategies for CLUA.

Advancing Southern New England Shellfish Aquaculture through an Engaged Public and Next Generation Tools

Principal Investigators: Robert Johnston and Dana Bauer

Funding Agency: NOAA/National Sea Grant

Marine aquaculture plays an important role in producing domestic seafood. The largest sector of the U.S. marine aquaculture industry is molluscan shellfish (e.g. oysters, clams and mussels) which accounts for more than 50% of total production. A large number of shellfish operations are concentrated within the states of Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts where significant growth potential exists and in which stakeholder-based efforts are being implemented to support and expand this important U.S. food production sector. One of the most significant challenges facing future growth of the shellfish aquaculture industry in this region is siting new or expanding existing aquaculture operations in the face of negative public perceptions and mounting concerns highlighted by the media about potential environmental impacts and human use conflicts. Although in some cases these perceptions may be grounded in personal experience or accurate information, in other cases they may be motivated by a misunderstanding of the science or a past inability of aquaculture stakeholders to speak to the concerns that are most relevant to the public. This project will examine public values and support for prospective shellfish aquaculture expansion programs that could be enacted region- or state-wide, as determined by the explicit outcomes (e.g., facility siting, local seafood production, economic impacts, environmental impacts) resulting from alternative development strategies. The analysis will also consider the systematic effect of different types of information on this support, and how values and perceptions differ across resident groups. The purpose is to characterize how state and regional efforts to promote shellfish aquaculture can be designed and communicated in ways that best match residents' preferences--and hence optimize public support and value.

Coastal SEES Collaborative Research: A Cross-site Comparison of Salt Marsh Persistence in Response to Sea-level Rise and Feedbacks from Social Adaptations

Principal Investigator: Robert J. Johnston

Funding Agency: National Science Foundation

Nearly half of the world's population lives within 100 km of the coast, the area ranked as the most vulnerable to climate-driven sea-level rise (SLR). Projected rates of accelerated SLR are expected to cause massive changes that would transform both the ecological and social dynamics of low-lying coastal areas. It is thus essential to improve understanding of the sustainability of coupled coastal human-environment systems in the face of SLR. Salt marshes are intertidal habitats that provide a buffer for coastal communities to SLR and are also valued for many other ecosystem services, including wildlife habitat, nutrient cycling, carbon sequestration, aesthetics, and tourism. They are highly dynamic systems that have kept pace with changes in sea level over millennia. However, projected rates of SLR and increased human modification of coastal watersheds and shorelines may push marshes past a tipping point beyond which they are lost. Developing realistic scenarios of marsh vulnerability demands an integrated approach to understanding the feedbacks between the biophysical and social factors that influence the persistence of marshes and their supporting functions. This project will examine the comparative vulnerability of salt marshes to SLR in three U.S. Atlantic coastal sites that vary with respect to sediment supply, tidal range and human impacts. The research team will also address how feedbacks from potential adaptations influence marsh vulnerability, associated economic benefits and costs, and practical management decisions. Additional broader impacts include incorporating research results into curriculum used at local schools, an on-line cross-disciplinary graduate course, and on-going teacher-training programs, as well as training one postdoctoral researcher, four graduate students, and eight undergraduate researchers. This project is supported as part of the National Science Foundation's Coastal Science, Engineering, and Education for Sustainability program - Coastal SEES.

This project leverages the long-term data, experiments and modeling tools at three Atlantic Coast Long-Term Ecological Research sites (in MA, VA, GA), and addresses the broad interdisciplinary question "How will feedbacks between marsh response to SLR and human adaptation responses to potential marsh loss affect the overall sustainability of the combined socio-ecological systems?" The goals of the project are to understand: (1) how marsh vulnerability to current and projected SLR, with and without adaptation actions, compares across biogeographic provinces and a range of biophysical and social drivers; and (2) which marsh protection actions local stakeholder groups favor, and the broader sustainability and economic value implications of feasible adaptation options. The biophysical research uses historical trends, "point" and spatial models to determine threshold and long-term responses of marshes to SLR. Social responses to marsh vulnerability are integrated with biophysical models through future scenario planning with stakeholders, economic valuation of marsh adaptation options, and focus groups that place the combined project results within a concrete policy planning context to assess how marshes fit into the larger view of coastal socio-ecological sustainability. This integrated approach at multiple sites along gradients of both environmental and human drivers will allow for general conclusions to be made about human-natural system interactions and sustainability that can be broadly applicable to other coastal systems.

