Connecting communities with Real-Time Data Collection and Downscaled Climate Risk Models to Improve Water Quality and Sustain Salt Marshes in the Buzzards Bay Watershed
Lead PI:
Christopher Neill

Coastal communities face enormous challenges managing water resources in the face of climate change. Degraded water quality driven by excess nutrients, combined with rising sea levels, increased river flooding, higher temperatures, and greater climate variation will increase nutrient delivery to coastal waters and impair the ability of salt marshes to sustain themselves. Many municipalities share coastal waters, with nutrient loading often originating from watersheds farther inland. Community management of water quality and salt marsh loss are inhibited by two critical factors. First, conditions that lead to the biggest impacts occur infrequently, and climate change will increase this variability. Second, data and information on these events are not well captured by existing monitoring systems, making it difficult for managers to identify appropriate solutions. Emerging technologies have the potential to provide dynamic information on water quality, marshes and climate in ways that can provide more comprehensive information and connect across communities managing water resources. New automated sensors can be deployed across multiple locations to provide time-series and information to better identify impacts and potential solutions. Downscaled climate models can predict climate changes at local scales. However, technologies will only be adopted if the information they produce is both useful and useable as well as trusted and accepted by communities.

This project will investigate the potential for continuously-collected water quality information and regional climate models to support management of water quality and salt mashes in the Buzzards Bay Watershed in coastal Massachusetts. Technology developers and stakeholders will co-design data collection strategies to improve local water resources research The project will engage scientists and members of the community who manage, regulate, and advocate for water quality and marshes to determine: (1) What information is needed to better identify impacts to water quality and salt marshes and to guide water and marsh management? (2) What new sensor technologies, field applications, and climate model projections could be combined to produce the knowledge needed? and (3) How can these new technologies be best deployed and managed to create a smart and connected community? Workshops and interactions among scientists and community members will identify the highest-priority and highest-value potential future uses of new sensor technologies and identify the climate risks of greatest interest to the community. The outcomes from the workshops will be used organize future research to pilot the priority technologies and test conceptual models of how the communities use the new technology.

This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

Christopher Neill
Dr. Christopher Neill studies natural and restored ecosystems around the globe, always with a local focus. He is interested in how changes in land use affect ecosystem function, particularly water and nutrient cycling, and in our ability to restore impaired systems. In the Amazon, Dr. Neill uses a range of experimental techniques to investigate how deforestation and intensifying agriculture alter the flow of water and materials from the land into—and then within—streams and rivers. In Massachusetts, he studies how the choices we make along our coasts and in our own backyards affect biodiversity. He also works with local conservation organizations to design and assess improved methods of ecosystem protection and restoration.
Performance Period: 10/01/2021 - 09/30/2022
Institution: Woodwell Climate Research Center, Inc.
Award Number: 2125409