Coastal Sees (Track 2), Collaborative: Toward Sustainable Urban Estuaries In The Anthropocene

Project Details


This project will evaluate how anthropogenic changes in estuarine morphology affect sediment fluxes in urban estuaries, and how consequent shifts in the physical regime affect estuarine sustainability, based on a combination of environmental and socio-economic factors. Geophysical models of hydrodynamics, sediment transport, and morphodynamics will be combined with economic models that value ecosystem services to examine two study sites, the Delaware and Hudson-Raritan estuary systems. The work will incorporate field observations, historical analysis, high-resolution physical modeling, morphodynamic modeling, and coupled modeling of the human-natural system. Studies of estuarine physical processes will lead to the application of dynamical models that represent the hydrodynamics and recent morphodynamics in these estuaries, with particular emphasis on coupled estuary-wetland responses to channel deepening and shoreline modifications. Socio-economic analyses will provide a quantification of the ecosystem services under past, present, and future states of the natural-human system. The culmination of the research will be a coupled model of the natural-human state trajectory, which quantifies the feedback between human actions to alter the estuarine regime, the response of the physical system, and the changes in values of the altered ecosystem services. The proposed work will define the relevant and appropriate natural and human scales for sustainable management of an urban estuary and identify a decision framework that permits the assessment of socio-economic values across generations such that alternative predictive outcomes can be compared and ordered in terms of their sustainability. The unique contribution of this research is the quantitative integration of advanced analysis and modeling of physical processes in estuaries with socio-economic analyses, in order to predict the trajectory of the coupled human-natural system. Assessment of sustainability in estuaries requires this type of coupled analysis because of the sensitivity of the physical regime to human impacts and because of the critical human dimension of ecosystem services in estuaries. Important intellectual advances will also occur within the sub-disciplines. The morphological model of the estuary and surrounding wetlands will provide novel coupling of three-dimensional estuarine hydrodynamics and sediment transport with system-scale morphodynamics. The socio-economic analysis will analyze the linkage between policy, economics and ecosystem services within the context of the coupled human-natural regime. This research will develop a framework for decision-making leading to the sustainable management of estuaries. The models will provide prototypes for future decision-making tools for planning of urban estuarine economic development, environmental management, and risk management. Engagement with policy professionals at the municipal, regional, state and federal levels with responsibility for management of the Hudson-Raritan and Delaware estuarine resources will advance the use of system-scale integrated analysis of the human-natural system. Communication of methodologies to the broader community is intended to shape future analysis and decision-making concerning estuarine sustainability throughout the U.S. and worldwide. The research program provides professional development for six graduate students, one post-doctoral investigator, and undergraduates through the institutional research experience for undergraduates (REU) programs. The diverse-yet-integrated project team will foster strong interdisciplinary collaborations and educational experiences that will prepare the students for future careers in sustainability science. This project is supported under NSF's Coastal SEES (Science, Engineering and Education for Sustainability) program.
Effective start/end date9/1/138/31/18


  • National Science Foundation (NSF)

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