Coastal Hazards and Northeast Housing Values: Comparative Implications for Climate Change Adaptation and Community Resilience

Principal Investigator: Robert J. Johnston

Funding Agency: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration/Northeast Sea Grant consortium


Chief among the information needed to enhance coastal hazard adaptation are assessments of economic outcomes and policy implications. This project will combine coastal hazards, property value and other data with economic models to answer three questions central to Northeast coastal adaptation: (1) How do property values and tax bases in Northeast communities respond to coastal hazards, and do these responses create incentives to build/rebuild in risk-prone areas or undertake private adaptations? (2) How do property values and tax bases respond to adaptation actions undertaken by states, municipalities or homeowners/developers? (3) What do results imply for future scenarios of property values and tax bases in Northeast communities, under alternative SLR and hazard projections? The project will develop and apply rigorous social science methods that, when integrated with natural science data and projections on coastal vulnerability, will enable stakeholders and policymakers to evaluate property value and tax base impacts of climate change adaptation across Northeast states and communities. The result will be heretofore unavailable information quantifying the economic consequences of coastal vulnerability and adaptation. The project will be implemented in coordination with partners and communities involved in Northeast coastal adaptation including the Wells National Estuarine Research Reserve (NERR), Great Bay NERR, Waquoit Bay NERR, and Nature Conservancy in Connecticut. Beneficiaries of the project include coastal adaptation work groups and government organizations; target communities; project partners seeking to better inform coastal adaptation; and policymakers/stakeholders. Project results will enhance the ability of communities to choose adaptations with intended and desirable economic consequences. First, results will enable policymakers and the public to understand the effects of current hazard vulnerability on property values and the tax base, replacing unsupported claims with reliable empirical evidence. Second, the project will provide information that policymakers can use to forecast property value and tax base implications of alternative adaptation measures. Third, future scenarios mapping will provide information to support community dialogue and visioning. The project builds upon extensive prior work of the investigators coordinating natural/social science data to forecast economic outcomes and using results in partnership with stakeholders and policymakers to inform management.

The Economics of Marine Plastic Pollution: What are the Benefits of International Cooperation?

Clark University Principal Investigator: Robert J. Johnston
Collaborators: University of Stirling, University of Glasgow, Plymouth Marine Laboratory

Funding Agency: Economic and Social Research Council (UK)

Plastic pollution is a global phenomenon with significant impacts on the marine and coastal environment. Since plastic is resistant to degradation, it is expected to persist in the environment in some form over geological timescales, meaning that damages accrue over very long periods of time. However, the physical form of marine plastic changes over time, so that the type of damage from any given export of plastic is not temporally constant and the detailed processes behind the spatial distribution and fate of macro and micro plastic in the marine environment is poorly understood. The transboundary nature of marine plastic pollution reduces the incentive for any single country to reduce its emissions of plastic waste into the marine environment or to clean up plastic debris once it has entered the oceans. The physical properties and uncertainties associated with marine plastic, combined with the transboundary nature of the problem and a lack of international markets for control, has led to a lack of effective global actions to address the challenge of marine plastic despite increasing worldwide recognition of the problem. The fundamental aim of this international research project is to bring new insights to bear on the economic damages associated with marine plastic, the costs of reducing this pollution problem, and the net benefits of international coordination over reductions in marine plastic. The project is organized around four research questions, focused on a case study area of the North Atlantic: (1) What is the probable spatial distribution and movement of marine plastic and what are the associated ecological impacts? (2) What are the economic damage costs associated with marine plastic, for a range of North Atlantic countries? (3) What are the costs of reducing both the stock and the flows of plastic into and within the marine environment of the North Atlantic? (4) What are the economic benefits of different levels of international cooperation in emissions reductions, and what does this imply about incentives to cooperate?

Eliciting and Modeling Residential Lawn and Landscape Practices: Systematic Information to Assess Knowledge, Explicit Behavior, and Inform Management across the Long Island Sound Watershed

Principal Investigator: Robert Johnston

Funding Agency: NOAA/National Sea Grant

There is significant concern about the environmental impact of residential lawns, especially the extent to which they export nutrients and how this export is related to human behavior such as lawn fertilizer use. Despite past research seeking to characterize residential lawn care, there is no clear understanding of the most effective means to influence lawn care practices across the Long Island Sound watershed. Past research has focused on general attitudes and socio-economic factors associated with residential land management, including behaviors such as fertilizing, irrigating and mowing. However, this literature has been unable to inform plans that are effective at influencing lawn care practices, because it has not produced a satisfactory explanation for the variation in practices that influence nitrogen export and stormwater runoff, or evaluated the extent to which specific programs or policies can influence these practices moving forward. Hence, lawn care and its impacts remain an unresolved challenge emphasized by Long Island Sound strategic planning. This interdisciplinary research project, with collaborators from City University of New York and Florida Atlantic University, will adapt and extend existing integrated models, experimental designs, and survey instruments to model the dynamics of lawn care behaviors across the Long Island Sound watershed.

