College of Engineering News Room

A USF-led Team Awarded NSF Convergence Accelerator Grant to Link the Green Economy to the Blue Economy at the Coast

A USF-led team headed by Maya Trotz, environmental engineering professor and principal investigator (PI), has been awarded a grant by the National Science Foundation (NSF) for a project titled: "Linking the Green Economy to the Blue Economy at the Coast." The phase I grant awards up to $750,000 to develop the concept, identify team members, and participate in the innovation curriculum coordinated by the NSF.

The grant is part of a new NSF Convergence Accelerator program, uniquely designed to instill multidisciplinary team science skills among research teams while addressing national-scale societal challenges.

Trotz is also PI on an NSF Research Traineeship Program, NRT Strong Coasts, that develops a community-engaged training and research program in systems thinking for graduate students to better manage complex and interconnected food, energy, and water systems in coastal locations.

Strong Coasts logo

“The NRT Strong Coasts really emphasizes the importance of connecting with people and building long-term partnerships with community organizations,” Trotz said. “This accelerator grant allows us to connect upstream and coastal communities in a way that allows people to learn from and with each other, and apply best practices to the budding Blue Economy space.”

Ocean-related industries and resources continue to play a central role in addressing challenges related to climate, sustainability, food, energy, pollution, and the economy. The overarching track goal is to interconnect the Blue Economy and accelerate convergence across ocean sectors; creating a smart, integrated, connected, and open ecosystem for ocean innovation, exploration, and sustainable utilization.

“The Convergence Accelerator’s curriculum, consisting of human-centered design; user discovery; team science; early-stage prototyping; and pitch preparation is designed to provide our funded teams the tools to transition their solutions into practice,” said Douglas Maughan, Office Head of the NSF Convergence Accelerator program.

USF College of Marine Science oceanographer and project co-investigator Frank Muller-Karger said that the Blue Economy is fundamentally based on science and knowledge.

“We plan to provide knowledge about better management of nutrients and other pollutants that wash downriver and affect the health and economy of people living along the coast," Muller-Karger said. "The project intends to make the economy along the entire watershed more robust for everyone.”

pilot site locations

The project addresses social and economic challenges of coastal communities that are connected to upstream land use and development in a way that benefits the communities in the entire watershed. Using three watersheds as living laboratories, the project will explore the connections between coastal and upstream communities in the U.S. Virgin Islands, Tampa Bay, and the continental-scale watershed of the Mississippi River. The research team will work with a diverse cross-section of Blue-Green ‘frontline’ communities to co-develop a platform for exchanging information that improves public health, environmental quality, and the economy.

David Cwiertny, co-PI and the William D. Ashton Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Iowa, and director of the state-funded Center for Health Effects of Environmental Contamination, said that many communities across the United States are struggling to address resource degradation due to climate change and environmental pollution.

“This in turn affects public health and limits the ability of these communities to grow and thrive,” Cwiertny said. “I’m excited to be working with the team from the University of South Florida to help link these communities across watersheds, and provide them with tools, best practices, and actionable evidence to inform more sustainable decision making.”

Coastal areas support major industries like shipping, tourism, seafood, pharmaceuticals, oil, wind energy and other renewable energy sources. Academic research and national defense are also at the core of local recreation and many cultural activities. These activities translate into local jobs for nearly 50 percent of the U.S. population. Many coastal communities, both in the United States and internationally, are at the forefront of impacts of climate change and upstream activities associated with land-based agriculture practices, other industries, and urbanization. Those upstream green economy activities influence water quantity and quality downstream, diminishing the ability of many coastal communities to develop the full and sustainable potential of an ocean-based Blue Economy. 

Project co-PI and Tampa Bay Estuary Program Assistant Director Maya Burke said that one of every five jobs in the Tampa Bay region depends on a healthy bay.

“Collaborative, evidence-based nutrient management has been central to the recovery of seagrass resources in the Bay,” Burke said. “We’re looking forward to applying lessons learned from this project for the triple bottom line in our watershed and beyond.”

The project addresses the grand challenges of the National Academy of Engineering of managing the nitrogen cycle, sequestering carbon, and restoring and improving urban infrastructure, as well as the five grand challenges for environmental engineering, especially that of fostering informed decisions and actions.