Aquatic Ecosystems, Water Quality, and Global Change: Challenges of Conducting Multi-Stressor Vulnerability Assessments (Final Report)

This report investigates the issues and challenges associated with identifying, calculating, and mapping indicators of the relative vulnerability of water quality and aquatic ecosystems, across the United States, to the potential adverse impacts of external forces such as long-term climate and land use change. Using a large set of environmental indicators drawn from the scientific and management literature, this draft report explores the conceptual and practical challenges associated with using such indicators to assess how the resilience of ecosystems and human systems may vary as a function of existing stresses and maladaptations.

More than 600 indicators of water quality and aquatic ecosystem condition are used, along with numerous datasets from the U.S. EPA, other federal agencies, and other organizations, as a testbed for identifying challenges and best practices (as well as gaps in ideas, methods, data, and tools) for calculating and mapping vulnerability nationally. Specifically:

  • Challenges associated with identifying those indicators that speak specifically to “vulnerability” as opposed to those reflecting simply a state or condition;
  • Challenges associated with calculating and estimating the values of these vulnerability indicators, including establishing important indicator thresholds that reflect abrupt or large changes in the vulnerability of water quality or aquatic ecosystems;
  • Challenges associated with mapping these vulnerability indicators nationally, including data availability and spatial aggregation of the data;
  • Challenges associated with combining and compositing indicators and developing multi-indicator indices of vulnerability.

This draft report is intended to be one building block for future work on multi-stressor global change vulnerability assessments. It is intended to improve linkages between the decision support needs of the water quality and aquatic ecosystem management communities, and the priorities and capabilities of the global change science data and modeling communities.

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Publication Date: August 2011

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  • Indicators


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