Preceding chapters have emphasized the role of collaboration in both domestic and international research. This chapter develops that theme in two ways. The first section of the chapter discusses opportunities and methods for research coordination among scientific research, industrial, agency, and civil society organizations. The second part of the chapter explores organizational options and strategies for advancing regional and international research.
Relations with Research Institutes
Given its proximity to Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, connections of Water Institute scientists with other academic institutions in the region, as well as applied and other federal research programs of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and U.S. Geological Survey, the Water Institute stands to play a role in helping create a community of scholars addressing important issues relevant to coastal Louisiana and the Mississippi River delta. There are many scientists, schools, and organizations carrying out research programs, but the benefits of collaboration and cross-fertilization of ideas have not yet been fully realized in the region. Despite many research groups at different institutions with vibrant, productive scientific exchanges, there seems to be a collective sense that more is possible. An illustrative example is the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium (LUMCON), which was conceived of as an opportunity for all the univer-
sities and research labs in the region to collaborate on scientific research. Similarly, government agencies and research laboratories hold significant data sets and have expertise. The Water Institute could play an important role in fostering interchange of ideas and data among universities and research institutions active in the region.
The Mississippi delta is heavily industrialized, so not surprisingly, there is a depth of expertise in the delta within the industries that operate here, notably the oil and gas industry, but also fishing, navigation, salt mining, dredging, construction, and other industries. Much of the industry data and expertise have been unavailable to other researchers. Although proprietary concerns will limit sharing of some of these data, some of it could potentially be shared to promote better understanding and management of the delta’s resources. However, there have been few attempts by university, agency, or government scientists to reach out to industry for collaborations. There may be opportunities for the Water Institute to develop such links with industry (Box 5-1).
It is likely that many industry scientists would be open to exchange of ideas, and, as relationships are built over time, exchange of data. Industry scientists could stand to benefit from collaborations with academia as well, especially to the extent that they could influence research agendas toward issues of concern to industry. Moreover, there are likely important synergies that could develop, as for example, collaborative studies with environmental scientists could identify alternative disposal sites for dredge spoils that could actually be environmentally beneficial (and thus more easily permitted), and potentially less costly for the dredging industry.
Besides the wealth of subsurface data held by oil, gas, and salt industry scientists, the dredging industry could provide data on depths to which channels are dredged and volumes of spoils produced. Fishers could provide data on catches beyond those data already compiled and publically available, such as detail on habitats in which different species and life stages are caught, including effects of seasonality and water levels. The navigation industry could provide insights into the fundamental requirements to support navigation, which could facilitate discussion of alternative arrangements to support navigation.
The Water Institute could facilitate beneficial exchanges with industry in many ways. One would be to start informal conversations, beginning with industry scientists with whom Institute scientists already have some contacts. Invitations to present a seminar, followed by lunch or dinner, could represent easy, comfortable ways to initiate communication and interchange. Through such discussions on topics of common interests,
Future Energy Industry Coasts
As a “working coast” the lower Mississippi River and its delta bear comparison with other industrializing deltaic regions around the world, which may be pursued in part in collaboration with industry research partners and support. For example, the Gulf coast has witnessed an evolution of petrochemical industrial land use over the past century from the Spindletop oil strike in 1901 to shallow oil and gas production, refining, shipping, pipeline development, and associated waterfront petrochemical industries – to the development of ever deeper offshore drilling, pipeline extensions, and development of the Louisiana Offshore Oil Port since 1981. LSU’s Energy Center and other Gulf industrial organizations have established oil spill research, containment, and remediation centers. The RESTORE Act and BP and related settlements will greatly increase this expertise.
As noted in Chapter 2, Louisiana has a working coast with a full suite of marine, deltaic, and riverfront petrochemical industries and related environmental sciences. Knowledge generated in the Mississippi River delta region will bear comparison with analogues of the Rhine and North Sea in oil exploration, shipping and marine research which were highlighted in Chapter 2. Here the emphasis is on potential research and collaboration that has relevance for other industrializing deltas, including the following:
• Niger delta – issues include oil spills, fisheries impacts, epidemiology, poverty, social conflict, human rights, security, and increasing scientific assessment related to corporate social responsibility (CSR).
• Shatt al Arab, Iraq – issues include sediment and flow reduction, pollution control, marsh destruction and restoration, and postconflict reconstruction in an arid environment (France, 2006; USACE; U.S. House of Representatives, 2004).
