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Executive Summary Coastal environments are under increasing pressure as a result of their increasing human populations. Coastal areas, including estuaries, bays, shorelines, continental shelves, and the Great Lakes, are used intensively and receive the byproducts of inland human activities, from rivers and atmospheric deposition. Because of concerns about environmental quality, habitat conservation, living and nonliving resources, and protection of life and property, a number of U.S. federal agencies conduct or sponsor scientific activities in coastal areas, spending an estimated $227 million in FY 1993. Coastal science activities conducted over the past several decades have significantly improved our knowledge of the coastal environment and human impacts on it. This knowledge has been applied to decrease environmental impacts and manage living resources. Important challenges remain or have recently emerged; these will require unprecedented coordination and cooperation among state and federal agencies, in conjunction with the scientific community. New approaches, such as comparisons among coastal systems, will be needed to make efficient use of coastal research resources. The Committee on Environment and Natural Resources Research (CENR), one of nine National Science and Technology Council (NSTC) committees, is developing national research and development strategies on issues such as global change, biodiversity and ecosystem dynamics, resource use and management, air quality, toxic substances, natural disasters, and water resources and aquatic environments, as well as social and economic sciences, technology, and risk assessment. One of CENR's subcommittees, the Water Resources and Coastal and Marine Environments Research Subcommittee, is responsible for developing a
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national research and development strategy and implementation plan for aquatic environments. This subcommittee, referred to herein as the Water Subcommittee, is building on a recently completed assessment of freshwater research priorities (The Freshwater Imperative; Naiman et al., in press) and a previously developed interagency framework for coastal science (Setting a New Course for U.S. Coastal Ocean Science; SUSCOS, 1993a,b). To provide review by the broader nonfederal scientific community for coastal environments, the Water Subcommittee requested that the Ocean Studies Board of the National Research Council (NRC) conduct this study. The Water Subcommittee requested that the committee provide an integrated assessment of research priorities based on previous NRC studies, using Setting a New Course for U.S. Coastal Ocean Science as a framework and the present Water Subcommittee strategy as a context (see Appendix A). The recommendations of this report should be widely applicable to decision-makers and scientists in government, academia, and industry, but they are specifically directed to the Water Subcommittee. The NRC Committee to Identify High-Priority Science to Meet National Coastal Needs had the broad charge of conducting an independent assessment of priorities for coastal science related to two principal issues being addressed by the Water Subcommittee: (1) water quantity and allocation and (2) ecosystem integrity. Thus, this assessment is limited to priorities for natural science related to the maintenance of coastal ecosystem integrity and the use of water resources consistent with this goal. It does not specifically address scientific priorities related to other CENR subcommittees and NSTC committees, except as they relate to issues of importance to the Water Subcommittee. MAJOR COASTAL ENVIRONMENTAL ISSUES As a basis for determining scientific priorities, the committee identified the following issues as posing significant threats to the integrity of coastal ecosystems. Eutrophication Habitat modification Hydrologic and hydrodynamic disruption Exploitation of resources Toxic effects Introduction of nonindigenous species Global climate change and variability Shoreline erosion and hazardous storms Pathogens and toxins affecting human health Problems associated with changes in the quantity and quality of inputs to coastal environments from runoff and atmospheric deposition are particularly
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important. These include increases in nutrient loading from agriculture and fossil fuel combustion, habitat losses from eutrophication, widespread contamination by toxic materials, changes in the supply of river borne sediment, and alteration of coastal hydrodynamics. Furthermore, concern is shifting from issues amenable to single-factor risk assessment approaches to those involving multiple-stressors (e.g., combined effects of chemical contaminants and low oxygen) and indirect, cascading, and scale-related effects that require an ecosystem approach. These complex, large-scale problems pose different challenges to environmental policy, management, and science than problems now subject to regulation, such as point-source discharges, coastal land use, direct habitat destruction, and oil spills. SCIENTIFIC PRIORITIES RELEVANT TO THE WATER SUBCOMMITTEE The committee developed priorities for science activities to address coastal environmental issues, based on the seriousness