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Science for Decisionmaking: Coastal and Marine Geology at the U.S. Geological Survey Executive Summary The coastal and marine areas of the United States represent some of the most diverse and resource-rich in the nation. The abundant resources in these areas and their aesthetic beauty make them attractive areas to work, live, and play. However, to a very large extent these are also extremely fragile ecosystems; thus, the very attributes that have made them an ever-increasing focus of life in the United States make these regions and the resources they contain extremely vulnerable to mismanagement. The ability to manage these areas wisely and to position society to reap the maximum sustainable benefit of their resources will lie in a scientific understanding of the processes that control the distribution and functioning of this enormous wealth. As has been recognized widely in the ocean science community for several years, the complex nature of many of the coastal and marine policy issues facing decisionmakers at the federal, state, and local levels transcends the disciplinary boundaries that have characterized scientific research over the last 200 years. Over the last decade, the terms interdisciplinary research and systems science have become commonplace, yet effective execution of the concepts remains difficult. Furthermore, with more and more attention placed on coastal and marine areas, the number of federal agencies involved and the overlapping roles of these entities, as well as state agencies and academic institutions, have created an extremely complex state of affairs. As part of an ongoing effort by the Geologic Division of the United States Geological Survey (USGS) to receive input from the broader scientific community, the division requested that the National Research Council (NRC) conduct reviews of a number of its ongoing programs, including the Coastal and Marine
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Science for Decisionmaking: Coastal and Marine Geology at the U.S. Geological Survey Geology Program (CMGP). In response to this request, the NRC formed the Committee to Review the USGS Coastal and Marine Geology Program. The committee was asked to review the history and status of the CMGP, particularly its most recent national plan and recent workshop reports in the context of the USGS and the new Geologic Division's science strategy, and provide advice on: the general areas of future program emphasis (e.g., research, national assessments, monitoring, characterization) and cooperation with local, state, and national decisionmakers and with government and academic scientists; the specific scientific and technical challenges (including components from the national plan such as coastal erosion, earthquake hazards, pollution studies, biologic habitats, distribution and significance of gas hydrates), as well as the challenge to maintain a strong and dedicated research staff; balancing between issue-driven and knowledge-driven research and balancing between regional and national efforts; the ideal mix of science staff as to discipline and status (permanent versus term) to meet needs and ensure long-term health of the Coastal and Marine Geology Program; and the ideal ratio of core-funded research versus reimbursable research paid by clients. This report, the outcome of the committee's review, attempts both to provide an understanding of the importance of the geologic sciences in understanding the coastal and marine areas of the United States and to provide advice to the USGS about how to better focus its efforts in this regard. THE VALUE OF UNDERSTANDING GEOLOGIC PROCESSES AND THE ROLE OF THE U.S. GEOLOGICAL SURVEY The coastal and marine areas of the United States not only include the landward portion of the region popularly thought of as the coast but state waters (which commonly extend offshore 3 nautical miles) and what is referred to as the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). The EEZ, which extends seaward 200 nautical miles from the coastline, covers an area of 3 million square nautical miles (an area 30 percent larger than the land area of the entire United States). These coastal and marine regions owe much of their unique character to the geologic processes that formed the continent of North America and various islands of the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. These geologic processes, in concert with atmospheric and oceanic processes, control the elevation of coastal areas, the bathymetry of the coastal seas and oceans, and the location of many of the commonly recognized features of these unique areas. These same processes, which moderate and interact with ecosystems, control the distribution of mineral and water resources, the patterns of shoreline change, the extent and nature of wildlife habitat, and the living
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Science for Decisionmaking: Coastal and Marine Geology at the U.S. Geological Survey marine resources that support a substantial segment of the U.S. economy. Simply put, the coasts exist because of the geologic forces that formed the continents, islands, and oceans that cover Earth. Thus, wise stewardship and development of many coastal and marine natural resources are linked to sound scientific understanding. Science-based policy decisions facing federal, state, and local policymakers can be expected to depend on an understanding of the processes that have traditionally been the focus of research by the USGS and its CMGP. Although several federal agencies conduct physical science and engineering programs and studies, the CMGP occupies a unique niche by providing the capability to conduct research and assessments of the geologic processes impacting the nation's coasts. