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Life Support Systems: Atmosphere, Water & Food

"We define preserving life support systems as ensuring the quality and supply of fresh water, controlling emissions into the atmosphere, protecting the oceans, feeding the increased population of the next two generations and maintaining species and ecosystems."
Our Common Journey


Review of the Everglades Aquifer Storage and Recovery Regional StudyReview of the Everglades Aquifer Storage and Recovery Regional Study (2015)
This report reviews an 11-year regional study carried out by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the South Florida Water Management District to assess the regional effects of large-scale aquifer storage and recovery in the Florida Everglades. The regional study represents a significant advancement in the understanding of large-scale implementation in south Florida; however, there are still many uncertainties that merit additional study before large-scale aquifer storage and recovery is implemented. Phased implementation of aquifer storage and recovery could provide incremental near-term storage benefits while also addressing the critical uncertainties that remain.

Climate Intervention: Carbon Dioxide Removal and Reliable Sequestration (2015)
The signals are everywhere that our planet is experiencing significant climate change. It is clear that we need to reduce the emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases from our atmosphere if we want to avoid greatly increased risk of damage from climate change. Aggressively pursuing a program of emissions abatement or mitigation will show results over a timescale of many decades. As one of a two-book report, this volume of Climate Intervention discusses CDR, the carbon dioxide removal of greenhouse gas emissions from the atmosphere and sequestration of it in perpetuity.

Climate Intervention: Reflecting Sunlight to Cool Earth (2015)
As one of a two-book report, this volume of Climate Intervention discusses albedo modification - changing the fraction of incoming solar radiation that reaches the surface. This approach would deliberately modify the energy budget of Earth to produce a cooling designed to compensate for some of the effects of warming associated with greenhouse gas increases. The prospect of large-scale albedo modification raises political and governance issues at national and global levels, as well as ethical concerns. This report discusses some of the social, political, and legal issues surrounding these proposed techniques.

A Framework for Assessing Effects of the Food System (2015)
The U.S. food supply chain is deeply interconnected with human and environmental health, as well as social and economic systems. To arrive at a decision whose benefits outweigh its risks, decision makers must carefully consider a broad range of effects and interactions across the health, environmental, social, and economic domains. To aid in this complex analytical process, the Institute of Medicine and the National Research Council convened an expert committee to develop a framework to assist in food and agriculture decision making. This report presents guiding principles and practical steps to help stakeholders weigh tradeoffs and choose policies that integrate benefits and risks across various domains.

Sea Change: 2015-2025 Decadal Survey of Ocean Sciences (2015)
Ocean science connects a global community of scientists in many disciplines - physics, chemistry, biology, geology and geophysics. Comprehensive understanding of the global ocean is fundamental to forecasting and managing risks from severe storms, adapting to the impacts of climate change, and managing ocean resources. In the United States, the National Science Foundation (NSF) is the primary funder of the basic research which underlies advances in our understanding of the ocean. This report addresses the strategic investments necessary at NSF to ensure a robust ocean scientific enterprise over the next decade.

Spurring Innovation in Food and Agriculture: A Review of the USDA Agriculture and Food Research Initiative Program (2014)
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is the primary agency responsible for supporting innovations and advances in food and agriculture. USDA funds are allocated to support research through several mechanisms, including the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI). In 2008, Congress replaced USDA's National Research Initiative with AFRI, creating USDA's flagship competitive research grants program, and the 2008 Food, Conservation, and Energy Act, known as the Farm Bill, outlined the structure of the new program. This report assesses the effectiveness of AFRI in meeting the goals laid out by Congress and its success in advancing innovations and competitiveness in the U.S. food and agriculture system.

Mississippi River Water Quality and Interstate Collaboration: Summary of a WorkshopSummary of a Workshop on Mississippi River Water Quality Science and Interstate Collaboration (2014)
This report summarizes presentations and discussions of Mississippi River and basin water quality management, monitoring, and evaluation programs that took place at a workshop that was held in St. Louis on November 18-19, 2013. The workshop examined a wide array of challenges and progress in water quality monitoring and evaluation in states along the Mississippi River corridor, and provided a forum for experts from U.S. federal agencies, the Mississippi River states, nongovernmental organizations, and the private sector to share and compare monitoring and evaluation experiences from their respective organizations.

Sustainable Diets: Food for Healthy People and a Healthy Planet: Workshop SummarySustainable Diets: Food for Healthy People and a Healthy Planet: Workshop Summary (2014)
While one of the many benefits of the U.S. food system is a safe, nutritious, and consistent food supply, that same system also places significant strain on land, water, air, and other natural resources. A better understanding of the food-environment synergies and trade-offs associated with the U.S. food system would be one way to help reduce this strain. In order to bring together experts in these fields, the Institute of Medicine held a workshop in May 2013. Participants in the workshop explored current and emerging knowledge on the food and nutrition policy implications of increasing environmental constraints on the food system as well as the relationship between human health and the environment.

