Writing in the June 2021 issue of San Francisco Estuary & Watershed Science, a group led by environmental economist Richard Norgaard note that due to the increasing pace of ecological change associated with a warming world, models derived using past data are less able to provide reliable predictions, particularly as extreme events create conditions outside historic reference points. This has global implications for environmental management, but the authors—many of whom have served on the Delta Independent Science Board—center their focus on the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. Environmental managers often speak of ecosystem resilience but the authors argue it’s just as important to apply the concept of resilience and adaptability to our human systems of policy-making and management.“Without a concerted effort, scientists, policy-makers, and managers may be overtaken by the rapidity of change and find themselves reacting to, rather than anticipating, changes,” the authors point out. They also propose a Delta Science Visioning process that brings together experts from across the biological and social sciences, as well as policymakers and environmental managers, to collectively envision a more adaptive and integrated strategy. Norgaard says that building support for more integrative approaches hasn’t been easy, as scientific institutions aren’t organized that way. “There’s a lot of awareness of climate change and the need to adapt, but the structure of the system makes it difficult… what was really helping bring scientists along with this argument was the extreme drought, the extreme flooding, the extreme wildfires. All of this was building up as this paper was coming about.” 

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Pearls in the ocean of information that our reporters didn’t want you to miss
Above: In 1800 the Delta was mostly marshes and native fish habitat (green). By 2016, farmland had reclaimed wetlands (orange), and invasive species had moved in (purple); by 2050, sea level rise will flood more of the Delta, except some well-placed patches of restored habitat. Source: The Delta on Fast Forward (2016)
 

Scientists are finding it increasingly difficult to predict how ecosystems will respond to sudden and rapid changes such as extreme droughts, wildfires, and flooding.

Writing in the June 2021 issue of San Francisco Estuary & Watershed Science, a group led by environmental economist Richard Norgaard note that due to the increasing pace of ecological change associated with a warming world, models derived using past data are less able to provide reliable predictions, particularly as extreme events create conditions outside historic reference points. This has global implications for environmental management, but the authors—many of whom have served on the Delta Independent Science Board—center their focus on the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. Environmental managers often speak of ecosystem resilience but the authors argue it’s just as important to apply the concept of resilience and adaptability to our human systems of policy-making and management.“Without a concerted effort, scientists, policy-makers, and managers may be overtaken by the rapidity of change and find themselves reacting to, rather than anticipating, changes,” the authors point out. They also propose a Delta Science Visioning process that brings together experts from across the biological and social sciences, as well as policymakers and environmental managers, to collectively envision a more adaptive and integrated strategy. Norgaard says that building support for more integrative approaches hasn’t been easy, as scientific institutions aren’t organized that way. “There’s a lot of awareness of climate change and the need to adapt, but the structure of the system makes it difficult… what was really helping bring scientists along with this argument was the extreme drought, the extreme flooding, the extreme wildfires. All of this was building up as this paper was coming about.” 

Related Prior Estuary News Stories

About the author

Elyse writes about wildlife ecology and environmental science for Estuary. Her background as a wildlife biologist often leads her to stories about the joys of scientific discovery and the ways that people interact with, and about, the environment. She currently writes from a floating abode in the San Francisco Bay, where the neighbors occasionally nest on her roof. Some of her writing and photography can be found here.

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