NSHE Board of Regents Renews Contract for DRI President Acharya

NSHE Board of Regents Renews Contract for DRI President Acharya

[Las Vegas, NV] – The Nevada System of Higher Education (NSHE) Board of Regents approved the renewal of Dr. Kumud Acharya’s four-year contract as President of DRI during the Board’s quarterly meeting.

Dr. Acharya’s first term as president of DRI has been marked by notable achievements and leadership, particularly in navigating challenges such as the COVID-19 pandemic and financial constraints. His strategic priorities focusing on optimizing performance, elevating awareness, and cultivating engagement have helped drive the institution forward.

“Dr. Acharya is dedicated and focused on the advancement of the mission of DRI and his performance has been exemplary in addressing the institution’s strategic goals,” said Chancellor Patricia Charlton. “We look forward to his continued leadership and collaboration within the Nevada System of Higher Education.”

Chair of the NSHE Board of Regents, Amy J. Carvalho, commended Dr. Acharya’s achievements, saying, “Under Dr. Acharya’s leadership, DRI has seen remarkable growth in research and philanthropic funding, expansion of research facilities, and increased collaboration within NSHE and with external partners. His strategic initiatives have significantly enhanced the institution’s reputation and impact, both locally and nationally.”

In response to the contract renewal, Dr. Kumud Acharya expressed gratitude for the continued support and reaffirmed his commitment to advancing DRI’s mission. He stated, “I am honored to have the opportunity to continue serving as President of DRI. Together with our dedicated faculty, staff, and partners, I am confident we will build upon our achievements and further our contributions to scientific research, innovation, and community engagement.”

Dr. Acharya began his career at DRI in 2006 as an assistant research professor. Under Dr. Acharya’s tenure as president, DRI has experienced significant financial growth, with grants and contracts increasing from $31 million to over $47 million annually. Additionally, strategic initiatives implemented during his presidency have positioned DRI for long-term sustainability and success.

The Nevada System of Higher Education congratulates Dr. Kumud Acharya on the renewal of his contract as President of the Desert Research Institute and looks forward to continued collaboration in advancing scientific research and environmental solutions.

For media inquiries or additional information, please contact Elizabeth Callahan at ecallahan@nshe.nevada.edu or 702-522-7021.

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About the Nevada System of Higher Education


The Nevada System of Higher Education, comprised of two doctoral-granting research universities, a state university, four comprehensive community colleges, and one environmental research institute, serves the educational and job training needs of Nevada. NSHE provides educational opportunities to more than 100,000 students and is governed by the Nevada Board of Regents. The System includes the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, the University of Nevada, Reno, Nevada State University, Desert Research Institute, the College of Southern Nevada, Great Basin College, Truckee Meadows Community College, and Western Nevada College. Learn more at https://nshe.nevada.edu/.

About DRI

We are Nevada’s non-profit research institute, founded in 1959 to empower experts to focus on science that matters. We work with communities across the state — and the world — to address their most pressing scientific questions. We’re proud that our scientists continuously produce solutions that better human and environmental health.  

Scientists at DRI are encouraged to follow their research interests across the traditional boundaries of scientific fields, collaborating across DRI and with scientists worldwide. All faculty support their own research through grants, bringing in nearly $5 to the Nevada economy for every $1 of state funds received. With more than 600 scientists, engineers, students, and staff across our Reno and Las Vegas campuses, we conducted more than $47 million in sponsored research focused on improving peoples’ lives in 2023 alone. 

At DRI, science isn’t merely academic — it’s the key to future-proofing our communities and building a better world. For more information, please visit www.dri.edu. 

Duane Moser, Ph.D., Receives the 2023 Harold J. Kruse Farming and Environment Award

Duane Moser, Ph.D., Receives the 2023 Harold J. Kruse Farming and Environment Award

The Harold J. Kruse Farming and Environment Award was established in 2022 by Stephanie Kruse, DRI Foundation Vice-Chair and Trustee, to honor her father’s legacy and recognize his farming business sense.

Duane Moser, Ph.D., was selected as the 2023 recipient of this award. Moser’s research, in partnership with The Nature Conservancy, focuses on the development and implementation of environmental DNA (eDNA) tools for tracking endangered and invasive aquatic species on historic ranch properties on the headwaters of the Amargosa Wild and Scenic River. Understanding the distribution of endangered and threatened species, as well as the impact of invasive species, is a critical piece in preserving ranching heritage on historic properties in Southern Nevada.

Duane Moser at the Clark County Wetlands just outside of Las Vegas, performing a variety of tests on the water.

Through the Kruse Award, DRI scientists can submit proposals for research projects that explore the intersections between farming and the environment and the necessary balance between environmental protection and food production.

Harold J. Kruse was born in 1920 near George, Iowa, and was shaped by growing up during the Depression, along with a strong German belief that owning land was the key to success and the future. He used his business and finance expertise to parlay that into owning some of the best farmland in Iowa.

Kruse was also innovative, creating a farm corporation for tax benefits. He was masterful in deciding when to sell the corn and soybeans he had stored to optimize his revenue. In addition to being a very intelligent businessman, he was also generous and charitable.

To learn more about philanthropic opportunities at DRI, please contact the Office of Advancement at foundationinfo@dri.edu or at 775-673-7386.

DRI-Developed Company TuBiomics Named A Top Ten Agri-Biotech Solutions Company of 2023

DRI-Developed Company TuBiomics Named A Top Ten Agri-Biotech Solutions Company of 2023

With support from the Nevada Governor’s Office of Economic Development, TuBiomics has emerged as a leader in developing plant and soil health products using sustainable, natural, chemistry-based solutions.

The following is a press release from the Nevada Governor’s Office of Economic Development.

CARSON CITY, Nev. – TuBiomics, a Nevada company born out of the Nevada Governor’s Office of Economic Development’s (GOED) Knowledge Fund, is getting national attention.

Deep-technology company TuBiomics which is developing plant and soil health products from mixtures of natural biochemistry was named among Top 10 Agri Biotech Solutions Companies of 2023 by renowned Agri Business Review and made the magazine’s cover story in December.

DRI’s Frits Went Laboratory
DRI’s EcoCells includes four very unique controlled environment chambers. This advanced research facility in Reno, Nevada served as the foundation for DRI researchers to help Tu Biomics develop its lab-to-field trials targeting harmful pathogens in garlic, leafy greens, and strawberry crops.

“We really appreciate this recognition by the editors of Agri Business Review,” said Brian Speicher, CEO of TuBiomics. “It has been a timely opportunity to introduce the company and its innovative work to a broad audience and highlight the emergence of our lead commercial product.”

Agri Business Review’s acknowledgement of the company’s progress comes ahead of TuBiomics’ upcoming $5 million Series A round which it plans to complete by the second quarter of this year. The Series A fund raise, which follows the company’s prior three seed funding rounds, is being launched as the company pushes its lead product, a potent natural chemistry herbicide mixture, into three multi-billion-dollar global markets – organic agriculture, vegetation management, and home & garden – for which TuBiomics anticipates entry.

The company represents a success story of the GOED administered Knowledge Fund. After serving as Business Development Lead at DRI, Speicher spun TuBiomics out of DRI following an Entrepreneur in Residence (EIR) model. Subsequently, Battle Born Venture, Nevada’s state-sponsored venture capital program operating under the federal State Small Business Credit Initiative (SSBCI)  has participated in all of TuBiomics seed-stage funding rounds. 

“The SSBCI Venture Capital program’s role is vital for deep-tech early-stage companies to signal confidence to other institutional investors and Battle Born Venture has been instrumental for TuBiomics reaching the Series A stage,” said Karsten Heise, GOED Senior Director of Strategic Programs and Innovation.

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About the Governor’s Office of Economic Development

Created during the 2011 session of the Nevada Legislature, the Governor’s Office of Economic Development is the result of a collaborative effort between the Nevada Legislature and the Governor’s Office to restructure economic development in the state. GOED’s role is to promote a robust, diversified and prosperous economy in Nevada, to stimulate business expansion and retention, encourage entrepreneurial enterprise, attract new businesses and facilitate community development.

 About TuBiomics, Inc.

Incorporated in 2017, TuBiomics is a Reno-based start-up company targeting the agriculture biotechnology market. The company was spun out of DRI, which is an environmental sciences research institute within the Nevada System of Higher Education.  TuBiomics focuses on unraveling the complexity of microbial communities and developing sustainable, natural chemistry-based solutions. The company’s lead product, TBH-003 is a potent natural chemistry herbicide targeting the agriculture, vegetation management and home & garden global markets.

E.L. Cord Foundation Funds First Diversity Graduate Research Assistantship

E.L. Cord Foundation Funds First Diversity Graduate Research Assistantship

The E.L. Cord Foundation Diversity Graduate Research Assistantship (DGRA) advances the educational and research pursuits of a DRI graduate student that shows high potential for achievement and is from a community that has been traditionally underrepresented in the sciences. Increased diversity in scientific communities and research institutions encourages the incorporation of new ideas, novel approaches, and diverse thinking – all of which are key in helping DRI scientists find solutions to the world’s most challenging environmental problems.

Established by the E.L. Cord Foundation in 2023, the DGRA enhances the capacity and diversity of DRI – and ultimately science in the state of Nevada and beyond.  “The E.L. Cord Foundation is pleased to fund this assistantship and make graduate science education more accessible to underrepresented students.” – Joe Bradley, Trustee, E.L. Cord Foundation.  

Graduate student Olufunke Dina was the first recipient of the DGRA for the academic year 2023-2024. Dina studies human biomarker analysis to understand the impacts of environmental pollutant exposures.  “Receiving the E.L. Cord Foundation Diversity Graduate Research Assistantship has been an incredible honor. This opportunity not only supports my research but also highlights the commitment to diversity in academia at DRI. I am grateful for the invaluable support provided.” – Olufunke Dina, DRI Graduate Student.

Graduate student Olufunke Dina in the lab.
Graduate Student Olufunke Dina

DRI currently has 25 graduate students conducting research across multiple disciplines. To learn more about how you can support graduate students at DRI, please contact Kristin Burgarello, Director of Advancement at Kristin.burgarello@dri.edu or 775.673.7386.  

Remembering Peter Wagner

Remembering Peter Wagner

black and white photo of Dr. Peter B. Wagner

Wagner Award Celebrates 25th Year

The Peter Wagner Memorial Endowment was established in 1981 by Sue Wagner—his wife and former longtime Nevada legislator and Lt. Governor— and his family and friends. Peter Wagner was an atmospheric physicist at DRI who was killed on March 3, 1980, with three of his DRI colleagues in a plane crash over the Sierra while on a research flight. A memorial plaque is on display in the courtyard of DRI’s Northern Nevada Science Center. 

This year, the 25th Wagner Award was presented on September 21 to Andrea Gordon from the School of Meteorology, University of Oklahoma. We thank Sue Wagner, her family, and friends for establishing this endowment in Peter’s memory and their continued support. For more information on how you can support impactful science that inspires solutions, please contact the DRI Office of Advancement at (775) 673-7300. To learn more about the Wagner Award for Women in Atmospheric Sciences please visit: Wagner Award for Women in Atmospheric Sciences – DRI

DRI Foundation Trustee Honors Father by Establishing Farming & Environment Award

DRI Foundation Trustee Honors Father by Establishing Farming & Environment Award

Stephanie Kruse, DRI Foundation Vice-Chair and Trustee, established the Harold J. Kruse Farming & Environment Award in 2022 to honor her father’s memory and recognize his farming business sense.