of the problem involved, the relevance to Water Subcommittee goals, the opportunity for significant progress in scientific understanding or application, and the potential for linkage of science across the land-sea interface. These recommendations are organized under five priority research areas that are now being used in the Water Subcommittee framework: Integrated Monitoring, Water Availability and Flow, Water Quality and Aquatic Ecosystem Functions, Ecological Restoration and Rehabilitation, and Predictive Systems Management. An overarching recommendation is that an integrated scientific framework should be established, that (1) facilitates systematic application of research results from individual studies in specific coastal regions to address resource management problems occurring in other regions, (2) encourages cooperative interagency activities, and (3) is based on a strong commitment to fundamental science, initiated by individual investigators or collaborators. The latter point is important because the issues set forth in Chapter 2 and the research priorities described in Chapter 3 cannot be addressed without a foundation of fundamental research. Many research programs and applications that have been planned and initiated in the past 15 years are still appropriate today and should form a basis for new interagency cooperative activities. Integrated Monitoring To develop and implement observation systems that focus on interactions among atmosphere, land, and water dynamics at relevant time and space scales, federal agencies should: Measure diffuse inputs, particularly of nutrients and toxic chemicals entering the coastal zone from rivers and the atmosphere.
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Develop indicators of biological status and processes that can be used more effectively than existing indicators for ecosystem monitoring, including indicators of eutrophication, sublethal effects, and bioavailablity of toxic materials. Deploy improved in situ and remote sensing systems to allow monitoring of physical, chemical, and biological processes spanning a wide range of spatial and temporal scales. Link regional and national monitoring to improve the comparability and utility of local, regional, and national monitoring programs. Improve monitoring management systems by designing monitoring that is appropriate to the problem being addressed and integrated more fully with management decision-making, research, and modeling. Water Availability and Flow To improve understanding of the natural patterns and processes associated with hydrological flow and develop methodologies to assess and predict cumulative effects of watershed alteration, federal agencies should: Study the coupling of watershed hydrology and material fluxes through application of remote sensing and improved geographic information data bases, research on land-use management and investigation of material fluxes and controls of nitrogen and phosphorus export. Develop atmosphere-watershed-coastal models to synthesize findings, guide research, and serve as management tools, including models that relate freshwater flows and the transport and transformation of materials; couple physical and biological processes; link ecosystem processes and population dynamics; provide a framework for comparing ecosystems; and assimilate observational data. Models should be shaped and corrected by observations. Increase understanding of physical forcing processes from the head of estuaries to the edge of the continental shelf. Water Quality and Aquatic Ecosystem Functions To develop a predictive understanding of the linkages between water quality and aquatic ecosystem functions, federal agencies should: Relate nutrient flux to ecosystem dynamics, including the regulation of primary productivity, stimulation of harmful algal blooms, deposition of organic matter, transformation and recycling of materials, controls by filter feeders and grazers, the structure of food chains, changes in habitats, and consequences on fisheries. Conduct strategic assessments of toxic effects, by focusing on particu-
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lar compounds of continuing or emerging concern, using realistic exposure conditions and applying experimental determinations of sublethal, ecosystem-level, and cumulative effects. Investigate the role of sediment in coastal ecosystems, including its influence on particle-reactive materials, light limitation, and wetland soil building. Relate resource use to ecosystem sustainability through increased understanding of ecosystem controls on resource species, the causes of variability of ecosystems and stocks, and the effects of resource harvest on ecosystems. Assess the impact of multiple stressors on a variety of scales by linking both short- and long-term observations with experimental and theoretical studies. Promote comparative coastal ecosystem science by supporting interregional collaboration, comparative analyses, and development of general conceptual models for comparison of ecological processes. Ecological Restoration and Rehabilitation To improve understanding of baseline and altered aquatic systems and develop restoration methodologies and evaluation criteria, federal agencies should: Determine effects of habitat loss and degradation on biodiversity and productivity, by