News

A better future for urban coastal environments

4/26/12

More than two-​​thirds of the world’s major cities are by the sea. As the world’s pop­u­la­tion grows, many of those cities are expe­ri­encing mas­sive influxes, which trans­late into increasing bur­dens on coastal environments, according to Geoff Trussell, director of Northeastern’s Marine Sci­ence Center and chair of the Depart­ment of Earth and Envi­ron­mental Sci­ences.

In the second install­ment of the Col­lege of Sci­ence Col­lo­quium series, held on Wednesday, Trussell discussed how the new Urban Coastal Sus­tain­ability Ini­tia­tive will pro­mote and develop sus­tain­able science, policy and plan­ning for urban coastal systems.

“Ulti­mately our goal is to focus on the land-​​sea inter­face and look at how human activ­i­ties at this crit­ical boundary influ­ence the sus­tain­ability of coastal ecosys­tems,” he said.

The chal­lenges facing urban coastal envi­ron­ments are a global issue, he explained. Ninety per­cent of marine bio­di­ver­sity is con­tained within these envi­ron­ments, which are under siege because of over­fishing, inva­sive species, and pol­lu­tion. Morevoer, the oceans are warming and acid­i­fying and sea levels are rising as the polar ice sheets melt away due to global warming, he said.

There are also secu­rity issues: 95 per­cent of inter­na­tional cargo comes to the U.S. by ship, but only two per­cent of the 6 mil­lion con­tainers that arrive on U.S. shores annu­ally are inspected for poten­tial threats, Trussell said.

The Urban Coastal Sus­tain­ability Ini­tia­tive seeks to address each of these chal­lenges through an inter­dis­cipli­nary approach. Across the uni­ver­sity, new fac­ulty mem­bers are coming on board to study urban coastal sys­tems from engi­neering, policy and sci­en­tific perspectives.

“We don’t want just a sci­en­tist. We don’t want just an engi­neer. We want some­body who wants to wear mul­tiple hats,” he said.

North­eastern fac­ulty are also building col­lab­o­ra­tions with other marine labs across the globe, such as the Japan Agency for Marine-​​Earth Sci­ence and Tech­nology and Hong Kong Uni­ver­sity of Sci­ence and Technology.

Back at home, Northeastern’s Marine Sci­ence Center in Nahant is located 25 min­utes out­side of Boston, offering researchers a unique oppor­tu­nity to study imme­diate human impacts on the urban coastal system

“Sci­en­tists have his­tor­i­cally exam­ined envi­ron­mental and eco­log­ical issues by estab­lishing research outposts in pris­tine envi­ron­ments far away from human activity.  The problem is that the frac­tion of environ­ments impacted by human activity across the globe is growing.  To achieve sus­tain­ability, we must focus on how humans and their envi­ron­ment interact,” Trussell said.

Murray Gibson, Dean of the Col­lege of Sci­ence, said Trussell and his col­leagues “have devel­oped a great vision that will estab­lish North­eastern and the Marine Sci­ence Center as a global leader in the arena of urban coastal sustainability.”