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News Release 10-194

NSF Awards Grants on Interactions Among the Environment, Economy and Society

Geoscientists and social scientists will study such topics as agriculturists in Zambia and lawn fertilization practices in the U.S.

Photo of agricultural area in southern Zambia with hills in background..

Agricultural areas are distributed among various topographic zones in southern Zambia.

October 19, 2010

This material is available primarily for archival purposes. Telephone numbers or other contact information may be out of date; please see current contact information at media contacts.

Humans have contributed to widespread alterations in the environment. To understand these changes, make accurate predictions of their effects, and develop options for wise future choices, geoscientists need to work with social scientists to comprehend the links between the physical world and the social world, say Tim Killeen, National Science Foundation (NSF) assistant director for Geosciences, and Myron Gutmann, NSF assistant director for Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences.

Toward that end, NSF has funded seven awards under its Environment, Society and Economics (ESE) umbrella to foster collaboration among geoscientists and social scientists to address crucial issues for the environment, society and the economy--and how the three affect each other.

The awards will factor valuation of "ecosystem services"--what Earth's resources offer humans--into economic activities in a way that provides critically important information about land and water use.

The projects funded range from studies of agriculturalists in rural Zambia, to the development of models capturing lawn fertilization effects, to an analysis of stream restoration as both an environmental and a market-based strategy.

The grants involve scientists in fields from hydrology to economics, and geology to geography.


Title: Spatial Interactive Optimization for Restoration of Upland Storage in Watersheds: Community Participation in the Design of Distributed Practices and Alternatives
PI (Principal Investigator)
: Meghna Babbar-Sebens, Indiana University-Bloomington
Summary: This project will focus on the design of upland-storage systems that involve the selection of sites, scales, structural changes, and agronomic practices for agricultural landscapes in degraded watersheds, thereby improving water quality and facilitating flood attenuation. The scientists will conduct research in the Eagle Creek watershed in northwestern Indianapolis, where they will integrate computational tools such as geographic information systems, simulation models, and optimization algorithms with community-participation approaches.

Title: The Emerging Commodity of Restored Streams: Science, Policy, and Economics in New Markets for Ecosystem Service Commodities
: Martin Doyle, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill
Summary: This project will look at the application of science, policy, and markets at sites used for stream-mitigation banking using a mix of quantitative and qualitative methods. The researchers will combine field and modeling studies of hydrogeomorphic processes; interviews with scientists, regulators, and entrepreneurs; and historical and archival research to document and better understand the practice of stream mitigation banking.

Title: Spatial Resilience of Agriculturalists to Coupled Ecological and Hydrological Variability in Rural Zambia
: Tom Evans, Indiana University-Bloomington; Kelly Caylor, Princeton University
Summary: This project will examine the resilience of small-scale landholders in Zambia to climate variability by examining the spatial patterns of water availability and agricultural decision-making. The researchers will focus on the coping strategies used by smallholders in different locations to survive periods of crop failure in a complex set of social and ecological conditions: varying precipitation patterns, surface topography, spatial distribution of land holdings, social norms within a community, and availability of food aid.

Title: Grasses and Gases: Modeling Human Dynamics of Lawn Fertilization and Resultant Nitrous Oxide Emissions
: George Hornberger, Vanderbilt University
Summary: This project will examine household-level impacts in of nitrous oxide flows from fertilizer use, through a study of residential neighborhoods in the Nashville, Tennessee, area. The researchers will gather biophysical and socioeconomic data to identify physical processes and the types and levels of human activities that affect household nitrous oxide emissions, and will assess the values, beliefs, and norms associated with these human activities by conducting household surveys and focus groups.

Title: Modeling New Behaviors Emerging from Coupling Physical Coastal Processes and Coastal Economies
: Brad Murray, Duke University; Dylan McNamara, University of North Carolina-Wilmington
Summary: This project will examine interactions among human activities and geophysical processes in coastal landscapes through the use of numerical modeling to address the coupled environmental and economic patterns that emerge under different decision-making regimes. The researchers will engage in data-analysis and modeling activities to identify relationships between property values and beach width, and to determine the beach-replenishment strategies with the most benefit to coastal communities.

Title: Climate Change and Variability and Armed Conflicts in Sub-Saharan Africa
: John O'Loughlin, University of Colorado at Boulder; Arlene Laing, University Corporation For Atmospheric Research
Summary: This project will examine the potential for climate change to affect human migration, increase resource scarcities, and alter social, cultural, and political stability, thereby leading to increased armed conflict in African countries south of the Sahara. The investigators will analyze climate, land-use, socioeconomic, and violence data from a range of sources, and refine a predictive model of the coupled natural (climate) and social (violence) systems.

Title: An Experimental Economics Investigation of Groundwater Resource Dynamics
: Jordan Suter, Oberlin College; Kent Messer, University of Delaware
Summary: This project will examine the feedbacks between human and natural systems and groundwater resources by using experimental economic techniques and hydrogeologic modeling. The researchers will conduct data-analysis and modeling activities to increase our understanding of human decision-making and the role of policy and psychology in sharing a common groundwater resource.


Media Contacts
Cheryl Dybas, NSF, (703) 292-7734, email:

The National Science Foundation (NSF) is an independent federal agency that supports fundamental research and education across all fields of science and engineering. In fiscal year (FY) 2017, its budget is $7.5 billion. NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 colleges, universities and other institutions. Each year, NSF receives more than 48,000 competitive proposals for funding and makes about 12,000 new funding awards.

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