Research group receives National Science Foundation Grant

Catherine Kling will join researchers from six other US universities in developing a sustainability study framework that will help the National Science Foundation (NSF) understand and predict processes and places in the landscape that are most vulnerable to change.

The project, which was awarded a $4.3 million Water Sustainability and Climate (WSC) grant, will incorporate a unique hypothesis known as Human-Amplified Natural Change (HANC). The HANC hypothesis suggests that areas that are the most susceptible to human and other external changes are also the areas that are undergoing the highest rate of natural change. Researchers hope to use the hypothesis to develop a set of tools that can be used for watershed decision making. “This hypothesis emphasizes the idea that human alteration of the landscape has played a critical part in altering our landscapes and the ecosystem services they provide. If we have a better understanding of how humans alter the natural system, we can better design policies to reduce the impact of those changes,” Kling said.

The research group will develop a framework and use it to test their hypothesis in the Minnesota River Basin, before using it in other watershed areas. According to the research proposal, the river basin has seen significant changes in precipitation levels, temperature, and stream flow levels. The Minnesota River Basin will allow the research group to examine human influence as well, as agricultural land, mostly row crops, borders 92% of the riverbank. “The Minnesota River Basin is a watershed that is heavily influenced by both agricultural and urban land uses,” Kling said.

Kling, an economics professor, has been working with a research group focusing on integrating economic models with water quality and hydrology for many years. “Our previous experience in model integration and development made us somewhat natural partners for others interested in working to integrate models across the social and natural sciences,” she said. “Many other disciplines now see how important human influences on the environment are in altering its functioning. They also recognize that economists, by studying the incentives that people face in how to use natural resources and the environment, can help design policies that protect and restore ecosystems.”

(Released September 2012)