Ann Arbor’s U-M Awarded $20M Agreement to Manage National Estuary Research

A team led by Ann Arbor-based University of Michigan’s Water Center at the Graham Sustainability Institute and the School for Environment and Sustainability has been awarded a five-year, $20 million cooperative agreement to support the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in overseeing research at a nationwide network of 29 coastal reserves.
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Old Woman Creek National Estuarine Research Reserve
U-M researchers are part of a $20 million cooperative agreement to oversee coastal reserves. Pictured is Old Woman Creek National Estuarine Research Reserve in Ohio. // Photo courtesy of Old Woman Creek National Estuarine Research Reserve

A team led by Ann Arbor-based University of Michigan’s Water Center at the Graham Sustainability Institute and the School for Environment and Sustainability has been awarded a five-year, $20 million cooperative agreement to support the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in overseeing research at a nationwide network of 29 coastal reserves.

The team renewed its tenure through a recent national competition. It was originally selected five years ago to help coordinate with the National Estuarine Research Reserve System’s Science Collaborative program with NOAA. The program’s Centralized Data Management Office at the University of South Carolina provides data management support for the reserve system and is an ex officio member of the team.

The National Estuarine Research Reserve System protects more than 1.3 million acres.

“We are excited to have another five years with this amazing system of place-based research reserves whose work informs management actions across all our salt and freshwater coasts,” says Jennifer Read, director of the U-M Water Center and principal investigator for the new cooperative agreement. “We are looking for opportunities to expand reserve participation in the program, building on and extending the excellence the program has attained since its inception in 2010. This will ensure the reserves are in position to help decision makers restore, protect, and improve some of this country’s most vital and beloved coastal ecosystems.”

Estuaries are coastal areas where rivers empty into the sea and freshwater mixes with tidal saltwater to become brackish. Estuaries included in the 29-site system include Chesapeake Bay, Delaware Bay, Kaneohe Bay, and San Francisco Bay.

Freshwater estuaries occur where rivers flow into large lakes and possess many of the same characteristics of brackish estuaries. An example of one in the reserve system is Old Woman Creek emptying into Lake Erie near Huron, Ohio.

Estuaries are among the most biologically productive natural habitats on the planet with a great abundance and diversity of plant and animal life. They serve as important buffers by filtering pollutants, shielding coastal areas from storms, and preventing soil erosion. They also provide a safe haven and protective nursery for small fish, shellfish, migrating birds, and coastal shore animals. In the U.S., estuaries are nurseries to more than 75 percent of all fish and shellfish harvested, according to NOAA.

The collaborative supports research on the impacts of coastal habitat changes resulting from coastal development and climate change, the application of ecosystem services approaches to coastal protection and restoration, the impact of land use change on estuarine ecosystems, and the application of syntheses of long-term monitoring data.

The first call for research proposals is anticipated for as early as October. Projects usually address a coastal management issue for a specific reserve, and results are used to benefit the reserves and coastal communities in the area.

“Our nation’s coasts and estuaries are extremely important to our nation, supporting local economies, recreation, and the quality of the food we eat from our nation’s coastal waters,” says Dwight Trueblood, program manager of the reserve system science collaborative at NOAA. “The research reserve’s science collaborative programs will fund projects that engage communities and use the best available science to address some of our most pressing coastal environmental problems.”

Under the agreement, U-M and NOAA will jointly manage the reserve system science collaborative, which awards an average of $4 million annually to support actionable research. The grants are competitively awarded, peer-reviewed, and bring together organizations, community leaders, and scientists. The process prioritizes projects with research results that will be relevant and usable while increasing the availability of helpful data and tools.

A core group of seven U-M faculty researchers, staff members, and students, along with partners Aspen Global Change Institute, Anderson Smith Consulting, Virginia Sea Grant, LimnoTech, and Susanne Moser Research and Consulting, will guide the collaborative. Through national competitions, the program will support three kinds of projects: collaborative research projects to generate science that informs decisions, catalyst projects to expand science use and impact, and science transfer projects that promote the use of science.

“Now is the time to accelerate and double down on efforts to provide real-world solutions, guidance, and tools that make science understandable and actionable,” says Maria Carmen Lemos, associate dean for research at U-M’s School for Environment and Sustainability. “It’s an exciting opportunity to partner across disciplines and work hand-in-hand with communities to protect and preserve our critical ecosystems.”

The National Estuarine Research Reserve System was established by the federal Coastal Zone Management Act of 1972. Each reserve is managed by a lead state agency or university with input from local partners.

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