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Concept: Gulf Coast of the United States


Coastal risks are increasing from both development and climate change. Interest is growing in the protective role that coastal nature-based measures (or green infrastructure), such as reefs and wetlands, can play in adapting to these risks. However, a lack of quantitative information on their relative costs and benefits is one principal factor limiting their use more broadly. Here, we apply a quantitative risk assessment framework to assess coastal flood risk (from climate change and economic exposure growth) across the United States Gulf of Mexico coast to compare the cost effectiveness of different adaptation measures. These include nature-based (e.g. oyster reef restoration), structural or grey (e.g., seawalls) and policy measures (e.g. home elevation). We first find that coastal development will be a critical driver of risk, particularly for major disasters, but climate change will cause more recurrent losses through changes in storms and relative sea level rise. By 2030, flooding will cost $134-176.6 billion (for different economic growth scenarios), but as the effects of climate change, land subsidence and concentration of assets in the coastal zone increase, annualized risk will more than double by 2050 with respect to 2030. However, from the portfolio we studied, the set of cost-effective adaptation measures (with benefit to cost ratios above 1) could prevent up to $57-101 billion in losses, which represents 42.8-57.2% of the total risk. Nature-based adaptation options could avert more than $50 billion of these costs, and do so cost effectively with average benefit to cost ratios above 3.5. Wetland and oyster reef restoration are found to be particularly cost-effective. This study demonstrates that the cost effectiveness of nature-based, grey and policy measures can be compared quantitatively with one another, and that the cost effectiveness of adaptation becomes more attractive as climate change and coastal development intensifies in the future. It also shows that investments in nature-based adaptation could meet multiple objectives for environmental restoration, adaptation and flood risk reduction.

Concepts: Costs, Risk, United States, Economics, Coast, Risk assessment, Gulf Coast of the United States, Flood


The United States Gulf Coast’s current risk to Zika transmitted by Aedes aegypti mosquitoes can be traced back to some important federal health policy decisions made during the 1960s.

Concepts: United States, U.S. state, Aedes, Gulf War, Mexico, Louisiana, Gulf Coast of the United States, Humid subtropical climate


The 2010 British Petroleum (BP) Deepwater Horizon oil spill highlighted long-standing questions about energy exploration and its social and environmental implications. Sociologists studying environmental disasters have documented the social impacts resulting from these events and dissatisfaction with government and industry responses. In this paper, we use data from a survey conducted during the Gulf of Mexico oil spill to examine how Louisiana and Florida residents' social backgrounds, experiences with the spill, and trust in information sources predict their perceptions of governmental and BP response efforts. We find that direct personal impacts and compensation strongly influence the evaluations of responding organizations. Age and place of residence also predict such assessments. Finally, levels of confidence in television news and BP as sources of information appear to shape Gulf Coast residents' opinions about the work of organizations responding to the Deepwater Horizon disaster.

Concepts: Petroleum, Mexico, Government, Louisiana, Gulf of Mexico, Mississippi River, Gulf Coast of the United States, Galveston, Texas


National-scale emissions of carbon tetrachloride (CCl4) are derived based on inverse modeling of atmospheric observations at multiple sites across the United States from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s flask air sampling network. We estimate an annual average US emission of 4.0 (2.0-6.5) Gg CCl4 y(-1) during 2008-2012, which is almost two orders of magnitude larger than reported to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) (mean of 0.06 Gg y(-1)) but only 8% (3-22%) of global CCl4 emissions during these years. Emissive regions identified by the observations and consistently shown in all inversion results include the Gulf Coast states, the San Francisco Bay Area in California, and the Denver area in Colorado. Both the observation-derived emissions and the US EPA TRI identified Texas and Louisiana as the largest contributors, accounting for one- to two-thirds of the US national total CCl4 emission during 2008-2012. These results are qualitatively consistent with multiple aircraft and ship surveys conducted in earlier years, which suggested significant enhancements in atmospheric mole fractions measured near Houston and surrounding areas. Furthermore, the emission distribution derived for CCl4 throughout the United States is more consistent with the distribution of industrial activities included in the TRI than with the distribution of other potential CCl4 sources such as uncapped landfills or activities related to population density (e.g., use of chlorine-containing bleach).

