ISCE-GCC Research

Since 2015, the Virginia Tech Global Change Center, in collaboration with ISCE, has provided funding for interdisciplinary projects that address social aspects (e.g. causes, consequences, solutions) of major global change issues (e.g. disease, climate, pollution, invasive species, land use, etc.). The projects typically leverage and integrate a unique combination of social science expertise with biophysical and/or engineering expertise at Virginia Tech and have a high potential to obtain external funding. Projects are usually awarded $20,000-30,000 and must be completed by the end of the fiscal year.

Click on the links below to view the current (2019) and past ISCE-GCC projects.

Measuring, modeling, and forecasting red tide aerosol dispersion along the central Florida gulf coast to facilitate socio-economic adaptation

College of Agriculture and Life Sciences

  • Klaus Moeltner, Agriculture and Applied Economics
  • David Schmale III, School of Plant and Environmental Sciences

College of Engineering

  • Hoesin Foroutan, Civil and Environmental Engineering
  • Shane Ross, Aerospace and Ocean Engineering

Abstract

Blooms of the marine dinoflagellate Karenia brevis, generally referred to as "Red tides" (RT), have increased in frequency, intensity, and geographic spread along the Florida gulf coast in recent years. Karenia brevis produces a suite of neurotoxins known as brevetoxins that can result in massive mortalities to fish, birds, and marine mammals. Brevetoxins may also become airborne and travel great distances. In humans, these toxins can produce severe and lasting respiratory irritations. In 2017-2018, the central Florida gulf coast experienced the worst and longest RT episode in decades. This episode has brought issues of mitigation and adaptation to the forefront of scientific and political discussion. The primary objective of this project is to develop a fine spatial scale forecasting system for brevetoxins for the central gulf area that covers a broad coastal band. It will use real-time wind, aerosol concentration, and respiratory effects data, as well as weather forecasts to predict ambient brevetoxin concentrations, for up to 24 hours in advance. To develop, validate, and optimize an RT emissions and transport forecast model, we will couple these environmental data, collected via multiple Unmanned Aerial Systems (UASs) with high-fidelity multiscale atmospheric transport models and other data-driven modeling techniques. The second objective is to determine the socio-economic benefits of such an improved forecasting system to the general population. We will hold on-site focus groups to determine how RT irritation affects local households’ daily life, and how improved forecasting would help them better prepare for these impacts. We will also implement a pilot household survey using choice experiments to determine local citizens’ preferences and willingness-to-pay for improved RT forecasts. The third objective for this project is to foster ties between VT and the Mote Marine Lab in Florida, the premier clearinghouse for RT research in the gulf area.

Climate change and the dynamics of mosquito populations in Virginia

College of Agriculture and Life Sciences

  • Chloe Lahondere (project lead), Biochemistry
  • Clement Vinauger, Biochemistry

College of Natural Resources and Environment

  • Luis Escobar, Fish and Wildlife Conservation

College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences

  • Lydia Patton, Philosophy

Abstract

According to the World Health Organization, mosquito bites result in the death of more than one million people per year due to the diseases they transmit. In Virginia, every summer, thousands of people complain to their local and state government officials about the mosquito problems they encounter. Physical parameters such as temperature, precipitation, and time of the day and year directly affect the biology of mosquitoes and it is the complex interplay of these factors that determines the overall effect of climate on local mosquito populations. Considering ongoing climate change, frequent dramatic weather events, and the ability of mosquito species to invade new areas, it is essential to define the link between climatic changes and the response of mosquito populations. However, despite obvious epidemiological consequences, this link remains understudied in Virginia. Furthermore, only 49% of Virginians think climate change is currently harming or will harm people in Virginia within the next 10 years, suggesting that citizens do not link the climate with vector-borne diseases. We propose to determine the yearly spatial and temporal dynamics of mosquito populations, forecast the potential effects of climate change on these dynamics, and leverage citizen participation to monitor the perception of mosquito nuisance. Our hypothesis is that increases in temperature linked with climate change will affect mosquito population dynamics in Virginia, and that these data can be used to sensitize citizens to potential negative consequences of climate change. We will rely on citizen surveys, mosquito trapping, satellite-derived data and advanced ecological niche modeling to accomplish the project objectives.

Coupled social and ecological dynamics of backyard bird feeding
 
College of Science
  • Dana Hawley, Biological Sciences
College of Natural Resources and Environment
  • Ashley Dayer, Fish and Wildlife Conservation
External Collaborators: David Bonter, Wesley Hochacka, Tina Phillips, Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology; Richard Hall, School of Ecology, University of Georgia
 
