This chapter on comparative international research opportunities addresses the topic of “Transferring and Applying Knowledge” in the Statement of Task. On the one hand, the Mississippi River delta is unique, given its combination of bird’s-foot morphology, low tidal range, high storm vulnerability, spatially concentrated but important urbanization, and large-scale industrial development and commercial fisheries. Just as geographer Gilbert F. White (1957) noted that “No two rivers are the same,” as he was embarking on a comparative study of international river basins, so too may it be said that no two deltas are the same. On the other hand, the Mississippi River delta does have attributes, expertise, and approaches that can be compared with other deltas, and that can shed light on environment-society relations in ways that help broaden the range of choice among water management alternatives in those regions.
Comparative water resources and deltaic research is at an exciting, yet challenging, stage of development. Growing concern about deltas, coupled with new tools for data-driven analysis, and new scientific networks are stimulating comparative international inquiry (e.g., Brakenridge et al., 2013; Bucks, et al. 2010; Coleman et al., 2008; Ericson, Vörösmarty et al., 2006; Overeem and Syvitski, 2009; Paola et al., 2011; Syvitski et al., 2009; Vermaat and Elevald, 2013). Emerging international delta networks include Connecting Delta Cities, Delta Alliance, Louisiana Universities Gulf Research Collaborative, National Center for Earth Surface Dynamics, USGS DRAGON, the German-Vietnamese WISDOM initiative, the World Estuary Alliance, and others.
Even so, the historical record cautions against an overly broad approach
to international comparison. A significant review of international delta studies was given by Roberts and Coleman (2003) in their 50-year history of the LSU Coastal Studies Institute. That account explained how the early impetus and continuing funding for international coastal research came from the Office of Naval Research (ONR), which was initially driven by geomorphological challenges to beach landings during World War II. Scientists funded by ONR went on to advance the basic science of deltaic geomorphology. When ONR restructured its research funding, the Coastal Studies Institute had to adjust its research program. Other research and engineering organizations have had changing programs of lower river and deltaic research that deserve rigorous historical review; they include Delft Hydraulics, the French Ecole des Ponts et Chaussees, and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Shallat, 1994).
In smaller organizations, a group of committed scientists can create a broad international program, but may not be able to sustain that research agenda over the long-term of multiple decades and generations. The Water Institute has limited staffing, even with significant anticipated growth and its expanding mission in the Mississippi River delta. By comparison, Deltares has over 800 employees and a program of international research that has developed over nearly a century from its origins as Delft Hydraulics. Pursuing international opportunities within the context of practical constraints can be achieved in part through a strategic approach for screening research projects.
The comparative water research field contains many examples of disparate short-term studies and conference proceedings assembled with little rigorous analysis across cases or variables (Wescoat, 2009). To move beyond this pattern, the Water Institute would benefit from a conceptual framework and criteria for screening comparative deltaic research projects. For example, opportunities for comparative international inquiry can be organized by their aims (purposes) and levels (scope and methods). This approach is illustrated below.
Aims of Comparative International Inquiry:
1. Problem-driven research (learning)—Pursue strategic research that is already under way in the Gulf and that may be studied in another delta.
2. Opportunity-driven research (transferring knowledge)—Transfer ex-
pertise developed through delta restoration research in the Gulf to other deltaic regions
3. Perspective-driven research (teaching and learning)—Develop an interpretive perspective on work under way in the Mississippi gulf through partial analogues and contrasts with innovations and practices in other deltas.
4. Network-driven research—Develop a regular program of engaging international delta research and management leaders at the Institute.
5. Human and social capital-driven research—Disseminate and raise the profile of the Water Institute’s work and staff in international forums and major collaborative studies.
Levels of Comparative International Inquiry:
There are several major levels and associated methods of comparative inquiry, which may be distinguished for conceptual purposes (Mollinga and Gondelekhar, 2012; Wescoat, 2009):
1. Quantitative comparison of global delta databases(large-N)– Studies of 15 to 100 cases seek generalizations across a large number of cases controlling for different variables (e.g., wetland loss rates, subsidence rates, sea level rise, storm frequency and surge height, vulnerable populations and assets).
2. Mixed quantitative and qualitative comparison of thematic issues (intermediate-N) – Studies of 5 to 15 cases are useful for grouping deltas and conducting thematic studies of vulnerability, resilience, and sustainability. Their mixed-methods can produce well-structured multidisciplinary studies (e.g., Renaud and Kuenzer, 2012). More formal qualitative methods have been developed, but they are not often employed in comparative water resources research (e.g., Boolean algebraic methods described by Ragin, 1987).
