The overall importance of the coastal ocean extends far beyond its relatively small areal extent. An environment of remarkably high biological productivity, this transition zone between land and open ocean is of considerable importance for recreation, waste disposal and mineral exploitation. Such societal issues as pollution (in its many forms), bioremediation, waste disposal, and risk assessment cannot be addressed adequately until we make substantial advances in our basic understanding of the coastal ocean. A holistic approach to the coastal ocean system, blending marine meteorology with biological, chemical, geological, and physical oceanography, should enable us to progress sufficiently so that we will be better prepared to make the technical and policy decisions facing us over the next decades. (NRC, 1992d)
Coastal areas are situated at the interface between the land and water; therefore, they are influenced by both terrestrial and oceanic/lake processes and events. The vast majority of all U.S. inland waters drain into coastal areas, extending the influence of most of the U.S. population to the coastal ocean and Great Lakes through influences on the quantity and quality of fresh water discharged. More directly, coastal counties of the United States account for half of the nation's population (SUSCOS, 1993a), and the population density in coastal counties is increasing at a faster rate than for the nation as a whole (LMER Coordinating Committee, 1992). Coastal and inland citizens enjoy benefits from coastal areas, including places for habitation and for the location and operation of certain industries, transportation, recreation, harvest and utilization of living and nonliving resources, and aesthetic qualities. Multiple uses of coastal areas and conflicts among these uses have increased public and governmental interest
in understanding processes, mitigating impacts (both natural and human-induced), and providing a basis for sustainable resource use.
Concern about environmental quality issues, including coastal environmental quality issues, was stimulated during the 1960s by such events as the publication of Silent Spring by Rachel Carson (NRC, 1986; Marco et al., 1987), the Santa Barbara oil spill following on the heels of the Torrey Canyon oil spill (NRC, 1985), and the discovery of polychlorinated biphenyls as chemicals of environmental concern. Garrett Hardin articulated a powerful message of ''the tragedy of the commons" (Hardin, 1968). These and other indications of widespread environmental degradation culminated in the first Earth Day on April 22, 1970—a significant demonstration of public concern about the environment.
The Workshop on the Critical Problems of the Coastal Zone (Ketchum, 1972) was convened in 1972 to assess the state of knowledge about the coastal zone at that time and set forth challenges for the future. Several of the key issues identified then still confront us today, while there has been progress in several areas of endeavor. More recently, public concern over the health and vitality of the coastal ocean and its resources heightened as a result of widely publicized degradation of some coastal waters, repeated closures of beaches and shellfish beds, outbreaks of illness from contaminated shellfish and seawater, and oil spills. Partially as a result, federal agencies intensified their coastal ocean and Great Lakes research efforts and new research initiatives continue to be formed.
One (albeit imperfect) measure of the importance of coastal areas to the government and the public is the amount of funding devoted by the federal government to study these areas. For example, the U.S. government spent $672 million directly on coastal science in FY1991-1993 (SUSCOS, 1993a) (see Figure 1). The Department of Defense, through the Office of Naval Research and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, also made significant contributions to coastal science that are not included in this estimate of expenditures. State and local governments, universities, private nonprofit institutions, and industrial organizations spend an additional large, but unquantified, sum annually for activities that support coastal science.
Several environmental issues have, in the past, been addressed within a national scientific and regulatory framework (e.g., discharges of highly concentrated toxic chemicals, excess heat and entrainment of organisms associated with power plants, high organic loading of bodies of water with limited flushing, phosphates in detergents, pesticides, and artificial radionuclides). But, presently, research addressing threats such as widespread over enrichment and habitat deterioration has not been guided within a comprehensive national framework that could assess scientific priorities related to the most serious problems and optimize cooperation and coordination among federal agencies, states, local communities, and the academic community. Although there have been significant advances in scientific understanding of coastal ecosystems generated from numerous studies in specific systems during the past four decades, our resulting
knowledge of the fundamental properties and processes of this nation's coastal ecosystems suffers from the fragmented regional nature of these studies. Unlike the open ocean, which is a contiguous body of water connected by a global circulation system, continental shelf waters, bays, estuaries, and inland seas of our nation's coastal zone are relatively isolated from each other, occur in widely varying sizes and configurations, and are driven by different combinations of physical forces (e.g., tides, river flow, wind).
What is needed now to advance coastal environmental science and to manage our coastal resources more efficiently is an integrated understanding of fundamental physical, chemical, and biological processes based on site-specific comparative studies of coastal ecosystems. Using such a comprehensive framework, knowledge derived from studies in specific regions could be applied to address the environmental problems in other coastal systems that have been the focus of less scientific research.
