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National Science Foundation makes first awards in Sustainability Research Coordination Program

Semi-arid regions bordering the Gulf of Mexico; Pan American biofuels and bioenergy; marine renewable resources in sub-arctic systems; the Marcellus shale; sustainable water systems, energy systems, and manufacturing systems.

These and related topics are the focus of new grants totaling $8 million made through the National Science Foundation (NSF)'s Science, Engineering and Education for Sustainability (SEES) activity, in its Research Coordination Networks (RCNs) program.

SEES activities span the range of scientific domains at NSF.

They support interdisciplinary research and education projects that will move society toward global sustainability; build new links among existing projects and partners; add new participants in sustainability research; and develop the workforce needed to understand and address the complex issues of environmental sustainability.

Sustainability science goes beyond adaptation and mitigation to environmental change. A sustainable world is one in which human needs are met without harm to the environment and without sacrificing the ability of future generations to in turn meet their needs.

This formidable task requires a substantial increase in understanding the integrated system of society and the natural world along with the alterations humans are making on Earth, scientists believe.

NSF's SEES activities are addressing this need by supporting interdisciplinary research and education leading to a better understanding of, predictive capability for, and solutions to environmental challenges.

The RCN program's goal is to advance a field or create new directions in research or education. Through their NSF grants, groups of investigators coordinate their research, training and educational activities across disciplinary, organizational, geographic and international boundaries.

The program fosters new collaborations, including international partnerships and addresses interdisciplinary topics.

"SEES Research Coordination Networks are a unique portfolio of NSF-funded activities that bring together researchers to develop sustainability science," says David McGinnis, lead NSF program director for the SEES-RCN awards.

"By linking U.S. and international scientists in research on energy, water, biofuels, sustainable cities, engineering and manufacturing sustainability, and related subjects," says McGinnis, "the SEES RCNs are creating avenues where new directions in sustainability science will emerge."

2011 SEES-RCN Awards

The Marcellus Shale Research Network
PI: Susan Brantley, Pennsylvania State University
Summary: This research coordination network will generate knowledge about natural gas extraction from the Marcellus shale in Pennsylvania, the largest site of new shale gas in the United States by organizing water chemistry and flow data collected from the shale. The network will enable sustainable development of the Marcellus Shale through the creation of a database of information from geochemical and hydrological studies.

Urban Sustainability: Research Coordination and Synthesis for a Transformative Future
PI: Daniel Childers, Arizona State University
Summary: This project will establish an interdisciplinary Urban Sustainability Research Coordination Network to integrate and synthesize urban research while developing solutions-oriented products to enable sustainable transitions for cities. The network of academics, students, postdocs, policy-makers, city planners, managers and other urban players represents 14 cities in various stages of transition.

Climate, Energy, Environment, and Engagement in Semi-Arid Regions (CE3SAR)
PI: Luis Cifuentes, Texas A & M University, Corpus Christi
Summary: The CE3SAR RCN is a comprehensive partnership of researchers at south Texas and other major research universities that will develop and test an innovative model for conducting region-specific sustainability research closely tied to the needs and interests of local stakeholders. The CE3SAR RCN will aggregate regional research capacities related to sustainability in semi-arid climates near the Gulf of Mexico, while leveraging research expertise from outside the region.

A Global Water Diplomacy Network: Synthesis of Science, Policy, and Politics for a Sustainable Water Future
PI: Shafiqul Islam, Tufts University
Summary: This Research Coordination Network will address complex water problems where natural, societal and political elements cross multiple boundaries. The Water Diplomacy Research Coordination Network seeks to create water knowledge by exploring and demonstrating the effectiveness of cooperative approaches to decision-making in water conflicts.

Global Long-term Human Ecodynamics Research Coordination Network: Assessing Sustainability on the Millennial Scale
PI: Sophia Perdikaris, City University of New York Graduate School
Summary: Through this RCN, an international, multi-disciplinary team of scientists and educators aims to aid national and global efforts to develop effective future sustainable development. This RCN project will develop a collaborative research network that will identify the conditions over a millennial scale that have led to unsustainable outcomes, and, conversely, that have allowed people to develop sustainable relationships with the environment.

Sustainable Cities: People and the Energy-Climate-Water Nexus
PI: Anu Ramaswami, University of Colorado, Denver
Summary: This project will develop a research coordination network (RCN) across more than 20 U.S. universities and two national laboratories to coordinate work on the theme of sustainable cities, with a focus on reducing energy use and carbon emissions, and mitigating climate-risks to water supply and public health in cities. The network will collaborate with international sustainability research networks (in Australia, the EU and Asia), and with policy-makers in U.S. and other cities.

Sustainable Energy Systems
PI: Thomas Seager, Arizona State University
Summary: This sustainable energy RCN brings together a multidisciplinary team including U.S. university scientists from Arizona State University, Northeastern University, University of Michigan and the Rochester Institute of Technology, along with researchers at Cardiff University (U.K) and Mountains of the Moon and Makerere Universities (Uganda), and at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The network will build ties among stakeholders for sustainable energy systems, with sub-groups focused on innovations in energy technologies; sustainability implications of manufacturing; and energy and human development.

Pan American Biofuels and Bioenergy Sustainability
PI: David Shonnard, Michigan Technological University
Summary: The Pan American Biofuels and Bioenergy Sustainability RCN will establish a network of science and engineering researchers in North, Central and South America to share knowledge and cooperate on research into the implications of large-scale biofuels production in the Americas. This RCN will create a research roadmap on sustainability of biofuels and bioenergy in the Pan American region, as well as a graduate course in sustainability of biofuels/bioenergy.

The Global Research Network on Women and Sustainability: Mentoring Underrepresented Women and Women from Developing Countries in Research on Environmental Sustainability
PI: Gillian Bowser, Colorado State University
Summary: This RCN will broaden participation of underrepresented groups engaged in climate change research by building a global network of women scholars from different ethnic and racial groups. Through international workshops and a mentoring program, the RCN will develop collaborations on population vulnerability, food security and sustainability strategies. These research teams will act as a mentoring network to encourage more women and girls in the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) disciplines.

Sustainability of Marine Renewable Resources in Sub-Arctic Systems Under Incumbent Environmental Variability and Human Exploitation
PI: Lorenzo Ciannelli, Oregon State University
Summary: RCN activities focus on socio-ecological principles applied to study of the sustainability of renewable resources in large marine ecosystems under current climate variability and human exploitation. The scientific activities are centered on three ecological themes: species, spatial, and demographic depletions. RCN activities will be integrated by developing a socioecological framework to address the implications for sustainability of current and alternative policy practices.

Sustainable Manufacturing Advances in Research and Technology (SMART) Coordination Network
PI: Yinlun Huang, Cache Corporation
Summary: To bridge the gap between academic knowledge discovery and industrial technology innovation for sustainable manufacturing, this research team will create an interdisciplinary, international research coordination network to promote Sustainable Manufacturing Advances in Research and Technology (SMART). SMART is a joint effort among leading academic laboratories, centers, non-governmental organizations, and major manufacturing industries. During this project, the team will conduct a comprehensive and in-depth review of research and technological development for sustainable manufacturing; define a roadmap toward manufacturing sustainability and identify bottlenecks in research areas.


Contact: Cheryl Dybas
National Science Foundation

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