Traci Birch, assistant professor of architecture and managing director of the LSU Coastal Sustainability Studio (CSS), was one of 20 scientists awarded the 2019 Early-Career Research Fellowships by the National Academies’ Gulf Research Program. Among the select nationwide recipients is fellow LSU faculty member Rebeca de Jesus Crespo, assistant professor of environmental sciences. Now in its fifth year, the fellowship program supports the development of emerging scientific leaders who are prepared to work at the intersections of environmental health, community health and resilience, and offshore energy system safety in the Gulf of Mexico and other U.S. coastal regions.
The Gulf Research Program’s Early-Career Research Fellowship aims to help early-career researchers during the critical pre-tenure phase of their careers. Fellows are provided with a $76,000 financial award along with mentoring support. The support allows them to take risks on research ideas, pursue unique collaborations, and build a network of colleagues who share their interest in improving offshore energy system safety and the resilience of coastal communities and ecosystems.
“Through the support of this fellowship, I will be able to expand on my research and create new tools and partnerships to specifically address cultural resilience needs. Cultural resilience is the capacity of a cultural system, consisting of the common and unique cultural processes in a community to absorb adversity, deal with change and continue to thrive and develop,” Birch said. “Honoring people’s connections to their environment, and the layers of history and activity that comprise cultural landscapes is fundamental to a community’s resilience. Simply put, it is the glue that binds people together as a community in the face of abrupt and gradual environmental change. Without cultural wellbeing, there is no social wellbeing, and arguably no economic wellbeing either.”
Birch’s research is situated across coupled inland-coastal regions at the intersection of community planning, social equity, and ecosystem management. “While I focus on the concepts of justice and resilience – it is with a critical eye that I examine community-level resilience efforts,” she said.
Since coming to LSU in 2015 to work with the CSS, Birch’s work has focused on: 1) how climate change is impacting, or is likely to impact communities connected across coastal ecosystems, 2) how do communities respond to threats from environmental change, and 3) how can researchers, community members, and policy makers partner to address current and future vulnerabilities and develop effective tools to adapt and sustain communities over time.
“For the last few years, my primary focus has been in Louisiana’s I-12 corridor across the Baton Rouge and New Orleans regions. Baton Rouge is an inland community, but it is culturally and infrastructurally tied to the coast,” she explained. “Historically the area was seen as a safe haven for residents migrating away from coastal vulnerabilities. Unfortunately, a series of inland floods in 2016 have shaken this resolve. There is now greater recognition that climate change and adaptation are not simply coastline endeavors, but are conditions requiring coordinated efforts across coastal ecosystems.”
“I believe that it is through critical type of research that individuals, communities, and researchers can better understand the short- and long-term impacts of climate change, community priorities given scarce resources, and how local knowledge can be used to develop innovative adaptation strategies,” Birch said.
The National Academies’ Gulf Research Program is an independent, science-based program founded in 2013 as part of legal settlements with the companies involved in the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster. It seeks to enhance offshore energy system safety and protect human health and the environment by catalyzing advances in science, practice, and capacity to generate long-term benefits for the Gulf of Mexico region and the nation. The program has $500 million for use over 30 years to fund studies, projects, and other activities in the areas of research and development, education and training, and monitoring and synthesis. Visit nationalacademies.org/gulf to learn more.
The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine are private, nonprofit institutions that provide independent, objective analysis and advice to the nation to solve complex problems and inform public policy decisions related to science, technology, and medicine. For more information, visit nationalacademies.org.