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Upcoming Events

NELS: Ways Forward in Urban Sustainability - a Vancouver Vignette
December 1, 2015, Washington, DC

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

Recent Events

Roundtable on Science and Technology for Sustainability
November 12-13, 2015
Washington, DC

Partnerships, Research, and Innovation for Urban Sustainability:
Confronting Local Sustainability Challenges in a Global Environment 
October 15, 2015

ays to Urban Sustainability: Challenges and Opportunities, Meeting 3
July 28-29, 2015

Natural Systems Large


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


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

Natural Systems

"For human-dominated ecosystems undergoing degradation from multiple demands and stresses, the goal should be to work toward restoring and maintaining these systems' functions and integrity."  Our Common Journey


Characterization, Modeling, Monitoring, and Remediation of Fractured Rock (2015)
Fractured rock is the host or foundation for innumerable engineered structures related to energy, water, waste, and transportation. Characterizing, modeling, and monitoring fractured rock sites is critical to the functioning of those infrastructure, as well as to optimizing resource recovery and contaminant management. This report examines the state of practice and state of art in the characterization of fractured rock, as well as examines new developments, knowledge, and approaches to engineering at fractured rock sites since the publication of the 1996 National Research Council report, 
Rock Fractures and Fluid Flow: Contemporary Understanding and Fluid Flow.

Arctic Matters: The Global Connection to Changes in the Arctic (2015)
This booklet draws upon a large collection of peer-reviewed National Research Council reports and other national and international reports to provide a brief, reader-friendly primer on the complex ways in which the changes currently affecting the Arctic and its diverse people, resources, and environment can, in turn, affect the entire globe. Topics in the booklet include how climate changes currently underway in the Arctic are a driver for global sea-level rise, offer new prospects for natural resource extraction, and have rippling effects through the world’s weather, climate, food supply and economy.

Opportunities for the Gulf Research Program: Monitoring Ecosystem Restoration and Deep Water Environments: A Workshop Summary (2015)
This report summarizes a Gulf Research Program workshop held on September 3-4, 2014 in New Orleans, Louisiana. The workshop gathered about 40 participants from the energy industry, state and federal government, academia, and nongovernmental organizations to examine two broad issues that were seen as time-sensitive opportunities in light of significant investments in the Gulf for restoration and accelerating development of energy resources in the deep Gulf: monitoring ecosystem restoration and deep water environments.

Progress Toward Restoring the Everglades: The Fifth Biennial Review, 2014 (2014)
The Everglades ecosystem is vast, stretching more than 200 miles from Orlando to Florida Bay, and Everglades National Park is but a part located at the southern end. This report is the fifth biennial review of progress made in meeting the goals of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP). This complex, multibillion-dollar project to protect and restore the remaining Everglades has a 30-40 year timeline. This report assesses progress made in the various separate project components and discusses specific scientific and engineering issues that may impact further progress.

Gulf Research Program: A Strategic Vision (2014)
In 2010 the Deepwater Horizon explosion and fire in the Gulf of Mexico caused the largest offshore oil spill in U.S. history, resulting in significant impacts on the region's environment and residents. Legal settlements with the companies held responsible led the National Academy of Sciences to form and administer a 30-year program to enhance oil system safety, human health, and environmental resources in the Gulf of Mexico and other U.S. continental shelf areas where offshore oil and gas exploration and production occur or are under consideration. This document establishes the new Gulf Research Program's mission, goals, and objectives.

Reducing Coastal Risks on the East and Gulf Coasts (2014)
Hurricane- and coastal-storm-related losses have increased substantially during the past century, largely due to increases in population and development in the most susceptible coastal areas. Climate change poses additional threats to coastal communities from sea level rise and possible increases in strength of the largest hurricanes. Several large cities in the United States have extensive assets at risk to coastal storms, along with countless smaller cities and developed areas.This report reviews the coastal risk-reduction strategies and levels of protection that have been used along the United States East and Gulf Coasts to reduce the impacts of coastal flooding associated with storm surges. 

The Arctic in the Anthropocene: Emerging Research QuestionsThe Arctic in the Anthropocene: Emerging Research Questions (2014)
Once ice-bound, difficult to access, and largely ignored by the rest of the world, the Arctic is now front and center in the midst of many important questions facing the world today. Our daily weather, what we eat, and coastal flooding are all interconnected with the future of the Arctic. The year 2012 was an astounding year for Arctic change. This report reviews research questions previously identified by Arctic researchers, and then highlights the new questions that have emerged in the wake of and expectation of further rapid Arctic change, as well as new capabilities to address them.