Estimation of Spatially Explicit Water Quality Benefits throughout River Systems: Development of Next Generation Stated Preference Methods

Principal Investigator: Robert J. Johnston

Funding Agency: US Environmental Protection Agency

Stated Preference (SP) methods are survey-based methods to calculate the economic value of environmental improvements, and provide the only means to measure total use and nonuse willingness to pay (WTP) for water quality change. Yet water quality has multiple characteristics that pose challenges for WTP estimation: water quality can vary spatially and temporally, the role of small streams is often under-appreciated, and water quality benefits are often realized through direct and indirect effects on other ecosystem services valued by different user and nonuser groups who may use and interpret indicators differently. Current methods are often stretched to their limits when faced with the heterogeneous and temporally/spatially explicit ways that aquatic ecosystem changes affect different user and nonuser groups. This large, multi-year interdisciplinary project will develop and evaluate a next generation approach to SP valuation, Free-form Choice Experiments (FCEs). FCEs restructure the way that WTP is elicited and estimated, hybridizing traditional survey methods with online labor pool survey techniques and Bayesian econometrics. The approach is developed to estimate use and nonuse WTP for linked water quality and ecosystem service improvements across river networks, but easily extends to other applications. The project intends to revolutionize the methods used by government agencies and others to calculate the benefit of water quality improvements to society. The project is led by Marsh Institute director Robert Johnston, with collaborators from the University of New Hampshire, Virginia Tech, and Abt Associates.

Exploring the Trends, the Science, and the Options of Buffer Management in the Great Bay Watershed

Principal Investigators: Robert J. Johnston and Dana Marie Bauer

Funding Agency: National Estuarine Research Reserve System/The Nature Conservancy

The US EPA recently designated New Hampshire's Great Bay Estuary (GBE) as an impaired waterbody, which exhibits classic symptoms of nitrogen pollution. Sixty-eight percent of this nitrogen load originates from nonpoint sources including stormwater runoff, fertilizers, and septic systems—all of which could be mitigated through the coordinated use of buffer zones in the GBE region. Managing buffer zones wisely is also a recognized way of protecting (or avoiding) infrastructure in areas currently, or projected to be, impacted by sea level rise, coastal surge, and riverine flooding. This project is a partnership between a large number of organizations seeking better understanding of the natural and social dimensions of riparian buffer management. The goal is to enhance stakeholder capacity to make informed decisions related to the protection and restoration of buffers around GBE. In support of this goal, the project will conduct an Integrated Assessment focused on the following policy question: What are the potential regulatory and non-regulatory options for addressing the challenges to effectively protecting and restoring buffer zones around New Hampshire's Great Bay? The project will explore the ecosystem functions, services, and associated values that arise from protecting buffers. To the extent possible, the team will quantify the benefits of retaining these services and map where they are likely to provide the greatest value. They will couple this watershed scale analysis with an assessment of the regulatory and social context of Great Bay communities. Marsh Institute researchers are leading the economic component of this interdisciplinary effort, applying cutting-edge methods in meta-analysis to predict the value of riparian buffer enhancements in the GBE region, based on a systematic review and analysis of prior studies in the ecosystem services literature. The project draws on Johnston and Bauer's internationally recognized expertise in economic valuation and benefit transfer.

Linking Coastal Adaption Portfolios to Salt Marsh Resilience and Ecosystem Service Values

Principal Investigators: Robert J. Johnston and Dana Marie Bauer

Funding Agency: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

This project is an international and interdisciplinary collaboration led by Marsh Institute researchers, with collaborators at the Virginia Institute of Marine Sciences and Monash University in Melbourne, Australia. Tidal marshes are one of the most common natural features used for coastal adaptation (protecting the coast from flooding and storms), and are frequently promoted for their ability to support coastal resilience and valued ecosystem services. However, marsh resilience depends on the complex interplay of natural dynamics and human actions. The preservation of marsh transgression zones is among the most critical of these actions; transgression zones are undeveloped coastal areas that allow marshes to migrate inland as sea levels rise, hence promoting marsh resilience. Yet the effect of these zones depends on uncertain sea level rise (SLR) and natural dynamics, which determine how, when and where marshes migrate. These uncertainties and dynamics imply that diversified portfolios of adaptation actions (e.g., preserving different types of transgression zones in different areas) are best able to ensure the resilience of marsh areas and resulting social values. This project will develop tools that address a central coastal adaptation question: Considering the influence of SLR and other uncertain factors on tidal marsh resilience, how can information on biophysical dynamics and economic benefits and costs be coordinated to identify optimal, diversified portfolios of adaptation actions that best sustain marsh resilience and ecosystem service values? The project will develop and illustrate the methods and resulting insights using data from multiple Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) sites.

Multi-scale Coupled Natural Human System Dynamics of Nitrogen in Residential Landscapes

Principal Investigator: Robert J. Johnston

Funding Agency: National Science Foundation


This $1.6 million project is a multi-year, interdisciplinary partnership between institutions including the George Perkins Marsh Institute at Clark University, the City University of New York (CUNY), Cornell University, the U.S. Forest Service Northern Research Station, the University of North Carolina, Florida Atlantic University, the University of Rhode Island, and others. Urban, suburban and exurban ecosystems are increasing in area across the U.S. There is significant concern and uncertainty about the environmental performance of these ecosystems, especially the extent to which they export nutrients to receiving waters, and how this net export is related to human behavior. Challenges are especially evident in the management of residential landscapes dominated by grass lawns. This project will apply social science theories related to institutional and behavioral change along with formal economic models of household behavior to address questions about human decision-making related to management of residential ecosystems at multiple scales (parcel, neighborhood, watershed, and municipality). These social investigations will be formally predicated on explicit results from biophysical studies of nitrogen and water fluxes. The project will address questions about how flows of information between biophysical and social science domains, either alone or in combination with other policy changes, can promote or constrain the adoption and effectiveness of measures to improve the environmental performance of urban ecosystems at these multiple scales. Results will help public and private decision-makers better understand how to manage the often negative environmental impacts of lawns.

