Collaboration Across Boundaries: Reflections on Studying the Sustainability of the Mississippi River Delta as a Coupled Natural-Human System

  • Nina S.-N. LamEmail author
  • Y. Jun Xu
  • R. Kelley Pace
  • Kam-biu Liu
  • Yi Qiang
  • Siddhartha Narra
  • Thomas A. Bianchette
  • Heng Cai
  • Lei Zou
  • Kenan Li
  • Sanjeev Joshi
  • Volodymyr Mihunov


We report in this chapter our experience in collaboration across boundaries from working on an interdisciplinary project funded by the National Science Foundation under the Dynamics of Coupled Natural-Human Systems program. The project investigates the sustainability of the Mississippi River Delta (MRD), which is considered one of the most vulnerable coastal zones in the continental United States and the world. Our overarching research question is: will the MRD reach a tipping point that would make it difficult to sustain in the future? The project consists of seven components, each led by investigators from disciplines including hydrology, sedimentology, ecology, geography, political science, economics, and finance. We conducted a survey of the team members to obtain their opinions on the challenges, benefits, and suggestions for improvement regarding collaboration across disciplinary boundaries. The results provide insights into the development of best practice for collaboration across boundaries. Survey results suggest that a successful interdisciplinary project would need a detailed research plan with timelines and expected results stated, and the plan would need to be followed through. Finding collaborators who have similar priorities, can deliver the results on time, and continue engagement in the research is difficult, but the reward in making it happen is gratifying because it will ultimately be beneficial to advancing the science and practice of sustaining complex natural-human systems.



This material is based upon work supported by the US National Science Foundation (award number: 1212112). Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the funding agencies.


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Nina S.-N. Lam
    • 1
    Email author
  • Y. Jun Xu
    • 2
  • R. Kelley Pace
    • 3
  • Kam-biu Liu
    • 4
  • Yi Qiang
    • 5
  • Siddhartha Narra
    • 6
  • Thomas A. Bianchette
    • 7
  • Heng Cai
    • 1
  • Lei Zou
    • 8
  • Kenan Li
    • 9
  • Sanjeev Joshi
    • 2
  • Volodymyr Mihunov
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Environmental Sciences, College of the Coast and EnvironmentLouisiana State UniversityBaton RougeUSA
  2. 2.School of Renewable Natural ResourcesLouisiana State UniversityBaton RougeUSA
  3. 3.Department of FinanceLouisiana State UniversityBaton RougeUSA
  4. 4.Department of Oceanography and Coastal Sciences, College of the Coast and EnvironmentLouisiana State UniversityBaton RougeUSA
  5. 5.Department of GeographyUniversity of Hawaii–ManoaHonoluluUSA
  6. 6.Center for Energy StudiesLouisiana State UniversityBaton RougeUSA
  7. 7.Department of Natural SciencesUniversity of Michigan-DearbornDearbornUSA
  8. 8.Department of GeographyTexas A&M UniversityCollege StationUSA
  9. 9.Department of Preventive MedicineUniversity of Southern CaliforniaLos AngelesUSA

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