Responding to Oil Spills in the U.S. Arctic Marine EnvironmentResponding to Oil Spills in the U.S. Arctic Marine Environment (2014) 
U.S. Arctic waters north of the Bering Strait and west of the Canadian border encompass a vast area that is usually ice covered for much of the year, but is increasingly experiencing longer periods and larger areas of open water due to climate change. Sparsely inhabited with a wide variety of ecosystems found nowhere else, this region is vulnerable to damage from human activities. As oil and gas, shipping, and tourism activities increase, the possibilities of an oil spill also increase. The report reviews the current state of the science regarding oil spill response and environmental assessment in the Arctic region north of the Bering Strait, with emphasis on the potential impacts in U.S. waters.

Urban Forestry: Toward an Ecosystem Services Research Agenda: A Workshop SummaryUrban Forestry: Toward an Ecosystem Services Research Agenda: A Workshop Summary (2013)
Much of the ecological research in the past decades has focused on rural or wilderness areas. Today, however, ecological research has been taking place in our cities, where our everyday decisions can have profound effects on our environment. This research, or urban ecology, includes an important element, trees. Trees have had a variety of environmental benefits for our environment including the sequestering carbon, reducing urban heat island effects, providing vital habitat for wildlife, and making nature accessible. In order to gain more knowledge into this urban forestry, the National Academy of Sciences held a workshop February 25-26, 2013. This report presents an overview of the issues discussed by the workshop's breakout groups; summarizes presentations from the four panels which included Biophysical Services of the Urban Forest; and provides context for the study with introductory material from the workshop.

Using Science to Improve the BLM Wild Horse and Burro Program: A Way Forward (2013)
This report reviews the science that underpins the Bureau of Land Management's oversight of free-ranging horses and burros on federal public lands in the western United States, concluding that constructive changes could be implemented. The Wild Horse and Burro Program has not used scientifically rigorous methods to estimate the population sizes of horses and burros, to model the effects of management actions on the animals, or to assess the availability and use of forage on rangelands. Greater transparency in how science-based methods are used to inform management decisions may help increase public confidence in the Wild Horse and Burro Program.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) asked the National Research Council (NRC) to examine scientific and technical issues related to determining risks posed to listed species by pesticides. Specifically, the NRC was asked to evaluate methods for identifying the best scientific data available; to evaluate approaches for developing modeling assumptions; to identify authoritative geospatial information that might be used in risk assessments; to review approaches for characterizing sublethal, indirect, and cumulative effects; to assess the scientific information available for estimating effects of mixtures and inert ingredients; and to consider the use of uncertainty factors to account for gaps in data. This report is the response to that request.
Global Change and Extreme Hydrology: Testing Conventional Wisdom (2011)
The National Research Council Committee on Hydrologic Science held a workshop on January 5-6, 2010, that examined how climate warming translates into hydrologic extremes like floods and droughts. This report summarizes the proceedings of this workshop and presents an overview of the current state of the science in terms of climate change and extreme hydrologic events. It examines the "conventional wisdom" that climate change will "accelerate" the hydrologic cycle, fuel more evaporation, and generate more precipitation, based on an increased capacity of a warmer atmosphere to hold more water vapor. The report also includes descriptions of the changes in frequency and severity of extremes, the ability (or inability) to model these changes, and the problem of communicating the best science to water resources practitioners in useful forums.

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.  

Increasing National Resilience to Hazards and Disasters: The Perspective from the Gulf Coast of Louisiana and Mississippi: Summary of a Workshop (2011)
Natural disasters are having an increasing effect on the lives of people in the United States and throughout the world. Every decade, property damage caused by natural disasters and hazards doubles or triples in the United States. More than half of the U.S. population lives within 50 miles of a coast, and all Americans are at risk from such hazards as fires, earthquakes, floods, and wind. This report reviews the effects of Hurricane Katrina and other natural and human-induced disasters on the Gulf Coast of Louisiana and Mississippi and to learn more about the resilience of those areas to future disasters. Topics explored in the workshop range from insurance, building codes, and critical infrastructure to private-sector issues, public health, nongovernmental organizations and governance. 