Harold J. Kruse was born in 1920 near George, Iowa, and was shaped by growing up during the Depression, along with a strong German belief that owning land was the key to success and the future. He used his business and finance expertise to parlay that into owning some of the best farmland in Iowa.

Kruse also was innovative and created a farm corporation for tax benefits and was masterful in deciding when to sell corn and soybeans he had stored to optimize his revenue. In addition to being a very intelligent businessman, he was also generous and charitable.

Gabrielle Boisrame, Ph.D., Assistant Research Professor and Markus Berli, Ph.D., Associate Research Professor are the first recipients of this award. Their research focuses on reducing agricultural water use by improving irrigation efficiency, but still providing the same amount of food.

Through Kruse’s Award, DRI scientists will have the opportunity to compete for research funding that explores activities and phenomena connected to farming and the environment. For more information on how you can support impactful science that inspires solutions, please contact the DRI Office of Advancement at (775) 673-7300.

Markus Berli with the Harold J. Kruse Farming & Environment Award.
DRI Announces a Back-to-School Event for Educators

DRI Announces a Back-to-School Event for Educators

Training for Kindergarten through Fifth Grade Educators in Las Vegas and Reno


DRI is pleased to announce its “STEM Showcase for Educators: Back to School Blowout” in Las Vegas and Reno.  The event includes training on DRI’s new Green Boxes, which are Next Generation Science Standards and Amplify standards aligned, free classroom supplies, raffle prizes, swag bags, and a resource fair with local businesses and non-profit organizations.

The contents of a Science Alive Green Box.

Green Boxes are self-contained teaching kits that provide educators with two or more weeks of lesson plans along with all of the supplies necessary to conduct each activity. Every box uses active learning strategies to engage students in hands-on projects that foster critical thinking and problem-solving skills. These lessons are designed to enhance student literacy in various STEM subject areas, from water conservation in the Desert Southwest to the environmental impact associated with natural resource extraction. Best of all, this resource is offered FREE of cost to any formal or informal educator in Nevada!  

This event is a collaboration between DRI’s Science Alive, UNLV, and the National Institute for the Advancement of Education. Register Today!

Las Vegas

August 1, 2023
DRI’s Las Vegas Campus
755 E Flamingo Rd, Las Vegas, NV 89119
Registration

Reno

August 7, 2023
DRI’s Reno Campus
2215 Raggio Parkway Reno, NV 89512
Registration

Schedule:

TimeKindergarten – Second Grade SessionsThird – Fifth Grade Sessions
2:00p-6:00pResource Fair & Raffles
2:15p-3:15pPushes and Pulls for KindergartenEarth to Mars for third grade
3:30p-4:30p  Nature’s Superheroes for first grade  Sense and Response for fourth grade
4:45p-5:45pWater-Wise Locals for second gradeNevada Water for fifth grade

About DRI

The Desert Research Institute (DRI) is a recognized world leader in basic and applied environmental research. Committed to scientific excellence and integrity, DRI faculty, students who work alongside them, and staff have developed scientific knowledge and innovative technologies in research projects around the globe. Since 1959, DRI’s research has advanced scientific knowledge on topics ranging from humans’ impact on the environment to the environment’s impact on humans. DRI’s impactful science and inspiring solutions support Nevada’s diverse economy, provide science-based educational opportunities, and inform policymakers, business leaders, and community members. With campuses in Las Vegas and Reno, DRI serves as the non-profit research arm of the Nevada System of Higher Education. For more information, please visit www.dri.edu.

DRI and Save Red Rock Celebrate The Passage Of SB99 Which Funds a Statewide Cloud Seeding Initiative

DRI and Save Red Rock Celebrate The Passage Of SB99 Which Funds a Statewide Cloud Seeding Initiative

New bill was signed into law by Governor Lombardo and will allocate $1.2M to assist in drought management

The Nevada State Legislature has unanimously passed a measure aimed at funding a statewide cloud seeding project. The appropriation of $1.2M over two years will be allocated to DRI for its multi-location cloud seeding research and operations. This project builds upon the efforts from Save Red Rock and DRI, whose recent “Make it Rain” campaign has provided measurable success in drought remediation and a better understanding of winter storm clouds crossing the southern Spring Mountains.

“It was always our goal to see the state take over funding this incredibly important conservation initiative,” said Save Red Rock advisory board member Pauline van Betten. “When we launched our project, we were hoping to increase precipitation in Red Rock in support of the plant and animal life, and to gain enough public awareness to earn legislative support. We are thrilled to be able to say we did both!”

Last fall, Save Red Rock launched a partnership with DRI to privately fund a cloud seeding program in the Spring Mountains, with the ultimate goal of soliciting future governmental funding. That program enjoyed incredible success, raising more than $100,000 and funding a cloud seeding generator targeting the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area.

“DRI is a proud pioneer of weather optimization research and practices, which have been used successfully for generations. We appreciate the support of Save Red Rock and its ‘Make it Rain’ campaign. The efforts of Save Red Rock raised awareness of the science of cloud seeding and funded a cloud seeding generator, resulting in more than 6,500-acre ft of water added back into the aquifers of the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. The approval of SB99 by the Nevada legislature will allow us to operate a statewide cloud seeding effort that will help to alleviate some of the effects of drought, and improve knowledge of winter storm clouds crossing Nevada for the next two years,” stated DRI’s Program Director Frank McDonough.

Cloud seeding is a safe and effective method used all over the world to enhance precipitation. It works by sending silver iodide, a natural and non-toxic compound, into a potential storm cloud which increases the the cloud’s precipitation efficiency. Winter seeding techniques feature ground-based generators operated remotely by meteorologists who monitor conditions and carefully evaluate when to seed. Each generator has the potential of adding an average of 3,000-4,000 acre-feet of additional precipitation to the seeded areas.

DRI has been pioneering cloud seeding programs since the early 1960s. It now offers time-tested methods that are proven to enhance snowfall in several mountain ranges, including the Lake Tahoe Basin

(CA/NV), the Walker Basin (CA/NV), the Spring Mountains (NV), the Ruby and Santa Rosa Mountains (NV), the San Juan Mountains (CO), and the Upper Colorado River Headwaters region (CO).

For those interested in learning more about how cloud seeding works, or the partnership project between DRI and Save Red Rock, visit: https://saveredrock.com/make-it-rain/

PIcture of Cloud Seeding station and DRI truck.

Learn more about Cloud Seeding on our YouTube Channel

About Save Red Rock

Save Red Rock is a 501c3 organization with a mission to preserve, protect, and enhance the natural, cultural, recreational, and scenic resources in and around the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area to ensure natural resource sustainability and promote responsible recreational enjoyment for all user groups now and for future generations.

About the Cottonwood Springs Water Stewards

The Cottonwood Springs Water Stewards is a committee of Save Red Rock whose goal is to preserve the springs and aquifers in Red Rock Canyon. Members of the Stewards include experts in botany, environmental science, land management and more.

About DRI

The Desert Research Institute (DRI) is a recognized world leader in basic and applied environmental research. Committed to scientific excellence and integrity, DRI faculty, students who work alongside them, and staff have developed scientific knowledge and innovative technologies in research projects around the globe. Since 1959, DRI’s research has advanced scientific knowledge on topics ranging from humans’ impact on the environment to the environment!s impact on humans. DRI!s impactful science and inspiring solutions support Nevada’s diverse economy, provide science-based educational opportunities, and inform policymakers, business leaders, and community members. With campuses in Las Vegas and Reno, DRI serves as the non-profit research arm of the Nevada System of Higher Education. For more information, please visit www.dri.edu.

DRI Announces Space Education Trainings for Nevada Teachers

DRI Announces Space Education Trainings for Nevada Teachers

DRI is pleased to announce “Space Education Educator Professional Development Training,” available for 80 educators. The training will be conducted in Las Vegas and Reno by four Nevada educators who were selected to attend the NASA Space Exploration Educators Conference in Houston in February. In addition to touring NASA facilities, the conference provided hands-on training in lesson plans and activities, and these educators will use the knowledge they gained to teach Nevada teachers.

“DRI is pleased to offer NASA-approved space education training to Nevada teachers,” said DRI STEM Education Program Manager Emily McDonald-Williams. “These educators are bringing their knowledge and experience back to share with educators statewide through two free professional development training courses for Nevada’s teachers. In addition, both trainings offer continuing education credits for attending educators.”

The trainings will provide lesson plans, resources, and hands-on engagement in space-based lesson plans that are grade-banded and Next Generation Science Standards aligned. Educators will leave prepared to integrate NASA-approved learning into their classrooms. Topics include the upcoming Artemis mission, Deep Space Discovery, Gravity Wells, and more.

Reno Training:

April 15, 2023

DRI’s Reno Campus

2215 Raggio Parkway Reno, NV 89512

K – 5th grade educators: 10 a.m. – noon

Lunch is available for all attendees from noon – 1 p.m.

6th – 12th grade educators 1 – 3 p.m.

Las Vegas Training:

April 22, 2023

DRI’s Las Vegas Campus

755 E Flamingo Rd, Las Vegas, NV 89119

K – 5th grade educators: 10 a.m. – noon

Lunch is available for all attendees from noon – 1 p.m.

6th – 12th grade educators 1 – 3 p.m.

 

science training session for teachers

Two teachers participate in an activity at a training session.

Credit: DRI.

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About DRI

The Desert Research Institute (DRI) is a recognized world leader in basic and applied environmental research. Committed to scientific excellence and integrity, DRI faculty, students who work alongside them, and staff have developed scientific knowledge and innovative technologies in research projects around the globe. Since 1959, DRI’s research has advanced scientific knowledge on topics ranging from humans’ impact on the environment to the environment’s impact on humans. DRI’s impactful science and inspiring solutions support Nevada’s diverse economy, provide science-based educational opportunities, and inform policymakers, business leaders, and community members. With campuses in Las Vegas and Reno, DRI serves as the non-profit research arm of the Nevada System of Higher Education. For more information, please visit www.dri.edu.

Arsenic Contaminates Private Drinking Water Wells Across the Western Great Basin

Arsenic Contaminates Private Drinking Water Wells Across the Western Great Basin

A New Study Maps Risk of Elevated Arsenic Levels in Groundwater Wells Across Northern Nevada, Northeastern California, and Western Utah

 

In the arid and drought-stricken western Great Basin, sparse surface water means rural communities often rely on private groundwater wells. Unlike municipal water systems, well water quality in private wells is unregulated, and a new study shows that more than 49 thousand well users across the region may be at risk of exposure to unhealthy levels of arsenic in drinking water.  

Led by researchers at DRI and the University of Hawai’i Cancer Center and published February 16th in Environmental Science and Technology, the study used data from groundwater wells across the western Great Basin to build a model to predict the probability of elevated arsenic in groundwater, and the location and number of private well users at risk. According to the study, the Carson Desert basin (including the town of Fallon, Nevada), Carson Valley (Minden and Gardnerville, Nevada), and the Truckee Meadows (Reno), have the highest population of well users at risk. The new study builds on previous research showing that 22% of 174 domestic wells sampled in Northern Nevada had arsenic levels exceeding the EPA guideline.  

