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A new collaboration between the Cornell Atkinson Center for Sustainability and The Nature Conservancy (TNC) this year will fund three studies that could have significant ramifications in the face of intensifying climate change.

The funded research will:

  • assess state buyout programs of homes built on flood plains;
  • gauge optimal fishing policies in Alaska; and
  • examine sustainable, agricultural land management in China.

Each of these two-year, $200,000 projects – funded through Cornell Atkinson’s Innovation for Impact Fund, TNC and a gift from Rebecca Quinn Morgan ’60 and Jim Morgan ’60, MBA ’63 – will aim to find long-term solutions to difficult sustainability problems.

“The projects funded this year address some of the biggest challenges facing our planet today – how to adapt to a changing climate,” said David Lodge, the Francis J. DiSalvo Director of Cornell Atkinson. “Connecting Cornell’s research expertise with TNC’s global reach will enable us to have a greater impact than either organization could achieve alone.”

One group will examine flood plain home buyout programs in New York, New Jersey, Florida, Texas and Washington. National flood buyout programs have had limited success restoring sites after homes are removed. Researchers hope to learn whether and how these state programs are able to better incorporate ecological restoration, help vulnerable populations and prompt community cohesion. The researchers hope their work will influence TNC’s North American adaptation strategy, and inform policies of the Federal Emergency Management Agency and state agencies.

The researchers hope their work will influence TNC’s North American adaptation strategy, and generate a public report and policy briefs for the Federal Emergency Management Agency on states that have yet to create buyout programs.

The buyout research will be led by principal investigators Linda Shi, assistant professor in city and regional planning, and by TNC’s Anna Brown, the North America climate adaptation lead, and Christine Shepherd, director of science. Serving as co-PIs are Amelia Greiner Safi, senior research associate in communication; Jamie Vanucchi, assistant professor in landscape architecture; and Marci Bortman, TNC’s New York director of climate adaptation.

The second research project will focus on establishing climate-ready fishing communities. More than 60% of the U.S. wild seafood production is in Alaskan waters, so the state has a high reliance on fisheries. Outcomes from this research will aid Alaska’s fishing communities in finding ways to adapt to changes in the ocean, such as assessing climate-driven fisheries risk, developing a framework for optimizing fishing rights and evaluating community fishing portfolios.

Serving as the principal investigators on this project are Suresh Sethi, assistant professor of natural resources; and Adrianna Muir, director of conservation, TNC-Alaska. Co-PIs are Alex Flecker, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology; Carla Gomes, professor of computing and information science; John Tobin, professor of practice of corporate sustainability in the Dyson School in the Cornell SC Johnson College of Business; Kate Kauer, TNC associate director of the Oceans Program; and Rich Bell, lead scientist of the TNC Fisheries Program.

The third project will focus on sustainable land management in China and improving soil health to ensure that country’s future food, water and energy security. Agricultural land in China is scarce; farmers there must feed 18.5% of the world’s population on 7% of the world’s arable land. Rapid urbanization, pollution and soil degradation have put great pressure on soil resources in China.

The group intends to adapt and develop the Cornell Soil Health Assessment Framework, identify soil constraints, establish management solutions, and create educational and policy initiatives.

The principal investigators for the project are Harold van Es, professor of soil and crop sciences; and Ying Li, conservation and agricultural director of the TNC-China program. Co-PIs are Rebecca Schneider, associate professor of natural resources; Joseph Amsili ’13, extension associate and Soil Health Program coordinator; Nan Zing, TNC-China agriculture project officer; and Junling Zhang, a professor at China Agricultural University.

This article also appeared in the Cornell Chronicle.

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