America's Climate Choices (2011)
The National Research Council has released the final report of America's Climate Choices.  It includes a CD of the four panel reports of the America's Climate Choices series as well as materials based on those reports. The report finds that the significant risks that climate change poses to human society and the environment provide a strong motivation to move ahead with substantial response efforts. Current efforts of local, state, and private sector actors are important, but not likely to yield progress comparable to what could be achieved with the addition of strong federal policies that establish coherent national goals and incentives, and that promote strong U.S. engagement in international-level response efforts. The inherent complexities and uncertainties of climate change are best met by applying an iterative risk management framework and making efforts to: significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions; prepare for adapting to impacts; invest in scientific research, technology development, and information systems; and facilitate engagement between scientific and technical experts and the many types of stakeholders making America's climate choices. 

Book CoverFrontiers in Understanding Climate Change and Polar Ecosystems: Summary of a Workshop (2011) 
Climate change is already causing observable impacts on terrestrial, freshwater and marine ecosystems in polar regions, and as climate continues to change, scientists expect these impacts to grow. However, the inherent complexity of ecosystems and the fact that they are subject to multiple stressors makes understanding the extent of future environmental change difficult. Scientists with expertise in Arctic, Antarctic, marine, and terrestrial environments came together at a recent National Research Council workshop to consider accomplishments in the field to date and identified five frontier questions that could help researchers gain a better understanding of the impact of climate change on polar ecosystems.   


There is little dispute within the scientific community that humans are changing Earth's climate on a decadal to century time-scale. By the end of this century, without a reduction in emissions, atmospheric CO2 is projected to increase to levels that Earth has not experienced for more than 30 million years. As greenhouse gas emissions propel Earth toward a warmer climate state, an improved understanding of climate dynamics in warm environments is needed to inform public policy decisions. In Understanding Earth's Deep Past , the National Research Council reports that rocks and sediments that are millions of years old hold clues to how the Earth's future climate would respond in an environment with high levels of atmospheric greenhouse gases.

Book CoverDefending Planet Earth: Near-Earth Object Surveys and Hazard Mitigation Strategies: Final Report  (2010)
The United States spends approximately four million dollars each year searching for near-Earth objects (NEOs). The objective is to detect those that may collide with Earth. The majority of this funding supports the operation of several observatories that scan the sky searching for NEOs. This, however, is insufficient in detecting the majority of NEOs that may present a tangible threat to humanity. A significantly smaller amount of funding supports ways to protect the Earth from such a potential collision or “mitigation.” In 2005, a Congressional mandate called for NASA to detect 90 percent of NEOs with diameters of 140 meters of greater by 2020. This report identifies the need for detection of objects as small as 30 to 50 meters as these can be highly destructive.

Landscapes on the Edge: New Horizons for Research on Earth's Surface (2010)
During geologic spans of time, Earth's shifting tectonic plates, atmosphere, freezing water, thawing ice, flowing rivers, and evolving life have shaped Earth's surface features. The resulting hills, mountains, valleys, and plains shelter ecosystems that interact with all life and provide a record of Earth surface processes that extend back through Earth's history. Despite rapidly growing scientific knowledge of Earth surface interactions, and the increasing availability of new monitoring technologies, there is still little understanding of how these processes generate and degrade landscapes. This book identifies nine grand challenges in this emerging field of study and proposes four high-priority research initiatives.

Tsunami Warning and Preparedness: An Assessment of the U.S. Tsunami Program and the Nation's Preparedness Efforts (2010)
The nation's ability to detect and forecast tsunamis has improved since the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, but current efforts are still not sufficient to meet challenges posed by tsunamis generated near land, which leave little time for warning. This National Research Council report reviews progress made to strengthen the nation's tsunami warning and preparation systems, and identifies ways to further improve tsunami preparation efforts. Minimizing future losses of lives and property caused by tsunamis will require persistent progress across the broad spectrum of efforts reviewed in this report: risk assessment, public education, government coordination, detection and forecasting, and warning-center operations.

Understanding the Changing Planet: Strategic Directions for the Geographical Sciences (2010)
From the oceans to continental heartlands, human activities have altered the physical characteristics of Earth's surface. With Earth's population projected to peak at 8 to 12 billion people by 2050 and the additional stress of climate change, it is more important than ever to understand how and where these changes are happening. Innovation in the geographical sciences has the potential to advance knowledge of place-based environmental change, sustainability, and the impacts of a rapidly changing economy and society. In this report, eleven strategic directions are outlined to focus research and leverage new techno logies to harness the potential that the geographical sciences offer.

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