New Funding to Support Interdisciplinary Research on Landscape Change and Population Mobility

CSTPR faculty affiliate, Amanda Carrico’s Environment and Behavior Lab at CU Boulder recently received a $1.5M grant from the NSF’s Coupled Natural and Human Systems program. The project System Dynamics Related to Livelihood, Human Migration, and Landscape Evolution will examine how coastal dynamics and land use change influence migration in Bangladesh.

This interdisciplinary research project will examine the relationships among river and coastal processes, landscape dynamics, and human activities and migration in a densely populated river delta. It will enhance understanding of the scales and associations among physical and human system dynamics, including complex feedback loops among those systems. The project will identify how these relationships shift over time, and it will provide new insights regarding the ways in which variable river discharge or land modifications by humans may influence system interactions in the future. The project will yield a diverse set of products that will have future value in both basic and applied research contexts, including data about migration, livelihood activities, land-use, and adaptation from communities living on a shifting coastline; detailed characterization of the role of land-water governance in shaping both contemporary and historical social-biophysical dynamics within river deltas, and open-source computer models of migration and landscape patterns that emerge in an environment where land is constantly created and destroyed. The project will provide valuable interdisciplinary education and training opportunities for graduate students. Other educational activities related to the research will involve students in comparable regions of the U.S. and Bangladesh.

River deltas are complex systems facing the challenge of balancing sustainable development, resource use, and land security in a continually shifting environment. As land and economic opportunities are created (and sometimes destroyed) through evolving landscape dynamics, risks from floods and conflicts over land tenure are intensified, forcing community upheaval and migration. The investigators will use an interdisciplinary approach that integrates household- and community-level surveys, qualitative interviews, collection of sedimentological and geochemical field data, time-series analyses of landscape and institutional change, and scenario modeling. They will combine established empirical methods in the social sciences and the earth sciences with computational modeling to study coupled dynamics of human activity and environmental change in rural communities living along channels in a low-lying delta, where sediment deposition and erosion create a constantly changing landscape. The investigators will focus on population movement as a crucial process on the human side of these coupled dynamics. They will characterize different types of migration as responses to environmental and socioeconomic stress and to opportunities related to changing environmental conditions. The impacts of migration on livelihood activities, which in turn affect the physical environment through land use, also will be assessed. With respect to physical systems, sediment transport, and the rates of deposition and erosion will be a central focus, because the creation or destruction of agricultural and homestead land are expected to strongly affect migration dynamics, particularly as changing climatic regimes produce unpredictable precipitation and flooding patterns. Observational data about the changing biophysical landscape and human activity will be integrated in coupled agent-based and sediment transport models to explore the role of migration as a potential adaptation to climatic stress and as a source of resilience in vulnerable populations. Although the bulk of the project will focus on dynamic interactions among biophysical and human systems in the Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna Delta of Bangladesh, project findings will have relevance for other densely settled deltas around the world, including the Mississippi River delta of the southern U.S. This project is supported by the NSF Dynamics of Coupled Natural and Human Systems (CNH) Program.

To learn more about this project please check out more at the Environment and Behavior Lab’s website.

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