“What we are finding is that in our region, we have a high probability for elevated arsenic compared to most other regions in the country,” said Daniel Saftner, M.S., a hydrogeologist at DRI and lead author of the study. “And we are seeing that geothermal and tectonic processes that are characteristic of the Great Basin contribute to the high concentrations of naturally occurring arsenic in the region’s groundwater.”   

The region’s mountains are also primary sources of arsenic. “As the arsenic-rich volcanic and meta-sedimentary rocks that form the mountains erode, sediment is transported to the valleys below,” says Steve Bacon, Ph.D., DRI geologist and study co-author. Water percolating through the valley floor then carries arsenic into the groundwater. Deeper, older groundwater and geothermal waters tend to have a higher arsenic concentration and can migrate upward along faults and mix with shallow groundwater. 

“We really wanted to better understand the unique geologic factors that contribute to high arsenic in this study,” Saftner says. “It’s important for us to think about the role of the environment as it pertains to human health – where we live can influence what our long-term health looks like.”  

To train and test the predictive model, the research team used data collected through the Healthy Nevada Project, including water samples from 163 domestic wells primarily located near Reno, Carson City, and Fallon. These data were supplemented with 749 groundwater samples compiled from the USGS National Water Information System. The model uses tectonic, geothermal, geologic, and hydrologic variables to predict the probability of elevated arsenic levels across the region.  

Although the U.S. EPA has set an arsenic concentration guideline of 10 µg/L for public drinking water, previous research has shown a range of health effects from long-term exposure to levels above 5 µg/L. Using this concentration as the benchmark, the model and map show that much of the region’s groundwater – particularly in western and central Nevada – is predicted to have more than a 50% probability of elevated arsenic levels.  

“Community members can use our arsenic hazard map to see what the risk is at their location, which might motivate them to test their well water,” says Monica Arienzo, Ph.D., associate research professor at DRI and study co-author. “Then, if they have high levels of arsenic or other contaminants, they can take steps to reduce their exposure, such as installing a water treatment system.”  

The findings from this study are potentially useful for a range of different applications. “The results can be useful for water utilities or water managers who tap similar shallow aquifers for their water supply,” says Saftner, “as well as irrigation wells that source water from these aquifers.”   

The research team plans to use their model to take a closer look at the health impacts of prolonged arsenic exposure. “Through the Healthy Nevada Project, genetic data and health records are paired with environmental data to help determine whether there are associations between the levels of arsenic in a community’s groundwater and specific health outcomes,” stated Joe Grzymski, Ph.D., research professor at DRI and principal investigator of the project.  

 

hydrographic basin boundaries map

Map showing the hydrographic basin boundaries and predicted average population density with arsenic ≥5 μg/L in (a) the entire western Great Basin; (b) Truckee Meadows (Reno area), Lemmon Valley, and Cold Spring Valley; (c) Carson Valley (Minden and Gardnerville areas); and (d) Carson Desert (Fallon area).

Credit: DRI.

graph displaying predictable probably of arsenic in aquifers in western great basin

Predicted probability of arsenic ≥5 μg/L in alluvial aquifers of the western Great Basin, including (a) mean probability of arsenic ≥5 μg/L, (b) 95% confidence upper bound, and (c) 95% confidence lower bound. Bedrock aquifers and lakes are shown in gray and were not included in the arsenic hazard assessment.

Credit: DRI.

More information:

The full study,Predictions of Arsenic in Domestic Well Water Sourced from Alluvial Aquifers of the Western Great Basin, USA,” is available from Environmental Science and Technology: https://doi.org/10.1021/acs.est.2c07948 

Study authors include: DRI researchers Daniel Saftner, Steve Bacon, Monica Arienzo, Erika Robtoy, Karen Schlauch, Iva Neveux, and Joseph Grzymski, as well as Michele Carbone with the University of Hawaii Cancer Center. 

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About DRI

The Desert Research Institute (DRI) is a recognized world leader in basic and applied environmental research. Committed to scientific excellence and integrity, DRI faculty, students who work alongside them, and staff have developed scientific knowledge and innovative technologies in research projects around the globe. Since 1959, DRI’s research has advanced scientific knowledge on topics ranging from humans’ impact on the environment to the environment’s impact on humans. DRI’s impactful science and inspiring solutions support Nevada’s diverse economy, provide science-based educational opportunities, and inform policymakers, business leaders, and community members. With campuses in Las Vegas and Reno, DRI serves as the non-profit research arm of the Nevada System of Higher Education. For more information, please visit www.dri.edu.

About the University of Hawaiʻi Cancer Center

The University of Hawaiʻi Cancer Center through its various activities, including scientific research and clinical trials, adds more than $57 million to the Oʻahu economy.  It is one of only 71 research institutions designated by the National Cancer Institute.  An organized research unit within the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa, the UH Cancer Center is dedicated to eliminating cancer through research, education, patient care and community outreach with an emphasis on the unique ethnic, cultural, and environmental characteristics of Hawaiʻi and the Pacific.  Learn more at https://www.uhcancercenter.org.  Like us on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/UHCancerCenter.  Follow us on Twitter @UHCancerCenter.

Funding Provides Safe Drinking Water to Communities and Jobs in Northern Ghana

Funding Provides Safe Drinking Water to Communities and Jobs in Northern Ghana

DRI’s Center for International Water and Sustainability (CIWAS) works to identify and solve problems related to human health and the management of environmental resources, especially water.

Sara and Leonard Lafrance believe in the life-changing work that CIWAS is doing in the Savanah Region of Northern Ghana, “It is more than just well drilling – this funding will provide provisions to help the people.”

Their two-year gift will ensure long-term access to safe water in healthcare facilities and surrounding communities with additional new wells. The funding also provides new water containers for safe water transport and storage (up to 60% of households have E. coli present in their stored drinking water), as well as water quality management, including disinfection, testing, safe storage and transport, and monitoring.

The gift will also provide jobs for local women who will be provided with loans and trained in small business management to collect tariffs from users of the boreholes. These proceeds will ensure the availability of money for repairs as well as for expansion of water supplies as the communities grow.

The Lafrance’s have been donors to DRI for many years, and Dr. Braimah Apambire, director of CIWAS and DRI are grateful for their continued support of the Institute and the impactful work that CIWAS does in Northern Ghana.

To support DRI’s CIWAS program or for more information on how to make a gift to support DRI, please contact Kristin Burgarello, director of advancement, at 775.673.7386 or Kristin.Burgarello@dri.edu.

CIWAS in Northern Ghana

Support DRI with a Tax-Deductible Contribution

Support DRI with a Tax-Deductible Contribution

At DRI, we believe in a world where trust between scientists and our community form the basis for a more sustainable and resilient environment for all people to live, grow, and prosper. From water scarcity and extreme heat to wildfires and air quality, we are committed to conducting impactful, innovative, and solutions-driven science that plays a central role in predicting, understanding, and addressing the issues faced by humanity.

What began more than 60 years ago as a small group of farsighted scientists, academic leaders, and entrepreneurs committed to understanding Nevada’s arid land resources has grown into a world-renowned research institute that is addressing environmental issues on a global scale. DRI has proven to be extremely responsive to the world’s changing priorities and has conducted studies on all seven continents. 

This is possible, in part, due to the generosity of people like you. Your support advances impactful science that is helping to deliver solutions to our world’s most pressing environmental challenges. Please consider supporting DRI with a year-end contribution to ensure this important work continues.

Maxey Fellowship Supports Graduate Student Water Resources Research

Maxey Fellowship Supports Graduate Student Water Resources Research

The George Burke Maxey Fellowship, or Maxey Fellowship, was established in 1988 by fourth-generation Nevadan Elizabeth “Betty” West Stout to support research in water resources by a University of Nevada graduate hydrology student. A year later, she was appointed a trustee of the DRI Foundation. Betty Stout was a paleontologist, trustee emerita of the DRI Foundation, and in 1997 she was awarded the DRI President’s Medal. Because of Betty’s significant support, the Stout Conference Center located at DRI’s Northern Nevada Science Center in Reno is named in her honor.  Betty was a friend and colleague of George Burke Maxey, a scientific trailblazer in water resources who completed his career as Executive Director of DRI’s Water Resources Center. The Maxey Fellowship Endowment, which was permanently endowed in 1993 by Betty Stout, recently received support from the Charles H. Stout Foundation, established by Betty’s late husband, Charles “Chick” Stout.

The Maxey Fellowship is a one-year award given to a current or incoming DRI graduate research assistant enrolled either in the University of Nevada, Las Vegas Water Resources Management or University of Nevada, Reno Graduate Program in Hydrologic Sciences pursuing discretionary research in water resources. DRI Executive Director for Hydrologic Sciences Sean McKenna, Ph.D., was the Maxey Fellowship’s second recipient, awarded to him in 1989.

“I was fortunate to meet Betty Stout when I received my award in 1989,” said McKenna. “She was a remarkable woman who believed in the work we were doing at DRI. Because of her generosity, we have been able to provide more than 25 annual fellowships and recruit highly sought-after graduate students from UNR and UNLV to work with DRI faculty.”

Endowments like the George Burke Maxey Fellowship Endowment provide DRI funding in perpetuity. To support DRI’s George Burke Maxey Fellowship Endowment or for more information on how to make a gift to support DRI, please contact Kristin Burgarello, director of advancement, at 775.673.7386 or Kristin.Burgarello@dri.edu.

sean mckenna holds maxey fellowship plaque

Innovation Research Program invests in early-stage research

Innovation Research Program invests in early-stage research

In 2018, to provide seed funding to help DRI’s scientists stimulate new and innovative research, the DRI Foundation established the Innovation Research Program (IRP). This vital program was led by the generosity of longtime DRI supporters, Tom and Mary Gallagher through the Tom and Mary Kay Gallagher Foundation.  

Although still in its early years, the impact of the IRP has already been immense. As DRI Vice President for Research, Vic Etyemezian, Ph.D., shared, “In my 20 plus years at DRI, faculty have always maintained that if we had a greater ability to invest in early-stage, pilot-scale research, it would give us a means to take risks with promising, but immature ideas and turn them into longer-term programs. The successes to date of the two rounds of IRP resoundingly support this. It’s hard to overstate the impact that this program has had on our faculty’s ability to plant and grow innovative ideas.” 

Since its launch, IRP has provided nearly $650,000 in philanthropic funding to support early-stage innovative research at DRI. Scientific research usually takes several years between when an investment is made into a new technique or line of inquiry and when that investment pays dividends – typically in the form of an external (to DRI) grant or contract. As a result, the full impact of IRP funding has not yet registered. Nevertheless, several IRP projects have already yielded significant success, and below are two examples.  

The seed funding provided to Yeongkwon Son, Ph.D., and colleagues for “Development of a High-Throughput Electronic Cigarette Testing System,” was instrumental for demonstrating expertise and ultimately winning a prestigious National Institute of Health award for $1.7M. Additional proposals leveraging this topic are pending. 

Another success is the microplastics research conducted by Monica Arienzo, Ph.D. She was able to build an entire research thrust on her IRP project entitled “Microplastics in the Lake Tahoe Basin.” The preliminary IRP work supported her application for an Infrared Microscope ($197K), which she won, and subsequently her NSF CAREER award ($551K over five years), which is a prestigious recognition of her research vision and multiple years of funding to further her work. She is currently pursuing expansion of her work internationally. 