3. Detailed qualitative comparison of individual deltas (small-N) – Studies of one to five deltas are among the most detailed and challenging types of comparative water research. They include place-specific historical studies of deltaic development and knowledge transfer. Construction of analogies between paired cases is also used in research on the human dimensions of climate change and adaptation (Glantz, 1988; Meyer et al., 1998).
These two dimensions of comparative research can be viewed in a matrix format to clarify international research priorities (Figure 6-1). All levels of international comparison can shed light on problems in the lower Mississippi River delta, and can help build human and social capital. They do so
in different ways: to generalize, global quantitative research can help situate the Mississippi in a wider context; while multimethod thematic studies can address science-policy questions; and paired delta studies are the principal vehicle for transferring and applying lessons.
• The Water Institute could define traits that best characterize the Mississippi Delta, and begin to establish connections and comparisons with a small, diverse set of other delta regions. The Water Institute subsequently could branch out as interests and staff resources permit.
• To help prioritize its own international activities and its collaborations with other delta regions, the Water Institute could develop and employ a simple framework of international research aims and methods to screen, rank, and select its international activities.
Global Delta Comparisons Based on a Large Number of Cases
Several major scientific research programs have included scores of delta cases. The first international delta databases were prepared in the 1970s by the LSU Coastal Studies Institute (Coleman and Wright, 1973, 1975; Wright et al., 1974). This work evolved into the World Delta Database based at LSU (Coleman and Huh, 2004; Huh et al., 2004). Analysis of new
delta datasets has been undertaken with MODIS remote sensing studies of lower floodplains and deltas—for example, at the University of Colorado-Boulder (Syvitski et al., 2009); the LOICZ study of deltaic processes in the IGBP Land-Ocean Interface studies (Overreen and Syvitski, 2009); and Vermaat and Eleveld’s (2013) principal components analysis of the DIVA coastal segment database, which includes variables on populations at risk as well as coastal physical conditions and global change scenarios. Datasets of this size situate the lower Mississippi River delta quantitatively within global rates of deltaic land loss, inundation, turbidity, change in land use and land cover, and populations at risk.
Thematic Delta Comparisons Based on an Intermediate Number of Cases
The intermediate level of comparison usually involves around 5 to 15 cases. An early cluster analysis of 34 deltas—based solely on physical attributes of drainage basins, deltaic plains, and receiving basins—identified seven clusters of deltas (Coleman and Wright, 1977). The seven clusters were not strongly associated, but they did display interesting patterns of physical similarity and dissimilarity, in which the Mississippi River delta was found to be physically similar to the Colville and Danube deltas (Figure 6-2). Multivariate analysis with the new international databases may group deltas by environmental and socioeconomic agents of change, which would be useful for integrated water and environmental management (e.g., Vermaat and Eelvald, 2013).
Comparison for management purposes often entails a mix of quantitative and qualitative methods. An example is the recent Delta Alliance Comparative Assessment of the Vulnerability and Resilience of 10 Deltas, which convened study teams in each of the 10 deltas. This study developed a scorecard for the four “layers” of delta management—the natural base layer, the infrastructure layer, the socioeconomic occupance layer, and the governance layer. It identified four to six major types of research needs and gaps for each layer (Table 6-1). The researchers assessed each delta’s vulnerability and resilience under three scenarios of climate change (see Table 2-3).
That study of 10 deltas reported the Mississippi River delta’s main research gaps as: socioeconomic scenarios; effects of development on ecosystem functions, building with nature (i.e., ecological design), data management, and research on governmental roles and policies. Based on this appraisal, vulnerability of the Mississippi River delta ranked moderately among the 10 deltas. It ranked below the Rhine and Danube, on a par with the California Bay-Delta and Mekong, and as somewhat less vulnerable than other large deltas in Asia. This study offers one way of thinking about
comparisons relevant for integrated water and environmental management in the Mississippi River delta and transferring lessons to other regions.
