Deltas cover 1% of Earth but are home to over half a billion people, with diverse and rich ecosystems that support large fisheries, forest production, and agriculture, as well as major urban centers, ports, and harbors. But worldwide delta systems, including the people, economies, infrastructure, and ecology they support, are under threat from a range of natural and anthropogenic activities.
“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,” said Dr. Irina Overeem, Research Scientist for the Community Surface Dynamics Modelling System Facility at University of Colorado.
“Dr. Robert Costanza at the Australian National University recently led some global studies of the value of ecosystems services provided by major terrestrial, freshwater and marine biomes, and showed that coastal systems such as estuaries, and tidal marshes and sea grass beds typically found in deltas are among the most economically important on earth,” said Dr. Ian Harrison, Senior Manager for Conservation International’s Freshwater Science and Policy.
Yet, worldwide delta systems, including the people, economies, infrastructure, and ecology they support, are under threat from a range of natural and anthropogenic activities. 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,” she added.
To achieve this, Foufoula-Georgiou is leading an international team of experts covering 11 countries and funded by the Belmont Forum to create a global vision for sustainable deltas via advancing research, science-to-action initiatives, and data sharing worldwide. This includes an initiative, endorsed by the International Council for Science (ICSU) and by the Land-Ocean Interactions in the Coastal Zone (LOICZ) project, called ‘Sustainable Deltas 2015’ (SD2015). 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.
The SD2015 session is one of several that will be co-convened or contributed to by the Belmont Forum funded, international research team on deltas. This will include a workshop on September 26 that will link stakeholders and policymakers at the local and regional scale with scientists to identify key information 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 Belmont Forum DELTAS website. 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.