• Nile delta – issues include sediment and flow reduction, pollution control, marsh destruction and restoration, in an arid environment (USGS, 2012).
• MacKenzie River delta – Canadian arctic delta/North Slope Beaufort Sea Siberian arctic – growing exploration and development in Lena delta/Laptev Sea
• East and southeast Asian deltas – (Sidi et al., 2003).
Three foci seem particularly relevant for integrated water and environmental management in deltaic regions comparable to the Mississippi River delta: (1) natural gas exploration and pipeline channel restoration; (2) riparian and groundwater remediation, preparedness, and risk management associated with riparian petrochemical manufacturing complexes; and (3) environmental restoration associated with offshore development and spills. In the current context, knowledge gained from delta restoration, preparedness, and protection projects in the Mississippi River delta may have relevance for other coastal petrochemical regions. Various industry partnership and sponsorship models have been developed in university energy centers, and these approaches may have promise in the Mississippi and other regions.
with a small group of invited faculty, researchers, and graduate students, ultimately could lead to more extensive outreach.
A Gradient of Outreach Activities
The Water Institute’s potential outreach activities could be viewed along a gradient from low-key and low-cost, to more ambitious outreach. As noted above, initial efforts should include invitations to individual scientists to present seminars and share meals, and in addition the Institute could initiate an interdisciplinary forum for free and open exchange of ideas, which could meet weekly, biweekly, or monthly. The forum can potentially be constituted as an interdisciplinary seminar co-taught with university faculty colleagues, alternating meetings between campus and the Water Institute. Depending on topics discussed, agency and industry scientists in the region could be invited to participate, and in some cases, relevant experts from afar could be invited to join.
In addition to this local/regional outreach, the Water Institute could facilitate national and international collaborations. A visiting scholar program could host scholars and managers from other institutions for weeks, months, or longer. A small number of visiting experts could be hosted with office space, Internet access, a stipend, and access to field equipment. The Water Institute could provide fellowships for faculty on sabbatical, fund postdoctoral scholars (or co-fund with universities), and also host managers and agency officials who have the opportunity to take sabbatical-type leaves, such as bureaucrats in the European Commission. The Water Institute also could work with the Fulbright Commission to host visitors. A disadvantage of the Fulbright-type programs is their long lead time, but advantages include the sharing of costs and the credibility of collaborating with Fulbright and others.
Convening biannual or triannual conferences on research on deltas worldwide could help establish the Water Institute as a global center of such research activity. These conferences could result in publications, or symposia summaries, that would become important reference works in the field. The Water Institute could also consider launching an International Journal of Delta Research, as a mechanism to further cement its role as a global center of delta research.
These activities, along with hosting PhD students, postdoctoral scholars, and senior scholars (not only faculty on sabbatical but also non-PhDs drawn from the ranks of managers and agency scientists), could serve to keep Water Institute scientists aware of research and management experience from deltas worldwide.
By providing logistical support to researchers, the Water Institute could extend the spatial, temporal, or variable scope of experiments. One idea would be to organize an equipment library for fieldwork, usable by principal investigators (PIs) at reasonable fees (for external projects) or gratis on projects sponsored by the Water Institute. One barrier to conducting scientific research is that field equipment is expensive to purchase and maintain, and much of it sits on the shelf when not in use by the PI who owns it. An equipment library would shift the costs of the equipment infrastructure from PIs to the Water Institute, but the net cost of research should decrease because the equipment will have higher usage rates. The equipment library could arrange for equipment insurance to cover its equipment and allow PIs to share equipment under the umbrella of the Water Institute. This would eliminate insurance payments as a barrier to the lending of equipment and would support its fuller use.
As a new research entity without institutional constraints, the Water Institute has an unusual opportunity to develop a research scope and agenda, an organizational structure, and a mode of operation that are not encumbered by historical constraints. Even so, Water Institute leadership will recognize that their research will be conducted in a setting that is occupied by other entities that conduct research, implement regulations, or affect the environment through commercial or industrial practices. The Water Institute thus would benefit from a plan for interaction with universities, government agencies, or other organized entities that conduct or support research, and with industries that are economically important in the Gulf
The structural features of the Water Institute will also affect its long-term value and success. As it is not part of a university or government agency, the Water Institute will require a distinctive type of organizational structure. It constitutes a new model for a center of environmental research excellence. Thus, a specific staffing plan that builds competencies supportive of its intended purpose could help the Water Institute avoid overcommitting resources in some areas, addressed by other research organizations, and a deficiency of resources areas central to its purpose and structure.