Targeted Conservation Contracts To Enhance Agricultural Best Management Practices: Incorporating Heterogeneity and Predicting Additionality

Principal Investigator: Robert J. Johnston

Funding Agency: US Department of Agriculture

This project is a coordinated effort involving researchers from Clark University and the University of Delaware, and funded by Agriculture and Food Research Initiative Competitive Grant no. 2016-67023-21757 from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture. The U.S. spends billions on state and federal policies encouraging farmers to implement best management practices (BMPs) through conservation contracts. BMP programs seek agricultural objectives, such as increasing crop prices by reducing production, and environmental objectives, such as providing wildlife habitat. A vibrant area of social science research explains BMP adoption, largely as a function of monetary payments and farmer characteristics. Yet existing research provides little insight on the design of more flexible BMP contracts that capitalize on farmer differences and desires to enhance cost-efficiency and agri-environmental outcomes. The goal of this project is to improve the cost-effectiveness of policies used to promote best management practices on farms in the United States. The research will inform the development of targeted, more cost effective conservation contracts that can be used by governmental agencies to incentivize agricultural best management practices. It will produce information to enable the design of flexible conservation contracts that can be used to optimize environmental benefits, farmer adoption, or acres enrolled. These innovative contracts will help U.S. agriculture remain competitive while balancing production and sustainable agri-environmental benefits.

The targeted conservation contracts will be derived from a specially designed survey of farmer preferences with respect to one best management practice-cover crops-as a case study. A series of surveys and actual planting decisions will be combined to derive a model of farmer participation and preferences. There are six research objectives. First, the researchers will develop revealed/stated preference models of cover crop program flexibility/adoption to provide insight into relationships between program design and farmers' decision-making. Second, the researchers will design and implement innovative preference models to estimate tradeoffs among conservation contract attributes for different types of farmers across multiple regions in two states. Third, the researchers will characterize current cover crop patterns by coordinating cover crop adoption data from government programs, observational data (transect survey), and an adoption survey. Fourth, the researchers will validate (using collected transect survey and linked cover crop adoption data) and apply the revealed/stated preference model to forecast cover crop adoption and land cover change under innovative contract designs. Fifth, the researchers will compare contract fiscal efficiency under various conditions and developing an additionality analysis to control for enrolled land planted in cover crop regardless of contracts. "Additionality" occurs when policy incentivizes adoption that farmers would not otherwise provide. Sixth, the researchers will design targeted cover crop contracts that account for farmers' tradeoffs, nonadditionality, and fiscal inefficiency to inform more optimal and cost-effective conservation contract designs. This project directly responds to USDA goals by focusing research at the nexus of agricultural land use, management, and conservation, and providing methodological advances to inform incentive-based polices and improve agricultural profitability.

Collaborative Research: The Scale of Governance in the Regulation of Land: Community Land Trusts in the Twin Cities

Principal Investigators: Deborah G. Martin, Joseph Pierce, and James DeFilippis

Funding Agency: National Science Foundation

This research examines relationships between individuals and institutions, including multiple levels of government, with regard to land and property through an exploration of Community Land Trusts ("CLTs") in the Twin Cities region of Minnesota. CLTs are private, not-for-profit organizations which own residential land in trust for a community defined by membership and geographical boundaries at varying scales, from the sub-neighborhood to the urban region. They offer long-term renewable leases for the use of that land to members, who in turn own the homes built on that land. Using voluntary, contractual mechanisms that are compatible with existing legal frameworks, CLTs disrupt the often taken-for-granted direct relationship between individual landowners (whether corporations or citizens), their properties, and regulatory agencies / governments. CLTs offer an institutional structure that allows individuals to "opt out" of certain parts of the land market--reconfiguring the homeowner relationship to property and governments--in exchange for a long-term commitment to participate in an organization which owns and thus possesses many controlling rights to the use of the land around and under individual homes. By examining the legal and social dimensions of CLT-governed common property in a major metropolitan area, the research highlights how the meanings of community and property can be negotiated through public and private institutions at multiple scales. Through a combination of archival research, semi-structured interviews and roving interviews, this research explores the following question: What are the relationships between the geographic scale of a Community Land Trust, its engagements in regional land governance (including interactions with other non-profit and government agencies), and its geographical identity?

