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LSU Part of New Regional Climate Center funded through Department of Interior

10/11/2011 03:03 PM

BATON ROUGE – In recognition of sustained excellence in climate and environmental studies, LSU has been selected to partner with the University of Oklahoma to develop and run one of only eight newly-announced U.S. Department of the Interior regional climate science centers nationwide. The center, housed at the University of Oklahoma, will link weather and climate projections with on-the-ground decisions about how best to manage federal lands, natural resources, and fish and wildlife in the south-central United States.

The consortium, which also includes Texas Tech University, Oklahoma State University, The Chickasaw Nation, The Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma and NOAA’s Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory, provides the expertise and strengths of four regional universities, two tribal nations and a national laboratory to address the topics of climate variability and change from the basic science to operational decisions made by land managers.  

“You are known for the company you keep, and in this case our partners make excellent company,” said Dean of LSU’s School of the Coast & Environment Christopher D’Elia. “Few areas of the country are more susceptible to the effects of climate change than Louisiana, and our contributions to the research effort will provide important pieces to the regional climate change puzzle.”  

Natural resource managers across the south-central United States struggle to ensure that the region’s people have adequate and quality water supplies, opportunities for hunting and other recreational activities and protection of fish and wildlife habitats, including scenic beauty for aesthetic, spiritual and cultural needs.  The region’s significant climate variability, ranging from flood to drought – sometimes in the same year and even at the same time, as just occurred in Louisiana in the spring and summer of 2011 – creates challenges for managing natural resources.  The new center will provide managers with information, tools and education to enhance their short-term and long-term management strategies.

LSU brings to the partnership extensive demonstrated expertise and experience in climate and environmental impacts related to wetlands, coastal processes, fisheries, pollution, toxicology, and environmental policy and management to address the risks in Gulf of Mexico coastal habitats. The University of Oklahoma contacted the university in December 2010 to request LSU’s participation to develop a proposal to host the climate center, building on an existing collaboration between the Oklahoma Climate Survey, or OCS; LSU Office of State Climatology, or LOSC; and LSU Southern Regional Climate Center, or SRCC, to form the Southern Climate Impacts Planning Program, also called SCIPP, a joint effort over the past three years that was an important factor in the winning proposal.

“OU was clearly interested in the involvement of the LSU School of the Coast & Environment to provide coastal and offshore research expertise in the Gulf of Mexico region. The Louisiana Sea Grant program, directed by Dr. Chuck Wilson, was included to provide service and outreach capabilities for Louisiana and Texas coastal communities,” said Kevin Robbins, director of the Southern Regional Climate Center and chair of the LSU Department of Geography & Anthropology.

LSU researchers involved in the climate center include principal investigator D’Elia, and co-investigators Robbins; Charles “Chuck” Wilson, executive director of the Louisiana Sea Grant College Program; Victor H. Rivera-Monroy, research faculty at the LSU School of the Coast & Environment; and Barry Keim, state climatologist and professor of geography & anthropology.

At LSU, a consortium encompassing the School of the Coast & Environment, which includes both the Departments of Oceanography and Coastal Sciences and Environmental Sciences; the Louisiana Sea Grant College Program; the SRCC; and the Louisiana Office of State Climatology, will join forces to interpret potential impacts of climate variability and change in the coastal zone.

“These boundaries are defined by the DOI as fuzzy to include climate and ecological issues that don’t respect state borders,” said Robbins. “Climate and ecological issues will steer the science agenda and will not be restrained by political boundaries.”

Issues include assessment of hurricane impacts on flooding regions and urban development, spatial and temporal patterns of relative sea level rise, changes in the region’s hydrology and its influence on commercial fisheries and impacts on vulnerable wetland environments. In Louisiana, these issues affect fisheries, tourism, oil exploration and extraction, and ultimately, the state economy. The goal of this initiative is to mitigate these impacts where possible and to foster adaptation where current resource management programs aren’t feasible.

“The DOI has set a broad interdisciplinary agenda that includes climate, ecologies, land management and social science activities larger than any single university can handle,” said Interim Vice Chancellor of Research & Economic Development Thomas Klei. “We will be reaching out to the LSU community and to our consortium partners to develop projects that satisfy DOI goals and needs, applying scientifically sound and relevant research. This is a significant opportunity for LSU.”

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