Article by LSU Geography Alum Scott Hemmerling receives JGS Best Paper Award 2020

BATON ROUGE, La. (March 10, 2021) – Research on better ways to incorporate local knowledge into numerical modeling, and the resulting journal article, just received the Journal of Geographical Systems’ 2020 Best Paper Award.

“The objective of the JGS Best Paper Award is to encourage and recognize excellent scholarship published in the journal in the preceding year. For the year 2020, two truly excellent papers stand out. They properly represent the broad scope of a journal that covers the fields of GIScience and spatial planning, as well as spatial statistics and econometric,” according to the announcement.

Scott Hemmerling, the Water Institute’s Director of Human Dimensions, led the paper’s authorship that outlined a project to bring together natural and social sciences to work with local residents to develop a participatory modeling system to collect and use local knowledge about the Breton Sound Estuary in southeast Louisiana.
The article, “Elevating local knowledge through participatory modeling: active community engagement in restoration planning in coastal Louisiana,” outlines how the team used a combination of local knowledge mapping, qualitative data analysis, and participatory modeling to capture and catalog local understandings of current and historical conditions within the estuary. Residents were then asked to identify what they would like those areas to look like into the future.

“To some extent, there has always been a level of distrust between coastal residents and the scientific community,” Hemmerling said “This research did not shy away from this and instead addressed it head on. By giving residents a look 'under the hood' of the modeling process and actively including them in model development, this research provides a tangible way to bridge the gap that currently exists between local knowledge experts and technical knowledge experts.” 

Over several months, residents worked with natural scientists and numerical modelers to identify local concerns such as erosion or water impoundment, and to come up with potential solutions. These solutions were co-developed with the numerical modelers who ran simulations to look at the potential impact of these projects. Model inputs and outputs were reviewed by residents, who brought a wealth of local knowledge to the modeling process. The results were then shared with the residents who could suggest tweaks or scrap the idea in favor of another option if the proposed project didn’t provide the benefits they thought it would. 

Not only did this project provide an avenue for increased engagement of the community and use of local knowledge in coastal planning, it also helped residents better understand how numerical models are built, how they are used, and generally increased confidence in numerical modeling as a tool for coastal restoration and protection.

Authors on the paper are Hemmerling; Monica Barra, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology at the University of South Carolina; Harris Bienn, geospatial lead at the Water Institute; Melissa Baustian, Ph.D., coastal ecologist and senior research scientist at the Water Institute; Hoonshin Jung, research scientists at the Water Institute; Ehab Meselhe, Ph.D., professor in the Department of River-Coastal Science and Engineering at Tulane University; Yushi Wang, Ph.D., research scientist at the Water Institute; and Eric White, Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority.

Courtesy of the Water Institute of the Gulf