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers focuses on developing engineering solutions to very site-specific coastal problems (e.g., tidal inlet improvement projects and beach nourishment projects). The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's needs for geologic information to address its mission requirements for management of fisheries, sanctuaries, and other coastal resources are not met in the agency, although the Sea Grant program does support small geologic research studies conducted by state institutions. The U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rely heavily on the academic community to provide whatever geologic research and knowledge base they require. However, the USGS alone has the ability to frame coastal geologic questions having both regional and national perspectives, while conducting studies that provide the geologic component for interdisciplinary approaches and useful information to decisionmakers. The distinctly different geologic characteristics of the coastal and marine realm of the United States, as well as the variations in ocean circulation and weather patterns, result in different geologic processes with diverse spatial and temporal scales that shape the coastlines and seafloor. The CMGP is uniquely qualified to address these issues given its capability both to conduct nearshore and offshore marine geologic studies and to integrate the results to produce a national assessment of the geologic structure of the coastal areas and adjacent EEZ. FUTURE CHALLENGES The committee identified the major scientific questions or grand challenges that should form the integrating principle common to all CMGP efforts to fulfill the need for geological information about the nation's coastal and marine areas over the next few decades. To respond adequately to these grand challenges the CMGP will need to consider changes in the existing CMGP structures and procedures. The three grand challenges identified by the committee are intended to provide a long-term focus and are not site or issue specific. These grand challenges include: 1) establish the geologic framework of the U.S. coastal and marine
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Science for Decisionmaking: Coastal and Marine Geology at the U.S. Geological Survey regions; 2) develop a national knowledge bank on the geologic framework of these regions; and 3) develop a predictive capability based on an understanding of the geologic framework of these regions. These challenges are intended as an integrative principle that should be used to evaluate the relevance of a variety of projects over the next 10 to 15 years (or longer). The resulting investigative program will be varied, as the complexity of the nation's coastal and marine areas varies spatially, and the underlying need for information will vary temporally. Successful execution of a national investigative program will require a systems-science approach (broad interdisciplinary and integrated studies) rather than single-discipline-based or geographically localized projects. In addition, addressing these challenges will require the CMGP to make greater use of expertise that may reside in other USGS units, federal or state agencies, or academic institutions. Such expanded interactions should enable CMGP to better communicate the results of its efforts to its user community. ROLE OF THE CMGP IN MEETING THE CHALLENGE The committee believes that CMGP, by organizing activities at all three regional centers through an integrated plan to address the grand challenges discussed in Chapter 3, would be well positioned to meet the nation's need to address national, regional, and site-specific coastal and marine issues and problems. A well-crafted vision statement will define goals that, when coupled with a thoughtful strategic plan, are relevant to the actions of every CMGP staff member and to every action undertaken by the CMGP. The committee therefore recommends that CMGP leadership initiate a program-wide strategic planning process to establish goals and objectives for integrated science efforts. As part of this strategic planning, a new mission statement should be developed that identifies the role of the CMGP and its responsibilities to the nation. Such a statement should reflect the responsibilities of the CMGP: to conduct research to advance our understanding of the dynamic processes, both natural and anthropogenic, which change the coastlines and seafloor along coastal margins; to provide the geologic framework for policy decisions regarding the use and management of the marine environment but also to respond to the needs of other federal, state, and local agencies when coastal geologic data and assessments are required to address critical management and policy issues; and to provide information critical to planning for the future environmental and economic health of the nation's coastal areas, including an understanding of the likely scenarios for change to the geologic framework of coastal environments, whether from long-term climate change or rapid changes from extreme events or human activities.
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Science for Decisionmaking: Coastal and Marine Geology at the U.S. Geological Survey IMPLEMENTING CHANGE Timely input and guidance from the CMGP's clients and collaborators will be crucial to the successful use of the CMGP's limited resources to serve the nation's need for scientific understanding of coastal and marine geologic processes. Consequently, the committee recommends that the present Program Council be replaced with an Advisory Council charged with new responsibilities and constituted to reflect the need for broad input to the CMGP. It is generally recognized that the present USGS staff is talented and uniquely positioned to identify major relevant scientific challenges and design research strategies to address them. The ability to recruit and maintain a high-quality staff will depend on identifying ways to reward creative and resourceful personnel. A long-term commitment to a robust and focused research strategy should encourage staff to make a similar commitment to the program, reducing turnover while encouraging potential program staff to join the USGS effort. The committee recommends that CMGP leadership, during its strategic planning effort, identify the disciplines that will be required by the CMGP to meet its long-term goals. Ensuring that these discipline areas are well represented during subsequent hiring efforts should be a priority. Furthermore, because these efforts should reflect long-term needs, care should be made to hire at a consistent and even rate. Realization of the long-term goals represented by the grand challenges, as well as the near-term objectives, will greatly depend on CMGP's ability to continue to develop collaborative relationships with other federal, state, and local agencies, as well as academia. CMGP should make every effort to leverage the expertise found in the government (including other programs and divisions of the USGS), academia, and private industry to expand its ability to meet the needs of its diverse user community.
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