Generative Urbanization in Emerging Africa? The Case of Konza Techno City

Principal Investigator: James Murphy

Funding Agency: Regional Studies Association

Africa is experiencing an urban transition that raises significant questions as to whether its economies are being transformed structurally. In Kenya, the prospects seem particularly high as the country has experienced steady growth and urbanization since the early 2000s. In response, the country's leaders are constructing Konza Technopolis, a "smart" urban development project that aims to establish industrial clusters in the information-communication technology (ICT), life sciences, and engineering sectors that will foster innovation, attract FDI, and create knowledge spillovers and other positive externalities to position Kenya favorably in high-tech industries globally. This research is examining the design and on-going development of Konza in order to assess whether such a project might spur industrial transformation in Kenya. This research will determine whether outcomes such as innovation, labor market development, industrial diversification, and urban sustainability are possible and what challenges need to be addressed to ensure Konza’s success. The research will advance geographical conceptualizations of the links between urbanization and development and provide key insights for policymakers and planners.

LTER: PIE: Dynamics of Coastal Ecosystems in a Region of Rapid Climate Change, Sea-level Rise, and Human Impacts

Principal Investigator: Robert Gilmore Pontius Jr.

Funding Agency: National Science Foundation

Over the last 30 years, surface seawater temperatures in the adjacent Gulf of Maine have risen at three times the global average, rates of sea-level rise have accelerated, and precipitation has increased. Coupled with these changes in climate and sea level are substantial changes within the rapidly urbanizing watersheds that influence water, sediment, and nutrient delivery to the marsh and estuary. The Plum Island Ecosystems (PIE) Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) site is developing a predictive understanding of the response of a linked watershed-marsh-estuarine system in northeastern Massachusetts to rapid environmental change. This large-scale, interdisciplinary project will test how internal feedbacks within the marsh-estuary ecosystem influence the response of geomorphology, biogeochemistry, and food webs to three major drivers: climate, sea-level rise, and human alteration of the watershed. It will address three critical questions. How will the geomorphic configuration of the marsh and estuary be altered by changes in the watershed, sea-level rise, climate change, and feedbacks internal to the coastal system? How will changing climate, watershed inputs, and marsh geomorphology interact to alter marsh and estuarine primary production, organic matter storage, and nutrient cycling? How will key consumer dynamics and estuarine food webs be reshaped by changing environmental drivers, marsh-estuarine geomorphology and biogeochemistry? Cross-system comparisons with other LTERs along gradients of temperature, species composition, tidal range, and sediment supply will further our understanding of long-term change in coastal ecosystems.

Spatial Analysis of East Africa Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) and Potential Risks to Livelihoods in Uganda and Tanzania

Principal Investigators: John Rogan and Florencia Sangermano

Funding Agency: Oxfam America

Significant discoveries of oil and gas in East Africa in the last decade have ushered in a wave of foreign investments by major multinational companies. The construction and operation of a crude oil pipeline carries significant risk of environmental and socio-economic impacts and the process often leaves out the perspectives of those most affected. This research assesses the extent to which the East Africa Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) is likely to affect natural resources and territories that support livelihoods in Uganda and Tanzania. This research seeks to visualize areas along the proposed pipeline route that can be considered to be at low, medium, and high risk from potential impacts, with a specific focus on populated areas, agricultural lands, grazing lands, and water resources. The analysis will be used by Oxfam America to identify priority areas for deeper investigation.

Tree Planting for Cooler Summers and Cleaner Air in Partnership with a Community Hospital, Outpatient Center and Land Trusts to Improve Health Conditions for High Risk Populations in Two Small, Low-income Cities

Principal Investigators: John Rogan and Deborah Martin

Funding Agency: USDA Forest Service/Opacum Land Trust

The Massachusetts communities of Ware and Southbridge have significantly above average incidence of respiratory conditions among their populations and low existing tree canopy cover. In a unique partnership among cities, community health care facilities, grassroots neighborhood centers, and regional land trusts, this project will focus on cost-effective and spatially-strategic community tree planting to cool low income neighborhoods, shade walking routes, and filter pollution near schools. In so doing, it meets several high priorities for Massachusetts' Forest Action Plan. As an extension of their ongoing research in Massachusetts Gateway Cities, Clark University HERO Fellows will be responsible for the placement and maintenance of temperature and air quality monitoring equipment, as well as data analysis and reporting.

Safe and Successful Youth Initiative (SSYI) Project East

Principal Investigators: Laurie Ross

Funding Agency: City of Worcester

Worcester, Massachusetts -- the second largest city in New England with a population of 183,000-exhibits many established risk factors for youth and gang violence. The goal of the Safe and Successful Youth Initiative (SSYI) Project East is to reduce gang violence and prevent gang initiation among high-risk youth ages 12-17 in Worcester's Eastside neighborhoods. By focusing on Worcester's Eastside neighborhoods and on youth ages 12-17, this project addresses a major geographical, age, and programmatic gap identified in Worcester's Youth Violence Prevention Initiative -- which was the result of a comprehensive community gang assessment and citywide strategic planning process. SSYI Project East will bolster Worcester's Comprehensive Gang Model to direct outreach workers and case management to up to 50 youth who live on the city's Eastside, attend Worcester East Middle School, North High School or one of the city's alternative school programs, and are on the Worcester Public Schools Gang Protocol List. Clark University will be the project's research partner, developing and managing a data tracking system, as well as sharing best-practice research with the rest of the project team.

