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Advancing Tribal Data Sovereignty

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With funding from the OU Data Institute for Societal Challenges, this project seeks to expand dialogues on indigenous data sovereignty in health, the environment, and with respect to cultural heritage. The project will host a series of convenings between OU faculty, staff, and students and representatives of tribal nations to identify ways to better support tribal control and use of data.

CASR Lead: Paul Spicer 

Severe Weather and Society

Dr. Friedman (second from right) taking fieldnotes in an NWS WFO during a severe weather event.
Dr. Friedman (second from right) taking fieldnotes in an NWS WFO during a severe weather event.

The nature of contemporary challenges facing the various elements of the Weather Enterprise — from basics science in meteorology, climate science, and engineering, to the operational meteorology of the National Weather Service (NWS), to science and communication challenges facing broadcast meteorology, to emergency managers and other core partners, to the public’s preparedness for and response to weather hazards — is complex and benefits from applied social science research. Since 2015, Friedman and multiple collaborators have led 7 NOAA-funded research projects examining how uncertainty and vulnerability intersect across all elements in the Weather Enterprise. This research has included in situ fieldwork observing everyday practices, behavior, and communication before, during, and after severe weather events in NWS Weather Forecasting Offices (WFO), among emergency managers, among broadcast meteorologists, and even at the household level. Together, this wide-ranging research has identified discrete “uncertainty pathways” (e.g., numerical model guidance, observational limitations, social media skepticism, etc.) that reveal a number of lingering challenges as well as potential opportunities for saving lives.

Representation of the central questions and findings that have contributed to the development of the Brief Vulnerability Overview Tool (BVOT) across a number of research projects as it has moved through (or, prepares to move through) a number of Readiness Levels. Note that the purple boxes reflect a NOAA SBE proposal that we expect to begin August 1, 2021.

Representation of the central questions and findings that have contributed to the development of the Brief Vulnerability Overview Tool (BVOT) across a number of research projects as it has moved through (or, prepares to move through) a number of Readiness Levels. Note that the purple boxes reflect a NOAA SBE proposal that we expect to begin August 1, 2021.

In particular, this interlinked research has resulted in the development (and current laboratory and field-based testing and assessment) of the Brief Vulnerability Overview Tool (BVOT). The BVOT was developed in a collaboration between Dr. Jack R. Friedman and Dr. Daphne LaDue (OU, CAPS), and seeks to establish methods that can be used to gather and intuitively display vulnerability knowledge — local experts’ knowledge about discrete, spatially-specific vulnerabilities associated with hazardous weather conditions — to improve NWS WFO meteorologists’ spatial situational awareness. The goal is to provide these NWS meteorologists’ capacities to rapidly message weather risk information to core partners and members of the public based on the intersection of forecasted/observed weather hazards and discrete, known vulnerabilities.

More detailed overview of the BVOT can be found here

Collaborators: Dr. Daphne LaDue (OU, CAPS), Dr. Laura Myers (Univ. of Alabama, CAPS), Dr. Susan Jasko (Univ. of Alabama, CAPS), Jacob Reed (Univ. of Alabama, CAPS)

Postdoctoral Research Fellows: Dr. Michelle Saunders (OU, CASR), Dr. Elizabeth Hurst (OU, CASR)

Graduate Research Assistants: Melissa Lamkin (OU, CIMMS), Samantha Jung (OU, Dept. of Geography and Environmental Sustainability)

Undergraduate Research Assistants: Martin Farrell (OU, Dept. of Geography and Environmental Sustainability, 2019), Kendrick Streeter (OU, Dept. of Geography and Environmental Sustainability, 2020)

Socio-Ecological Research

OK NSF EPSCoR (2013-2018)

From 2013-2018, the state of Oklahoma benefited from an NSF EPSCoR grant entitled Adapting Socio-ecological Systems to Increased Climate Variability. The project included partners from the University of Oklahoma, Oklahoma State University, Tulsa University, the Sam Noble Foundation, and a number of important Native American tribal partners. The project not only sought to understand the interaction between social and ecological systems, but, also sought to improve the capacity of Oklahoma to pursue future and on-going research on this topic. The mission statement was:

“The mission of this project was to catalyze competitive multidisciplinary research across the state through increased capacity to perform research at the boundaries of disciplines and make those outcomes accessible and available to investigators, educators and students, policy makers, other stakeholders, the citizens of Oklahoma and the nation. This project developed this new capacity through three structures: (1) a socio-ecological observatory; (2) a socio-ecological modeling and prediction system; and (3) a decision-support system. These sustainable structures were leveraged to engage new partners, collaborators, and stakeholders in significant research, education, and outreach efforts benefitting the next generation of the STEM workforce and the state’s research and economic competitiveness.”