Last month, DRI announced its latest IRP grants for the following research areas: 

Frontiers in Aqueous Black Carbon Research: Coupling presence and impact with Tribal partners 

Reaching Nevada’s Rural and Tribal Schools and Communities: Providing Robotics and Engineering Education Tomorrow’s Future Workforce is in Today’s Classroom 

Climate Change Risk Assessment framework: DRI Contributions and Value-added to the Power Sector.  

Biogeochemical Machines Behind the Scene – Lake Tahoe Picoplankton 2002 vs. 2022: What can We Learn from Tahoe’s Microbiosphere? 

Proof of Concept of a Biocidal Humidifier that Uses Ozone in Ambient Air to Deactivate its Viral Content 

An Innovative Functionalization of Filter Media for Improved Crystalline Silica Quantification Using Portable Raman Spectroscopy.  

DRI appreciates the continued support of the IRP, and we look forward to the scientific discoveries that will come from this seed funding. To support DRI’s Innovative Research Program or for more information on how to make a gift to support DRI, please contact Kristin Burgarello, director of advancement, at 775.673.7386 or Kristin.Burgarello@dri.edu

farmers in the field working

Marianna Vaughan, A Legacy of Generosity

Marianna Vaughan, A Legacy of Generosity

Our scientists are able to research some of the most pressing environmental challenges thanks to the support of donors like Marianna Vaughan. After working for Stanford Research Institute as a mathematician deciphering radio communications bouncing off the ionosphere, she eventually retired to Lake Tahoe. As someone who believed in the importance of scientific discovery and learning, she attended one of DRI’s public science talks and quickly became one of our most dedicated supporters.

Like many of our donors, Vaughan preferred to do her philanthropy quietly and didn’t seek public acknowledgment or gratitude. For more than 20 years, her consistent support for the area of greatest need, allowed the DRI Foundation to fund several important initiatives. One area her support helped fund is DRI’s Innovation Research Program which provides seed funding for our most distinguished early-career scientists to pursue early-stage but promising scientific research. The impact of this program in developing new lines of scientific inquiry and discovery cannot be overstated, and we are grateful for her support.

Vaughan recently passed, and we are incredibly touched that her legacy of support for DRI continued through memorial donations in her honor. These donations were made as a result of DRI being listed as one of her favorite charities. We are grateful for her legacy of support for DRI’s impactful science which inspires solutions.

For more information on how to make a gift to support DRI, please contact Kristin Burgarello, director of advancement, at 775.673.7386 or Kristin.Burgarello@dri.edu.

scientists sitting on the beach at Lake Tahoe

Robert Z. Hawkins Foundation Supports DRI’s STEM Education Programs

Robert Z. Hawkins Foundation Supports DRI’s STEM Education Programs

Nevada’s K-12 teachers and students will continue to benefit from STEM education through DRI’s popular Green Box program and Nevada Robotics, thanks to a generous donation from the Robert Z. Hawkins Foundation.  

The Robert Z. Hawkins Foundation made a gift to provide free shipping of 280 Green Box kits to and from Northern Nevada schools. The Green Boxes, or suitcases, are filled with detailed grade-level teacher lessons and hands-on STEM activities that support the Next Generation Science Standards. The Green Boxes provide relevant STEM education in engineering, robotics, environmental science, biology, clean energy, and more.

In addition, the Robert Z. Hawkins Foundation also made a gift so DRI can purchase seven new Ozobot robots as part of DRI’s Nevada Robotics program. Ozobots are small and powerful robots that fit into a child’s hand and introduce the basics of coding. Nevada Robotics will provide K-5 teacher trainings with one of the Ozobot kits, so educators have the skills and confidence to successfully teach coding through drawing lines. The other six Ozobot kits will be part of the Nevada Robotics Lending Library, which allows educators who have completed an Ozobot training to check out a robot to be used in their classroom.

To support DRI’s K-12 STEM education in Nevada or for more information on how to make a gift to support DRI, please contact Kristin Burgarello, director of advancement, at 775.673.7386 or Kristin.Burgarello@dri.edu.

Green Box content

International Arid Lands Consortium Provides Research Funding

International Arid Lands Consortium Provides Research Funding

The DRI Foundation is honored to receive a generous donation from the International Arid Lands Consortium (IALC) to provide scholarships to graduate students working on arid land issues. For over 30 years, IALC and DRI have partnered on research to improve the lives of people living in arid and semiarid areas of the world, with an emphasis on the Middle East. The research has focused on addressing the environmental challenges of arid lands, specifically on sustainable agriculture and natural resources that support more than one-fifth of the world’s population.

“This donation will provide scholarship funds to continue the important research on arid lands issues by supporting student-led fieldwork and publication preparation,” said DRI Research Professor Emeritus Alan Gertler, Ph.D. “Approximately one-third of the Earth’s land surface is desert, and much more research is needed to address the environmental challenges of arid lands.”

Throughout its 30+ years, IALC was dedicated to supporting ecological sustainability of the world’s drylands. The research activities of the IALC will continue through scholarships, including this donation to the DRI Foundation.

To support scholarships for graduate students at DRI or for more information on how to make a gift to support DRI, please contact Kristin Burgarello, director of advancement, at (775) 673-7386 or Kristin.Burgarello@dri.edu.

 

semiarid areas of the world - Middle East

Las Vegas student celebrates Bar Mitzvah by raising funds for Nevada Robotics program

Las Vegas student celebrates Bar Mitzvah by raising funds for Nevada Robotics program

Philanthropy comes in many different forms and sometimes from unexpected places. Caleb, a Las Vegas middle schooler, chose to give back to celebrate his Bar Mitzvah. Caleb reached out to DRI’s Nevada Robotics program with a desire to help raise money to give greater access to robots for students at a Title 1 middle school in the Las Vegas area.

 

“I am doing this project because I enjoy robotics, and I want other people who like robotics to be able to have access to robots,” Caleb said. “My goal for this project is to be able to raise $500 dollars for one to two robots for a classroom in need. Hopefully, we can raise more, like $5,000 dollars, so we can get an entire classroom set.”

 

“We are so excited to share that Caleb, his family, and his community have raised $1,000 for this cause,” said DRI STEM & Robotics Education Manager A.J. Long. “These funds will be used to purchase robot sets for a Title I school, Marvin Sedway, where 100% of the students are economically disadvantaged. The robots will be given to a Mrs. D. Jones Smith, a dedicated teacher who attended our Robotics Academy of Nevada Teacher Training in June of 2021. She is excited to bring robotics into her classroom to ignite STEM through hands-on classroom robotics. We hope to raise another $4,000 so that we can purchase a large classroom set by March of 2022.”

 

So far, the site has raised $1,000, exceeding Caleb’s initial goal. Thanks to Caleb for his thoughtful project!  

Mrs. D. Jones Smith and students

The William N. Pennington Foundation Supports DRI’s Cloud Seeding Program

The William N. Pennington Foundation Supports DRI’s Cloud Seeding Program

DRI is grateful for the ongoing generous support by the William N. Pennington Foundation for DRI’s cloud seeding projects in Northern Nevada for the 2021 and 2022 winters.

During the 1960s, DRI scientists helped pioneer the science of wintertime cloud seeding, developing research-based methods for increasing winter snowpack and subsequent snowmelt runoff across mountainous regions of the Western U.S. Since the DRI Cloud Seeding Research Program’s early days, DRI’s team of experts has conducted continuous research and development to create time-tested cloud seeding methods that are proven to enhance snowfall from winter storms. DRI’s cloud seeding projects are conducted in an environmentally safe manner, increasing the precipitation formation efficiencies of passing clouds to support the water needs of local communities and ecosystems.

“The William N. Pennington Foundation has supported DRI’s Cloud Seeding Program since 1997,” said DRI President Kumud Acharya. “With the severe drought in the Western U.S., this funding is needed more than ever. We deeply appreciate the Pennington Foundation’s continued support of this important program.”

Thanks to the generosity of the William N. Pennington Foundation and other supporters, our scientists are exploring big environmental questions and are being awarded funding for further research.

To support IRP or for more information on how to make a gift to support DRI, please contact Kristin Burgarello, director of advancement, at 775.673.7386 or Kristin.Burgarello@dri.edu.

cloud seeding

Remembering Norm Dianda

Remembering Norm Dianda

Norm Dianda, Q&D Construction founder and Nevada icon, was a great friend to DRI. For more than 24 years, Norm provided support for DRI’s distinguished Nevada Medal Award, which is recognized around the world and is the highest scientific honor in the state.

In addition to his philanthropic support, Norm’s legacy also lives on inside the walls of DRI’s Great Basin Environmental Research Laboratory (GBERL), which Q&D Construction built. GBERL is home to critical environmental research and is one of many important buildings in Reno which bear his fingerprints.

DRI Assistant Vice President Campus Planning and Physical Plant Peter Ross worked with Norm and recalled, “Norm ran a company that was proud of its roots, and Norm never outgrew his sense that no job was too small or unimportant to warrant the same attention and pride in craftsmanship  that he brought to his largest projects.”

Our hearts and thoughts are with Norm’s family, and we send our sincere condolences.

norm dianda

Support from Kim Sinatra Funds Innovative Research Program

Support from Kim Sinatra Funds Innovative Research Program

One of the important programs funded by generous donors, like Kim Sinatra, is the Innovation Research Program (IRP). This program increases opportunities for DRI faculty and technical staff to succeed in their research by financially supporting their very best ideas. Sinatra’s four-year pledge to support IRP, which is matched by the Tom and Mary Gallagher Foundation, provides funding for DRI faculty to conduct creative, innovative research or technological development that advances DRI’s mission.

“I’m excited to support IRP projects because I believe it’s incredibly important to launch early-career scientists who have innovative ideas for solving our most challenging environmental problems,” said Sinatra. “In addition, IRP was important to my dear friend, the late Tom Gallagher, and his wife Mary, and this is one more way to honor his legacy.”

IRP provides funding to do research in new and emerging areas and often opens the door to new funding from federal agencies. One example is investigating microplastic pollution in Nevada’s freshwater. DRI researchers studied the presence of microplastics in Lake Tahoe and the Las Vegas Wash to learn more about how much microplastic exists in these waterways. The IRP funding began Monica Arienzo, Ph.D., on her microplastics journey.

Thanks to the generosity of Sinatra and other supporters, our scientists are exploring big environmental questions, and are being awarded funding for further research.

To support IRP or for more information on how to make a gift to support DRI, please contact Kristin Burgarello, director of advancement, at 775.673.7386 or Kristin.Burgarello@dri.edu.

kim sinatra

Wildfires Are Increasingly Burning California’s Snowy Landscapes and Colliding with Winter Droughts to Shrink California’s Snowpack

Wildfires Are Increasingly Burning California’s Snowy Landscapes and Colliding with Winter Droughts to Shrink California’s Snowpack

A new study shows that midwinter dry spells lead to dramatic losses of winter snowpack in burned areas 

The early pandemic years overlapped with some of California’s worst wildfires on record, creating haunting, orange-tinted skies and wide swathes of burned landscape. Some of the impacts of these fires are well known, including drastic declines in air quality, and now a new study shows how these wildfires combined with midwinter drought conditions to accelerate snowmelt.   