Understanding the Connections Between Coastal Waters and Ocean Ecosystem Services and Human Health: Workshop SummaryUnderstanding the Connections Between Coastal Waters and Ocean Ecosystem Services and Human Health:  Workshop Summary (2014)
Humans rely on the natural environment - such as oceans and coastal waters - for essential human services like providing food and essential dietary nutrients and purifying drinking water. These benefits are referred to as ecosystem services. With growing populations and increasing standards of living globally, additional pressures will be placed on the world's oceans and waterways to provide essential services. In November 2012, the Institute of Medicine's Roundtable on Environmental Health Sciences, Research, and Medicine held a workshop to discuss coastal waters and ocean ecosystem services in the United States and to understand the impacts on human health. This report summarizes the workshop.

Climate Change: Evidence and Causes: Set of 5 BookletsClimate Change: Evidence and Causes (2014)
A jointly produced publication of The US National Academy of Sciences and The Royal Society, this publication is intended as a brief, readable reference document for decision makers, policy makers, educators, and other individuals seeking authoritative information on the some of the questions that continue to be asked. This report makes clear what is well-established and where understanding is still developing. It echoes and builds upon the long history of climate-related work from both national academies, as well as on the newest climate-change assessment from the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. It touches on current areas of active debate and ongoing research, such as the link between ocean heat content and the rate of warming.

Abrupt Impacts of Climate Change: Anticipating SurprisesAbrupt Impacts of Climate Change: Anticipating Surprises (2013)
Both abrupt changes in the physical climate system and steady changes in climate that can trigger abrupt changes in other physical, biological, and human systems present possible threats to nature and society. Abrupt change is already underway in some systems, and large scientific uncertainties about the likelihood of other abrupt changes highlight the need for further research. However, with recent advances in understanding of the climate system, some potential abrupt changes once thought to be imminent threats are now considered unlikely to occur this century. This report summarizes the current state of knowledge on potential abrupt changes to the ocean, atmosphere, ecosystems, and high latitude areas, and identifies key research and monitoring needs. 

Evaluating the Effectiveness of Fish Stock Rebuilding Plans in the United StatesEvaluating the Effectiveness of Fish Stock Rebuilding Plans in the United States (2013)
This report reviews the technical specifications that underlie current federally-implemented rebuilding plans, and the outcomes of those plans. According to this report, fisheries management has evolved substantially since 1977 when the U.S. extended its jurisdiction to 8 200 miles, in the direction of being more prescriptive and precautionary in terms of preventing overfishing and rebuilding overfished fisheries. However, the trade-offs between precaution and yield have not been fully evaluated. The report discusses the methods and criteria used to set target fishing mortality and biomass levels for rebuilding overfished stocks, and to determine the probability that a particular stock will rebuild by a certain date.

Delta Waters: Research to Support Integrated Water and Environmental Management in the Lower Mississippi RiverDelta Waters: Research to Support Integrated Water and Environmental Management in the Lower Mississippi River (2013)
The Water Institute of the Gulf is a not-for-profit, independent research institute dedicated to advancing the understanding of coastal, deltaic, river and water resource systems, both within the Gulf Coast and around the world. Their mission supports the practical application of innovative science and engineering, providing solutions that benefit society. The Water Institute of the Gulf began operations in 2012. This report offers advice to the institute that it might use as part of its strategic planning process. The report focuses on strategic research to support integrated water resources management in the lower Mississippi River delta and includes international comparative assessments.

Exploring Health and Environmental Costs of Food: Workshop Summary  (2012)
The U.S. food system provides many benefits, not the least of which is a safe, nutritious, and consistent food supply. However, the same system also creates significant environmental, public health, and other costs that generally are not recognized and not accounted for in the retail price of food. A better understanding of external costs would help decision makers at all stages of the life cycle to expand the benefits of the U.S. food system even further. A workshop held in April 2012 focused on the environmental and health impacts of food, using externalities as a basis for discussion and animal products as a case study. The intention was not to quantify costs or benefits, but rather to lay the groundwork for doing so. A major goal of the workshop was to identify information sources and methodologies required to recognize and estimate the costs and benefits of environmental and public health consequences associated with the U.S. food system.