Greater Kilby-Gardner-Hammond Neighborhood Gang Violence Reduction Initiative

Principal Investigators: Laurie Ross, Ellen Foley, and Yelena Ogneva-Himmelberger

Funding Agency: U.S. Department of Justice (Byrne JAG Program)/Main South Community Development Corporation

The Byrne Criminal Justice Innovation Justice Assistance Grant (BCJI - JAG) program was created to develop and implement place-based, community-oriented strategies to transform distressed communities into communities of opportunity. The Greater Kilby-Gardner-Hammond neighborhood of Worcester is perceived to be "gang territory" by area youth. Over 40% of the population is under the age of 24, unemployment is high, and median income is low. Only 13.7% of the population has obtained a college degree and 34.6% have not obtained a high school diploma. The public school system is also met with challenges including language access barriers and low reading levels. In collaboration with the Main South CDC, the Worcester Boys and Girls Club, the Worcester Police Department (WPD), and the City of Worcester, this project will develop, implement, monitor, and evaluate a plan, based on the evidence-based Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Comprehensive Gang Model, to reduce gang-related criminal activity while addressing the needs of disengaged youth in the Greater Kilby-Gardner-Hammond neighborhood.

Shannon Community Safety Initiative: Worcester Local Action Research Partner

Principal Investigator: Laurie Ross

Funding Agency: Massachusetts Executive of Public Safety and Security

The Senator Charles E. Shannon Community Safety Initiative (Shannon CSI) supports regional and multi-disciplinary approaches to combat gang violence through coordinated programs for prevention and intervention. These multi-disciplinary approaches include, but are not limited to, law enforcement initiatives such as anti-gang task forces and targeting of enforcement resources through the use of crime mapping; focused prosecution efforts; programs aimed at successful reintegration of released inmates and youth from juvenile detention; and programs that provide youth with supervised out-of-school activities. Working in partnership with the City of Worcester, the Worcester Police Department, the Boys and Girls Club of Worcester, Straight Ahead Ministries, the Worcester Community Action Council, and the Worcester Youth Center, Ross and Foley serve as the Shannon CSI Local Action Research Partner for Worcester, providing strategic research support and program evaluation of city-wide gang violence prevention and intervention.

Shannon Community Safety Initiative: Massachusetts Statewide Research Partner

Principal Investigators: Laurie Ross

Funding Agency: Massachusetts Executive Office of Public Safety and Security

The Charles E. Shannon Community Safety Initiative is a state-wide program designed to reduce youth and gang violence in cities across Massachusetts. The initiative supports regional and multidisciplinary approaches through the implementation of the Comprehensive Gang Model, an evidence-based and intentional integration of prevention, intervention, suppression, organizational change, and community mobilization strategies. This multidisciplinary approach includes law enforcement initiatives such as hot spot analysis and anti-gang task forces, coordinated reentry programs for young adults and juvenile offenders, and education and employment programs for high-risk youth. As the Statewide Youth Violence Research Partner, investigators Ross and Foley: 1) identify emerging best practices in the literature related to youth and gang violence; 2) collaborate with individual Shannon CSI sites; 3) analyze information collected through quarterly reports and produce statewide summary reports and a comprehensive report on the impact of Shannon CSI; and 4) provide training and technical assistance on the Comprehensive Gang Model.

Trauma and Housing Stability

Principal Investigators: Laurie Ross and Jennifer Safford-Farquharson

Funding Agency: Blue Cross Blue Shield Foundation/The Community Builders

The Community Builders (TCB) is a nonprofit developer, owner and manager of affordable and mixed-income housing. Community Life is TCBs place-based model that provides stable and healthy housing as a platform for residents and neighborhoods to address some of the most significant challenges facing low-income populations through six key practice areas: youth development, education, workforce development, health, asset building, and community engagement. Through engagement with property management and staff, health providers, and residents, this project will facilitate the efforts of TCB and its partners in understanding the connection between stable and healthy housing and trauma and gaps in mental health services, and recommend future steps for implementing TCB's Worcester Beyond Healthcare program.

Collaborative Research: Alternative Ecological Futures for the American Residential Macro System

Principal Investigator: Rinku Roy Chowdhury

Funding Agency: National Science Foundation

An apparent, but untested, result of changes to the urban landscape is the homogenization of cities, such that neighborhoods in very different parts of the country increasingly exhibit similar patterns in their road systems, residential lots, commercial sites, and aquatic areas; that is, cities have now become more similar to each other than to the native ecosystems that they replaced. This research examines the ecological homogenization of the American Residential Macrosystem (ARM) and specifically investigates factors that contribute to stability and/or changes in the ARM. The aim is to determine how factors that effect change (e.g., shifts in human demographics, desires for biodiversity and water conservation, regulations that govern water use and quality, and dispersal of organisms) will interact with factors that contribute to stability such as social norms, property values, neighborhood and city covenants and laws, and commercial interests. The project will determine ecological implications of alternative futures of the ARM for the assembly of ecological communities, ecosystem function, and responses to environmental change and disturbance at parcel (ecosystem), landscape (city), regional (Metropolitan Statistical Area), and continental scales. Five types of residential parcels as well as embedded semi-natural interstitial ecosystems will be studied, across six U.S. cities (Boston, Baltimore, Miami, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Phoenix, and Los Angeles).