supporting research on habitat condition, requirements of specific species and communities, and vulnerability to invasion by nonindigenous species. Advance restoration science and engineering through studies of the relationships between habitat structure and function, sediment processes, nutrient dynamics, population and community development, physical restoration techniques and restoration performance criteria, and economic and ecologic valuation. Guide the remediation of toxic contamination through studies of the fate and transport of toxic materials mobilized from sediments and of in situ and other remediation technologies. Predictive Systems Management To develop the understanding, tools, methods, and models necessary to support water systems and ecosystem management for competing demands, federal agencies should: Implement observation and prediction systems founded on near realtime measurement of physical properties and processes in selected coastal envi-
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ronments that lead to environmental forecasts useful for ecosystem protection, resource management, and human safety. Develop and employ ecosystem models as management tools by adapting scientifically-based models that couple atmospheric, watershed, and coastal process models and other more limited ecosystem models. Advance adaptive ecosystem management, by learning from experimental management approaches and more active involvement of scientists in developing management alternatives. Stimulate interactions between science and management by supporting exchanges of scientists and managers, and traineeships in science and technology transfer for scientists and managers. REGIONAL, NATIONAL, AND INTERNATIONAL SCIENTIFIC PROGRAMS Regional marine research plans, recently developed for nine coastal areas of the United States, identify a number of scientific priorities consistent with the recommendations of this report, including science related to (1) indicators of ecosystem health; (2) eutrophication; (3) the fate and effect of selected toxicants, particularly in sediments; and (4) the effects of physical modification of habitats and the restoration of these habitats. In addition, themes similar to those developed in this report are evident in the scientific priorities identified in The Freshwater Imperative (Naiman et al., in press), including (1) the importance of modifications of water flows and associated materials fluxes and transformations, (2) the need for effective biological indicators of ecosystem function and integrity, (3) effects of physical phenomena on ecosystem structure and function, (4) the emerging science of ecosystem restoration and rehabilitation, and (5) the development of science-based predictive management aided by the use of coupled physical-chemical-biological models. The increasing emphasis on location-specific (i.e., place-based) approaches for ecosystem management will increase the demand for and support of regional scientific activities serving specific ecosystem management programs. Geographically targeted, strategic research—comprehensive enough to address ecosystem-level questions—should be promoted to serve place-based management in those cases. But comparative knowledge of other coastal ecosystems will also be important in extending results among regions. The committee believes that U.S. federal agencies and the national scientific community have an obligation to contribute to the advancement and application of coastal science worldwide. This obligation stems from U.S. leadership in coastal research and education, and from international commitments. U.S. involvement in international coastal science also provides opportunities to gain comparative knowledge that can be applied to maintain healthy coastal ecosystems in the United States. Therefore, the committee recommends that the Water
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Subcommittee identify mechanisms to promote intellectual exchange and scientific coordination with relevant international coastal science efforts, such as the Land-Ocean Interactions in the Coastal Zone initiative and the Global Ocean Observing System. INTERFACES WITH OTHER CENR SUBCOMMITTEES AND NSTC COMMITTEES The goals of the Water Subcommittee focus on the management of water resources and the maintenance of healthy coastal ecosystems. Additional coastal science priorities are being considered by other CENR subcommittees and NSTC committees, including those on global change; biodiversity and ecosystem dynamics; resource use and management; natural disasters; social and economic sciences; national security; health, safety, and food; and fundamental science. Although the integrated consideration of freshwater resources and coastal marine environments under the aegis of the Water Subcommittee encourages the timely development of a larger view of interacting ecosystems across the land-ocean boundary, there remains the need to plan and coordinate scientific activities in coastal waters across all relevant committees and subcommittees within NSTC. The Water Subcommittee should interact with these other NSTC components to understand how they will treat watershed and coastal research issues and to develop comprehensive coastal research activities across the NSTC.
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