Detailed Delta Comparisons Based on a Small Number of Cases
The most frequent, and often most difficult, type of comparison involves two detailed case studies. Detailed information underscores the differences in both physical and social systems, which works against quantitative comparison and direct application from one region to another. For
TABLE 6-1 Research Needs and gaps for the Four Layers of Delta Management
|Nile||Incomati||Ganges Brahmaputra Meghna||Yangtze||Ciliwung||Mekong||Rhine-Meuse||Danube||California Bay-delta||Mississippi-River delta|
|Socio-economic scenarios (6)||•||•||•||•||•||•|
|Water use and treatment (5)||•||•||•||•||•|
|Integrated spatial planning (5]||•||•||•||•||•|
|Ecosystem seivices (5)||•||•||•||•||•|
|Land-use change modelling (4)||•||•||•||•|
|Adaptation to salinisatfori (2)||•||•|
|Freshwater management (7)||•||•||•||•||•||•||•|
|Dikes and dams (5)||•||•||•||•||•|
|Flood forecasting/early warning systems (1)||•|
|Effects of changes/ eco-system functioning (9)||•||•||•||•||•||•||•||•||•|
|Building with nature and natural safety (8)||•||•||•||•||•||•||•||•|
|Monitoring changes (7)||•||•||•||•||•||•||•|
|Predicting changes (7]||•||•||•||•||•||•||•|
|Base-layer data management (3)||•||•||•|
|Governmental roles and arrangements (6)||•||•||•||•||•||•|
|Integrated delta management (6)||•||•||•||•||•||•|
|Communication/capacity building (4)||•||•||•||•|
|Financial arrangements (4]||•||•||•||•|
|River basin cooperation (2)||•||•|
|Policy impact studies (1)||•|
|Comparative assessment of the vulnerability and resilience of 10 deltas | synthesis report|
this reason, detailed case studies often involve the construction of analogies between cases, which is a type of research used in climate change adaptation research (e.g., Glantz, 1988). Analogies are based on a qualitative similarity or difference in one variable that suggests similarities or differences in other variables (Meyer et al., 1998). Analogies can be used to generate scenarios of possible future conditions that can help expand the range of environmental conditions, alternatives, and innovations to be considered. For that reason, analogues and analogies are sometimes said to be more or less useful, rather than more or less valid. Several examples follow that involve one, two, and three cases.
Single Delta Comparisons
A delta can be compared with itself. Examples include comparisons of the Mississippi River delta with itself over time (e.g., comparative statics before and after the Coastal Zone Management Act, Hurricane Katrina, or the Deepwater Horizon spill). More specifically, it would be interesting to compare coastal zone management research in Louisiana in the mid-1970s when diversions for restoration were proposed but not accepted, with the 2012 Coastal Master Plan when diversion plans were unanimously adopted. What new knowledge and new uses of knowledge explain this change? How might future knowledge operate at time scales of years rather than decades?
Rhine-Mississippi comparisons have been discussed throughout this report. They include the Dutch Dialogues and other exchanges on flood hazards planning, “Room for the River,” and urban environmental design competitions (Delta Alliance, 2010; Meyer et al., 2009; NUWCRen, 2012; Wesselink, 2007). Some of the more conceptually challenging analogies with the Rhine include governance structures, spatial planning, and large-scale coastal engineering. Use of these analogies could suggest integrated water and environmental management approaches for the Mississippi Ganges-Brahmaputra-Mississippi comparisons have historically operated in the other direction, with lessons drawn from the Mississippi to Bengal delta from the time of economist Radhakamal Mukerjee (1938) to the early work of the LSU Coastal Studies Institute, and critical studies of the Bangladesh Flood Action Plan in the 1990s (e.g., Brammer, 2010; Rogers et al., 1989). Louisiana potentially could exchange ideas with Bangladesh on large-scale cyclone shelter performance and evacuation, public health and oral rehydration therapy in disaster relief, and mechanisms of microfinance in hazards mitigation and recovery. Such analogies stimulate the imagination to encompass new lines of integrated water research that may be of practical use in the Mississippi River delta and beyond.
Mekong-Mississippi comparisons have occurred from the river basin to deltaic scales (Jacobs, 1999). USGS’s National Wetlands Center in Lafayette, Louisiana, has a major Forecast Mekong study program under way (Turnipseed, 2013). Documentation for the program is an impressive example of knowledge transfer, supported in part by the U.S. State Department initiative (see Box 6-1). It is an open question as to how managers in the Mississippi River delta could benefit from knowledge generated in the Mekong. The conceptual framework offered above suggests that the Forecast Mekong example fulfills the “opportunities,” “perspectives,” “network,” and “human capital” aims of comparative research.
