Vulnerability Assessments in Support of the Climate Ready Estuaries Program: A Novel Approach Using Expert Judgment, Volume I: Results for the San Francisco Estuary Partnership (External Review Draft)

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As part of the Climate Ready Estuaries (CRE) program, the Global Change Research Program (GCRP) in the National Center for Environmental Assessment, Office of Research and Development at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has prepared this draft report exploring a new methodology for climate change vulnerability assessments using San Francisco Bay’s salt marsh and mudflat ecosystems as a demonstration.

Estuarine ecosystems are highly vulnerable to climate-related changes in precipitation, hydrology, and sea level rise. As part of the CRE pilot program, GCRP collaborated with the San Francisco Estuary Partnership (SFEP) and the Massachusetts Bays Program (MBP) on ecological vulnerability assessments based on an expert elicitation exercise in a workshop setting. The results will be published as a series, with Volume I presenting the results for SFEP and Volume II presenting the results for MBP. For this project, an exercise was designed to elicit judgments from experts regarding climate change effects on two ecosystem processes for each pilot assessment: sediment retention and community interactions. The exercise is based on a novel application of expert elicitation (a process for obtaining the judgments of groups of experts to characterize their collective knowledge about ecological questions of interest). It was implemented during a two-day workshop using groups of seven expert participants for each ecosystem process examined.

During the workshop, the experts developed ecosystem models and used a coding scheme to characterize (1) relationships among key physical and ecological variables that regulate ecosystem processes, (2) relative sensitivities of these relationships under current and future climate change scenarios, (3) degree of confidence about these relationships, and (4) implications for management. This report shows how climate-sensitive pathways can be identified and linked to management options for adaptation to climate change. Adaptation refers to the ways in which management actions can be modified to reduce the negative impacts of climate change. The results of this study are designed to support SFEP’s adaptation planning efforts as well as those of other estuary managers.




Following this review, this report will be revised and the final vulnerability assessment will be published on the Global Adaptation web site. Publication is expected in late 2011/early 2012.

Volume II for the Massachusetts Bays Program will be reviewed, revised and published concurrently.

A third volume, Lessons Learned, will be developed subsequent to publication of the first two volumes. This Volume III will compare the results of the two parallel assessments, explore synthetic conclusions, analyze the utility of the methodology for future use, and discuss potential improvements.


U.S. EPA. Vulnerability Assessments in Support of the Climate Ready Estuaries Program: A Novel Approach Using Expert Judgment, Volume I: Results for the San Francisco Estuary Partnership (External Review Draft). U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Washington, DC, EPA/600/R-11/058A, 2011.


Oct 2008Stakeholder “kickoff” workshop, San Francisco
Mar 2010Expert elicitation workshop, San Francisco
Dec 2010EPA completed an internal review of the SFEP draft report.
Sep 2011EPA released the External Review Draft (SFEP) report for a 30-day public comment and review perod.

Additional Information

Comments on the assessment may be submitted and reviewed using the e-Government Web site. From the site, select Environmental Protection Agency and the key word EPA- HQ-ORD-2011-0485 (for the docket ID).