Two University of New Orleans research projects have earned exploratory grants from the Gulf Research Program of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine. The grants, which total of nearly $800,000, are intended to jump-start innovative approaches to challenges in regions with offshore oil and gas operations.
One project involves creating a citizen science program to collect quantitative beach and tar ball data for oil spill planning and response in coastal regions. It is a two-year $481,000 project under the direction of Mark Kulp, associate professor of earth and environmental sciences.
In the second project, researchers will collaborate with members of the United Houma Nation to document how environmental stressors affect the livelihoods of these communities and to shape mitigation strategies for their coastal lands. The two-year $312,000 project is directed by Tara Lambeth, assistant director of UNO’s Center for Hazards Assessment, Response and Technology (UNO-CHART).
The first project will pair community groups and volunteers with experienced scientists so that community members can learn how to collect shoreline data. They will conduct monthly beach elevation surveys as well as do tar ball counts on Grand Isle, La. and Dauphin Island, Ala. The research team includes Dinah Maygarden, research associate with UNO’s Pontchartrain Institute for Environmental Sciences, and Ed Owens and Helen Dubach of Owens Coastal Consultants.
“If a spill takes place in the future, the data collected will serve as a backbone of the response effort,” Kulp said. “This project will also empower locals to better understand how beaches evolve, what background oiling exists and how a spill response proceeds.”
Team members on the second project will produce a resource that can be used by the United Houma Nation and other indigenous communities facing similar challenges in coastal areas. The United Houma Nation resides in six parishes across Southeast Louisiana; members are intricately connected to their environment. Natural and human-induced effects on the environment have impacted their livelihoods and forced them to adapt and protect their tribal land. The researchers, in collaboration with the tribe, will make use of traditional ecological knowledge and examine local adaptation plans and current mitigation efforts in order to understand tribe’s adaptive capacities, now and into the future.
“This research project will enhance the capacity of other indigenous communities to adapt to ecosystem changes and challenges in the future,” Lambeth said.
Team members include UNO-CHART’s Monica Farris and Pamela Jenkins, Louisiana Sea Grant’s Matt Bethel and the United Houma Nation.
The Gulf Research Program of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine was established in 2013 as a result of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. It seeks to improve understanding of the interconnecting human, environmental and energy systems of the Gulf of Mexico and other U.S. outer continental shelf areas. The program funds studies, projects, and other activities using three broad approaches: research and development, education and training, and environmental monitoring.