Southeast Texas Urban Integrated Field Laboratory: Equitable Solutions for Communities Caught Between Floods and Air Pollution


Paola Passalacqua1, Fernanda Leite1, Ethan Coon2* ([email protected]), Liv Haselbach3, Michelle Meyer4, Noel Estwick5, Sidney Lin4, Katherine Lieberknecht1, Geeta Persad1, Jaimie Masterson4, William Mobley1


1University of Texas–Austin, TX; 2Climate Change Science Institute, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Oak Ridge, TN; 3Texas A&M University, College Station, TX; 4Lamar University, Beaumont, TX; 5Prairie View A&M University, Prairie View, TX



The Gulf Coast contains an extensive and diverse range of natural features and human settlements, with a disproportionate number of vulnerable communities. The region faces regular acute-on-chronic hazards in which short-notice technological and natural stressors (e.g., coastal storms, oil spills) occur alongside long-term/chronic environmental, industrial, and social stressors (e.g., subsidence, population growth, toxic pollution). This region will serve as a bellwether of change, providing either successful or failed adaptation of these compounded and coupled crises. However, addressing these challenges requires scientific understanding in how the Earth system and the water cycle will change in the coming decades; (1) how anthropogenic alterations will affect the water cycle and air pollution through urbanization and human migration, water infrastructure, and land cover change; and (2) how community level green infrastructure intended to mitigate these stressors can in turn alter physical processes and the water cycle.

Researchers focus on the Beaumont-Port Arthur region, referred to herein as SETx-UIFL. This urban area represents the climate adaptation needs, population diversity and vulnerability, and ecological richness that characterize many urban centers along the Gulf Coast. Beaumont has experienced continued urban expansion and increased impervious cover over the past several decades; these changes have likely led to increased urban heat island effect and reduced capacity to absorb rainwater, exacerbating existing climate risk. In addition, the Beaumont, Port Arthur area is home to one of the nation’s largest petrochemical industrial complexes, which make it more vulnerable to climate-induced disasters capable of significant air toxics releases in addition to chronic air toxic exposures that can raise the risk of cancer and other adverse health outcomes.

The main goal is to address the following questions: which processes and variables need to be captured in regional scale hydrological and atmospheric models so that they are representative of the conditions experienced by local communities and help inform adaptation strategies? And how can researchers understand the linkages between and within natural, built, and social systems in urbanized regions to better support natural and human resilience? These questions are addressed via three cross-cutting Themes (Environment, Co-design, Equity), which are linked through data collection strategies and community engagement supported by a Knowledge Management Platform (KMP). Three Activity Areas (AAs) coordinate activities across the Themes and KMP to ensure impacts are useful beyond the SETx-UIFL.