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September 25th, 2014

Sustainable Deltas 2015 launches in Rotterdam

Irina Overeem installs a water level logger in the Sundarban Mangrove Forest, Ganges Delta, Bangladesh, to detect flood water height during the summer monsoon. Photo by Stephanie Higgins, May 2012.

A unique initiative, Sustainable Deltas 2015 (SD2015), launched today at the Deltas in Times of Climate Change II International Conference in Rotterdam. The aim of the initiative is to focus attention and research on the value and vulnerability of deltas worldwide, and enhance international and regional cooperation among scientists, policymakers and other stakeholders.

Deltas cover only one percent of Earth, but are home to more than half a billion people. Deltas hold staggering economic value, upholding major cities, ports, fisheries, forests, and agriculture as well as diverse ecosystems. But climate change has put these key areas under threat. “The proportion of world deltas vulnerable to flooding is expected to increase by 50% in the 21st century, posing a serious threat to the deltas’ natural habitats and to the people living in these low-lying areas,” says Irina Overeem, INSTAAR researcher and Community Surface Dynamics Modeling System scientist.

There is an urgent need for a better understanding of the physical, biological, and socio-economic characteristics of deltas, how they are threatened, and what needs to be done to address these threats for a more secure future. “Many efforts exist on individual deltas around the world,” says Proferssor Efi Foufoula-Georgiou of the National Center for Earth-surface Dynamics at the University of Minnesota, “but there is no comprehensive global delta sustainability initiative that promotes awareness, science integration, data and knowledge sharing, and that provides the types of decision-support tools that assist collaboration between scientists, managers and policy-makers.”

Postdoc Kimberly Rogers discusses deposition from monsoonal flooding with a landowner on the Ganges Delta, Bangladesh. Photo by Irina Overeem, May 2012.

To fill this gap, Foufoula-Georgiou is leading DELTAS, an international team of experts covering 11 countries and funded by the Belmont Forum to create a global vision for sustainable deltas through research, science-to-action initiatives, and data sharing worldwide. This includes the SD2015 initiative, endorsed by the International Council for Science (ICSU) and by the Land-Ocean Interactions in the Coastal Zone (LOICZ) project. The aim of SD2015 is to focus attention and research on the value and vulnerability of deltas worldwide, and promote and enhance international and regional cooperation at the scientific, policy, and stakeholder level.

The session at the Rotterdam conference which launched the initiative gave an overview of the state of the art in delta research, followed by panel discussion and comments from the audience.

The SD2015 session is one of several that will be co-convened or contributed to by the international research team on deltas. Others include a workshop tomorrow that will link stakeholders and policymakers at the local and regional scale with scientists to identify key informational needs, and to design a research strategy to improve the reliability and access to the physical, biological, and human dimensions of delta systems. A full timetable of events is available from the DELTAS web site. The sessions will bring together leading managers, decision-makers, and researchers in the fields of governance, economics, industry and science.

SD2015 is the result of a community-led effort which spanned several years, with support from many scientific organizations including IGBP, WCRP, IUGG, IUGS, IGU, INQUA, LOICZ, ISPRS, IAPSO, NCED and American Rivers.