Rural Resiliency: LSU Researchers to Help Communities Adapt to Climate Change

September 01, 2023

Department of Environmental Sciences Professors Nina Lam, Linda Hooper Bui and Rebeca de Jesus Crespo

Department of Environmental Sciences faculty (from left): Professor Nina Lam, Professor Linda Hooper-Bùi and Assistant Professor Rebeca de Jesús Crespo

BATON ROUGE - Rural areas can be some of the places most impacted by climate change, but when it comes to discussions of preparation and resiliency, they are all too often left out.

Faculty in the Department of Environmental Sciences, or DES, hope to begin remedying this situation with a new, $1.1 million grant from the National Science Foundation. It is part of a larger $6 million multi-institutional effort intended to help rural areas adapt to climate change.

The project is called “Rural Confluence: Communities and Academic Partners Uniting to Drive Discovery and Build Capacity for Climate Change” and, according to DES Professor Nina Lam, the principal investigator on the project, the name says it all.

She and her co- PIs, DES Professor Linda Hooper-Bùi and Assistant Professor Rebeca de Jesús Crespo, will  partner with a local community to tackle a different aspect of rural resiliency using a specific method. Lam noted that, just as the confluence in the name suggests, “we will all address the same research question, and results from one component will be used or linked with other components.”  

Not only will they work to help people in Louisiana’s small towns and agricultural areas find new ways to predict and handle the impacts of a changing climate, researchers will address related rural issues, such as depopulation, and ways to improve access to STEM related career pathways.

“People who live in rural areas have done a lot of things for a long time to create their own resilience,” said Bùi. “We would like to honor the knowledge they’ve built up over the years.”

This knowledge, she said, will be paired with scientific tools like modeling and Geographic Information Systems, or GIS, to assist communities in building capacity for resilience.

Lam, who is also an Abraham Distinguished Professor of Louisiana Environmental Studies, will be adapting her Resilience Inference Measurement, or RIM, model to fit the “slow burn challenges” of rural areas. The RIM model, a GIS tool, was originally built to better understand the impacts of a big, fast moving disaster like a hurricane. Now Lam plans to work with local communities to apply the principles of the model to issues like drought, and heat.

De Jesús Crespo will be employing a modeling tool to help map impacts of climate change in a given area. She will start by working with residents to understand what ecosystem services—benefits provided by a local ecosystem, such as clean water, pollination or flood control—exist in a specific area. She will then build models of how climate change can be expected to impact those services, and look for ways to mitigate those impacts.

“Ecosystem services can be an important element of resilience planning,” de Jesús Crespo said.

Another area of the grant will focus on meeting the community’s immediate needs. LSU students in the Gulf Scholars program will be embedded in different parishes, to assist in a variety of projects.

As an example, Bùi said “One of the things that we’ve found is that all of these areas need satellite phones after a hurricane. The students can help them write proposals with guidance to get the satellite phones, so they have immediate communication,” she said.

Once the grant is completed, Lam said, the NSF may use the framework developed by LSU researchers, and by their partners from Oklahoma State University, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and others, to assist communities around the country in preparation for the challenges brought by climate change.