CAREER: Effects of River Inflows on Coastal Ecosystem Sustainability Under Climate Change, Urbanization, and Flow Regulation Grant uri icon


  • Coastal ecosystems play a key role in economic and environmental sustainability, but are facing unprecedented challenges caused by the synergistic effects of climate change, urbanization, and flow regulation. To better manage these changes to coastal ecosystems and sustain the valuable services they provide, reliable predictions of phytoplankton productivity (which are a strong indicator of ecosystem health) are desirable. The research goal of this project is to promote sustainable coastal ecosystems through a systems-level view of the effects that freshwater inflows have on phytoplankton productivity. The educational goal is to advance environmental sustainability education through incorporating hands-on activities into curricula and research training. This project intends to achieve the following three research objectives: 1) Identifying the relationship between inflows and phytoplankton productivity; 2) Evaluating the impacts of urbanization and climate change on inflows and phytoplankton productivity; and 3) Investigating the responses of phytoplankton productivity to flow regulation, both with and without co-occurring climate change and urbanization. The educational objectives are: 1) Teaching environmental sustainability to high school students by working with high school teachers and participating in student events; and 2) Promoting undergraduate and graduate environmental sustainability education by integrating education modules into courses and mentoring the students.This project will create new knowledge leading to reliable predictions of phytoplankton productivity under a changing environment. The interdisciplinary research approaches will help close several critical knowledge gaps. First, by using a combination of in situ observations and state-of-the-art remote sensing data, the complex relationships between inflows and phytoplankton productivity will be clarified. Second, by implementing a systems-level model that estimates inflows and productivity simultaneously, impacts of watershed management plans on ecosystems can be evaluated directly. Third, by adding a reservoir module into a fully distributed physically based hydrological model, the modification of ecosystem productivity due to reservoir operations can be accurately quantified. Thus, the research will provide decision makers with a powerful tool to understand the interactions among climate change, urbanization, flow regulation, and ecosystem sustainability. While the focus is on Texas river basins and bay areas, the generality of the methodology provides for its extension to other coastal regions (both nationally and internationally) as well. The research deals with real-world lessons incorporated into high school, undergraduate, and graduate curricula using a set of physical and computer modules. By working with high school teachers directly, by advising high school students who attend Camp BUILD, and by installing rain gauge stations at participating schools, education for about 1000 students will be directly impacted. The higher education activities will affect 800 undergraduate and graduate students. In turn, research (especially at the local scale) can benefit from the educational activities - with both rainfall information and the environmental survey information provided by high school students.

date/time interval

  • 2015 - 2021