Water Reuse: Potential for Expanding the Nation's Water Supply Through Reuse of Municipal Wastewater (2012)
Expanding water reuse--the use of treated wastewater for beneficial purposes including irrigation, industrial uses, and drinking water augmentation--could significantly increase the nation's total available water resources. Water Reuse presents a portfolio of treatment options available to mitigate water quality issues in reclaimed water along with new analysis suggesting that the risk of exposure to certain microbial and chemical contaminants from drinking reclaimed water does not appear to be any higher than the risk experienced in at least some current drinking water treatment systems, and may be orders of magnitude lower. This report recommends adjustments to the federal regulatory framework that could enhance public health protection for both planned and unplanned (or de facto) reuse and increase public confidence in water reuse. 
The first two decades of the U.S. Geological Survey's National Water Quality Assessment (NAWQA) Program have provided a successful and useful assessment of U.S. water-quality conditions, how they have changed over time, and how natural features and human activities have affected those conditions. Now, planning is underway for the third decade (Cycle 3) of the Program outlined in the Science Plan, with challenges including ensuring that the NAWQA remain a national program in the face of declining resources, balancing new activities against long-term studies, and maintaining focus amidst numerous and competing stakeholder demands. The Science Plan for Cycle 3 articulates a forward-thinking vision for NAWQA science over the next decade, building on the previous cycles' data, experience, and products. To meet the national needs outlined in the plan, NAWQA would need to emphasize collaboration with other USGS and external programs, and with other federal agencies, state and local governments, and the private sector.      
Tide gages show that global sea level has risen about 7 inches during the 20th century, and recent satellite data shows that the rate of sea-level rise is accelerating. As Earth warms, sea levels are rising mainly because ocean water expands as it warms; and water from melting glaciers and ice sheets is flowing into the ocean. Sea-level rise poses enormous risks to the valuable infrastructure, development, and wetlands that line much of the 1,600 mile shoreline of California, Oregon, and Washington. As those states seek to incorporate projections of sea-level rise into coastal planning, they asked the National Research Council to make independent projections of sea-level rise along their coasts for the years 2030, 2050, and 2100, taking into account regional factors that affect sea level. This report explains that sea level along the U.S. west coast is affected by a number of factors. These include: climate patterns such as the El Nino, effects from the melting of modern and ancient ice sheets, and geologic processes, such as plate tectonics. Regional projections for California, Oregon, and Washington show a sharp distinction at Cape Mendocino in northern California. South of that point, sea-level rise is expected to be very close to global projections.
Twelve years into the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Project, little progress has been made in restoring the core of the remaining Everglades ecosystem; instead, most project construction so far has occurred along its periphery. To reverse ongoing ecosystem declines, it will be necessary to expedite restoration projects that target the central Everglades, and to improve both the quality and quantity of the water in the ecosystem. The new Central Everglades Planning Project offers an innovative approach to this challenge, although additional analyses are needed at the interface of water quality and water quantity to maximize restoration benefits within existing legal constraints. This report explains the innovative approach to expedite restoration progress and additional rigorous analyses at the interface of water quality and quantity will be essential to maximize restoration benefits.

Challenges and Opportunities in the Hydrologic Sciences (2012)
New research opportunities to advance hydrologic sciences promise a better understanding of the role of water in the Earth system that could help improve human welfare and the health of the environment. Reaching this understanding will require both exploratory research to better understand how the natural environment functions, and problem-driven research, to meet needs such as flood protection, supply of drinking water, irrigation, and water pollution. Collaboration among hydrologists, engineers, and scientists in other disciplines will be central to meeting the interdisciplinary research challenges outline in this report. New technological capabilities in remote sensing, chemical analysis, computation, and hydrologic modeling will help scientists leverage new research opportunities.

Future Science Opportunities in Antarctica and the Southern Ocean (2011)
Covering nearly 14 million km² (an area approximately 1.4 times the size of the United States), Antarctica is the coldest, driest, highest, and windiest continent on Earth. While it is challenging to live and work in this extreme environment, this region offers many opportunities for scientific research. However, conducting scientific research in the harsh environmental conditions of Antarctica is profoundly challenging. Substantial resources are needed to establish and maintain the infrastructure needed to provide heat, light, transportation, and drinking water, while at the same time minimizing pollution of the environment and ensuring the safety of researchers. This report suggests actions for the United States to achieve success for the next generation of Antarctic and Southern Ocean science. The report highlights important areas of research by encapsulating each into a single, overarching question. The questions fall into two broad themes: those related to global change and those related to fundamental discoveries.
Assessing Requirements for Sustained Ocean Color Research and Operations (2011)
Ocean color measurements reveal a wealth of ecologically important characteristics including: chlorophyll concentration, the rate of phytoplankton photosynthesis, sediment transport, dispersion of pollutants, and responses of oceanic biota to long-term climate changes. Continuity of satellite ocean color data and associated climate research products are presently at significant risk for the U.S. ocean color community. This report aims to identify the ocean color data needs for a broad range of end users, develop a consensus for the minimum requirements, and outline options to meet these needs on a sustained basis. The report assesses lessons learned in global ocean color remote sensing from the SeaWiFS/MODIS era to guide planning for acquisition of future global ocean color radiance data to support U.S. research and operational needs. 
Most water resources managers, scientists, and other experts would agree that nonpoint source pollution is a more pressing and challenging national water quality problem today than point source pollution. Nonpoint sources of pollutants include parking lots, farm fields, forests, or any source not from a discrete conveyance such as a pipe or canal. Of particular concern across the Mississippi River basin (MRB) are high levels of nutrient loadings--nitrogen and phosphorus--from both nonpoint and point sources that ultimately are discharged into the northern Gulf of Mexico (NGOM). This report offers strategic advice and priorities for addressing MRB and NGOM water quality management and improvements. Although there is considerable uncertainty as to whether national water quality goals can be fully realized without some fundamental changes to the Clean Water Act, there is general agreement that significant progress can be made under existing statutory authority and budgetary processes.