In a study published Jan. 20 in Geophysical Research Letters, a DRI-led research team examined what happens to mountain snowpacks when sunny, midwinter dry spells occur in forests impacted by severe wildfire. The researchers found a substantial increase in wildfires burning in California’s snowy landscapes throughout 2020 and 2021, when large blazes like the Dixie, Caldor, and Creek fires concentrated in snow zones. Using a 2013 midwinter dry spell as comparison, they found that similar weather in the winter of 2021-2022 led to 50% less snow cover. The compounding impacts of wildfire on snow melt include an increase in sun exposure due to loss of forest canopy, and a reduction in the snow’s ability to reflect sunlight.  

“It’s already established that wildfires are increasing spring snow melt, but we wanted to know what happens when you add a long winter dry spell on top of that,” said Arielle Koshkin, M.S., a Ph.D. student now at the Colorado School of Mines who co-led the study as part of her master’s research at DRI and the University of Nevada, Reno. “The Caldor fire burned in our backyard, it was so close to where we live and work. So, the following winter, we wanted to investigate what it looked like.” 

Satellite data showed that compared to the 2001-2019 average, 2020 and 2021 saw a nearly ten-fold increase in wildfires burning in California’s seasonal snow zones. “What that implies is that there’s this increasing overlap between the fire and snow and there’s all these cascading and compounding impacts on the system and especially the hydrology,” said Ben Hatchett, Ph.D., a climatologist at DRI who co-led the study with Koshkin. “This huge increase of fire activity in California snowy regions is exactly what we expect to see more of going forward.”  

A strong winter drought followed during the winter of 2021-2022, when Tahoe City experienced a 46-day long midwinter dry spell (the second-longest since reliable records began in 1917; the long-term median is 22 days without precipitation). A comparable midwinter drought following a wet start to the winter occurred in 2013, giving the researchers the ability to compare and contrast the impacts under more typical conditions with those that occurred in a severely burnt landscape.  

“In 2013 and 2022, we had very similar weather patterns, but we didn’t see notable melt in 2013. And in 2022, we also did not see melt in unburned areas,” Hatchett said. “So that gives two lines of evidence suggesting that it’s the fire and not the meteorology that’s driving this.” 

Forests where severe wildfires have burnt the tree canopy have more exposed snowpacks, which enhances the melting caused by sunny days and warm nights (another recent DRI study examined the snowmelt impacts of spring heatwaves). Snowmelt is further exacerbated by the loss of the snowpack’s albedo, or the natural power of white snow to reflect, rather than absorb, the sun’s radiation. Particularly in the winters immediately following a wildfire, snow is dusted with the black carbon of burnt vegetation, which can accelerate snowmelt rates by up to 57%.  

The enhanced snowmelt was so pronounced within the perimeter of the Caldor fire that the researchers found a total of 50 fewer days with snow cover in the winter of 2021-2022 – the lowest number of snow cover days on record.  

Following a wildfire, “there are two timescales of interest: right after the fire, the loss in albedo really dominates,” said Hatchett. “But impacts from the loss of canopy last for decades, maybe longer if the forest does not recover.” 

The enhanced snowmelt midwinter creates challenges for forecasting water availability from the natural snowpack reservoir. During the winter months, water managers need to leave room in reservoirs to prevent flooding; this means that earlier snowmelt may not be captured for later use in the dry season. Studies like this provide water managers with the tools to make more accurate predictions of the timing and magnitude of snowmelt.  

The fires have made major landscape disturbance that we’re not taking into account in our forecasting abilities,” Koshkin said.I think this study is showing that wildfire impacts are huge, and we need to implement this into our ability to understand how water runs off the landscape. It’s part of our world and it’s increasing and it’s going to affect more snowy places. So, it’s important to make sure that we understand the outcomes in our models and management plans.” 

Koshkin plans to expand on this research for her Ph.D. studies by examining regional variation of fire impacts on snow. She notes that how wildfire impacts snowmelt in the Sierra Nevada may look different in Colorado or Idaho, due to different weather and snowpack conditions.  

The researchers emphasize that the wildfire impacts seen in this study are the result of high-severity wildfires, and not lower-severity burns like prescribed fires. “This study really highlights the importance of bringing fire back onto our landscape in the sense that we need fire – good fire is the answer to our wildfire problem,” Hatchett says. “Bringing a more natural regime of fire, through prescribed and cultural fire, back onto our landscape will help reduce the likelihood of future severe fire.” 

“We can recognize that this could be our new normal,” Koshkin said, “but we also have the ability to adapt and manage and mitigate as much as possible.” 

 

Scientists measure albedo on a snowy mountain

Study authors Arielle Koshkin and Ben Hatchett measure albedo in the Sierra Nevada foothills. 

Credit: Anne Heggli/DRI.

More information:

The full study, Midwinter dry spells amplify post-fire snowpack decline, is available from Geophysical Research Letters:  https://doi.org/10.1029/2022GL101235 

Study authors include: Benjamin Hatchett (DRI), Arielle Koshkin (DRI/UNR), Kristen Guirguis (Scripps Institution of Oceanography), Karl Rittger (CU Boulder), Anne Nolin (UNR), Anne Heggli (DRI), Alan Rhoades (Lawrence Berkeley National Lab), Amy East (USGS), Erica Siirila-Woodburn (Lawrence Berkeley National Lab), W. Tyler Brandt (Scripps Institution of Oceanography), Alexander Gershunov (Scripps Institution of Oceanography), and Kayden Haleakala (Scripps Institution of Oceanography/UCLA).  

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About DRI

The Desert Research Institute (DRI) is a recognized world leader in basic and applied environmental research. Committed to scientific excellence and integrity, DRI faculty, students who work alongside them, and staff have developed scientific knowledge and innovative technologies in research projects around the globe. Since 1959, DRI’s research has advanced scientific knowledge on topics ranging from humans’ impact on the environment to the environment’s impact on humans. DRI’s impactful science and inspiring solutions support Nevada’s diverse economy, provide science-based educational opportunities, and inform policymakers, business leaders, and community members. With campuses in Las Vegas and Reno, DRI serves as the non-profit research arm of the Nevada System of Higher Education. For more information, please visit www.dri.edu.

Lynn Fenstermaker: Celebrating a Career  in Ecological Remote Sensing and NASA Space Grant Leadership

Lynn Fenstermaker: Celebrating a Career in Ecological Remote Sensing and NASA Space Grant Leadership

Lynn Fenstermaker, Ph.D., recently retired from DRI after 32 years. Throughout her career as an ecologist and remote sensing scientist, she tackled large-scale questions about environmental stressors, including the impacts of climate change and wildfires on Great Basin and Mojave Desert ecosystems.

Her long list of career achievements includes serving as Director of the Nevada Space Grant Consortium and Nevada NASA EPSCoR, as well as two statewide research programs examining the effects of climate change: the Nevada Desert FACE Facility (NDFF) and the Mojave Global Change Facility (MGCF). She also acted as Director of the Nevada Climate-ecohydrological Assessment Network (NevCAN). Fenstermaker served on three national boards (National Space Grant Foundation, National Space Grant Council Executive Committee, and NASA EPSCoR Caucus) and a state board that governs the Nevada Institute for Autonomous Systems. At DRI, she served as Deputy Director of the Division of Earth and Ecosystem Sciences.

Fenstermaker – who was recently admitted to her high school’s hall of fame – shared some of the biggest projects of her career, plans for retirement, and the advice she would give to young scientists following in her footsteps.

Fenstermaker and Knight

Fenstermaker (with Eric Knight, UNLV) collecting multi-spectral images with UAS.

Credit: Lynn Fenstermaker/DRI.

DRI: What first brought you to DRI?

Fenstermaker: When I first came to Las Vegas, I had just wrapped up all but the writing for my master’s degree in agronomy at the Pennsylvania State University. I took a job with the EPA’s Remote Sensing Lab, where I got involved in a lot of projects all across the country, from Montana down through Nevada. (Note: Fenstermaker worked on the EPA’s first ever GIS project, which modeled groundwater contaminant plumes to identify the sources of contamination. This project helped demonstrate how GIS could produce useful information for the EPA).

After I finished my master’s in 1986, I moved to Las Vegas to take a job at Lockheed, where I worked for a little over two years. While I was there, I got to know the director of the Environmental Research Center at UNLV and worked there for three years. When I decided to leave, I created my position at DRI, which was initiating a cooperative agreement with the EPA lab here in Las Vegas. So, I said “Hey, I would like to do this work, but I’d like to do it in collaboration with the other remote sensing scientists at DRI.” The EPA said yes, so I sort of created my own position.

I’ve been at DRI ever since, and that’s been 32 years. Which doesn’t seem possible because I’m still young on the inside.

team competing in national soil judging contest

Fenstermaker’s nearly all-female PSU team competing at the National Soil Judging Contest in Nebraska. Fenstermaker is second from the right.

Credit: Lynn Fenstermaker/DRI.

DRI: What encouraged you to stay at DRI for so many years?

Fenstermaker: I like the flexibility of being able to take on different projects. Everyone who’s been at DRI for some length of time knows that funding can be challenging – there were times when I scrambled for funding, particularly when we lost the cooperative agreement with the EPA lab. It was at that time that I decided to go for my Ph.D., so I was working full time in a soft money environment, keeping myself fully funded, taking classes, and working on a dissertation – It took me 11 years to finish my Ph.D.

After my Ph.D. I thought about going to a university to teach and do research while having a hardwired salary. But then I talked with faculty about all the university stressors, and I thought, “Well, at DRI there’s only one big stressor – and that’s keeping yourself funded.” So, I networked a lot, and I think having a collaborative spirit really helped me to get involved in various projects, as well as my organizational skills.

DRI: Tell me about the NevCAN project.

Fenstermaker: NevCAN’s goals were to develop standardized infrastructure with real time data collection to measure and analyze the effects of climate variability and change on ecosystems and disturbance regimes. We also wanted to better quantify and model changes in water balance and supply under climate change.

Essentially, it’s a series of meteorological stations with common sensors across two mountain ranges in Nevada. The stations are centered within each ecosystem type. And we’re looking at weather variability and climate at different elevations.

We measure incoming solar radiation (long and shortwave), and incoming precipitation, as well as factors that affect that including wind speed, wind direction, and air temperature at different heights. We also measure soil moisture and soil temperature, and within vegetation, we measure the fate of the water: how much is transpired from trees or evaporated from the soil surface, how much went into deep leaching and potentially could enter the groundwater at some point in time.

Unfortunately, when you’re looking at climate variability and change, you can’t just measure for five years and say, voila – no, it’s long-term monitoring. And a lot of the federal agencies don’t want to pay for long term monitoring.

NevCAN transect locations

NevCAN transect locations in Nevada’s Snake Range.

Credit: Lynn Fenstermaker/DRI.

DRI: Can you describe some of your other large projects, the Desert FACE Facility, and the Mojave Global Change Facility?

Fenstermaker: The Desert FACE facility fumigated an intact ecosystem with elevated CO2 to determine plant and ecosystem response to the increased CO2. We published a Nature paper in 2014 that was pretty much a summary of the project data. What was interesting about this is that overall, we saw retention of carbon in the soil, not in the plant matter.

