Identifying Cases

My project will consist of a series of case studies of modeling on the Chesapeake Bay with varying purposes, institutional circumstances, and degrees of participation from stakeholders. Drawing on these case studies, I will do a comparative analysis to understand the different performances of modeling and get a sense of the potential outcomes that can be expected from them. At the moment, I am in the process of collecting data – doing interviews and observations – with three cases of modeling in the Chesapeake Bay region, and I have a fourth potential case study that I’m trying to get involved with as well. Let me give a quick run-down of those.

1) The Chesapeake Bay Modeling System (CBMS) – This is by far the largest and most influential modeling effort in the Chesapeake Bay. It might even be one of the biggest modeling programs in the country. It’s a watershed-scale model, meaning that it covers parts of six states with a variety of political, economic, and ecological conditions. A suite of models are linked together to form the overarching Modeling System. This includes a watershed model, an airshed model, an estuary model, a land change model, and a scenario builder which uses input from the models to construct different possible scenarios for the Bay. The CBMS consists of a massive amount of code and requires a lot of computing power to run. It is housed with the Chesapeake Bay Program, but is produced with assistance from many partner institutions including academic researchers. The model is also a very controversial one because it influences and shapes almost all of the policy and practice that takes place in the region that affects water quality. As a result it has been the focus of a number of reviews and lawsuits claiming that the modeling is wrong. This makes it a very interesting case, and it will serve as the baseline for comparison with other modeling projects in the region.

2) UMCES Water Quality and Eel Grass Model – This model is the only one that doesn’t model effects on the Bay. Instead it is meant to model water quality on the ocean side of the Eastern Shore. It is a much smaller scale and simpler model that looks at the effects of management practices on water quality and, ultimately, on submerged aquatic vegetation (Eel Grass). It’s designed to be web-based so that it can be easily used by various researchers and management personnel in the area to understand the effects that different practices might have on the water in the area. In addition, it has been produced through a participatory process in which those same researchers and management personnel took part so that they could help inform the model-making process and develop a model that best suits their needs and goals.

3) UMD Economic/Ecological Model – I don’t know much about this model yet, because I haven’t had a chance to talk in detail with any of the people involved, and the modeling hasn’t quite gotten under way yet. My understanding is that it will be a linked model that attempts to simulate best management practices and their effects on both the economy and the ecology of the Bay. I don’t know the scale of the model, and I don’t know if that’s been decided yet. There is, as far as I know, no interest in having a participatory or collaborative component to the process, though the modelers are very interested in combining social data with ecological data.

4) NOAA Collective Impact Modeling – This is another model or set of models that I don’t know much about. “Collective Impact” is an approach to collaborative problem solving and decision making developed by researchers at Stanford. This approach is being applied by NOAA and other groups in the Choptank River watershed as an experiment in collaborative environmental management. The group either uses existing models or has developed models for the specific use of the collective impact group that help them to understand the ecological processes and make better informed decisions. I am in the process of contacting the people involved and trying to get a sense of the role that modeling plays.

I am still looking for perhaps one or two more case studies to fill out my research. In particular I am interested in fully collaborative modeling projects in which stakeholders take part in the actual process of modeling rather than simply serving as informants. My goal is to have a spectrum of different kinds of modeling represented so that I can make reasonable comparisons between them. I think the set that I have already provides an interesting picture of what modeling is like on the Bay – it will be interesting to see what else I come up with.