Climate Change, the Indoor Environment, and Health (2011)
The indoor environment affects occupants' health and comfort. Poor environmental conditions and indoor contaminants are estimated to cost the U.S. economy tens of billions of dollars a year in exacerbation of illnesses like asthma, allergic symptoms, and subsequent lost productivity. Climate change has the potential to affect the indoor environment because conditions inside buildings are influenced by conditions outside them. This report addresses the impacts that climate change may have on the indoor environment and the resulting health effects. It discusses the role the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) should take in informing the public, health professionals, and those in the building industry about potential risks and what can be done to address them.

A Review of the Use of Science and Adaptive Management in California's Draft Bay Delta Conservation Plan (2011)
California's draft Bay Delta Conservation Plan-a draft plan to conserve habitat for endangered and threatened species, while continuing to divert water to agriculture and domestic water users in central and southern California-is incomplete and contains critical scientific gaps. The Bay Delta is a large, complex ecosystem that supplies water from the state's wetter northern regions to the drier southern regions, and also serves as habitat for many species. The Bay Delta Conservation Plan describes a proposal to construct a tunnel or canal to divert water from the northern Delta to the south, thus reducing the need to convey water through the Delta. This report reviews the use of science and adaptive management in the draft Bay Delta Conservation Plan and identifies opportunities to develop a more successful plan.

Achieving Nutrient and Sediment Reduction Goals in the Chesapeake Bay: An Evaluation of Program Strategies and Implementation (2011)
The Chesapeake Bay is North America's largest and most biologically diverse estuary, as well as an important commercial and recreational resource. However, excessive amounts of nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment from human activities and land development have disrupted the ecosystem, causing harmful algae blooms, degraded habitats, and diminished populations of many species of fish and shellfish. In 1983, the Chesapeake Bay Program (CBP) was established to address the extent, complexity, and sources of pollutants entering the Bay. The National Research Council (NRC) established the Committee on the Evaluation of Chesapeake Bay Program Implementation for Nutrient Reduction in Improve Water Quality in 2009 in response to a request from the EPA. The committee was charged to assess the framework used by the states and the CBP for tracking nutrient and sediment control practices that are implemented in the Chesapeake Bay watershed and to evaluate the two-year milestone strategy.

National Water Resources Challenges Facing the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (2011)
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers faces a water planning paradox: demands on national water resources are increasing and becoming more complex and, at the same time, federal budgets for water resources infrastructure are declining. Relatively new project goals, such as the restoration of ecosystems, are being added to the agency's traditional projects and responsibilities. Competing and growing demands for water resource project benefits, combined with the natural limits of hydrologic and ecological systems, present increasingly contentious decision making challenges. This National Research Council report affirms a need for Corps of Engineers leadership in many of the nation's major river and aquatic systems, as there will be a continued need for an innovative and responsive Corps to help address many national water planning challenges. This report is the first in a series of five annual reports providing independent advice on an array of strategic and planning issues, requested by the Corps.

Letter Report Assessing the USGS National Water Quality Assessment Program's Science Plan (2011)
In 2009, the U.S. Geological Survey requested that the National Research Council (NRC) review and provide guidance on the direction and priorities of the National Water Quality Assessment (NAWQA) Program. This review would include perspective on past accomplishments and the current and future design and scope of the program as it moves into its third decade of water quality assessment (Cycle 3). The NRC has continued that advisory role authoring a letter report on the initial Cycle 3 planning document, the Science Framework (Letter Report Assessing the USGS National Water Quality Assessment Program's Science Framework). Based on advice contained in that letter report, input from stakeholders, and additional reflection from the NAWQA Cycle 3 Planning Team, the Science Framework evolved into the Cycle 3 Science Plan. The Science Plan is the high level planning document that will guide the NAWQA program through the next 10 years of water quality monitoring.