The Mekong River and Delta
The Lower Mekong River and delta provide a potential precedent for US-based expertise being applied internationally, which could serve as a model for the Water Institute’s future international efforts (though see Biggs, 2011 for a critical history of such efforts). The Mekong River (drainage area 800,000 km2 average discharge 15,000 m3s-1) is unique among the world’s great rivers in the size of the human population supported by its ecosystem. Approximately 60 million people (mostly in Cambodia and Vietnam) derive their livelihoods from aquatic life in the river system (Campbell, 2009). Since the early 1990s, the basin has experienced rapid development, including over 140 dams proposed, under construction, or built. How these dams will affect the river and its ecosystem are key questions facing the region, but basic data such as detailed bathymetry and fish life histories are very limited.
Since 2009, the U.S. Geological Survey’s Wetlands Research Center in Lafayette has coordinated Forecast Mekong, a project under the Delta Research and Global Observation Network (DRAGON), in cooperation with in-basin partners in Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, and Thailand (http://deltas.usgs.gov/fm/). One of the first products is a graphic visualization program of bathymetry and hydrology for the confluence of the Tonle Sap and Mekong rivers, near Phnom Penh. The program development process provided the opportunity for hands-on training on multibeam sonar and acoustic Doppler current profiler instrumentation, thereby transferring technology and skill to the region, ultimately for construction of a complete bathymetric map of the lower Mekong River and key tributaries. Another effort is the Mekong Fish Monitoring Network to address the need for data on fisheries. A 2012 pilot fish monitoring study was designed to build capacity within basin states and provide a platform for data sharing and analysis. Other initiatives under Forecast Mekong are citizen science for salinity monitoring in the delta, and making available scanned historical maps and satellite imagery to government agencies and members of the public.
Another ongoing effort is the USAID-funded Climate-Resilient Mekong initiative of the Natural Heritage Institute, working with water ministry staff of Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Vietnam, and China to explore alternative dam designs that would reduce environmental impacts (notably by trapping less sediment and allowing migration of fish) while having comparable electric generation capabilities. This project has involved the first geomorphically based analysis of probable sediment-starvation impacts of dams as currently proposed, reservoir operation and sediment transport modeling for selected tributaries and mainstem sites, and development of alternative dam designs in workshops with staff of the lower basin states. Other international research groups are actively engaged in the Mekong, making it a focus of international scientific inquiry on sediment, sea level, fishing, and agriculture (Renaud and Kuenzer, 2012).
A Regional Example: Major Deltas in China
China has three major delta ecosystems associated with the Yellow (Huanghe), Yangtze (Changjiang), and Pearl (Zhujiang) rivers. The Huanghe Delta is characterized by high sediment loading and discharge, thin Holocene deltaic sediments, a lateral delta lobe shift, and a steep longitudinal profile in its lower reaches. The Changjiang delta is characterized by a large water discharge with dramatic seasonality, a tide-dominated coastal environment, thick Holocene sediments, and a deep-incised valley that formed during the last glacial period (Saito et al., 2001). The Zhujiang is a composite delta that is impacted by large flow discharge, low-lying areas, and a dense network of tributaries.
Although the three deltas are unique in their geomorphological and socioeconomic conditions, they face some common problems, including (1) Heavily regulated flow and sediment discharges by reservoirs and dams and water withdrawals in the upstream areas. The flow to the Huanghe Delta was entirely cut off almost every year during the 1990s; the sediment discharge to the Changjiang delta shows a strong decreasing trend from the late 1960s to 2003, likely due to dam construction (Yang et al., 2005). (2) Vulnerability to flood: Flood risk is increasing in Changjiang delta because of the subsidence, coastal wetlands degradation and climate change; in Huanghe delta because of the sediment accumulation in the downstream river channel; and in the Zhujiang delta because of concentrated rainfall, typhoons, and low-lying areas and dike-building practices over one thousand years. (3) Water pollution. The Zhujiang delta is polluted by sewage discharge from a dense network of cities that lie along its path. The Changjiang delta has been threatened by upstream sewage discharge untreated and salt water intrusion due to sea level rise. (4) Declines in upstream runoff and inflow due to more frequent droughts and the possible impact(s) of climate changes, with future concerns of glacier retreats. (5) Intensive human interferences in the delta area and vulnerable ecosystems. The Changjiang and Zhujiang deltas are highly urbanized, supporting the wealthiest and most economically dynamic regions of China. Land and water use in those areas has already caused substantial ecosystem degradation. Although the Huanghe delta is much less developed (probably due to its unstable natural state), it is recognized as an area with a large potential of economic development in China, and rapid development has been seen in recent years. Consequently, the wetlands and biodiversity in all these deltas have been degrading.