Sign in southeast OK reflecting the contentious struggle over water across the state. (Jack R. Friedman)

Dr. Friedman, in collaboration with Dr. Paul Spicer, brought together a team of environmental anthropologists to conduct extended (1-year+) participant observation in four watersheds across the state of Oklahoma. Driven by the fieldwork of Drs. Van Winkle and Stanton, we sought to understand how each of these watersheds faced significantly different challenges — from concerns about the future of agriculture in a regions with mostly unmanaged and unregulated groundwater withdrawals, to regions where surface water rights and ownership threaten both indigenous development and local ecosystems, to more arid ranching regions of the state that are facing significant land use transitions. This research resulted in dozens of conference presentations and multiple publications.

For an overview of the research and the study regions, please follow this link to access all four of our regional story maps.

Collaborator: Dr. Paul Spicer (OU, Dept. of Anthropology)

Postdoctoral Research Fellows: Dr. Tony Van Winkle (OU, CASR), Dr. Michael Stanton (OU, CASR)

Graduate Research Assistants: Miriam Laytner (OU, Dept. of Anthropology), Samantha Jung (OU, Dept. of Geography and Environmental Sustainability)

Undergraduate Research Assistants: Mary Beers, Morgan Fehrle, Randy Hernandez, Heidi Hilts, Melanie Purdy

USGS Rio Grande Study (2015-2020)

Informing the Management and Coordination of Water Resources in the Rio Grande Basin

Understanding how to manage scarce water during drought associated with climate change is one of the great challenges we face as a society. The Rio Grande/Bravo River Basin presents one of the biggest challenges, in this regard, for the United States. The Rio Grande/Bravo – running through Colorado, New Mexico, Texas, and Mexico – has, traditionally, been managed by different sets of laws, rules governing water rights, and water authorities that control the use of water. In addition, the human demands for water – from cities like Albuquerque and El Paso, to agricultural/ranching uses, to recreational uses of the river – vary greatly across the basin. The researchers involved in this project studied how these different factors affect seven different regions of the Rio Grande/Bravo – from Colorado to the Gulf of Mexico – to identify how different management strategies and human uses of the river can be better coordinated. In particular, we provide a “whole river” perspective that will allow stakeholders to understand the costs and benefits of their decisions – for themselves and for those who are both upstream and downstream. Overall, the results of this research will help stakeholders improve the drought resilience of water, environment, and people throughout the Rio Grande/Rio Bravo Basin.

The Rio Grande as it passes through the city of Albuquerque, NM. (Jack R. Friedman)

Driven by the fieldwork of Dr. Stephanie Paladino, the ethnographic portion of the project that was managed by Dr. Friedman’s lab conducted interviews and participant observation along nearly the whole extent of the Rio Grande/Bravo (see map), seeking to understand the diverse — and, often incompatible and fragmented — ways in which people think about, understand, and use/manage water and natural resources across the basin. This in situ, ethnographic work allowed us to collaborate with modeling efforts (led by Dr. Jennifer Koch, OU, Dept. of Geography and Environmental Sustainability) to create novel conceptual models of dynamics across the basin and to populate computer simulation models of the region.

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Maps of the Rio Grande/Río Bravo (RGB) socio-environmental system. The map on the left displays the basin boundary and the location of major cities, streams, and dams. The map on the right shows the relative density of ethnographic information obtained for at the county/municipio level (Source: Koch et al., 2019).

The team produced scores of academic and public presentations, four publications, and provided critical training and mentoring to two undergraduate and two graduate students. The study also produced a novel, first-of-its-kind integrative geodatabase for the entire RGB region. In addition, the team was able to provide novel interpretations of the interactions between different regions of the RGB — one of the central goals of the “whole river” approach around which the study had been designed. The study also contributed to a reimagining of “water management” in the RGB (and, more broadly throughout the Intermountain West in the U.S.) as a more complex interaction of psycho-cultural cognitive categories and mental models; institutional/organizational rules and norms; legal rules, restrictions, and obligations; and the stressors associated with novel experiences of a climate change-impacted environment.

A range of story maps, data set, presentations, publications, and findings regarding this research can be found here:

Collaborators: Dr. Jennifer Koch (OU, Dept. of Geography and Environmental Sustainability), Dr. Jadwiga Ziolkowska (OU, Dept. of Geography and Environmental Sustainability)

Postdoctoral Research Fellow: Dr. Stephanie Paladino

Undergraduate Research Assistants: Mary Catington, Tori Dryz