Adapting to the Impacts of Climate Change (2010)
Much of the nation's experience to date in managing and protecting its people, resources, and infrastructure is based on the historic record of climate variability during a period of relatively stable climate. This report from the America's Climate Choices suite of studies concludes that adaptation to climate change calls for a new paradigm -- one that considers a range of possible future climate conditions and associated impacts, some well outside the realm of past experience. The report calls for a national adaptation strategy to support and coordinate decentralized efforts. 

Advancing the Science of Climate Change (2010)
A strong, credible body of scientific evidence shows that climate change is occurring, is caused largely by human activities, and poses significant risks for a broad range of human and natural systems. As decision makers respond to these risks, the nation's scientific enterprise can contribute both by continuing to improve understanding of the causes and consequences of climate change, and by improving and expanding the options available to limit the magnitude of climate change and adapt to its impacts. To make this possible, the nation needs a comprehensive, integrated, and flexible climate change research enterprise that is closely linked with action-oriented programs at all levels. 

A Scientific Assessment of Alternatives for Reducing Water Management Effects on Threatened and Endangered Fishes in California s Bay Delta (2010) The California Bay-Delta region receives fresh water from the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers and their tributaries, and some of that water is diverted for agriculture and southern California metropolitan areas. However, the region's growing population and engineered water-control systems have substantially altered the delta ecosystem and have changed the composition of fish species; while some native species have declined, some introduced species have increased. This report provides a scientific evaluation of two "biological opinions" issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service in 2008 and 2009, respectively, that require actions to reduce adverse effects of water diversions on delta smelt, Chinook salmon, Central Valley steelhead, and green sturgeon, such as restricting water diversions during certain periods.

Climate Stabilization Targets: Emissions, Concentrations, and Impacts over Decades to Millenia (2010)
This report from the National Research Council concludes that emissions of carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels have ushered in a new epoch where human activities will largely determine the evolution of Earth's climate. Because carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is long lived, it can effectively lock the Earth and future generations into a range of impacts, some of which could become very severe. Therefore, emissions reductions choices made today matter in determining impacts experienced not just over the next few decades, but in the coming centuries and millennia. Policy choices can be informed by recent advances in climate science that quantify the relationships between increases in carbon dioxide and global warming, related climate changes, and resulting impacts, such as changes in streamflow, wildfires, crop productivity, extreme hot summers, and sea level rise. 

Describing Socioeconomic Futures for Climate Change Research and Assessment (2010)
The implications of climate change for the environment and society depend on the rate and magnitude of climate change, but also on changes in technology, economics, lifestyles, and policy that will affect the capacity both for limiting and adapting to climate change. This book reviews the state of science for considering socioeconomic changes over long time frames and clarifies definitions and concepts to facilitate communication across research communities. The book also explores driving forces and key uncertainties that will affect impacts, adaptation, vulnerability and mitigation in the future. Furthermore, it considers research needs and the elements of a strategy for describing socioeconomic and environmental futures for climate change research and assessment.  

Book CoverEcosystem Concepts for Sustainable Bivalve Mariculture (2010)
With seafood consumption rising and wild stocks of marine life decreasing, mariculture – the cultivation of marine organisms in their natural environments – is becoming an increasingly important source of bivalve shellfish such as oysters, mussels, and clams. However, mariculture operations can affect the integrity of natural ecosystems where they are located, for example, by disturbing marine flora that provide habitat for fish and invertebrates. Expanding mariculture operations will require the adoption of best management practices or performance standards to limit undesirable consequences. Analysis suggests performance standards that monitor key indicators of ecosystem health are most effective, because the scale, location, and type of mariculture operation can be taken into account.

Enhancing Food Safety: The Role of the Food and Drug Administration (2010)
Foodborne illnesses cause hundreds of thousands of hospitalizations and thousands of deaths in the U.S each year. The severity of these diseases and the frequency with which they occur highlight the need to evaluate how well the current food safety system protects the public’s health. While food safety is regulated by several agencies, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) oversees approximately 80 percent of the U.S. food supply, including all produce, seafood, and cheeses. Food safety experts and the public have criticized the FDA’s food safety system and questioned whether it properly safeguards Americans from foodborne diseases. Congress asked the IOM to examine the gaps in the current food safety system under the purview of the FDA and to identify the tools needed to improve food safety. 