The existing measures and plans to protect the major deltas in China are influenced by a basin-wide systems approach coordinated by the commission established for each of the major basins under the Ministry of Water Resources. For example, in order to avoid flow cut-offs occurring in the 1990s, the Yellow River Conservancy Commission implemented the “Water Allocation Program’’ approved by the State Council of China, which specifies water withdrawal quotas for provinces along the basin.
Three Delta Comparisons
Three-way comparisons can reduce the emphasis on differences in any single pair. An example is provided by a Deltares (2012) study of adaptive management in the Netherlands, United States, and East Asia. Another hypothetical example could involve a three-way international research project among the Mississippi, Rhine, and Ganges-Brahmaputra deltas. Scientists in each of these deltas have engaged in research on the others, sometimes with links to integrated water and environmental management. International debates about the Bangladesh Flood Action Plan in the 1990s and subsequent plans may not yet have been fully absorbed in integrated water management for deltaic regions. Another three-way comparison could involve water researchers in U.S. and Chinese deltas. Likewise, the Mississippi River and Chinese deltas have the possibility of creating a new level of scientific network and institution-building (see Box 6-2).
Analogues between the Mississippi and other deltas of the world were introduced in Chapter 2. This section discusses ideas about knowledge transfer from the Mississippi River delta to and for other regions. It begins with near-term international collaborative research and proceeds toward longer-term research strategies.
Near-Term International Water Research
The Water Institute is now involved in international delta networks, international research projects, and an expanding working relationship with Deltares in the Netherlands (Deltares, 2013). These collaborations will enhance the capacity of Water Institute scientists and lead to identification of more research approaches and methods that could be useful both in the Mississippi River delta region and for transfer to other deltas.
A conservative position on knowledge transfer to other regions may be appropriate for the Water Institute in its initial years. One lesson of late twentieth century international water resources research and development involved risks and failures caused by uncritical transfer of water management practices. Failures included modeling with inadequate data; infrastructure approaches that proved unsustainable; well-intentioned groundwater development that aggravated water quality hazards; and research contingent upon rapidly changing geopolitical and trade relations. In each case, investigators sought to do good but had mixed or adverse results.
• In the near term, a small set of strategic gulf-centric studies may be the main type of international research on analogies that the Water Institute undertakes.
• Over the medium term, Water Institute scientists would benefit from strategic engagement in multidelta comparisons, such as the Delta Alliance’s study of vulnerability and resilience.
Longer-Term Knowledge Transfer Opportunities
As the Water Institute develops expertise in particular research applications, like delta restoration ecology, it may wish to expand its role in international transfer of knowledge. That might include identification of long-term “paired delta” alliances. Some promising examples include the Mississippi-Bengal deltas for applied research on hydrodynamics, sediment transport, coastal hazards, demography, health and epidemiology; Mississippi-Chinese deltas for applied research on sediment transport, deltaic urbanism, infrastructure, and environment; Mississippi-Mekong deltas for applied research on sediment, fisheries, and ecohydrology; and the Mississippi-Niger deltas and other petrochemical-based industrializing deltas for applied research on energy development, environmental management, and social equity.
In the near term, the Water Institute may have the most promise for collaborative research with international delta researchers and organizations that seek to exchange knowledge between the Mississippi River delta and other regions. Over the longer term, knowledge transfer to a small number of deltas in areas of the Water Institute’s special expertise may be developed through specific mechanisms that advance from a “project” to a “programmatic” level.
• In the longer term, depending upon its Mississippi River priorities and expertise, the Water Institute may be in a position to develop a small number of continuous, cooperative problem-driven and thematic research programs with other delta regions.
Examples include (1) environmental/ecosystem restoration—Rhine, Danube, Irrawaddy; (2) natural hazards mitigation—Ganges-Brahmaputra, and Mekong; (3) energy industry, environment, and conflict—Niger, Yellow River, Indian Ocean, Arctic deltas; (4) sediment trapping and land loss—Mekong and Yellow; and (5) urban planning and flood risk reduction—in New Orleans, the Connecting Delta Cities program, Pearl, and Yangtze deltas.