Deltas are home to over half a billion people in the world. They harbor biodiverse and rich ecosystems. They are economic hotspots, supporting much of the world’s fisheries, forest products, and extensive agriculture. They are ports of entry playing a major role in local, regional, national, and global resource chains.
However, comprising only 1% of the world’s land, deltas are deteioriating at an alarming rate. Damming rivers upstream deprive deltas of critical water and sediment for continued viability. Local oil and gas exploration contributes to deltaic subsidence, loss of wetlands, and accelerated erosion. These human dimensions and ecological implications of deteriorating or disappearing deltas cannot be overstated. There is an urgent need to rally the international community for a focused effort toward a holistic physical-socioeconomic understanding of deltas as vulnerable systems undergoing change. Such understanding is a basic requirement for their long-term management, protection, and restoration.
Recognizing this need, an international collaboration of funding agencies, the Belmont Forum, has identified coastal vulnerability as a focused priority, with an overarching goal “to deliver knowledge needed for action to mitigate and adapt to detrimental environmental change and extreme hazardous events.” In this context, deltaic systems will serve as a showcase for the international science community to couple our understanding of the physical and socio-economic arenas in ways that sustain human interests while protecting the environment from anthropogenic and climate stressors. Deltas exemplify the much talked about “global change, local solutions” paradigm.
The DELTAS project, led by lead PI Efi Foufoula-Georgiou at the University of Minnesota, was selected by the Belmont Forum to unify our scientific understanding of deltas as coupled socio-ecological systems and to develop a science-based integrative modeling framework that can be used to assess delta vulnerability and guide sustainable management and policy decisions at the regional and local scales. As one of the funded "Coastal Vulnerability" projects, the main premise of the proposed work is that although each delta is unique, integrative frameworks that capture the socio-ecological working of these systems can be developed and encapsulated in decision support tools which can be adopted locally, in collaboration with regional experts and stakeholders, for sustainable delta management.