Implementing the New Biology: Decadal Challenges Linking Food, Energy, and the Environment: Summary of a Workshop, June 3-4, 2010 (2010)
Using the New Biology approach to achieve carbon neutrality in food and biofuel production could stimulate new scientific discoveries, energize the public, and motivate a new generation of students. The workshop was intended to provide concrete examples of societal challenges related to food, energy, and the environment that would benefit from the New Biology approach to research. This approach would use collaboration among biologists, physical scientists, engineers, and mathematicians to enhance understanding of biological systems and provide new ways to leverage this understanding to address important societal challenges. Such focused research-for example, basic plant science work to achieve carbon neutrality in food and biofuel production-would fill in knowledge gaps and could provide the basis for the technological advances needed to reach these goals.

This report offers advice and priorities to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on improving water quality in the Mississippi River basin and Northern Gulf of Mexico-including how to better manage and monitor nutrients, especially nitrogen and phosphorus. Most nutrient pollution across the river basin comes from diffuse, hard-to-trace sources known as nonpoint sources-for example, the majority of nitrogen and phosphorus loadings come from agricultural landscapes and activities. Reaffirming a recommendation from a 2008 National Research Council report on Mississippi River water quality, this report proposes that the Environmental Protection Agency establish a numeric limit for the amount of nutrients in the waters of the northern Gulf. 

Informing an Effective Response to Climate Change (2010)
Demand for information to support climate-related decisions has grown rapidly as people, organizations, and governments have moved ahead with plans and actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to adapt to the impacts of climate change. Today, however, the nation lacks comprehensive, robust, and credible information systems to inform climate choices and evaluate their effectiveness. This report from the America's Climate Choices suite of studies examines information needs and recommends ways the federal government can better inform responses by enhancing climate change and greenhouse gas information and reporting systems and by improving climate communication and education.

Book CoverLetter Report Assessing the USGS National Water Quality Assessment Program’s Science Framework (2010)
The U.S. Geological Survey requested that the National Research Council review and provide guidance on the direction and priorities of the National Water Quality Assessment (NAWQA) Program. This initial letter report concerns the scientific priorities of the NAWQA program as expressed in its NAWQA Science Framework, assessing whether the framework sets forth adequately the priorities for the future which will be addressed in the third cycle of the NAWQA program. This letter report includes guidance on the nature and priorities of current and future water quality issues that will confront the Nation over the next 10-15 years.

Limiting the Magnitude of Future Climate Change (2010)
Meeting internationally discussed targets for limiting atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations and associated increases in global average temperatures will require a major departure from business as usual in how the world uses and produces energy. This report from the America's Climate Choices suite of studies recommends that a U.S. policy goal be stated in terms of a budget for cumulative greenhouse gas emissions over the period 2012-2050.  The report concludes that a carbon pricing system (either cap-and-trade, taxes, or a combination of the two) is the most important step for providing needed incentives to reduce emissions. 

Management and Effects of Coalbed Methane Produced Water in the United States (2010)
The extraction of methane (natural gas) trapped deep in some coal beds is a common practice, especially in Western States, but carries with it the issue of what to do with the water that must be pumped out to release the methane. This "produced" water must be managed through some combination of disposal, use, or storage, and often requires treatment to remove salts and other compounds. Currently, the majority of the water is disposed of at least cost, rather than being put to beneficial use, for example, for irrigation and as drinking water for livestock. This study investigates the critical environmental, economic, and regulatory issues associated with coal bed methane produced water, and finds that current management decisions often fail to consider both potential environmental effects and opportunities for beneficial use.

Modeling the Economics of Greenhouse Gas Mitigation: Summary of a Workshop (2010)
Models are fundamental for estimating the possible costs and effectiveness of different policies for reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. There is a wide array of models to perform such analysis, differing in the level of technological detail, treatment of technological progress, spatial and sector details, and representation of the interaction of the energy sector to the overall economy and environment. These differences impact model results, including cost estimates. More fundamentally, these models differ as to how they represent fundamental processes that have a large impact on policy analysis--such as how different models represent technological learning and cost reductions that come through increasing production volumes, or how different models represent baseline conditions. At the request of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), the National Academies organized a workshop, summarized in this volume, to consider some of these types of modeling issues.

Monitoring Climate Change Impacts: Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems (2010)
The stresses associated with climate change are expected to be felt keenly as human population grows to a projected 9 billion by the middle of this century, increasing the demand for resources and supporting infrastructure. There are currently many observing systems that capture elements of how climate is changing, for example, direct measurements of atmospheric and ocean temperature. Although those measurements are essential for understanding the scale and nature of climate change, they do not necessarily provide information about the impacts of climate change on humans that are especially relevant for political and economic planning and decision making. This book tackles the challenge of developing an illustrative suite of indicators, measurements (and the locations around the globe where the measurements can be applied), and metrics that are important for understanding global climate change and providing insight into environmental sustainability.

