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Research Coordination Network (RCN) on P Sustainability underway!

September 25, 2012
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As you may have noticed on Twitter, we have received word of funding from the National Science Foundation to support an extended (5-year) effort to coordinate, catalyze, and integrate global research efforts related to P sustainability.  It’s called “Coordinating Phosphorus Research to Create a Sustainable Food System” and you can find the official NSF announcement here.  I am lucky to be the overall leader, with Co-PIs Rimjhim Aggarwal (ASU), Helen Rowe (ASU), and Tauhidir Rahman (U of Arizona).  With this effort we hope to help bring together diverse threads of P research to make a difference in this challenging field.  The first event will be a major workshop and communication session in Washington DC during spring 2013.  The diagram below illustrates the flow of major events.  I’ve also pasted in the project summary at the bottom.  Watch this space, and the SPI Twitter feed, for more info as this RCN gets underway.  There should be many opportunities for interested people to get involved and contribute.

RCN flow of events


RCN-SEES: Coordinating phosphorus sustainability research to close the human P cycle

Steering Committee: James Elser, Rimjhim Aggrawal, and Helen Rowe at Arizona State University; Tauhidur Rahman, University of Arizona; David Vaccari, Stephens Institute of Technology; Anita Street, US Department of Energy

Intellectual Merit: Phosphorus (P) is an essential element to life and, with few exceptions, a necessary fertilizer for high agricultural yield. Because P cannot be manufactured and global supply is limited, this chemical element poses a unique, double-sided threat to sustainability. P scarcity leads to high prices and poverty for poor farmers in developing countries, but in industrialized nations, excess P from farms and in urban waste streams degrades downstream water quality. The issues surrounding P sustainability are deeply complex and involve a diverse geological, biogeochemical, economic, and geopolitical dimensions that are currently unconsolidated. Environmental degradation due to nutrient runoff and potential threats to global food security urgently call for an end to this disjointed approach to phosphorus. The goal of the P Sustainability Research Coordination Network (RCN) is to spark an interdisciplinary synthesis of data, perspectives, and understanding about phosphorus to identify and implement solutions for P sustainability.

The RCN theme, objectives, and initial topics build upon broad agreement on key P sustainability challenges reached at a recent Sustainable P Summit (SPS) led by PI Elser and colleague Dan Childers. The RCN will involve two phases of Working Groups.  Phase I groups will work on two of three key Challenge Areas identified during the SPS (Challenge 1: Improving P efficiency in food production; Challenge 2: Developing robust pathways of P recycling.  Phase I Core Members have been identified and Working Groups will be further populated with At-Large Members recruited through a widely advertised application process that will allow us to target qualified graduate students, postdocs, and members of under-represented groups. In Year 3, a Synthesis Workshop will report on the science and solution outcomes from Phase I and develop new Phase II Working Groups focused on Challenge 3: Integrating efficiency and recycling to create a sustainable food system.  Early in Year 5, a Synthesis Workshop will engage policy makers and participants to communicate outcomes and chart the path for implementing P sustainability solutions.

Broader Impacts: Central to the P Sustainability RCN will be recruitment of a diverse network of participants of different professions, ranks, genders, races, ethnicities, and nationalities. The Steering Committee will reflect this diversity, including three students in ex officio capacity, giving them invaluable experience in leadership, networking, collaborative science, and policy.  To communicate key aspects of RCN work, we will produce two dynamic, high-quality videos to reach targeted audiences of farmers, educators, fertilizer industry, and policy makers. Three RCN meetings will be held in Washington DC in order to facilitate participation by policy makers, government officials, representatives of agriculture and the fertilizer industry, and urban planners with the aim of developing research priorities for the RCN, presenting outcomes and planning implementation of sustainability solutions.

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