The Mojave Global Change Facility looked at what would happen with soil disturbance, nitrogen deposition and increased summer monsoon precipitation. Because earlier climate models predicted an increase in summer rain in the Mojave Desert due to global warming, we simulated increased summer precipitation. The models have since changed, and both the models and weather data clearly show that this isn’t the case. Monsoon flow is not bringing more summer precipitation into the Mojave Desert.

We’re maintaining both sites for future research, because they’re really unique, one-of-a-kind research sites in the world.

female digging holes in the desert

Fenstermaker hand-digging holes for rain gauges at the Mojave Global Change Facility.

Credit: Lynn Fenstermaker/DRI.

DRI: Tell me more about your work as the Director of Nevada NASA EPSCoR.

Fenstermaker: EPSCoR is the Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research. It’s a program funded by Congress for states who receive less than 0.75% of all NSF research dollars, or less than 10% of all federal research dollars.

The history of this program is interesting. During World War II, there was a lot of buildup along the coasts of the United States. And a lot of industry was concentrating in these regions, and as universities started partnering with industry to build their programs, they got a lot of research dollars. Additionally, most of the NASA centers are located along the coast. There are only a few that are quasi- interior, like Glenn Research Center in Ohio, but the rest are in Virginia, Texas, California, and Louisiana. This is why the interior states largely got left behind. EPSCoR is a way of spreading out the funding to the interior states who do not have those industry collaborations or that rich history of developing unique research infrastructure capabilities. The states that primarily benefit are Nevada, New Mexico, Wyoming, Idaho, Missouri, Mississippi, South Carolina, Alaska, Montana, Nebraska, North and South Dakota, Vermont, and New Hampshire. The Nevada Desert FACE facility was a DOE EPSCoR project.

Director of Nevada NASA EPSCoR and the Nevada Space Grant Consortium

Fenstermaker served as the Director of Nevada NASA EPSCoR and the Nevada Space Grant Consortium.

Credit: Lynn Fenstermaker/DRI.

DRI: You also served as Director of the Nevada Space Grant Consortium. Can you talk a little about that?

Fenstermaker: NASA requires that in EPSCoR states, whoever is the Space Grant director also serves as that state’s NASA EPSCoR director. Space Grant is all about improving STEM education, so we run solicitations and review panels to make sub awards to Nevada faculty and students. Some of the most important solicitations we do are undergraduate research scholarships, graduate student fellowships, and student internships at NASA centers.

I convene a faculty review panel of at least three members, each one from a different Nevada System of Higher Education institution, to review all of the applications, then convene the panel and make the selection for who receives funding. I do the same for faculty awards. On the Space Grant side, we fund faculty to improve higher education or pre-college education. For both of those we have a hands-on training component for either college students or pre-college students. One of the successful programs has been a program where a UNR faculty member mentors at an engineering high school in Reno, and they build a human-powered rover to take to Huntsville, Alabama, to participate in national competitions. And every time they’ve gone, they’ve won one or more awards.

On the pre-college side, in addition to the hands-on training for students, we also fund teacher training. The DRI Science Alive team has been quite successful at applying for these funds.

So, I oversee all of that, and go to the national meetings: I’ve served on the National Space Grant Council Executive Committee, which is the group of directors from across the country that connects the Space Grant program to NASA’s Office of STEM Engagement. I’m handing over the role of Secretary of that Committee to Eric Wilcox, the incoming NV Space Grant and NV NASA EPSCoR Director.

DRI: What are your plans for retirement?

Fenstermaker: I’m going to exercise more, and I’ll continue to work part time. I’m going to try to wrap up things with NevCAN and with the Desert FACE and Mojave Global Change Facilities so they can remain intact and be passed forward.

I also started watercolor painting a couple of years ago, which is fun. And I’ll keep hiking and bicycling.  Basically, I’ll be figuring out this transition as it happens.

DRI: What advice do you have for young researchers or young climate change scientists?

Fenstermaker: Not to have too high of expectations — I always compared myself with people that were putting out 200+ publications over the course of their career, and that’s just not who I am. It’s important to learn who you are and accept yourself, recognize your strengths, as well as where to challenge yourself — and to network. Communication is critical.

Don’t strive for perfection, or you’ll really disappoint yourself or fall behind. Just strive to meet your obligations and do it reasonably well. Also, you’ve got to schedule personal time, as well as work time. For example, if you’re going to a conference in a cool area, schedule a couple of days before or after and do a little sightseeing, take a significant other with you and make time for family and yourself so that you don’t burn out.

soil presentation for 4H

A young Lynn Fenstermaker presented 4-H projects on soil conservation, geology, fossils, and insects.

Credit: Lynn Fenstermaker/DRI.

DRI: Is there anything else you think is important?

Fenstermaker: A few more words of wisdom: Watch for windows of opportunity, because a lot of things I got involved in came from communicating with people who opened a window of opportunity for me, and I said yes.

Overall, DRI has been a great place to work, particularly at the Southern Nevada Sciences Center. It feels like family. It’s a great organization because you have the flexibility to go in a lot of different directions with your research, and work collaboratively across disciplines and across institutions, which is really rewarding.

DRI Opens Doors to Careers in Scientific Research with Student Internship Program

DRI Opens Doors to Careers in Scientific Research with Student Internship Program

DRI Opens Doors to Careers in Scientific Research with Student Internship Program

Jan. 24, 2023
LAS VEGAS, NEV.

By Elyse DeFranco

Fluoride 
Water Treatment
Water Filters

The first in DRI’s Behind the Science Blog coverage of our fall 2022 Research Immersion Internship Series.

This fall, DRI brought eleven students from Nevada’s community and state colleges to the Las Vegas and Reno campuses for a paid, immersive research experience. Over the course of the 16-week program, students worked under the mentorship of DRI faculty members to learn about the process of using scientific research to solve real-world problems. This unique internship program welcomes all students, not only those pursuing majors in science, who are in their first or second year of enrollment at local state and community colleges.

Students for the 2022 fall semester joined from the College of Southern Nevada, Nevada State College, and Truckee Meadows Community College.

“Hands-on experience in science, working directly with experienced mentors, is one of the best ways to help students explore careers in scientific fields, and DRI’s internship program opens up this opportunity to more students across Nevada,” says Meghan Collins, M.S., who leads the internship program. “We’re thrilled to have continued support from MGM Resorts and the Hearst Foundations in order to bring more potential future scientists to DRI.”

The students wrapped up their semester-long internships on Dec. 20 by presenting lightning talks about their research to the DRI community. Their research spanned multiple scientific disciplines, from Nevada’s endangered species, to improving access to drinking water quality in Ghanaian communities, to monitoring Earth’s urban climates from space.

DRI’s Behind the Science Blog will highlight each research team’s accomplishments over a series of five stories.

Applications for fall 2023 internships will open in spring 2023.

In this story, we learn about Erick Bandala’s student interns and their quest to find solutions for communities struggling with a persistent and overlooked problem: the health impacts of high concentrations of fluorides in their drinking water.

Female scientist testing water samples in lab

Left: Intern Shaezeen Vasani tests the efficacy of three different experimental materials in removing fluoride from water. Right: The experimental set-up in Erick Bandala’s lab. 

Credit: DRI.

flouride water samples in flasks in lab

Student Interns Help Erick Bandala Develop a Water Treatment Prototype for Fluoride Removal

Student Researchers: Jennifer Arostegui, Rocio Cortez, Shaezeen Vasani

Faculty mentor: Erick Bandala, Ph.D., Assistant Research Professor of Environmental Science Additional Mentor: Adam Clurman, Student Worker in the Division of Hydrologic Sciences

Fluoride is largely known as a toothpaste additive – the American Dental Association recommends fluoride toothpastes because they help prevent cavities and strengthen tooth enamel. Many communities around the world add fluoride to their drinking water supply for the same reason. But when people consume too much fluoride – more than the 0.7 parts per million recommended by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services – a number of health problems can arise.

“Normally, we hear positive news about fluoride – that it has been proven to rebuild and strengthen tooth enamel,” said intern Rocio Cortez. “However, a high concentration can pose a great danger.”

The Risks of Fluoride Over-Consumption

Fluorides are actually compound elements where the element fluorine combines with other substances, usually metals. They naturally occur in Earth’s rocks and soils, following rain and erosion to make their way into watersheds. Nearly all water contains some level of fluorides, but the geologic history of a region can sometimes lead to far higher levels than average.

Once inside the body, fluorides move through the bloodstream and concentrate in areas with higher calcium, including teeth and bones. Persistent exposure to higher levels can cause dental fluorosis, which discolors teeth and increases the risk of tooth decay. However, some communities are exposed to such high levels of fluorides that skeletal fluorosis can occur, which results from the buildup of fluorides in bones. This leads to joint stiffness and pain, brittle bones, and bone fractures.

“At high levels, fluoride starts to replace calcium in the teeth and bones,” said faculty mentor Erick Bandala. “And we have found places – for example, in Ghana – where the fluoride concentration may be as high as 50 milligrams per liter, which is far higher than the guideline of 1.5 milligrams per liter set by the World Health Organization (WHO).”

Closer to home, Bandala’s research team found wells in central Nevada’s Walker Lake Indian Reservation where the fluoride concentration is around 5 milligrams per liter, nearly three times the WHO guideline.

Excess fluoride can be removed from water with the aid of specialized filters and reverse osmosis, but many communities don’t have access to the proper technology, or the expertise needed to maintain it. Recognizing this, Bandala set out to identify inexpensive, readily available materials that can be used as water filters.

“We are developing materials that can remove contaminants from the water using the concept of circular economy,” Bandala said. “This means that we want to use material that for someone is considered a waste and turn it into something that can be used for water treatment.”

Researching Water Filters for Fluoride Removal

For their internship project, the students examined the potential efficacy of three different materials for removing fluorides from water. The first material, calcium hydroxyapatite (or “bone dust”), is derived from cattle bones. The second, sulfuric biochar, is created from pine wood that had been infected by beetles. The third material, phragmites, is a common invasive plant found in wetland areas.

“For our experiments, the materials were under a process called chemisorption,” said intern Jennifer Arostegui. “This process uses high pressure and high temperatures.”

Chemisorption causes new chemical bonds to form, allowing fluorides to bind to the experimental material and be subsequently removed from the water. The students tested various concentrations of each material over the course of approximately 70 different tests. Their results showed that unheated calcium hydroxyapatite was the most effective at filtering fluoride from water, followed by sulfuric biochar and then phragmites.

Another experiment examined each material to determine whether it was hydrophobic (water repelling) or hydrophilic (water attracting) and compared this to their results for fluoride removal. The students found that this wasn’t a critical factor in determining how effectively the experimental materials scrubbed fluoride from the water.

testing materials in lab

The interns tested how efficiently three different materials removed fluoride from drinking water: calcium hydroxyapatite, sulfuric biochar, and phragmites. 

Credit: DRI.

Embracing the Research Experience

The student researchers benefitted from their hands-on experience in the lab as well as immersion in the DRI community. They shared some of their highlights and surprises, as well as how the internship helped guide their future studies and careers.

“This experience was eye opening,” said intern Shaezeen Vasani, a student at the College of Southern Nevada studying physical sciences. “Every day I learned something new and could not wait to come back in to continue my project. Every time I thought I learned everything, something new would be brought to my attention.”

Vasani said she was surprised by the scientific process, especially when experimental results varied from her expectations. “While running tests, our numbers should have been decreasing but instead it was increasing for some of the materials,” she said, referring to the fluoride concentrations with treatment. “We later learned from our mentor that this could be due to the chemical properties in some of the materials and their interaction with our project’s contaminants.” 