Ocean Acidification: A National Strategy to Meet the Challenges of a Changing Ocean (2010)
The ocean has absorbed a significant portion of all human-made carbon dioxide emissions, benefiting society by moderating the rate of climate change, but also causing unprecedented changes to ocean chemistry. Carbon dioxide taken up by the ocean decreases the pH of the water and leads to a suite of chemical changes collectively known as ocean acidification. The long term consequences of ocean acidification are not known, but are expected to result in changes in many ecosystems and the services they provide to society. This report, requested by Congress, reviews the current state of knowledge and identifies gaps in understanding, with the following key findings.

Progress Toward Restoring the Everglades: The Third Biennial Review--2010 (2010)
Although the progress of environmental restoration projects in the Florida Everglades remains slow overall, there have been improvements in the pace of restoration and in the relationship between the federal and state partners over the last two years. However, the importance of several challenges related to water quantity and quality have become clear, highlighting the difficulty in achieving restoration goals for all ecosystem components in all portions of the Everglades. Rigorous scientific analyses of the tradeoffs between water quality and quantity and between the hydrologic requirements of Everglades features and species are needed to inform future prioritization and funding decisions.

Providing Healthy and Safe Foods As We Age: Workshop Summary  (2010)
Does a longer life mean a healthier life? The number of adults over 65 in the United States is growing, but many may not be aware that they are at greater risk from foodborne diseases and their nutritional needs change as they age. The Institute of Medicine's Food Forum held a workshop October 29-30, 2009, to discuss food safety and nutrition concerns for older adults.




A Review of the Proposed Revisions to the Federal Principles and Guidelines Water Resources Planning Document (2010)
Since it was issued in 1983, the federal document Economic and Environmental Principles and Guidelines for Water and Related Land Resources Implementation Studies (the P&G) has guided water resources project planning for four federal agencies. Since the early 1980s, however, there have been many changes in the national water resources planning landscape. In light of these developments, many groups -- including committees of the National Research Council -- have recommended that the P&G be reviewed and modernized. In 2007 the U.S. Congress directed the Secretary of the Army to revise the P&G. Congress also directed the Secretary to consult with other entities, including the National Academy of Sciences. The Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) released its "Proposed National Objectives, Principles and Standards for Water and Related Resources Implementation Studies" in December, 2009. The present report from the National Research Council constitutes a review of the 2009 document issued by the CEQ.


Review of the St. Johns River Water Supply Impact Study: Report 3(2010)
A proposed withdrawal of 262 million gallons of water per day from the St. Johns River in northeast Florida -- intended to help satisfy increasing demand on public water supplies -- may not decrease the river's average flow and water level, according to research conducted by the St. Johns River Water Management District. The unexpected finding assumes management of the upper river basin to bring water back into the system and depends on projected land use patterns that would increase the contribution of stormwater to river flow. In its ongoing review of scientific aspects of the District's Water Supply Impact Study, the National Research Council urges the Water Management District to give as much attention to water quality and environmental impacts from potential increases in water flow and levels as from potential decreases. 

Review of the WATERS Network Science Plan (2010)
One of the most critical issues facing the United States today is the proper management of our water resources. Water availability and quality are changing due to increasing population, urbanization, and land use and climate change, and shortages in water supply have been increasing in frequency in many parts of the country. The National Science Foundation (NSF) has entertained the Water and Environmental Research Systems (WATERS) Network as one possible initiative whereby NSF could provide the advances in the basic science needed to respond effectively to the challenge of managing water resources. This book, the final of a series about the WATERS project, provides a more detailed review of the Science Plan and provides advice on collaborating with other federal agencies.

Toward Sustainable Agricultural Systems in the 21st Century (2010)
U.S. farmers are under pressure to satisfy multiple demands, such as to produce more crops, pollute less, fulfill consumer preferences, pay fair wages, and make a living-all with increasingly scarce natural resources such as land and water. To evolve farming systems that meet all of these demands, national agricultural policy, research programs, and food markets need to shift away from emphasizing low costs and high production exclusively and develop a more holistic perspective of how farms provide benefits to society. This report recommends reaching this goal through two parallel efforts: an incremental approach, in which the development of sustainable agricultural techniques will be continued and expanded; and a transformative approach, in which multiple research areas will be brought together to design farming systems that balance the competing demands from the outset.

Verifying Greenhouse Gas Emissions: Methods to Support International Climate Agreements (2010)
The world's nations are moving toward agreements that will bind us together in an effort to limit future greenhouse gas emissions. With such agreements will come the need for all nations to make accurate estimates of greenhouse gas emissions and to monitor changes over time. In this context, the present book focuses on the greenhouse gases that result from human activities, have long lifetimes in the atmosphere and thus will change global climate for decades to millennia or more, and are currently included in international agreements. The book concludes that each country could estimate fossil-fuel CO2 emissions accurately enough to support monitoring of a climate treaty. However, current methods are not sufficiently accurate to check these self-reported estimates against independent data or to estimate other greenhouse gas emissions.

