The nation's top science academy is spending part of a $500 million oil spill settlement to provide climate change education in Gulf Coast communities that are highly vulnerable to sea-level rise and other climate threats.

The grants, ranging from $98,000 to $764,000, will be distributed to organizations serving middle and high school students mostly in Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas, according to a list of awards released by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine.

One grant will be used by educators in Georgia to explore water quality and hydrologic connections between the Okefenokee Swamp and the Gulf of Mexico. Another will aim to increase environmental literacy among fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders in Alabama, Mississippi and Maine.

The funds are administered by the National Academies' Gulf Research Program, which was established as part of a multibillion-dollar Justice Department settlement stemming from the Deepwater Horizon disaster in 2010. Most of the program's funding came from BP Exploration and Production Inc. and Transocean Deepwater Inc., according to Mike Banker, a National Academies spokesman.

The research program, established in 2013 and funded through 2033, has four focus areas: safer offshore energy systems; ecosystem health; capacity building; and the promotion of "thriving communities" where elected leaders and residents "can successfully prepare for, respond, and adapt to stressors and adverse events."

Banker said the $3.2 million in grants are tailored to a region that has long viewed the oil and gas industry as a critical source of jobs and tax revenue, even as the burning of fossil fuels has accelerated the effects of climate change.

"We're not focused on climate change directly, but resilience and adaptation are important parts of capacity building in these communities, so we hit on it," he said. "This particular grant opportunity was focused on education and environmental literacy for the next generation."

For example, a $444,000 project led by the Environmental Defense Fund will help high school students in low-income communities along the Houston Ship Channel better understand the relationship between climate change and air pollution with the goal of helping "improve the health and prosperity of their communities."

Another grant, amounting to almost $400,000, will go to a consortium of Alabama and Mississippi institutions to help develop a hands-on curriculum for high school students to better understand coastal flooding and sea-level rise in places like Biloxi, Miss., and Dauphin Island, Ala., one of the most at-risk barrier islands in the United States (Climatewire, July 18, 2014).

The project description notes that "socioeconomic vulnerability and rapid development is exacerbating hazard impacts in the northern Gulf of Mexico," adding "it is imperative for future natural resource managers, elected officials, and voters to understand potential risks to their communities."

Calls to Alabama education officials were not returned before deadline. But a review of the state Department of Education's 2016 science curriculum had little to say about climate change.

One curriculum objective identified for Alabama high schoolers was to "Describe human activities and natural processes that may cause changes in local and global temperatures over time by analyzing and interpreting data."

Another objective was to "define natural resources, natural hazard, and climate change."

Becca Hatheway, director of a Louisiana-based project called "Empowering Gulf Coast Youth to Thrive in Transformative Communities," said she developed the curriculum after talking with teachers in Terrebonne Parish about gaps in lessons about sea-level rise and land subsidence.

"These students certainly have real-world experience with this, but they may not have the science background ... to understand the physical processes behind what's happening," said Hatheway, manager of teaching and learning at the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research.

According to Hatheway, the south Louisiana teachers said that climate change and its effects on coastal communities is taught to 12th-graders in Advanced Placement science. "They may not have gotten anything prior to that," she said.

Reprinted from Climatewire with permission from E&E News. E&E provides daily coverage of essential energy and environmental news at www.eenews.net.