Texas A&M University Professor John Jacob has been chosen to lead the Texas Sea Grant College extension program and says his objective is to transfer the power of university-level research into the hands of Texas’ coastal citizens. Dr. Jacob, a Houston-based coastal development expert, assumed directorship of the Texas Sea Grant Extension Program on April 1 with the objective of applying the cooperative extension model to issues facing Texas’ increasingly urbanized and flood-threatened coastline.
Texas A&M University is the federally designated land and sea-grant institution for Texas. The cooperative extension was created nearly a century ago as a conduit for disseminating knowledge gained at land grant institutions, such as Texas A&M, to farmers, ranchers and homemakers who could best use the information, with the same model adapted to coastal science when Congress created Sea Grant in 1966. Much of the information developed in both land and sea grant research is oriented toward improving yields of commercially valuable goods.
Texas Sea Grant programs include aquaculture, Clean Texas Marinas, fisheries assistance, floating classroom, hurricane preparedness, K-YAK low power radio, monofilament recycling, Ocean Sciences Bowl, Red Tide Rangers, Texas coastal watershed, and Texas Master Naturalists.
“I believe in the good and noble tradition of cooperative extension, which was built upon universities in the service of people,” says Dr. Jacob, who was Texas Sea Grant’s Coastal Development Specialist before assuming his new duties, in a release. “But why should this service be confined to production, whether it be fisheries or agricultural commodities?”
Dr. Jacob has earned a high profile in coastal development issues through his Texas Coastal Watershed Program — a cooperative effort of Texas Sea Grant and Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service that provides education and outreach to local governments and citizens on the impacts of land use on watershed health and water quality. He has also sounded the alarm and issued a call to action about sea-level rise and how it will affect Texas’ generally low-lying coast.
“It is in the extreme events where people will be noticing the effects most in the short term,” Dr. Jacob commented recently, “Hurricane storm surge will be much more significant. A half-foot increase in storm surge elevation can mean tens to hundreds of square miles of additional flooding. Storm tides will be reaching farther inland flooding areas that have not been flooded before. In the longer run, what is today’s storm tide will be tomorrow’s high tide.”
The University of Texas’ Bureau of Economic Geology and Energy Institute recently released a white paper report from a workshop held last year at the university’s Marine Science Institute in Port Aransas to identify current sea level rise status along the Texas Gulf Coast and to assess risks to the region’s ecosystems, communities and economy.
“The Risk of Rising Sea Level: Texas Universities Ready and Able to Help Coastal Communities Adapt” presents the findings of the workshop’s 28 participating scientists from six of Texas’ leading academic institutions, including Texas Sea Grant, along with representatives from the nonprofit, governmental and private sectors.
The report is available online at:
Sea-level rise is already a fact of life in Texas, water level along the Texas Gulf Coast having been rising by about one-fifth of an inch annually (reportedly about five times the average rate over the previous 4,000 years). However, the rate of increase is expected to accelerate, doubling or even tripling by the end of the 21st century as the Earth’s warming atmosphere creates further expansion of oceans and threatens to melt significant portions of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets — possibly flooding one of the state’s most profitable and environmentally diverse regions — directly impacting Texas’ 18 coastal counties that account for less than 6 percent of the state’s land mass, but home to almost a quarter of its 2010 population. According to the report, Texas’ coastal population is growing more than twice as fast as the rest of the state.
It is projected that by 2100, much of the Texas coast will most likely be under at least a foot of water and possibly as much as six feet of water. “We stand to lose a very large amount of one of our most productive environments in all of Texas — the coastal salt marsh,” Dr. Jacob says. “All of our significant fisheries depend in one way or another on this environment. As sea level rises, marshes can migrate inland if the land is available, but there are many places on the coast lined with sharp rises or bluffs. In these areas marshes will drown as water rises. Much of the remaining areas are becoming urbanized with shoreline protection that will also hinder marsh migration.”
Dr. Jacob has also pioneered use of innovative coastal planning tools like the weTable and the Community Health and Resources Management (CHARM) computer model.
The weTable combines a laptop computer, a projector, a light pen and a Nintendo Wii remote to transform an ordinary tabletop into an interactive computer interface that community leaders and members of the public can use together to more effectively plan community growth well into the future.
“I am thrilled that Dr. Jacob has accepted the position to lead Texas Sea Grant’s Extension Program,” comments Dr. Pamela Plotkin, Texas Sea Grant director. “John has been a core contributor to its growth, building a successful research and extension project in Houston that serves as a model within Texas and across our nation. I look forward to working with John to expand our extension program and to help Texas Sea Grant reach greater heights.”
Dr. John Jacob holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Texas Tech University, and a Ph.D. from Texas A&M University, all in soils and natural resources. He is registered as a Professional Geoscientist with the State of Texas and is a Professional Wetland Scientist. In addition to his work with Texas Sea Grant, Jacob is a professor in Texas A&M’s Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism Sciences. His body of work integrating conservation and sustainable community development earned him a 2012 Superior Service Award from Texas A&M AgriLife Extension and the 2012 Terry Hershey Award for Excellence from the Department of Recreation, Park and Tourism Sciences at Texas A&M University. Named in honor of Houston’s grande dame of conservation, the Hershey Award recognizes excellence in park, recreation or natural resources contributions to Texas, the region and/or the nation, as well as support for education and innovations as a leader in natural resource protection.
Dr. Jacob will administer his new duties as Texas Sea Grant Extension Program Director from his existing office in Houston.