A Different Delta ForceUSGS and U.S. Department of State Assist in the Mekong Delta
The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) is bringing its broad scientific understanding of the Mississippi River Delta to bear on a similar river delta half a world away, the Mekong River Delta of Southeast Asia.
Through the U.S. government's Lower Mekong Initiative, the USGS Delta Research and Global Observation Network (DRAGON) Partnership will use its experience with the Mississippi River and its expertise in Earth-science modeling to help the Mekong countries assess how climate change and human activities could affect the ecology and food security of the Mekong Basin. Despite a geographic difference of 12 time zones, the Mississippi and Mekong River Deltas share many cultural, economic, and ecological similarities.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reported in its 2007 fourth assessment that nearly 300 million people live in a sample of 40 deltas worldwide, including all the large deltas. "Deltas, one of the largest sedimentary deposits in the world, are widely recognized," the report stated, "as highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, particularly sea-level rise and changes in runoff, as well as being subject to stresses imposed by human modification of catchment and delta-plain land use."
Last December, the USGS and the U.S. Department of State cosponsored a workshop titled "Understanding Risk and Vulnerability of Wetland Ecosystems at the Mekong and Mississippi Deltas to Climate Change and Sea-Level Rise" with the DRAGON Institute-Mekong at Can Tho University, Vietnam, December 9-11.
This workshop was part of a project whose centerpiece is "Forecast Mekong," an interactive data integration, modeling, and visualization system to help policy makers, resource managers, and the public understand and predict outcomes from climate change and development projects in the Mekong River Basin. When fully implemented by the USGS, in partnership with local governments and universities throughout the Mekong region, the Forecast Mekong program will provide a valuable planning tool to visualize the consequences of climate change and river management.
The December workshop brought together more than 75 participants to prioritize work and identify information gaps related to the Mekong Delta and climate change. Participants included scientists and government officials from Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Thailand, and China; representatives from the U.S. Department of State and nongovernmental organizations; and USGS scientists. Several important scientific issues emerged, including water quality and sedimentation, the impacts of hydropower development on biodiversity and food security, climate-change adaptation, changes in the timing and severity of seasonal floods, and fisheries productivity.
Next steps for the USGS will include participating in cooperative research with Mekong region scientists, providing technical expertise to facilitate data analysis and integration, conducting environmental monitoring, and creating science-visualization tools. Participants at the workshop also identified the need for training and technology transfer and the desire to establish stronger long-term collaboration with USGS scientists. The Forecast Mekong project will also help build the foundation for later activities through strengthening relationships with Mekong region scientists and organizations, data sharing, and joint research.
Forecast Mekong is a component of the DRAGON Partnership, which was created by the USGS in December 2007 in response to Hurricane Katrina and its impact on the vulnerable Mississippi River Delta (see related article in Sound Waves, January/February 2008). The devastating storm brought new urgency to the critical need to share information and data from major deltas around the world.
DRAGON creates an international community of practice among scientists and resource managers to share data on the great deltas and rivers of the world. Comparative studies are essential to understanding and predicting the effects of climate change, engineering projects, land use, hydrologic change, and other human impacts in these sensitive ecosystems. By developing comparative models and visualization tools, the DRAGON partners aim to help inform public-policy decisions that will affect delta inhabitants and ecology.
The U.S.-Lower Mekong Initiative was launched in 2009 by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and the Foreign Ministers of Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam to enhance U.S. engagement with the Lower Mekong countries in the areas of environment, health, education, and infrastructure.
in this issue:
USGS and U.S. Department of State Assist in the Mekong Delta