Special focus awards support new faculty, resilient coastal communities

Projects include planning strategies for sea level rise, determining fecal thresholds at beaches to protect swimmers. Photo Cr: Charlotte Stevenson
Caitlin Coomber

California Sea Grant has selected five projects to receive funding in the 2017 Special Focus Award research competition. The projects will collectively receive $287,000 in federal funding for one year, designated by Congress through the National Sea Grant College Program.

“For this year’s Special Focus awards, California Sea Grant chose to increase our research investments in an under-funded strategic focus area, Resilient Coastal Communities,” said Director Jim Eckman. This focus area supports research that helps California’s coastal communities manage natural resources, reduce their vulnerability to coastal hazards, and adapt to climate change, amongst other issues. California Sea Grant has historically received few funding applications from researchers for these issues.

“Our second goal for this year’s focus awards was to increase the opportunities available for our state's newest faculty members,” said Eckman. “The specially-targeted new faculty awards are meant to help promote California’s future research stars.”

The following awards run from February 1, 2017 through January 31, 2018.

New faculty award

Physical drivers of nearshore hypoxia in an understudied central California location
Principal Investigator: Ryan Walter, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo
The California Current Large Marine Ecosystem is listed as a “hotspot” for ecological risk due to upwelling-driven hypoxia, which makes it particularly vulnerable to ocean acidification. Dr. Walter will examine physical drivers of nearshore variability and hypoxia in an understudied location on the central California coast.

How does climate change affect the export of phytoplankton to the seafloor?
Principal Investigator: Colleen Durkin, Moss Landing Marine Laboratories
Co-principal Investigator: Kenneth Smith, Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute
Episodic pulses of phytoplankton from the surface to the deep ocean are thought to be globally common but are poorly quantified. Dr. Durkin will identify how the supply of phytoplankton to Station M in the California Current has changed across variable climate regimes and how these changes affect benthic (seafloor) ecosystems.

Resilient Coastal Communities

A risk-based approach to interpreting fecal source-associated microbial source tracking (MST) marker concentrations
Principal Investigator: Alexandria Boehm, Stanford University
Microbial source tracking (MST) marker concentrations are being measured throughout the world to help identify sources of fecal contamination at beaches, but there is no clear guideline for interpreting these concentrations. Dr. Boehm will determine risk-based thresholds for MST markers based on the risk of swimmer gastro-intestinal illness.

Incorporating Explicit Measurement of Risk and Uncertainty in Planning for Responses to Beach Erosion: A Case Study of Southern Monterey Bay
Principal Investigator: Charles Colgan, Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey
Co-principal Investigators: Fernando De Paolis, Middlebury Institute of International Studies; Jason Scorse, Middlebury Institute of International Studies; Philip King, San Francisco State University
As sea level rise threatens coastal communities, choosing strategies to respond is difficult because people are known to significantly misjudge risks, particularly those that appear remote in time and unknown in extent. Using Southern Monterey Bay as a case study, Dr. Colgan will develop and test risk assessment techniques to help coastal communities better judge the risks of sea level rise and decide how to select adaptation strategies.

Informing sea level rise adaptation planning through quantitative assessment of the risks and broader consequences of tidal wetland loss
Principal Investigator: Maya Hayden, Point Blue Conservation Science
Co-principal Investigator: Sam Veloz, Point Blue Conservation Science
The impact of climate change on ecosystem services is difficult to quantify, causing them to be underrepresented in vulnerability assessments. Dr. Hayden will quantify the projected changes in San Mateo County tidal marsh functions and services under different sea level rise/storm scenarios, for integration into Bay Are climate action planning.