Concepts: United States, California, United States Environmental Protection Agency, Gulf War, Louisiana, Gulf Coast of the United States, Air pollution, San Francisco


In the past decade, Houston, Texas has been virtually overrun by an unidentified ant species, the sudden appearance and enormous population sizes and densities of which have received national media attention. The Rasberry Crazy Ant, as it has become known due to its uncertain species status, has since spread to neighboring states and is still a major concern to pest control officials. Previous attempts at identifying this species have resulted in widely different conclusions in regards to its native range, source, and biology. We identify this highly invasive pest species as Nylanderia fulva (Mayr) using morphometric data measured from 14 characters, molecular sequence data consisting of 4,669 aligned nucleotide sites from six independent loci and comparison with type specimens. This identification will allow for the study and control of this emerging pest species to proceed unencumbered by taxonomic uncertainty. We also show that N. fulva has a much wider distribution than previously thought and has most likely invaded all of the Gulf Coast states.

Concepts: Molecular biology, Biology, United States, California, Gulf War, Ant, Gulf Coast of the United States, Houston


Over the past several decades, the economic damage from flooding in the coastal areas has greatly increased due to rapid coastal development coupled with possible climate change impacts. One effective way to mitigate excessive economic losses from flooding is to purchase flood insurance. Only a minority of coastal residents however have taken this preventive measure. Using original survey data for all coastal counties of the United States Gulf Coast merged with contextual data, this study examines the effects of external influences and perceptions of flood-related risks on individuals' voluntary behaviors to purchase flood insurance. It is found that the estimated flood hazard conveyed through the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA’s) flood maps, the intensities and consequences of past storms and flooding events, and perceived flood-related risks significantly affect individual’s voluntary purchase of flood insurance. This behavior is also influenced by home ownership, trust in local government, education, and income. These findings have several important policy implications. First, FEMA’s flood maps have been effective in conveying local flood risks to coastal residents, and correspondingly influencing their decisions to voluntarily seek flood insurance in the U.S. Gulf Coast. Flood maps therefore should be updated frequently to reflect timely and accurate information about flood hazards. Second, policy makers should design strategies to increase homeowners' trust in the local government, to better communicate flood risks with residents, to address the affordability issue for the low-income, and better inform less educated homeowners through various educational programs. Future studies should examine the voluntary flood insurance behavior across countries that are vulnerable to flooding.

Concepts: Psychology, Risk, United States, Perception, Insurance, Hazard, Gulf Coast of the United States, Federal Emergency Management Agency


In the United States, all previously reported cases of Rickettsia parkeri rickettsiosis have been linked to transmission by the Gulf Coast tick (Amblyomma maculatum). Here we describe 1 confirmed and 1 probable case of R. parkeri rickettsiosis acquired in a mountainous region of southern Arizona, well beyond the recognized geographic range of A. maculatum ticks. The likely vector for these 2 infections was identified as the Amblyomma triste tick, a Neotropical species only recently recognized in the United States. Identification of R. parkeri rickettsiosis in southern Arizona demonstrates a need for local ecologic and epidemiologic assessments to better understand geographic distribution and define public health risk. Education and outreach aimed at persons recreating or working in this region of southern Arizona would improve awareness and promote prevention of tickborne rickettsioses.

Concepts: Public health, United States, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, U.S. state, Gulf War, Southern United States, Louisiana, Gulf Coast of the United States