For intern Arostegui, the highlight of the internship experience was the ability “to actually get involved and introduced to a laboratory outside of school. In our group, we learned how to use a spectrophotometer, use reagents/stock solutions, and weighed/prepped our own samples.”

She says she was surprised to be part of a research team that respected her as a collaborator. “The biggest surprise for me was being referred to as a ‘scientist,’ ‘researcher,’ and even ‘engineer’ by my mentor and colleagues,” she said. “I have only seen myself as a student.”

Arostegui is studying environmental management at the College of Southern Nevada and has a specific interest in water resources and says that the internship encouraged her to continue studying hydrology and geology. “This was such a positive experience to be a part of,” she said. “I am forever grateful.”

Prior to the internship, intern Rocio Cortez had focused her undergraduate studies on business administration. Now, she says her career goals have shifted. “I have put in some thought into pursuing a graduate degree that relates to STEM,” she said. “In addition, it has also made me want to volunteer and look for opportunities similar to this internship.”

“When I first started the internship, I really did not know what to expect,” Cortez said. “Through every step of the way, my teammates and I received guidance and support from our mentor… I would like to thank DRI for having this internship and opening its doors to students outside of STEM.”

More Information

To learn more about the DRI Research Immersion Internship, go to https://www.dri.edu/immersion/

A Changing Flood Recipe for Las Vegas

A Changing Flood Recipe for Las Vegas

A new study shows that urbanization and climate change are changing the strength and seasonality of flooding in the Las Vegas region

Las Vegas, with its rapid urbanization and desert landscape, is highly vulnerable to flooding. For this reason, flood managers have built an extensive system of drainage ditches and detention basins to protect the public. Now, a new study shows how intentional engineering and urban development are interacting with climate change to alter the timing and intensity of flood risk.

In a study published Jan. 6 in The Journal of Hydrometeorology, researchers from DRI, the Clark County Regional Flood Control District, the University of Wisconsin- Madison, and Guangdong University of Technology examine Las Vegas’ changing flood regime. Their results show that flood intensity has increased since the mid-20th century, with an abrupt shift occurring in the mid-1990s. Climate change has also shifted flood seasonality, with the storms and their resultant floods now occurring more frequently in winter, in contrast with the historically stronger summer monsoon season.

“When I looked at the data for annual flood peaks, I could see that something is changing,” said Guo Yu, Ph.D., lead author on the new study and hydrologist at DRI. “I wanted to understand the reason for this change as well as the physical mechanisms driving it, because that will help water managers and the public understand whether such a change will continue in the future, given climate and land use changes here.”

Las Vegas is one of the fastest growing metropolitan regions in the country. In 1950, fewer than 35 thousand people resided in the region; by 2020, that number grew to 2.6 million. Like many cities in the arid Southwest, development centers on the valley floor and spreads up into the natural topography of the surrounding mountains. As concrete and pavement replace more porous desert soils, the risk of flooding in human communities rises – catastrophic floods have caused fatalities as recently as 2022. To mitigate this risk, the Clark County Regional Flood Control District constructed a complex series of storm drains and culverts to capture and direct the flow of water away from populated areas and toward Lake Mead.

Over the same period, climate change has led to shifts in seasonal rainfall patterns. The Southwest has two distinct flood seasons: winter floods produced by atmospheric rivers and summer floods linked to the North American monsoon. Since 1950, daily rainfall amounts have increased in winter and decreased in the summer months.

“Historically, people in Las Vegas haven’t paid as much attention to winter floods as to summer floods,” Yu said. “But our research shows that there will be more frequent winter floods happening because of climate change. This is because the warmer sea surface temperatures on the Pacific coast will cause more atmospheric rivers, like what we’re seeing this January in California. And when these are positioned to bypass the Sierra Nevada mountains, they will very likely hit Las Vegas and cause severe winter rainfall and floods.”

The new research demonstrates an overall picture of shifting intensity and seasonality of floods in Las Vegas. The study authors are continuing to refine their understanding of flood risk in the region with an upcoming study, currently under review, that examines changing rainfall patterns in more detail.

“A lot of research focuses on a single driver – either land use or climate – but in Las Vegas, our study shows that both are changing and interacting with each other,” said Yu.

More information:

The full study, The Nonstationary Flood Hydrology of an Urbanizing Arid Watershed, is available from The Journal of Hydrometeorology: https://doi.org/10.1175/JHM-D-22-0117.1

Study authors include: DRI researchers Guo Yu, Julianne Miller, Benjamin J. Hatchett, and Markus Berli; as well as Daniel B. Wright (University of Wisconsin, Madison); Craig McDougall (Clark County Regional Flood Control District); and Zhihua Zhu (Guangdong University of Technology, Guangzhou, China).

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About DRI

The Desert Research Institute (DRI) is a recognized world leader in basic and applied environmental research. Committed to scientific excellence and integrity, DRI faculty, students who work alongside them, and staff have developed scientific knowledge and innovative technologies in research projects around the globe. Since 1959, DRI’s research has advanced scientific knowledge on topics ranging from humans’ impact on the environment to the environment’s impact on humans. DRI’s impactful science and inspiring solutions support Nevada’s diverse economy, provide science-based educational opportunities, and inform policymakers, business leaders, and community members. With campuses in Las Vegas and Reno, DRI serves as the non-profit research arm of the Nevada System of Higher Education. For more information, please visit www.dri.edu

Estom Yumeka Maidu Student Teaches DIY Air Filtration Techniques to Help Reservation Communities During Wildfire Season

Estom Yumeka Maidu Student Teaches DIY Air Filtration Techniques to Help Reservation Communities During Wildfire Season

Estom Yumeka Maidu Student Teaches DIY Air Filtration Techniques to Help Reservation Communities During Wildfire Season

January 17, 2023
RENO, NEV.

By Robin Smuda, Climate Reporter Intern

Air Filtration
Reservation Communities
Wildfire Season

Wildfires affect all in their way, from the places burned as fuel to the areas filled with smoke. Across the western U.S., climate change is leading to warmer, drier conditions and contributing to longer, more active fire seasons. In the Great Basin and other parts of the western U.S., indoor air filtration during wildfire season has become a problem. Many houses have no particulate filtration systems, and this is especially true on reservations. Possible solutions can be expensive and materials can be hard to obtain, but Piercen Nguyen and his colleagues Meghan Collins and Jade Nguyen of DRI have a proven solution.

HEALTH IMPACTS OF WILDFIRE SMOKE

Piercen Nguyen, DRI workshop intern and member of Enterprise Rancheria, Estom Yumeka Maidu Tribe, is a student at the University of Nevada, Reno, and became interested in the health impacts of wildfire smoke while working on a project for the Center for Genomic Medicine at DRI in Reno, Nev. Studying lung cell damage from prolonged episodes of wildfire smoke, he saw the physical effects of smoke on lung tissue.

According to Nguyen, the standard way of studying lung tissue involves using liquid smoke extracts introduced to the tissue. However, the team at DRI took a more realistic approach by “generating wildfire smoke and pumping it directly into an exposure chamber containing lung tissues,” Nguyen said.

Nguyen explains that they found that a type of cancer cell seemed to be resilient to wildfire smoke. They also found that wildfire smoke from different geographic areas has unique consequences on lung cell functions. This research had him thinking about the effects of smoke on communities. Back home in California, Nguyen’s community has been damaged by fires in the past, and his community members have been exposed to fire smoke heavily over time. People who rely on evaporative cooling systems have had to choose between overheating or breathing clean air, Nguyen said. Working with this project and seeing the effects of smoke on lung tissue sparked the idea to develop a usable solution for these communities.

Fire is an issue that hits very close to home for Nguyen. “There are tribal members, who have lost homes like, one person in my tribe lost their home twice to wildfires,” Nguyen said.

A PROBLEM MADE WORSE BY CLIMATE CHANGE

In the western U.S., fire has always been a part of life, but decades of fire suppression have led to unhealthy fuel buildups, and changes in climate such as increased drought and heat are contributing to longer and more active fire seasons. These effects of climate change touch the whole region. Wildfire smoke is harsh and dangerous for communities even if a fire is not threatening them. Communities have an exacerbated problem of poor air quality in these times, and some people need extra air filtration equipment for their homes.

Tools like the AirNow map show the dangers of fire and smoke in real-time. And regions like Northern Nevada have issues with fire danger and pollution from larger fires in Western areas. Recently the danger of this smoke has grown and stayed hazardous during summer and fall.

As seen in the graphics below, EPA air quality data from the summer and fall seasons of 2020 and 2021 in the Reno and Douglas County areas of Nevada show PM 2.5 reached “moderate” to “hazardous” levels for longer than any other period on record. PM2.5 is particulate matter that is less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter and is generated by various sources including wildfire smoke.

air quality data in reno

A tile plot generated from the EPA website shows a long period of “moderate” to “hazardous” air quality in Reno, Nev. during the summer and fall of 2020 and 2021. These were the most severe periods of poor air quality on record for this region, dating back to 1999. 

Data Source: EPA.

air quality data in douglas

In Douglas County, Nev., PM2.5 data has only been collected regularly since 2013, but patterns support what has been observed in Reno. Residents of Douglas County experienced long periods of “moderate” to “hazardous” air quality during late summer and fall of 2020 and 2021.

Data Source: EPA.

TRIBAL HOUSING CHALLENGES

Tribal housing infrastructure is very susceptible to issues like wildfire and smoke. Standing buildings are usually old designs that can have issues like lead paint and toxic flooring. They can be manufactured homes or trailers that are long past expected use. Elements like extreme cold and heat waves are an issue throughout the Great Basin, but many reservation homes are only equipped with woodfire stoves for heating, and swamp coolers, window units, or nothing for cooling.

On the Stewart colony of the Washoe Tribe of Nevada and California, most homes have nothing or swamp coolers for cooling air.

“So, people have to choose between either dealing with the heat or if it’s smokey outside, you know, just dealing with the smoke,” Nguyen said.

Using only low-cost materials that are easily found at a home improvement store like Home Depot, Nguyen learned how to make a simple air filtration system alongside the swamp coolers that were built into many reservation homes.

The do-it-yourself (DIY) filter system has been around a while, Nguyen remarked. The type of system he learned to build has been shown to be both effective and safe by the U.S. EPA {US, 2022, Research on DIY Air Cleaners to Reduce Wildfire Smoke Indoors}. The cost is under $50 and uses a box fan, cardboard, tape, and two air filters.

This design was made and chosen for keeping cost and complexity low. We also talked about manufactured air purifiers. Nguyen said most will work for smoke, just one must research the filter and have money for the cost.

BUILDING A DIY AIR FILTER

The price and availability of air filters are major issues for rural Tribal Communities, due to the distance many people would need to travel to buy supplies and the economics of the areas. This means many communities are staying at risk of wildfire smoke (and wildfires themselves).

For the last year, the researchers have been doing workshops on different reservations in Northern Nevada and Northern California to teach people how to build low-cost filtration systems for their homes. They received a grant in May of 2022 from the DRI Lander Endowment that allows them to provide the materials to these communities for free. So far, they have held 10 workshops that have helped 93 people build their own air filter systems.