Abstract
Backyard feeding of birds is arguably one of the most widespread and global forms of direct human-wildlife interaction. However, despite the enormous and growing popularity of bird-feeding, the ecological impacts of this unprecedented spatial scale of wildlife provisioning remain largely unstudied. Moreover, although psychological benefits of bird-feeding have been documented, we lack a clear understanding of how the extent of songbird provisioning by humans is influenced by the perceived or observed ecological impacts of provisioning. Because many of the potential ecological impacts of bird-feeding, whether “positive“ (i.e., increases in bird abundance) or “negative” (i.e., increases in disease or predation), are directly visible to backyard bird-watchers, there is likely to be strong coupling between human decisions about feeding birds and the perceived or observed effects of provisioning on songbird populations. Here we leverage the enormous popularity of bird-feeding to examine both the social and natural dynamics of bird-feeding, and the way in which human and natural systems are coupled. In particular, we ask 1) What factors motivate human food-provisioning behavior, and is provisioning behavior coupled with bird abundance or the prevalence of natural enemies (disease and predators)?; and 2) How do the abundance of birds and their natural enemies change as a function of supplemental food provisioning by humans? To address these questions, we combine online social survey responses from birdwatchers, analysis of large-scale ecological data collected by citizen scientists watching backyard feeders and intensive local field studies that manipulate provisioning and examine ecological impacts.

 

A synthetic population approach to modeling human health and the environment: A tool for adaptation planning

Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine

  • Julia Gohlke (project lead), Population Health Sciences

College of Architecture and Urban Studies

  • Todd Schenk, Urban Affairs and Planning

College of Science

  • Shyam Ranganathan
  • Eric Smith

Biocomplexity Institute

  • Samarth Swarup

Abstract

While the nexus of public health and climate change is critically important, it is not yet well understood. The fundamental questions we aim to address are: What are the interacting climate-related factors within the built, social, and natural environments that precipitate adverse health outcomes? How can we increase our understanding of these interactions, and devise policy and planning recommendations that respond to them? Answers to these questions are required to create effective adaptation strategies. We aim to develop a novel analytical method leveraging geocoded birth and death records and spatially-resolved environmental datasets. The proposed method uses simulations from a synthetic population model of movements of individuals through space and time to estimate exposure to built, social, and natural environmental factors. Outputs from the synthetic population are then used within a multi-level statistical model to test hypotheses on the associations between health outcomes and environmental conditions.

How does current management of water quality align with ecological health and human well-being? A preliminary study of Virginia

College of Natural Resoures and Environment

  • Paul Angermeier (project lead), Fish and Wildlife Conservation
  • Marc Stern, Forest Resources and Environmental Conservation

College of Engineering

  • Leigh-Anne Krometis, Biological Systems Engineering

Abstract

Water quality (WQ) management directly affects ecosystem health and services, economic growth, and human wellbeing (HWB). However, linkages and conflicts among these concurrent goals are poorly understood, typically not quantified, and not necessarily explicit in discussions of WQ policy. Because WQ management is an integrative, socially negotiated process, the knowledge needed to guide it must be developed through social and ecological lenses.  We hypothesize that reducing discordance among stakeholders and increasing transparency in decision-making will both increase public support for and engagement in surface water management, and more completely realize WQ goals. The overall aim of the proposed effort is to explicitly identify potential sources of discord and synergistic opportunities for cooperation in order to develop strategies to better re-align WQ values of local communities with formal management by public agencies. The proposed work will simultaneously build proof-of-concept analytical strategies that can be broadly applied across the US, identify key regions or socio-cultural groups on which to focus future research, and provide preliminary data necessary for conducting a broader co-orientation study aimed at examining concordance in beliefs between WQ experts and local citizens in terms of WQ goals, conditions, and practices. Ultimately, these analyses can guide WQ managers to address shortcomings in public knowledge, communication, and cooperation in order to more efficiently and equitably meet WQ goals.

How does environmental landscape change shape community and ecological health in the Central Appalachian Coalfields?: A pilot study in Tazewell County, Virginia

College of Engineering

  • Leigh-Anne Krometis (project lead), Biological Systems Engineering
  • Linsey Marr, Civil and Environmental Engineering
College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences
  • David Cline, History
  • Emily Satterwhite, Religion and Culture
College of Natural Resources and Environment
  • Korine Kolivras, Geography
Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine
  • Julia Gohlke, Population Health Sciences
  • Susan Marmagas, Population Health Sciences
Abstract
The Central Appalachian region of the United States has been identified as one of the world’s most diverse ecoregions. It is also a region where the races, traditions, and cultures brought together by colonization, slavery, and resource extraction industries merged and melded into something altogether new. As the region is particularly rich in high energy dense coal, mining has comprised a major part of the political economy of the region for well over a century. Although the detrimental effects of coal mining on local aquatic ecology have been extensively studied over the past several decades and are well-established, the potential for impacts on human health remain somewhat controversial. In both cases, the mechanisms of biological impairment and timing of critical exposures remain unclear. Understanding the interplay between landscape changes related to resources extraction and human/ecological health is particularly timely given anticipated widespread changes in the energy industry’s impacts in this region. While coal production is declining significantly, the construction of natural gas wells and pipelines is increasing rapidly to take advantage of underlying Marcellus Shale deposits. Identifying the likely triggers for adverse environmental and human impacts related to historical stressors will provide the knowledge and perspective necessary to inform decision-making regarding future land use in the Appalachians to preserve critical habitat and communities. The broad goal of the proposed project is to use a suite of geographic, epidemiological, and humanistic tools to identify critical times and locations of changes in land use that impact ecological and public health in Tazewell County, Virginia.