When Weather Matters: Science and Service to Meet Critical Societal Needs  (2010)
The past 15 years have seen marked progress in observing, understanding, and predicting weather. At the same time, the United States has failed to match or surpass progress in operational numerical weather prediction achieved by other nations and failed to realize its prediction potential; as a result, the nation is not mitigating weather impacts to the extent possible. This book represents a sense of the weather community as guided by the discussions of a Board on Atmospheric Sciences and Climate community workshop held in summer 2009. The book addresses issues including observations, global non-hydrostatic coupled modeling, data assimilation, probabilistic forecasting, and quantitative precipitation and hydrologic forecasting. The book also identifies three important, emerging issues--predictions of very high impact weather, urban meteorology, and renewable energy development--not recognized or emphasized in previous studies. 

Older Publications





Alternatives for Managing the Nation's Complex Contaminated Groundwater Sites (2012)
Across the United States, thousands of hazardous waste sites are contaminated with chemicals that prevent the underlying groundwater from meeting drinking water standards. These include Superfund sites and other facilities that handle and dispose of hazardous waste, active and inactive dry cleaners, and leaking underground storage tanks; many are at federal facilities such as military installations. While many sites have been closed over the past 30 years through cleanup programs run by the U.S. Department of Defense, the U.S. EPA, and other state and federal agencies, the remaining caseload is much more difficult to address because the nature of the contamination and subsurface conditions make it difficult to achieve drinking water standards in the affected groundwater. This report estimates that at least 126,000 sites across the U.S. still have contaminated groundwater, and their closure is expected to cost at least $110 billion to $127 billion. About 10 percent of these sites are considered "complex," meaning restoration is unlikely to be achieved in the next 50 to 100 years due to technological limitations.


Seasonal-to-Decadal Predictions of Arctic Sea Ice: Challenges and Strategies  (2012)
Recent well documented reductions in the thickness and extent of Arctic sea ice cover, which can be linked to the warming climate, are affecting the global climate system and are also affecting the global economic system as marine access to the Arctic region and natural resource development increase. Understanding and projecting future sea ice conditions is important to a growing number of stakeholders, including local populations, natural resource industries, fishing communities, commercial shippers, marine tourism operators, national security organizations, regulatory agencies, and the scientific research community. However, gaps in understanding the interactions between Arctic sea ice, oceans, and the atmosphere, along with an increasing rate of change in the nature and quantity of sea ice, is hampering accurate predictions. Establishing sustained communication between the user, modeling, and observation communities could help reveal gaps in understanding, help balance the needs and expectations of different stakeholders, and ensure that resources are allocated to address the most pressing sea ice data needs.


Himalayan Glaciers: Climate Change, Water Resources, and Water Security (2012)
Scientific evidence shows that most glaciers in South Asia's Hindu Kush Himalayan region are retreating, but the consequences for the region's water supply are unclear, this report finds. The Hindu Kush Himalayan region is the location of several of Asia's great river systems, which provide water for drinking, irrigation, and other uses for about 1.5 billion people. This report makes recommendations and sets guidelines for the future of climate change and water security in the Himalayan Region. This report emphasizes that social changes, such as changing patterns of water use and water management decisions, are likely to have at least as much of an impact on water demand as environmental factors do on water supply. Water scarcity will likely affect the rural and urban poor most severely, as these groups have the least capacity to move to new locations as needed. It is predicted that the region will become increasingly urbanized as cities expand to absorb migrants in search of economic opportunities. As living standards and populations rise, water use will likely increase-for example, as more people have diets rich in meat, more water will be needed for agricultural use. The effects of future climate change could further exacerbate water stress.

Book CoverNational Summit on Strategies to Manage Herbicide-Resistant Weeds: Proceedings of a Symposium (2012)
Preserving the efficacy of herbicides and of herbicide-resistance technology depends on awareness of the increasing resistance of weeds to herbicides used in agriculture and coordinated action to address the problem by individuals at the farm level and beyond. In convening stakeholders for this event, participants took a step toward a recommendation from the 2010 National Research Council report. The Impact of Genetically Engineered Crops on Farm Sustainability in the United States that federal and state government agencies, private-sector technology developers, universities, farmer organizations, and other relevant stakeholders collaborate to document emerging weed-resistance problems and to develop cost-effective resistance-management programs and practices that preserve effective weed control. This report contains a brief synopsis of key points made by each speaker at the summit.