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News Release 16-108

NSF awards $16.7 million for research on how humans, environment interact

Projects continue mission of Dynamics of Coupled Natural and Human Systems program

Aerial views of lawns

Aerial views of lawns in San Diego; Miami; Philadelphia; Chicago; Phoenix; and Levittown, N.Y.

September 16, 2016

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 Telephone numbers or other contact information may be out of date; please see current contact information at media contacts.

Boston and Baltimore. Miami and Minneapolis. Phoenix and Los Angeles. Fanned across the U.S. and in locations from coast to prairie to desert, what do these cities have in common? Perhaps how their human residents tend that icon of America, the urban lawn.

What's right outside our doors -- our lawns -- may be one of the best indicators of where cities and towns need to address sustainability, according to Peter Groffman of the City University of New York.

Groffman is one of 14 recipients of grants made in 2016 by the National Science Foundation (NSF)'s Dynamics of Coupled Natural and Human Systems (CNH) program, which supports research that examines the complex interactions between human and natural systems. Total funding for 2016 CNH grants is $16.7 million.

Lawn fertilizer contains nutrients such as phosphorus and nitrogen that wash into waterways, causing blooms of algae that can rob fish and other aquatic species of oxygen and degrade water quality. Groffman's CNH project will investigate the natural processes regulating the flow of nitrogen from lawns, and look at the sociological factors that influence how homeowners decide to manage their lawns.

CNH is co-funded by NSF's directorates for Biological Sciences (BIO), Geosciences (GEO), and Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences (SBE). The program has been issuing awards since 2001. This year's grantees will look at ways in which people deal with environmental processes in a range of settings, including cities, mountains, grasslands and forests.

"As has been true for the 15 years since CNH was founded, this year's awards explore a diverse range of ways in which natural and human systems interact with each other," said Tom Baerwald, CNH program director for SBE.

Findings from the CNH projects will enhance society's understanding of environmental quality and the well-being of people.

The 2016 CNH research subjects include: adaptations to climate change in California fisheries and fishing communities; how land transactions and investments affect agricultural production, ecosystem services and food and energy security; how socioecological systems are transformed by hydroelectric dams in the Amazon; the restoration of riparian forests in the southwestern U.S.; and the effects of glaciers melting on the livelihoods of townspeople in Peru's high-elevation Cordillera Blanca.

"The CNH program is unique in that it involves interdisciplinary research teams in solving the complex challenges facing our country and our planet," said Betsy Von Holle, CNH program director for BIO.

CNH considers humans and the environment as one interconnected system.

"The program provides a knowledge base for sound planning that can benefit both people and the environment for years to come," said Richard Yuretich, CNH program director for GEO.

2016 NSF CNH Awards

Joshua Abbott, Arizona State University: The Dynamics of Adaptation to Climate-Driven Variability in California Current Fisheries And Fishing Communities

Arun Agrawal, University of Michigan Ann Arbor: Land transactions and investments: Impacts on agricultural production, ecosystem services, and food-energy security

Clare Aslan, Northern Arizona University: Scale-Dependent Feedbacks Among Protected Areas and Surrounding Socioecological Systems

Brenda Bowen, University of Utah: Adaptation, Mitigation, and Biophysical Feedbacks in the Changing Bonneville Salt Flats

Gillian Bowser, Colorado State University: Andes Bofedales and Cattle: The Impacts of Changing Hydrology and Glacial Retreat on Community Livelihoods in Peru's Cordillera Blanca

Peter Groffman, Research Foundation CUNY - Advanced Science Research Center: Multi-Scale Coupled Natural-Human System Dynamics of Nitrogen in Residential Landscapes

Pamela Jagger, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill: Energy Transitions and Environmental Change in East and Southern Africa's Coupled Human, Terrestrial, and Atmospheric Systems

Bette Loiselle, University of Florida: RCN: Amazon Dams Network: Advancing Integrative Research and Adaptive Management of Social-ecological Systems Transformed by Hydroelectric Dams

Joy McCorriston, Ohio State University: Pastoral Territory as a Dynamic Coupled System

Nathan Phillips, Boston University: Coupling of Physical Infrastructure, Green Infrastructure, and Communities

Anna Sher, University of Denver: Interactions Between Human Perspectives and Natural System Dynamics in the Restoration of Riparian Forests in the Southwestern U.S.

Erica Smithwick, Pennsylvania State University: Visualizing Forest Futures Under Climate Uncertainty: Integrating Indigenous Knowledge into Decision-Support Tools for Collaborative Decision Making

Jonathan Thompson, Harvard University: Assessing the potential for climate change and forest insects to drive land-use regime shifts

Linda Walters, University of Central Florida: Restoration and Resilience in Coupled Human-Natural Systems: Reciprocal Dynamics of a Coastal Lagoon


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

The U.S. National Science Foundation propels the nation forward by advancing fundamental research in all fields of science and engineering. NSF supports research and people by providing facilities, instruments and funding to support their ingenuity and sustain the U.S. as a global leader in research and innovation. With a fiscal year 2023 budget of $9.5 billion, NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 colleges, universities and institutions. Each year, NSF receives more than 40,000 competitive proposals and makes about 11,000 new awards. Those awards include support for cooperative research with industry, Arctic and Antarctic research and operations, and U.S. participation in international scientific efforts.

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