In 1992, 13 federal agencies began efforts to enhance coordination of their coastal science programs and to develop an integrated U.S. coastal science program that fulfills the missions of participating agencies with a minimum of overlap. As part of an initiative of the Committee on Earth and Environmental Sciences of the Federal Coordinating Council for Science, Engineering, and Technology, the Subcommittee on U.S. Coastal Ocean Science (SUSCOS) was formed. SUSCOS continued its work through the change in administration in 1993 and produced two documents that present an inventory and framework of federal agency programs, Setting a New Course for U.S. Coastal Ocean Science, Phase I and Phase II (SUSCOS, 1993a,b).
In November 1993 President Clinton established the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC), a cabinet-level entity, to elevate science and technology to the same level of consideration as national security, domestic policy, and the economy. The Committee on Environment and Natural Resources Research (CENR), one of nine committees of the NSTC (see Figure 2), has been developing a comprehensive national research and development strategy for the federal government on environmental and natural resource issues. CENR subcommittees encompass all areas of research on the environment and natural resources, including global change, biodiversity and ecosystem dynamics, resource use and management, air quality, toxic substances, natural disasters, and aquatic environments, as well as social and economic sciences, technology, and risk assessment. This research and development strategy is being used to guide budget priorities starting with FY1996.
The CENR Water Resources and Coastal and Marine Environments Research Subcommittee (referred to hereafter as the Water Subcommittee) is responsible for developing a national research and development strategy and implementation plan for aquatic environments (CENR, 1994b). The goal of the Water Subcommittee's strategic plan (CENR, 1994c) is to manage water resources and provide healthy Great Lakes, estuarine, and marine ecosystems by
balancing two closely related environmental values: (1) water quantity and allocation and (2) ecosystem integrity (including the productivity, diversity, and vitality of aquatic ecosystems and their watersheds). During FY1991-1993, 55 percent of federal coastal science expenditures were related to environmental quality and habitat conservation. Figure 1 shows the federal budget breakdowns, by agencies, in these two science areas for one fiscal year, FY1992.
The Water Subcommittee used a recent external identification of freshwater issues and research priorities, The Freshwater Imperative (Naiman et al., in press), in the development of its initial plans (CENR, 1994a,c). Setting a New Course for U.S. Coastal Ocean Science provided a partial foundation for the Great Lakes, estuarine, and marine research aspects of the Water Subcommittee's plan. The Water Subcommittee is seeking to study a series of specific coastal ecosystems of national concern and, more generally, to identify scientific needs within five national priority research areas:
Water Availability and Flow
Water Quality and Aquatic Ecosystem Functions
Ecological Restoration and Rehabilitation
Predictive Systems Management
Because the Water Subcommittee's plan had not had formal input or review by the nonfederal scientific community, Douglas K. Hall, Deputy Administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Chair of the Water Subcommittee, requested that the Ocean Studies Board (OSB) of the National Research Council (NRC) provide a review regarding coastal research priorities (see request letter in Appendix A). To be useful for FY1996 budget planning, Mr. Hall requested that the study be completed by the end of 1994. This project is the latest in a series of OSB "fast-track" studies, which have included reviews of the Ocean Drilling Program, the National Sea Grant College Program, and U.S. planning for a global ocean observing system, as well as a scientific assessment of Atlantic bluefin tuna.
The NRC formed a committee to respond to the request from the Water Subcommittee (see Appendix B for biographies of committee members). To provide information in time to be considered in the development of the Water Subcommittee's strategy and implementation plan, the committee assembled this report based on a review of planning documents, one three-day meeting of the committee, and subsequent correspondence. The limited time available for the study made it imperative that the committee focus on existing documents, including CENR, agency, regional, and academic science plans (see References for full listing and Appendix C for highlights of these documents). The committee used this material as background to identify research priorities not presently being addressed and to identify the environmental issues most important for
action by the Water Subcommittee. Information in this report will contribute to the Water Subcommittee plan as it relates to the coastal environment; this report also attempts to integrate coastal science with freshwater science and water resource management, consistent with Water Subcommittee goals.
By request of the agency sponsors, this assessment was limited to priorities for the natural sciences, and the committee was constituted to reflect this focus. Social and economic science considerations are to be incorporated in the Water Subcommittee plans through some other means and will be considered more generally by the CENR Social and Economic Sciences Research Subcommittee (Figure 2). The committee recognizes that social and economic factors are often critical to the approval, authorization, funding, and acceptance of environmental protection and restoration and strongly recommends the development of federal interagency strategies to coordinate and support appropriate social and economic research, monitoring, modeling, and assessment in the coastal zone.
Chapter 2 of this report sets the stage for defining scientific priorities by describing major environmental issues confronting coastal ecosystems. Chapter 3 identifies scientific priorities to address these issues within each of the five priority areas of the Water Subcommittee's strategic framework. Chapter 4 discusses the regional and international dimensions of a national strategy for coastal ecosystem science. Chapter 5 discusses the relationships of scientific priorities defined by the committee to the issues being considered by other CENR subcommittees and NSTC committees and the need for another level of coordination of coastal science planning among these entities. Finally, Chapter 6 summarizes the committee's conclusions and recommendations.