Catalyzing action towards the sustainability of deltas

Eduardo S. Brondizio, Efi Foufoula-Georgiou, Sylvia Szabo, Nathan Vogt, Zita Sebesvari, Fabrice G. Renaud, Alice Newton, Edward Anthony, Andressa V. Mansur, Zoe Matthews, Scott Hetrick, Sandra M. Costa, Zachary Tessler, Alejandro Tejedor, Anthony Longjas, John A. Dearing

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

27 Scopus citations


Deltaic systems are among the most dynamic and productive environments on Earth and many have a high population density. Deltas play a central role in food and water security but are increasingly facing hazards such as submergence, riverine and coastal flooding, and coastal erosion. This paper synthesizes efforts of the Belmont Forum Deltas project, an international network of interdisciplinary research collaboration with focal areas in the Mekong, the Ganges Brahmaputra, and the Amazon deltas. The inherent complexity and dearth of knowledge about deltas require disciplinary expertise to advance jointly with interdisciplinary collaboration. An overarching research framework articulates focal research areas and collaborative modules, serving as an umbrella for both crosscutting and specific research questions. These modules have allowed for common definition of goals, responsibilities, and products, but flexible and decentralized disciplinary and interdisciplinary collaborations. Self-organization within and across areas of expertise has proven effective in bringing collaborators to commit to specific efforts. Knowledge co-production workshops focusing on vulnerability and risk have successfully strengthened interactions with regional organizations. As a distributed network, challenges remain in terms of type of and level of interaction and hands-on collaborative work among research partners, including joint fieldwork, but successes far outweigh difficulties. To illustrate these points, we present a review of three research domains built upon different arrangements of disciplinary and interdisciplinary collaborations: advancing biophysical classifications of deltas, understanding deltas as coupled social-ecological systems, and analyzing and informing social and environmental vulnerabilities in delta regions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)182-194
Number of pages13
JournalCurrent Opinion in Environmental Sustainability
StatePublished - Apr 1 2016

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We acknowledge the support of the Belmont Forum funding program, in particular to the International BF-DELTAS project on “Catalyzing action towards sustainability of deltaic systems” including funding from the United States National Science Foundation ( NSF grant EAR-1342944 to the University of Minnesota NSF grant 1342898 to Indiana University) and other national agencies supporting the work of co-authors. It is also a tribute to the ‘Sustainable Deltas 2015’ (SD2015) Initiative endorsed by the International Council of Scientific Unions (ICSU), which aims to increase awareness of delta vulnerability worldwide and foster international collaboration, knowledge, and data exchange for actionable research towards delta sustainability. This work was also partially funded by NSF grant EAR-1242458 under the project LIFE: Linked Institutions for Future Earth. The co-authors are thankful for the support of their respective home institutions.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016 Elsevier B.V..


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