UD’s Messer gauges Delaware beachgoers’ reactions to offshore energy

October 8, 2012 under CANR News

The University of Delaware’s Kent Messer leads a research team that is conducting two studies at the Delaware coast to determine how people would react to offshore energy production and how that could impact the state’s economy.

The first study was conducted at Cape Henlopen and Rehoboth Beach and involved students surveying beachgoers to see how open they were to the idea of offshore energy, specifically wind turbines and oil drilling platforms.

“The question was how close these turbines and platforms could come to shore before people would no longer want to visit Rehoboth Beach or Cape Henlopen that day,” said Messer, associate professor in the Department of Applied Economics and Statistics in UD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR). “Would it negatively impact their experience to the point where they didn’t want to be there anymore?”

Other faculty members involved in the research team include Joshua Duke, professor in the Department of Applied Economics and Statistics; George Parsons, professor of economics and in the School of Marine Science and Policy in UD’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Environment; and Janet Johnson, associate professor of political science and international relations in the College of Arts and Sciences.

The students involved in this survey were Walker Jones of Virginia State University, who attended the CANR Summer Institute; Seth Olsen, a CANR sophomore who is also a Delaware Environmental Institute (DENIN) Scholar; and Jacob Fooks, a UD doctoral level student studying business and economics.

Using a computer simulation, passersby who participated in the survey were given the option to have oil platforms or wind turbines, or both, off the coast of Delaware at various distances.

The idea behind the project was that if participants moved the objects closer to the beach, it would result in lower energy costs, especially with regard to wind turbines that lose efficiency the farther out to sea they are located, but the objects would also have a bigger impact on the coastal view.

Moving the objects away from the beach would result in higher energy costs but beach visitors would have a less obstructed view.

“If you go to the gulf coast of Mexico, you see oil rigs off the coast. We don’t have them in the Atlantic but it could happen,” said Messer. “So we used virtual reality simulations, presenting pictures of the Delaware shore and imagining what these structures would look like at various distances.”

The researchers allowed people to indicate the distance at which structures could be placed offshore before they would no longer want to visit that area, choosing to go elsewhere instead.

Messer said that 500 people participated in one stage or another of the survey, with 148 completing the entire 30-minute survey.

The group’s findings indicated that people would be more open to viewing wind turbines off the coast than oil platforms, and that people were generally very open to the idea of having wind turbines at the beach if it resulted in lower energy costs. In fact, only about 30 percent of participants indicated that the presence of wind turbines would detract from their beach experience, while 60 percent indicated the same for oil platforms.

On average, research participants were willing to have the wind turbines just over 2.5 miles off shore before they would no longer have made their visit to the Delaware beaches.  In comparison, on average, Delaware beach visitation would have been affected by oil platforms if they were approximately 6 miles from shore with a significant portion of the respondents reporting that even at 10 miles from shore they would no longer visit the Delaware beaches.

“An interesting result of this study is that visitors to Delaware’s beaches were comfortable with wind turbines at distances from shore that were significantly shorter than the current permitted area which is 13 miles from shore. Whether due to finding the turbines visually appealing or liking having better fishing closer to shore by the creation of artificial reefs around the turbines, there is a significant percentage of the population that approved of the turbines at a closer than we ever imagined they would.” Messer said.

Wind turbines and hotels

The other study involves Messer, his faculty collaborators and his students trying to gauge how proximity to the UD wind turbine on the Hugh R. Sharp Campus in Lewes impacts a tourist’s willingness to stay at certain hotels in southern Delaware.

Using the Cape May-Lewes Ferry as their “floating lab,” Messer and his students auctioned off lottery tickets to willing participants in which the participants could win a free stay at one of three Lewes area locations:  UD’s Virden Center, the Hotel Blue and the Beacon Motel.

Messer explained that the three hotels currently sell hotel rooms either with a view of the UD wind turbine or without a view of the turbine. The goal of this study is to measure how willing people might be to pay to see the turbine (or to avoid seeing them) and, because the hotels are at different distances from the turbine, how proximity to the wind turbine impacts tourist behavior. Overall, about 57 percent of people showed no difference or a preference for a room with a view of the turbine. This number was higher for the more luxurious Hotel Blue than for the other two. The difference in bid amount between the rooms with and without the windmill views was about 11 percent for the Virden Center and the Beacon Motel, and 17 percent for Hotel Blue. These results suggest that some visitors are sensitive to viewing wind turbines and would prefer views without them.

National implications

Messer said that both of these impacts have regional and national implications given growing interest in offshore energy, particularly wind.

“It is important to find out the sense of comfort people have with offshore energy production and who those people are,” Messer said, noting that different classes of people would include those on day trips, longtime beachgoers and coastal residents.

The research projects are funded through UD’s National Science Foundation Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR) program.

Article by Adam Thomas

Photo by Teisha Fooks

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Joshua Duke Elected President of NAREA

May 25, 2012 under CANR News

Joshua M. Duke, professor in the Department of Food and Resource Economics, has been elected president for the Northeastern Agricultural and Resource Economics Association (NAREA), a group of 250 agricultural and resource economists focused on promoting education and research on economic and social problems related to the environment, natural resource use, agricultural production, and economic development.