Structure, Organizational Options, and Composition of the Institute
The Water Institute could employ a strategy that is adapted to its intended operations and goals as well as factors that constrain its work. Strategic factors to be considered by the Water Institute leadership include
mode of operation, incentives and expectations for staff, mechanisms for prioritization of work, optimization of competencies, and efficient organizational structure.
Mode of Operation
At one end of the spectrum, the Water Institute could attempt to conduct all of its research and related activities on an independent basis, or conversely, it could serve mainly as a broker of research. More feasible and effective than either of these contrasting strategies, however, is a rational opportunistic mode of operation that favors independent work when the full range of competencies is available internally but moves to varying degrees of collaboration or even complete distribution of some types of work when such a mode of operation can result in a better product. Furthermore, partnerships will enhance the image of the Water Institute as part of an extended research community rather than an entity that finds limited benefits in sponsored collaboration.
Prioritization of Work
Research units that depend on contracts and grants, as will the Water Institute, have to balance pragmatism in developing a research agenda, while encouraging vision and bold thinking among its staff. Prioritization will involve not only an interest in funding but also a commitment to projects that are both feasible and significant.
A clear and comprehensive organizational structure will facilitate internal communication, lines of authority, and interface with outside interests of the Water Institute. The Water Institute’s organization might include not only an external advisory committee, as already exists, but also an internal science leadership group that holds a recognized responsibility for advising the director.
Core competencies of research staff will reflect the research agenda. A hypothetical list of competencies is shown in Table 5-1, which is based on the assumption that the Water Institute will show competencies that reflect its commitment to a systems-level analysis of the delta environment. The commitment to systems analysis requires research competency in the disciplines environmental physics (geomorphology, hydrology), ecology
TABLE 5-1 Hypothetical Areas of Competency for Water Institute Staff
|Geomorphology||Coastal zone geomorphic processes, soil development|
|Hydrology||Basic hydrology, engineering hydrology|
|Marsh Ecology||Habitat, food web dynamics|
|Fisheries||Environmental requirements, sustained yield|
|Geography||Digital mapping, remote sensing, land and water use|
|Modeling||Process models, systems models|
|Economics||Benefits-costs, policy alternatives and choices|
|History||Land and water development patterns; cultural heritage|
|Other social sciences||Decision making, institutions, human-environment relations, science-policy analysis, environmental and hazards perception|
(marshes, fisheries), comprehensive measurement and assessment capabilities (geography), ability to quantify processes and make predictions (modeling), and ability to deal descriptively and quantitatively with human behavior, valuation, and institutions (social science). However, beyond these disciplinary fields of expertise, this report has stressed the role and importance of cultivating expertise in integrative research fields of environment-society interactions and hazards research.
If it proves infeasible or undesirable for the Water Institute to form a core structure that has a range of competencies reflective of the list shown in Table 5-1, the Water Institute may wish to commit itself to near- or long-term partnerships with research entities that offer these competencies. Alternatively, the Water Institute could choose to specialize in specific aspects of environmental analysis in the delta. If the Water Institute is to take a unique role as a leader in systems-level analysis of delta environments, with emphasis on the Gulf delta region of the Mississippi River, a systems-level array of competencies is essential for credibility.
The competencies shown in Table 5-1 not only address the capability of the Water Institute in dealing at the systems level with the Gulf environment, but also reflect the agents of change discussed in Chapter 2. For example, expertise in geomorphology establishes the Water Institute’s capability for dealing with dynamics of land surface area in the Gulf, with sediment mass balance and distribution, and with geomorphic processes that enhance the potential for development of marsh landscapes. Inclusion of social science expertise in the list of competencies would encourage analytical expertise for describing and projecting the effects of delta populations and institutions within the delta environment, and could contribute to an
integrated perspective for water and environmental management within the Water Institute.
• The Water Institute will have opportunities to build working, collaborative relationships with a rich variety of research and educational institutes, and private industry—including energy exploration and development firms, fisheries, tourism, and the maritime transportation sector.
Examples of these opportunities include hosting international seminars, scholar exchange, establishment of a special delta research journal, and insurance for laboratory facilities or research equipment.