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Understanding Multiple Environmental Stresses: Report of a Workshop
The concept of multiple environmental stresses taken alone can seem vague, and thus the steering committee organized this workshop around two examples to provide different perspectives on multiple stress scenarios. The first case selected was drought, a complex environmental condition that both is driven by multiple environmental stresses and leads to multiple stresses across a wide range of time and spatial scales. Drought is a normal climate variation that can vary in magnitude and intensity, and it provides a clear illustration of the feedbacks involved both in the occurrence of the natural event and in the human activities that may alter societal vulnerability (e.g., population growth, water management policies, and changes in land cover). The second case selected focused on a wide range of atmosphere-ecosystem interactions that taken together reflect characteristics of multiple, simultaneous environmental stresses.
These two cases were selected because they offer very different problems, scales, and lessons. Because of this, the presentations and discussions—and the respective chapters in this report—are not perfectly parallel. Despite the differences in approach, the workshop participants did identify some important commonalities. As discussed in Chapter 4, the overarching lesson of the workshop is that society will require new and improved strategies for coping with multiple stresses and their impacts on natural and socioeconomic systems. Improved communication among stakeholders, increased observations (especially at regional scales), improved model and information systems, and increased infrastructure to provide better environmental monitoring, vulnerability assessment, and response analysis are all important parts of moving toward better understanding of and response to multiple-stresses situations.
Workshop participants identified the development of comprehensive regional frameworks for conducting environmental studies as a key part of understanding multiple environmental stresses:
An integrated regional web of sensors that links existing observations into a coherent framework
An integrated and comprehensive regional information system accessible to a wide variety of researchers, operational systems, and stakeholders
Directed process studies designed to examine specific phenomena through field study
Complex coupled system models at the spatial and temporal scales appropriate to study specific and integrated biologic, hydrologic, and socioeconomic systems
A strong connection to significant regional issues and stakeholders.
Workshop participants identified the Regional Integrated Sciences and Assessments program (RISA) as a possible model for such regional frameworks. Overall, the degree to which progress is made on complicated environmental problems is proportional to the degree we are able to implement these five