Auburn University research team seeks to improve climate information, understanding for marine sanctuary management planning

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A research team in Auburn University’s College of Forestry, Wildlife and Environment has been awarded a grant of $500,000 from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, to improve climate information and to gain understanding for marine sanctuary management planning.

Led by Kelly Dunning, a researcher and assistant professor in the college, the team will engage national marine sanctuaries, or NMS, managers and stakeholders in a co-design process to develop an interactive “ocean climate dashboard” tool that will improve access to critical climate-related information.

“Just like NMS managers, many stakeholder groups with livelihoods dependent on NMS are making high-stakes decisions on how they will adapt to climate change,” said Dunning. “Decisions are often made without sufficient access to climate data to guide those decisions; with climate scientists producing data products in siloes rarely engaging stakeholders to learn about desired products and formats.”

To achieve their goal, the team, comprised of Dunning, principal investigator and co-principal investigators, Frederic Castruccio, Deepak Cherian, Kristen Krumhardt and Melissa Moulton has proposed six objectives to accomplish over the span of three years.

“Our plans involve research; stakeholder co-design workshops; a climate model data tool called ‘the ocean climate dashboard’; a quantitative, social science survey; diversity and inclusion activities and outreach,” said Dunning.

Ecosystem changes have major impacts on social, economic and cultural systems. The team believes that the changing climate is the biggest threat to the nation’s living marine resources and the communities that depend on them. Through their multi-institution project to enhance understanding, the team hopes to preserve coastal ecosystem services.

“The NOAA, the NMS and the coastal communities that depend on the NMS serve as crucial case studies where it is possible to take the ‘pulse of the planet’ to better understand unprecedented global environmental change,” said Dunning. “Such changes include rising water temperatures and sea levels, ocean acidification, hypoxia, biodiversity loss, altered weather patterns and changing species distributions.”

The team is researching the resilience of the NMS multi-stakeholder governance system regarding climate change by focusing on two critical case sanctuaries: the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary and the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuaries.

“We selected these sanctuaries because of their differences in social and ecological dimensions,” said Dunning. “These differences will make lessons learned widely applicable to other NMS in the network and to global marine protected areas.”

Within the case sites, the team will use the ocean climate dashboard to present real scenarios of future climate within the NMS and engage stakeholders to determine how they can adapt to predicted changes.

“The research and efforts being made by Dunning and her team in preserving coastal ecosystem services is significant,” said Janaki Alavalapati, dean of the College of Forestry, Wildlife and Environment. “The college anticipates that many positive results will be seen from their impactful work.”

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The Auburn University College of Forestry, Wildlife and Environment is a flagship institution for natural resources-based degrees including natural resource management, geospatial and environmental informatics and sustainable biomaterials and packaging. The school serves as the backbone for Alabama’s $30 billion+ forest, wildlife and natural resources related enterprises. Its mission is to create next-generation professionals and leaders, to develop new knowledge and disseminate science-based solutions to our clientele to improve the social, economic and environmental well-being of citizens in Alabama and beyond.