Scientists Across the Nation Address Uncertainty
in Marine & Coastal Resource Management

The natural world is incredibly complex, and even using the best observations and models, scientists will never be able to make perfect predictions about natural systems. Scientists can work toward reducing uncertainty through research and innovation, but some level of uncertainty will always be present. Therefore, natural resource managers have to live with and account for uncertainty when making decisions. They will best be able to do that if scientists quantify and communicate uncertainty in ways that are useful for decision-making.

Approaches to quantifying and communicating uncertainty transcend disciplines. When sociologists, ecologists, climatologists, and oceanographers work together, a set of best practices for modeling our nation’s aquatic ecosystems can emerge.

Uncertainty Workshop

This is precisely what happened when a diverse group of scientific experts from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA)’s Oceanic and Atmospheric Research (OAR), National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), National Ocean Service (NOS), and other federal agencies and academic partners met in Ann Arbor at the Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory April 13-15, 2015. These experts explored how NOAA conducts its modeling efforts across this range of disciplines.

uncertainty workshop participants

Workshop participants – Front row (kneeling), left to right: Fernando Gonzalez Taboada (OAR), Dana Hanselman (NMFS), Terra Lederhouse (NMFS), Mark Monaco (NOS), Doran Mason (OAR), Chris Legault (NMFS); Second row, left to right: Martin Dorn (NMFS), Sarah Gaichas (NMFS), Mariska Weijerman (NMFS), Eric Anderson (OAR), Hongyan Zhang (University of Michigan), Yan Jiao (Virginia Tech), Rick Methot (NMFS), Jessie Carman (OAR), Troy Hartley (Virginia Sea Grant); Back row, left to right: Charles Stock (OAR), Craig Stow (OAR), Gregg Jacobs (Naval Research Lab), Jim Ianelli (NMFS), Erik Olsen (Norwegian Institute of Marine Research), Jason Link (NMFS), Howard Townsend (NMFS), Al Hermann (OAR), John Kelley (NOS), Ed Rutherford (OAR), Patrick Lynch (NMFS); Not pictured: Karen Akerlof (George Mason University), Sol Hart (University of Michigan).

NOAA produces many models that directly inform and influence decision-making for the effective stewardship of our nation’s coastal, Great Lakes, and marine ecosystems and their living marine resources. These models inform a wide variety of management topics from fisheries to harmful algal blooms to climate change to nutrient loading to water mass movement and even interactions between whales and fish. As NOAA strives to continually improve the advice it gives, our scientists must fully consider and explore a range of important factors. This week afforded an opportunity to examine the methods and means of addressing, reviewing, and presenting model uncertainty across a wide range of NOAA models, particularly those that inform living marine resource management decisions.

NOAA scientists also exchanged a range of perspectives, approaches and technical details that will lead to ongoing interdisciplinary collaborative research and innovations across the agency. “I fully support these kinds of cross-organizational efforts” said Deborah Lee, director or GLERL. “The value of cross-fertilizing these different perspectives across this range of models cannot be overstated, even for just different stock assessment and ecosystem models used in a fisheries context,” said Rick Methot, Senior Scientist for Stock Assessments at NOAA Fisheries.