The Deepwater Horizon oil rig disaster resulted in crude oil contamination along the Gulf coast in sensitive estuaries. Toxicity from exposure to crude oil can affect populations of fish that live or breed in oiled habitats as seen following the Exxon Valdez oil spill. In an ongoing study of the effects of Deepwater Horizon crude oil on fish, Gulf killifish ( Fundulus grandis ) were collected from an oiled site (Grande Terre, LA) and two reference locations (coastal MS and AL) and monitored for measures of exposure to crude oil. Killifish collected from Grande Terre had divergent gene expression in the liver and gill tissue coincident with the arrival of contaminating oil and up-regulation of cytochrome P4501A (CYP1A) protein in gill, liver, intestine, and head kidney for over one year following peak landfall of oil (August 2011) compared to fish collected from reference sites. Furthermore, laboratory exposures of Gulf killifish embryos to field-collected sediments from Grande Terre and Barataria Bay, LA, also resulted in increased CYP1A and developmental abnormalities when exposed to sediments collected from oiled sites compared to exposure to sediments collected from a reference site. These data are predictive of population-level impacts in fish exposed to sediments from oiled locations along the Gulf of Mexico coast.

Concepts: Petroleum, Mexico, Louisiana, Gulf of Mexico, Gulf Coast of the United States, Exxon Valdez oil spill, Exxon Valdez, ExxonMobil


Barrier islands on the north coast of the Gulf of Mexico are an internationally important coastal resource. Each spring hundreds of thousands of Nearctic-Neotropical songbirds crossing the Gulf of Mexico during spring migration use these islands because they provide the first landfall for individuals following a trans-Gulf migratory route. The effects of climate change, particularly sea level rise, may negatively impact habitat availability for migrants on barrier islands. Our objectives were (1) to confirm the use of St. George Island, Florida by trans-Gulf migrants and (2) to determine whether forested stopover habitat will be available for migrants on St. George Island following sea level rise. We used avian transect data, geographic information systems, remote sensing, and simulation modelling to investigate the potential effects of three different sea level rise scenarios (0.28 m, 0.82 m, and 2 m) on habitat availability for trans-Gulf migrants. We found considerable use of the island by spring trans-Gulf migrants. Migrants were most abundant in areas with low elevation, high canopy height, and high coverage of forests and scrub/shrub. A substantial percentage of forest (44%) will be lost by 2100 assuming moderate sea level rise (0.82 m). Thus, as sea level rise progresses, less forests will be available for migrants during stopover. Many migratory bird species' populations are declining, and degradation of barrier island stopover habitat may further increase the cost of migration for many individuals. To preserve this coastal resource, conservation and wise management of migratory stopover areas, especially near ecological barriers like the Gulf of Mexico, will be essential as sea levels rise.

Concepts: Oceanography, Geographic information system, Bird, Florida, North America, Gulf of Mexico, Gulf Coast of the United States, Coastal and oceanic landforms


Predicting how migratory animals respond to changing climatic conditions requires knowledge of how climatic events affect each phase of the annual cycle and how those effects carry-over to subsequent phases. We utilized a 17-year migration dataset to examine how El Niño-Southern Oscillation climatic events in geographically different regions of the Western hemisphere carry-over to impact the stopover biology of several intercontinental migratory bird species. We found that migratory birds that over-wintered in South America experienced significantly drier environments during El Niño years, as reflected by reduced Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) values, and arrived at stopover sites in reduced energetic condition during spring migration. During El Niño years migrants were also more likely to stopover immediately along the northern Gulf coast of the southeastern U.S. after crossing the Gulf of Mexico in small suboptimal forest patches where food resources are lower and migrant density often greater than larger more contiguous forests further inland. In contrast, NDVI values did not differ between El Niño and La Niña years in Caribbean-Central America, and we found no difference in energetic condition or use of coastal habitats for migrants en route from Caribbean-Central America wintering areas. Birds over-wintering in both regions had consistent median arrival dates along the northern Gulf coast, suggesting that there is a strong drive for birds to maintain their time program regardless of their overall condition. We provide strong evidence that not only is the stopover biology of migratory landbirds influenced by events during the previous phase of their life-cycle, but where migratory birds over-winter determines how vulnerable they are to global climatic cycles. Increased frequency and intensity of ENSO events over the coming decades, as predicted by climatic models, may disproportionately influence long-distance migrants over-wintering in South America.

Concepts: United States, Bird, Cuckoo, Human migration, Normalized Difference Vegetation Index, Louisiana, Gulf of Mexico, Gulf Coast of the United States