FCE III -- Coastal Oligotrophic Ecosystems Research

Principal Investigator: Rinku Roy Chowdhury

Funding Agency: National Science Foundation

The Florida Coastal Everglades (FCE) Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) site seeks to understand how global climate change and shifting approaches to water management affects the Florida Everglades and the 6 million residents in the region. By conducting extended-duration research in freshwater wetlands, mangrove swamps, and shallow seagrass communities of Florida Bay, the FCE LTER employs long-term datasets to determine how the amount and quality of fresh water flowing through the Everglades influences ecological processes in the coastal zone. Coupled socio-economic studies reveal how decisions about Everglades restoration influence -- and are influenced by -- the human history of dependence on local natural resources. This project recognizes the importance of understanding the role of water in the sociopolitical environment, and addresses how and why land and water use in South Florida has changed. Specifically, this project identifies the sources of sociopolitical conflicts over freshwater distribution and evaluates how solutions that improve inflows to the Everglades mediate the effects of sea level rise on freshwater sustainability in the coastal zone.

Urban Resilience to Extreme Weather Related Events

Principal Investigator: Rinku Roy Chowdhury

Funding Agency: National Science Foundation

Urban areas are vulnerable to extreme weather related events given their location, high concentration of people, and increasingly complex and interdependent infrastructure. Recent disasters demonstrate not just failures in built infrastructure, they highlight the inadequacy of institutions, resources, and information systems to prepare for and respond to events of this magnitude. This interdisciplinary project will develop a diverse suite of new methods and tools to assess how infrastructure can be more resilient, provide ecosystem services, improve social well-being, and exploit new technologies in ways that benefit all segments of urban populations. The primary research question is how do social, ecological, and technological systems (SETS) interact to generate vulnerability or resilience to extreme weather related events, and how can urban SETS dynamics be guided along more resilient, equitable, and sustainable trajectories? Specifically, this project will analyze the spatial structure and land cover components of vulnerability to climate-driven extreme events in Miami and comparatively across other urban sites, and entails particular attention to spatially differentiated patterns of urban exposure, sensitivity and adaptive capacity in the face of extreme events such as hurricanes, floods and droughts. This work will enable characterizing how communities in Miami and the other chosen urban sites exhibit differential vulnerability to extreme events, and their resilience or adaptive capacity in the face of such events.

Albedo Impacts of Avoided Forest Conversion, Afforestation, Increased Deciduousness

Principal Investigator: Christopher A. Williams

Funding Agency: The Nature Conservancy

Climate change is a global problem and limiting global warming below the 2°C threshold set by the Paris Climate Agreement will require both reductions in new greenhouse gas emissions and removal of existing gases from the atmosphere. Natural Climate Solutions (NCS) is a portfolio of conservation, restoration, and improved land management actions that increase carbon storage or avoid greenhouse gas emissions across forests, wetlands, grasslands, and agricultural lands. This project's aim is to assess the climate change mitigation potential of NCS opportunities in Canada. The work will refine and tailor methods developed in previous studies, but now with a specific focus on identifying opportunities across Canada. One of the major improvements relative to prior work is to include more detailed and quantitative assessment of the albedo offsets to potential climate benefits of forest pathways. The project will deliver quantitative assessments of the albedo-induced radiative forcing and associated CO2 equivalent emissions that would be caused by the avoidance of forest conversion (deforestation), by expanded forest cover (afforestation), or by actively increasing the deciduous component of forest species composition in select regions across Canada.

Surface Biogenic Carbon Flux Priors: Providing Priors, Analyzing Error Structures, and Reducing Parameter Uncertainties

Principal Investigator: Christopher A. Williams

Funding Agency: National Aeronautics and Space Administration

Better estimates of greenhouse gas sources and sinks are needed for climate management and for prediction of future climate. Atmospheric Carbon and Transport -- America conducts airborne campaigns across three regions in the eastern United States to study the transport and fluxes of atmospheric carbon dioxide and methane, and to measure how weather systems transport these greenhouse gases with the overall objective of enabling more accurate and precise estimates of the sources and sinks of these gases. Biogenic surface carbon flux prior estimates are a necessary component of the regional atmospheric inversion framework utilizing aircraft data. These surface flux priors should represent realistic spatial and temporal errors in the biological fluxes emerging from parameter uncertainty, be unbiased, and encompass the truth. This project delivers surface carbon flux priors to support regional inversions centered on aircraft campaigns and analyzes prior and posterior surface carbon fluxes to identify a reduced set of model parameters that are most consistent with the aircraft data.