Duke has held every major position within the organization, from being an elected member of the executive board, to serving as co-editor with Titus Awokuse, chair of the Department of Food and Resource Economics, of the peer-reviewed journal Agricultural and Resource Economics Review, the official publication of the NAREA. Duke also served as workshop organizer and on the local arrangements committee for the annual meeting. He received the distinguished member award from the group in 2010, only the third UD recipient after Conrado M. Gempesaw II, former dean of the Alfred Lerner College of Business and Economics, and Steve Hastings, professor and associate chair in the Department of Food and Resource Economics.

Duke said that he is honored to be elected president and is incredibly excited for the opportunity to head such a great organization. “My career benefited tremendously from the collegiality, sharing of research, and networking opportunities afforded by NAREA,” said Duke. “One of my goals as president will be to recruit the next group of leaders to the organization.” He will begin his 3-year term in June and he said that he is most looking forward to organizing the program for the 2013 annual meeting. “It’s a great opportunity to shape an annual meeting by categorizing selected-paper panels and inviting renowned experts to speak,” said Duke.

Awokuse said of Duke being named president, “I’m excited about the election of Joshua Duke as the next president-elect of NAREA.  This is a great honor for Josh and it is a culmination of his many years of faithful service to NAREA in various roles. As a friend and colleague for over a decade, I can attest to Josh’s passion for professional excellence and commitment to a life of service to others.  As leader, he will lead the organization to greater heights.”

Duke will be the 4th faculty member to serve as president for the NAREA from the University of Delaware. Past presidents include Gempesaw, Gerald Cole, emeritus professor in the Department of Food and Resource Economics, and Hastings.

There are other strong ties between the NAREA and the University of Delaware as well, as Awokuse, John Bernard, Tom Ilvento, professors of food and resource economics, and Kent Messer, associate professor of food and resource economics, are also involved in the organization.

For more information about NAREA, visit their website.

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UD professors gear up for study on lawns, water quality and ecosystem services

October 6, 2011 under CANR News, Cooperative Extension

Taking a fresh look at water quality management, a University of Delaware College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR) research team is studying how the replacement of urban lawns with more diverse vegetation can help protect the environment and make our landscapes more sustainable.

The researchers have been awarded a $595,000 grant by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and will be working at the Winterthur Gardens on their project.

Shreeram Inamdar, CANR associate professor of plant and soil sciences, is the principal investigator and the research team includes Doug Tallamy, chair of the Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology; Susan Barton, associate professor in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences and a Cooperative Extension specialist; Jules Bruck, assistant professor of landscape horticulture and design; and Joshua Duke, professor in the Department of Food and Resource Economics.

One of the main goals of the three-year study, funded through the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) National Integrated Water Quality program, is to try to curb water pollution at its source — preventing pollution in the first place rather than waiting to treat contaminated water before it enters waterways.

“In the past, standard water quality management has focused on intercepting dirty water before it gets into water systems,” explained Tallamy. “We’re doing the opposite — we’re trying to keep the water clean from the start.”

The researchers believe this can be accomplished by shrinking the lawn and replacing it with more diverse vegetation, thus reducing fertilizer and herbicide inputs and enabling water filtration, which will lead to less storm water runoff and cleaner water.

Diverse vegetation also is expected to provide other natural ecosystem services — such as carbon sequestration, preserving biodiversity and natural pest control — that are associated with mixed vegetation landscapes.

Inamdar noted that the ability to look at both of these aspects is a unique opportunity for the researchers. “One of the great things on this proposal is that we get to look at water quality as well as ecosystem services,” he said. “Not many projects take that view, so I think that’s a very novel approach.”

To conduct the study, the group will be comparing watersheds with different vegetation types at Winterthur.

Barton explained that the group will look at runoff from different types of watersheds at Winterthur — one site will be a mown turf field that will be managed in the manner of a residential lawn and the other will be primarily forest and meadow.

By doing this, Barton explained, “We can directly compare these two streams, which are very close to each other, under the same weather conditions. One gets the residential lawn runoff and one gets the diverse landscape runoff.”

The team has also secured a local homeowner’s landscape for the research. Bruck said the property will be “used as a test garden, and will become a demonstration garden to show these different sustainable principles and practices.”

Barton noted that public tours of the sites will eventually be offered.

Planting will begin next spring and as soon as the team gathers enough information and data, it will provide educational courses at Winterthur to disseminate key information to the public.

Tallamy said that making this information readily available is an effort to “change the status symbol. Right now, the status symbol is a big lawn and we’re trying to make it more diverse.”

This is also one of the main focuses of the Center for Managed Ecosystems, of which Tallamy is the director.

Duke’s role will be to determine how much it would cost a homeowner to manage their property in a more diverse manner, as opposed to how much it costs to simply manage a big lawn. Said Duke, “We suspect that it might not be that lawn is actually the cheapest way to manage things. It may be that it’s cheaper for an owner to manage in a more sustainable manner; they might just not realize it because it’s not the status quo.”

Undergraduate and graduate students will be involved in many aspects of the research, from helping the group gather information on water quality, ecosystem services and the economic implications to helping in the design of the more sustainable garden.

Bruck explained that students in her Basic Landscape Design course will “work through the design process to come up with demonstration plans that will be presented to the University of Delaware Botanical Gardens (UDBG) and then we’ll post the plans on our website, for educational purposes for other homeowners.”

For now, the team is gearing up for the spring and ready to get the study under way, hoping to improve water quality and change the status quo from large lawns to diverse, more sustainable ecosystems.

Article by Adam Thomas

Photo by Danielle Quigley

Graphic courtesy Jules Bruck

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