Oklahoma State University is one of 11 winners of $56 million from National Science Foundation to study rural climate resilience

In so-called “flyover states” across the United States, rural communities face issues that most Americans never see. One major issue is water. The water resources on which these rural communities depend are often threatened by changing land management and climate.

While these ongoing changes may disproportionally impact rural communities, the majority of climate resilience research to date focuses on urban areas.

Oklahoma State University researchers are planning to help fix that in their state. They are one of 11 winners of a $56 million investment by the U.S. National Science Foundation in studying and advancing rural climate change resilience.

Through this new award from the National Science Foundation, a team of researchers, led by OSU, is launching a project to address climate issues affecting rural communities directly.

We are excited to launch this new project called Rural Confluence, which is designed to bring together people and ideas from diverse but connected communities, disciplines and institutions within the Mississippi River basin to advance the science of rural resilience and to reduce climate-related vulnerabilities in rural communities,” said Tyson Ochsner, the project’s principal investigator and professor of plant and soil sciences.

We named this Rural Confluence because a lot of this work will focus on water and the name reflects the idea of rivers coming together,” he continued.

The project is a collaboration between OSU faculty and students, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and Louisiana State University — along with Hispanic and Native American minority-serving institutions Western Oklahoma State College and Northern Oklahoma College.

This project will substantially advance rural climate resilience research and generate lasting improvements in rural STEM opportunities,” Ochsner explained. “These collaborations will lay the foundation for long-term partnerships between the Rural Renewal Initiative at OSU, the Rural Prosperity Nebraska program at UNL and the Gulf Scholars Program at LSU.

The impacts on water resources across the state, nation and world are some of the most significant effects of the changing climate, Ochsner said. By identifying potential solutions to expected climate change-driven losses and focusing climate resilience research on rural communities, the team is hoping to bridge the divide between rural and scientific communities, while creating frameworks and civic engagement strategies that may be applied in other rural communities around the world.

The winners span 21 institutions in 19 jurisdictions, through NSF’s Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR). This investment is a component of NSF’s ongoing effort to build research and development capacity and education in states that demonstrate a commitment to research but have not received the levels of investment seen in other parts of the country.

As evident from EPSCoR’s impact, investing in research infrastructure is a powerful catalyst for strengthening our nation’s security, competitiveness, and fostering groundbreaking scientific advancements,” said NSF Director Sethuraman Panchanathan.

I’m thrilled to announce this year’s EPSCoR Track-2 awards, which will strengthen community and regional efforts to understand the impacts of a changing climate and enhance the resilience of disproportionately affected communities. By addressing these critical challenges, and engaging with communities impacted by climate change, we have the potential to advance innovation and promote economic stability and recovery in EPSCoR jurisdictions and beyond,” he added.

This year’s projects focus on building collaborative teams of investigators in scientific focus areas consistent with NSF and national priorities. The five-year Research Infrastructure Improvement Track-2 awardees will undertake ambitious interdisciplinary research with a primary focus on enhancing climate change research and resilience capacity to create more opportunities for communities facing disproportionate impacts.

Here are the awardees and summary of each project:

  • Supporting rural livelihoods in the water-stressed Central High Plains: Microbial innovations for climate-resilient agriculture (MICRA), Kansas State University, University of Nebraska-Lincoln and Langston University – Through the study of soil moisture, bacteria and carbon-rich solids, this project aims to improve water quality under drought conditions in rural communities in the Central High Plains. This project includes partnerships across Kansas, Nebraska, and Oklahoma.
  • Developing effective adaptation strategies to enhance the resilience of farmers under changing climate, Auburn University – Through research, educational and outreach activities, this project aims to develop and assess agricultural management practices that will help reduce greenhouse gas emissions from agricultural systems, improve soil health and water quality and reduce the vulnerability of crop failures during droughts. This project includes partnerships across Alabama, New Mexico, and Delaware.
  • Center for Climate Conscious Agricultural Technologies (CCAT), South Dakota State University – Through collaboration with cereal crop producers in South Dakota’s rural disadvantaged communities, this center aims to mitigate the effects of chemical fertilizer production on climate change by adopting microbial biofertilizers as an alternative. This project includes partnerships across South Dakota and North Dakota.
  • RURAL CONFLUENCE: Communities and Academic Partners Uniting to Drive Discovery and Build Capacity for Climate Resilience, Oklahoma State University, Louisiana State University, and University of Nebraska-Lincoln – This project will engage rural communities to create shared frameworks for climate resilience; project climate change impacts and community resilience scenarios; and expand social, economic and STEM workforce opportunities for persons from underrepresented backgrounds. This project includes partnerships across Oklahoma, Louisiana, and Nebraska.
  • An interdisciplinary program for research, education, and outreach on climate change and adaptive resilience in the Yazoo – Mississippi Delta, Mississippi State University – This project will develop a scenario-based climate change model to conduct risk analyses, assess current social vulnerability to environmental hazards, determine impacts of climate-vulnerability and people’s health, increase climate literacy and broaden the STEM workforce in underserved communities. This project includes partnerships across Mississippi and South Carolina.
  • Community-Driven Coastal Climate Research & Solutions (3CRS) for the Resilience of New England Coastal Populations, Brown University – By developing a community-driven hub for knowledge, data, modeling and human network infrastructure, this project aims to develop strategies to enhance coastal resilience, particularly during floods. This project includes partnerships across Rhode Island, New Hampshire and Maine.
  • STORM: Data-Driven Approaches for Secure Electric Grids in Communities Disproportionately Impacted by Climate Change, University of Maine, South Dakota State University, University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez and University of Alaska Fairbanks – This project will engage underserved communities in local climate change solutions and knowledge translation for microgrid design, increase situational awareness of electric grids during extreme weather events, and study the community-engaged, data-driven operation of power grids. This project includes partnerships across Maine, South Dakota, Puerto Rico, and Alaska.
  • Where We Live: Local and Place Based Adaptation to Climate Change in Underserved Rural Communities, University of Idaho; University of South Carolina; and University of Nevada, Reno – This project aims to engage rural communities by using socio-environmental systems mapping to determine how small adaptation actions, during environmental threats, can produce community-scale resilience. This project includes partnerships across Idaho, South Carolina, and Nevada.
  • Advancing Social and Environmental Equity through Plastics Research: Education, Innovation, and Inclusion (ASPIRE), University of Southern Mississippi – Through the development of a regional hub for plastic-climate-health research, this project will address plastic waste challenges and their climate and health impacts, while building community climate resilience, advancing economic development and strengthening workforce diversity. This project includes partnerships across Mississippi and Alabama.
  • Sustainable Engineering Infrastructures and Solutions for Tribal Energy Sovereignty, University of North Dakota – This project intends to create technologies and infrastructure that will provide potential solutions for energy outages and shortages in tribal communities while enhancing pathways into STEM careers for native students. This project includes partnerships across North Dakota and Kansas.
  • Promoting N2O- and CO2-Relieved Nitrogen Fertilizers for Climate Change-Threatened Midwest Farming and Ranching, Iowa State University and Wichita State University – This project aims to create an electro-manufacturing system, powered by renewable energy, to produce green nitrogen fertilizers and sustainable practices that will alleviate greenhouse gas and nitrous oxide emissions, ensuring the economic prosperity of Midwest farming and ranching. This project includes partnerships across Iowa and Kansas.

Photo courtesy of Oklahoma State University.

Learn more about the ESPCoR program.

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