Ocean sustainability embodies the approach required to manage our oceans and the services they provide.The oceans and in particular their coastal areas are an essential component of the Earth’s ecosystem hosting between 500,000 and 10 million species that provide a wide range of ecosystem services. The oceans are key contributors to the global economies also in the transportation, energy and tourism sectors. The United Nations estimated that “over three billion people depend on marine and coastal resources for their livelihoods”. The oceans and their resources are therefore critical to food security and human welfare, while providing an essential buffer to global climate warming and to the decline of biodiversity.
The fast population increase and its general movement towards coastal areas, regional mismanagement practices and global climate change are threatening the oceans and the service they provide. Pollution, overfishing, growing demand for ocean resources, anthropogenic climate change are few of the challenges that are negatively impacting the oceans environments. Comprehensive studies and solutions to insure a sustainable development of land- and marine- based human activities, and a reduction of the negative anthropogenic impacts on the marine environment are therefore required. Projects and solutions should be designed and implemented in an integrated, seamless, cross-sectoral and cross-scale manner.
Georgia Tech is very actively engaged in the development of sustainable solutions to a broad range of problems through multiple projects across campus, and students in the OSE program can take advantage of several resources while conducting research in ocean sustainability.
Social-Ecological Ocean Systems
Understanding how human activities affect marine resources, and how in turn societies are affected by changes in ocean systems is a key challenge in ocean research. An important framework that is currently used to explore the interactions between human systems and the different dimensions of the natural system is the Social-Ecological-Environmental Systems (SEES) approach. Although the need to consider multi-dimensional and interdisciplinary interactions has been long recognized, progress in developing integrated models to explore the sensitivity of specific SEES under different scenarios of change remains an area of active research. One of the goals of the OSE faculty is to develop new transdisciplinary projects with scientists in the School of Public Policy, School of Economic and Sheller College of Business to address emerging social-ecological issues in ocean systems, particularly in coastal areas.
Dr. Di Lorenzo explains a social-ecological framework to an intergovernmental organization that focuses on Pacific climate and ecosystems
Human societies depend on natural ecosystem services and biodiversity for their food, clothing, shelter, medicines, and to purify air and water and moderate climate, yet the activities of >7 billion humans are changing natural systems in ways that compromise their ability to provide these critical ecosystem services. These changes are not future predictions; they are present realities. This is especially true for ocean ecosystems, which comprise 70% of the Earth’s surface, hold a vast majority of Earth’s live forms, and absorb and buffer many consequences of over harvesting, pollution, habitat destruction, and global change. Examples of such ecosystems studied at Georgia Tech are coral reefs, marshes, mangroves, rivers, and lakes.
Increasing energy consumption and depleting reserves of fossil fuels resulted in growing interest in alternative renewable energy from the ocean. Ocean currents are an alternative source of clean energy due to their inherent reliability, persistence and sustainability. Researchers and engineers at Georgia Tech use advance regional ocean models to simulate tidal flows along the entire U.S. coastline and map the energy potential associated with tides and ocean currents, including basin-scale circulation features such as the Gulf Stream. Model simulations are complemented with engineering studies and testing of new ocean energy extracting devices.
Sustainable Planning and Development of Coasts
Creating sustainable and resilient cities requires understanding the network properties of food, energy, water and other infrastructure. At Georgia Tech several groups are working towards new methodologies to understand and quantify the resilience and sustainability of coastal areas such as the location-independent scalable framework for Community based Sustainable Coastal Area Resilience Planning (C-SCARP), and the Ecological Network Analysis (ENA) tool. These methods help managers to take into account the environmental, ecological and social dimensions of coastal systems in their development planning.