A groundbreaking $1.1 million project funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and designed by the Department of Environmental Science (DES) at Louisiana State University (LSU) ensures that rural areas, often overlooked in discussions about climate change preparedness, are now in focus.

This initiative, part of a broader $6 million multi-institutional effort, aims to empower rural communities in adapting to the challenges posed by climate change.

Led by DES researchers, the project, Rural Confluence: Communities and Academic Partners Uniting to Drive Discovery and Build Capacity for Climate Change, seeks to unite local communities with academic expertise to address rural resiliency.

Nina Lam, PhD
Nina Lam, PhD

Professor Nina Lam, PhD, the project’s principal investigator, emphasized the collaborative nature of the endeavor. Lam, along with co-principal investigators Professor Linda Hooper-Bùi, PhD, and Assistant Professor Rebeca de Jesús Crespo, PhD, will each partner with a local community in Louisiana to explore a specific aspect of rural resiliency.

Hooper-Bùi highlighted the importance of acknowledging the efforts and knowledge already present in rural communities. “People who live in rural areas have done a lot of things for a long time to create their own resilience. We would like to honor the knowledge they’ve built up over the years,” she says.

Linda Hooper-Bùi, PhD
Linda Hooper-Bùi, PhD

The project will integrate local knowledge with scientific tools such as modeling and geographic information systems (GIS) to enhance communities’ capacity for resilience.

Lam will adapt her Resilience Inference Measurement (RIM) model to address the nuanced challenges faced by rural areas, emphasizing “slow burn challenges” like droughts and heat. Originally designed for fast-moving disasters like hurricanes, the RIM model, a GIS tool, will be tailored to better understand and mitigate the impacts of climate change on rural areas.

Rebeca de Jesús Crespo, PhD
Rebeca de Jesús Crespo, PhD

De Jesús Crespo will utilize modeling tools to map the impacts of climate change in specific areas, emphasizing the importance of ecosystem services. By engaging with residents to identify and understand existing ecosystem services, the project will explore strategies for future preservation and mitigation of climate change-related declines.

In addition to these efforts, the grant allows for LSU students in the Gulf Scholars Program to work within different parishes to meet their more immediate needs, such as facilitating communication in the aftermath of disasters.

Upon completion of the project, Lam envisions that the NSF may adopt the framework developed by LSU researchers and other institutions. This could serve as a model for assisting communities nationwide in preparing for the challenges posed by climate change.
The Rural Confluence project represents a significant step toward inclusive, community-driven climate resilience strategies, bridging the gap between scientific expertise and local knowledge in rural America.●

This article was published in our January/February 2024 issue.