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Housing, Health, and Homelessness: Evaluating the Evidence
October 4, 2016, Washington, DC

View a list of Sustainability-related meetings at the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine


Recent Events

Sustainability at the Academies
September 26, 2016, Washington, DC

Sustainability at the Academies

July 20, 2016, Washington, DC

Sustainability at the Academies

June 8, 2016, Washington, DC


Life Support Systems Large

Meetings

View a list of Sustainability-related meetings at the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.

Ongoing ACTIVITIES

View a list of Sustainability-related ongoing activities at the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.
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

Publications  

Frontiers in Decadal Climate Variability: Proceedings of a Workshop (2016)
Many factors contribute to variability in Earth’s climate on a range of timescales, from seasons to decades. Understanding climate variability on the decadal timescale is important to decision-making. Planners and policy makers want information about decadal variability in order to make decisions in a range of sectors, including for infrastructure, water resources, agriculture, and energy.In September 2015, the Academies convened a workshop to examine variability in Earth’s climate on decadal timescales, defined as 10 to 30 years. During the workshop, ocean and climate scientists reviewed the state of the science of decadal climate variability and its relationship to rates of human-caused global warming, and they explored opportunities for improvement in modeling and observations and assessing knowledge gaps. This publication summarizes the presentations and discussions from the workshop.


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.



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.