Tools to Bridge the Gap between Static CMS Maps, Models, and Stakeholders

Principal Investigator: Christopher A. Williams

Funding Agency: National Aeronautics and Space Administration

From its inception, the NASA Carbon Monitoring System (CMS) has largely been organized around two activities: observation-based mapping of biomass and model-based estimation of carbon flux. Although there has been significant progress in both biomass and flux activities at various scales, several challenges hinder the use of biomass products to inform flux modeling. Challenges include biomass maps are often static or local scale, uncertainties are difficult to render and incorporate into models, and map products are not designed with the needs and format standards of modelers in mind. To help address these challenges, this project will develop new tools to facilitate broader use of CMS data products by (a) converting static maps of aboveground biomass and land cover to dynamic yearly maps, and (b) collaborating with modelers and stakeholders to build a convenient interface that will facilitate their use of the dynamic map results. This will add significant value to the CMS program by thoughtfully and deliberately connecting the results from various disparate projects to each other and to modeling and accounting frameworks that provide a more integrated view of carbon dynamics.

Translating Forest Change to Carbon Emissions/Removals Linking Disturbance Products, Biomass Maps, and Carbon Cycle Modeling in a Comprehensive Carbon Monitoring Framework

Principal Investigator: Christopher A. Williams (Clark University)
Co-Principal Investigators: G. James Collatz (NASA GSFC, Biospheric Sciences); Jeffrey G. Masek (NASA GSFC, Biospheric Sciences); Gretchen Moisen (US Forest Service)

Funding Agency: National Aeronautics and Space Administration

Forests are a globally-significant store of carbon, but this store is vulnerable to release from disturbance processes such as harvesting or fires that oxidize forest carbon, releasing it to the atmosphere as CO2 and contributing to global warming. At the same time, intact forests serve as a major offset to rising CO2 concentrations as forest growth becomes stimulated by rising CO2 levels, enabling forests to absorb about one third of annual carbon emissions from fossil fuels and land use change. The balance of these processes is constantly changing and it varies widely from region to region. This project aims to quantify how much carbon is being released and taken up by each process over the entire United States, providing a new method for US reporting to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Historical forest clearing is responsible for about one third of all human-caused carbon emissions to date, with the rest coming from the combustion of fossil fuels. Avoiding further losses and protecting carbon uptake are both critical components of mitigating climate change. National and international policies aimed at protecting forest carbon storage rely heavily on high quality, accurate reporting (called "Tier 3") that earns the greatest financial value of carbon credits and hence incentivizes forest conservation and protection. But methods for Tier 3 Measuring, Reporting, and Verification (MRV) are still in development.

This project will offer a new approach to Tier 3 MRV, involving a combination of direct remote sensing, ground based inventorying, and computer modeling methods to track forest carbon emissions and removals at a 1 km scale across the US. Few existing approaches seek to combine all of these sources of information. Another major advantage of our approach is its specificity about the underlying processes driving carbon flows. This enables the framework to be used as a decision support tool to help test the relative benefits of various land management strategies and to examine how today's carbon sources and sinks will trend over time.

What can a 39-million-year-old coastal ecosystem tell us about climate and earth history?

Principal Investigator: Deborah Woodcock

Funding Agency: National Geographic Society

Mangrove ecosystems are rarely represented in the fossil record because the dynamic nature of the coastal environment is not conducive to preservation of organic remains or shelly material. The Piedra Chamana Fossil Forest in northern Peru was preserved 39 million years ago when a volcanic eruption buried coastal mangroves and nearby forests in volcaniclastic deposits. The unusual circumstances of preservation underscore the potential of the site to provide a multi-proxy record that will (1) provide a uniquely detailed picture of late middle Eocene mangrove and lowland tropical forest ecosystems, (2) contribute to our understanding of the history of the New World tropical forests and development of tropical biodiversity, (3) allow for comparison and evaluation of paleoenvironmental proxies (leaves versus woods, marine versus terrestrial, geochemical versus biological) that do not generally co-occur, and (4) serve as a rich baseline reference of the vegetation and environment in the New World tropics at a time of considerable global warmth. The project also supports interpretation and education efforts related to conservation and protection of the fossils and fossil site.

Land Conversion and Misallocation across Cities in China

Principal Investigator: Junfu Zhang

Funding Agency: Lincoln Institute of Land Policy

China is experiencing rapid urbanization whereby large amounts of farmland at the urban edge is being converted to urban use. This is taking place in a unique institutional context in which the central government specifies the total amount of land to be converted each year and allocates quota among different provinces, which in turn is distributed to lower level governments. While some of this land is used to build infrastructure and public facilities, the use rights of the rest are leased to developers and businesses for very long terms (40, 50, or 70 years depending on the use type). Over the years, local governments have increasingly relied on land lease revenue to finance public spending. Whereas this land quota system is arguably the most important government policy shaping urban development in China, little is known about the details of land conversion at the city level and still less is known about the consequences of this policy. Collaborating with Shihe Fu, Professor of Economics at Xiamen University, this research addresses two primary research questions. First, what are the important characteristics of land conversion and land finance at the city level in China? Second, does the land quota system efficiently allocate newly converted urban land across cities in China?