In this workshop, DRI researchers provided materials to make a DIY air filter that utilized two filters to make a wedge shape. However, Nguyen adds that in a pinch, you can simply use a single filter fastened to a box fan and still get effective results. He adds that for safety reasons, it is crucial to use a box fan built in 2012 or later as manufacturer safety regulations have since been updated.

Watching a workshop at the Washoe Tribe’s Community Center at Carson Colony on September 15, 2022, the process was very easy.

Nguyen showed the group how to build an air filter using a box fan, a decent size cardboard sheet cut from the fan’s box (~1.5ft. on each side), two MERV 13 filters, and a few yards of Duct Tape or similar brand of tape. Triangular pieces were cut from the cardboard, and then all was assembled. So simple that personal touches were naturally added: showing the graphic from the box or not; what tape color, and where the cable should come out for their house.

 

PHOTOS: THREE STEPS TO BUILDING A DIY AIR FILTER

 

tapping air filters together

Step 1: Tape two filters together using duct tape.

Credit: Robin Smuda.

bending air filters into triangle

Step 2. Stand the filters on end, and tape them to a box fan in a triangular arrangement.

Credit: Robin Smuda.

fitting cardboard on top of filters

Step 3: Cut a triangular piece of cardboard to fit the top of the air filtration system. Attach with tape. 

Credit: Robin Smuda.

IMPROVING YOUR HOME’S AIR FILTRATION

Whether you live in a house, apartment, or another type of housing, if your home does have an air filtration system, it is important to know that filter quality is important. Filters are labeled by particles filtered: one is weakest, and 20 is strongest. The EPA recommends a better filter for filtering out smoke. However, you cannot just add thicker filters to your wall AC unit or central air system because that could damage the system. Additionally, two other rating systems are commonly used to classify filter quality: MPR and FPR. In these cases, it is recommended to use FPR 10 or MPR 1500 or better.

Filters work physically collecting certain size particulates, and filtration systems are designed for specific filter sizes. When we inspected the filters in our homes, Nguyen and I both found that our filters were the weakest possible – like looking through a sheet of paper — and probably not helping effectively during fire season.

There are a few different filter types available. HEPA filters are the gold standard and can remove most smoke particulates. However, availability can be an issue even in large population centers. Nguyen explained that during periods of heavy smoke, places like Home Depot run out and he has had to try and order cases that are on backorder.

Air filters also need to be replaced regularly. According to Nguyen, they should be replaced every three to six months, or possibly more often during periods of heavy smoke. He recommends checking air filters every month during fire season, and potentially replacing them monthly if you notice a visual change such as discoloration from the particulates being filtered.

“People have had an overwhelmingly positive response to the workshops,” Nguyen said. He added that several people expressed their excitement to use the DIY air purifiers to improve the air quality for both themselves and loved ones who may experience conditions like asthma or COPD. Workshop attendees also remarked to Nguyen and colleagues how helpful the DIY air purifiers were in combating hazardous downwind air quality resulting from the Northern California Mosquito wildfire event in the months of September and October 2022.

air filtration workshop in classroom

Piercen Nguyen, member of Enterprise Rancheria, Estom Yumeka Maidu Tribe, teaches a workshop on air quality and air filtration.

Credit: Provided by Piercen Nguyen.

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES:

https://www.epa.gov/air-research/research-diy-air-cleaners-reduce-wildfire-smoke-indoors

Robin Smuda is a Wašiw person and a member of the Washoe Tribe of Nevada and California. Currently, they are a reporter intern with Native Climate at DRI and studying Cultural Anthropology at the University of Nevada, Reno. Robin is planning on studying Ethno-Archeology and Indigenous Studies in grad school, with a focus on the transition from pre- and post-contact in the Great Basin.

The DRI Foundation Welcomes New Trustees for 2023

The DRI Foundation Welcomes New Trustees for 2023

The DRI Foundation is pleased to welcome the following new members to its Board of Trustees, each serving a four-year term beginning January 1, 2023:

These board members were formally approved at the December NSHE Board of Regents meeting and will serve alongside existing DRI Foundation board members Kristin McMillan Porter (Chair), Stephanie Kruse (Vice Chair), Michael Benjamin (Past Chair), Robert McCart (Treasurer), Nora James (Secretary), Richard Ditton, John Entsminger, Robert Gagosian, James King, Janet Lowe, Terry Shirey, Ronald Smith, and Karen Wayland.

The DRI Foundation Board of Trustees is comprised of dedicated individuals committed to helping advance DRI’s mission. In 2022, Foundation leadership invested heavily in cultivating a strong and diverse pool of trustee candidates who are well-positioned to make an impact. These efforts led to an increase in board diversity in areas such as gender, ethnicity, age, and geographic location. These individuals will work in close collaboration with President Kumud Acharya and the Office of Advancement to engage and build relationships with new and existing supporters to further DRI’s work across Nevada and around the world.

“We welcome our new trustees to the DRI Foundation Board and extend our deepest thanks and appreciation to our outstanding current trustees,” said DRI President Dr. Kumud Acharya. “The expertise and commitment to philanthropy of the DRI Foundation Trustees play an essential role in building and maintaining relationships that are crucial to funding and promoting the impactful environmental work of DRI research to people and environments in Nevada and around the world.”

“I am honored to lead the DRI Foundation Board of Trustees in supporting DRI’s mission to be a home for science that creates a better future,” said DRI Foundation Chair Kristin McMillan Porter. “We welcome our new Trustees and look forward to the great value that they will bring to our organization.”

 

DRI Foundation Chair Kristin McMillan Porter

Headshot of DRI Foundation Chair Kristin McMillan Porter

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About the DRI Foundation

The DRI Foundation serves to cultivate private philanthropic giving in support of the mission and vision of the Desert Research Institute. Since 1982, DRI Foundation trustees have worked with DRI benefactors to support applied environmental research to maximize the Institute’s impact on improving people’s lives throughout Nevada, the nation, and the world. For more information about the DRI Foundation or DRI, please contact Kristin Burgarello (Kristin.Burgarello@dri.edu) or Julie Mathews (Julie.mathews@dri.edu).

About DRI

The Desert Research Institute (DRI) is a recognized world leader in basic and applied environmental research. Committed to scientific excellence and integrity, DRI faculty, students who work alongside them, and staff have developed scientific knowledge and innovative technologies in research projects around the globe. Since 1959, DRI’s research has advanced scientific knowledge on topics ranging from humans’ impact on the environment to the environment’s impact on humans. DRI’s impactful science and inspiring solutions support Nevada’s diverse economy, provide science-based educational opportunities, and inform policymakers, business leaders, and community members. With campuses in Las Vegas and Reno, DRI serves as the non-profit research arm of the Nevada System of Higher Education. For more information, please visit www.dri.edu

Spring Sunny Heat Waves Caused Record Snowmelt in 2021, Adding to Severe Water Supply Impacts Across the Western U.S.

Spring Sunny Heat Waves Caused Record Snowmelt in 2021, Adding to Severe Water Supply Impacts Across the Western U.S.

A new study highlights how persistent high pressure in April 2021 drove widespread rapid snow loss

Snow-capped mountains aren’t just scenic – they also provide natural water storage by creating reservoirs of frozen water that slowly melt into watersheds throughout the spring and summer months. Much of the Western U.S. relies on this process to renew and sustain freshwater supplies, and new research underscores the impacts of extreme weather conditions on this annual cycle.  

In a study published Jan. 5th in Environmental Research Letters, DRI researchers examine the role of spring heatwaves on the melting rates of mountain snowpacks across the West. They found that in April 2021, record-breaking snowmelt rates occurred at 24% of all mountain snowpack monitoring sites in the region, further compounding the impacts of extended drought conditions. Rapid snowmelt increases the time when our natural snowpack reservoir is emptied and when this water is most needed later in the warm season.

“One thing that stood out was the spatial pattern,” says Daniel McEvoy, Ph.D., DRI climatologist and co-author of the new study. “It wasn’t just one single mountain range or one part of the West – there were snowmelt records across the entire Western U.S., in all 11 states.” 

By examining data from mountain snowpack monitoring stations, the researchers found that between April 1 and May 1, record high temperatures caused dramatic decreases in snowpacks. Although record snowmelt rates occurred throughout the entire month of April, two heatwaves stood out. The first week of April saw maximum temperatures 4-6 degrees Celsius above average, driving the most widespread record snow melt centered on the Rocky Mountains. Another heatwave the third week of April centered on the Pacific Northwest, with maximum temperatures 5-8 degrees Celsius above average, primarily in the Cascade Range.   

“Summer heat waves are studied extensively, but people don’t often care as much about a spring heatwave because the actual air temperatures don’t usually lead to human health impacts,” McEvoy says. “But at the same time, they are creating these hydrological and climatological extreme impacts.” 

Several factors contributed to the rapid rate of snowmelt in the spring of 2021. On top of record high maximum temperatures, record high minimum temperatures prevented snowpacks from re-freezing at night, and clear, sunny skies exposed snow to the melting energy of the sun’s rays. The ongoing drought, already widespread in late 2020, also created parched soils that absorbed more of the spring snowmelt in 2021 before it could run off into streams and reservoirs or replenish groundwater.  

“What really motivated this study was that in May and June of 2021, I kept hearing from other climatologists, meteorologists, hydrologists, and even skiers, that ‘the snow really came off the mountains fast this year,’” McEvoy says. “I kept hearing that over and over again.” 

Although many snowpacks across the West were below average due to low winter snowfall, water resource managers were unable to forecast the exacerbating effects of the rapid spring snowmelt on water supplies. With reservoirs below expected levels based on early-season snowpack predictions, less water flowed to downstream users. Reduced water availability also impacted hydropower production, which made providing energy during the summer and fall heatwaves more challenging. By the end of summer 2021, 76% of the West was in severe drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

“This was one of several extreme climate events over the course of that year,” McEvoy says of the spring 2021 heatwave. “There was a compounding set of climate extremes that all contributed to this rapid expansion and intensification of the drought across the Western U.S. during the late spring and summer.” 

The researchers say these spring heatwaves are consistent with the long-term trend of spring warming across the West, and that because of this, April 1 may no longer be a reliable benchmark for evaluating snowpack levels and their seasonal contributions to western water supplies. 2021 was also an active wildfire season in California and the Pacific Northwest, consistent with previous research linking reduced mountain snowpacks and spring heatwaves with increased wildfire potential.

McEvoy says that future research will examine the impacts and frequency of spring heatwaves, as well as ways to predict them by looking at global atmospheric circulation patterns, such as the ones that cause La Niña.  

“Understanding the predictability of these types of snowmelt events would be helpful for both drought early warning and water resource management,” says McEvoy.  

More information:

The full study, Spring heat waves drive record western United States snow melt in 2021, is available from Environmental Research Letters 
https://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1748-9326/aca8bd 

Study authors include Daniel McEvoy and Benjamin Hatchett, both at DRI.  

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About DRI

The Desert Research Institute (DRI) is a recognized world leader in basic and applied environmental research. Committed to scientific excellence and integrity, DRI faculty, students who work alongside them, and staff have developed scientific knowledge and innovative technologies in research projects around the globe. Since 1959, DRI’s research has advanced scientific knowledge on topics ranging from humans’ impact on the environment to the environment’s impact on humans. DRI’s impactful science and inspiring solutions support Nevada’s diverse economy, provide science-based educational opportunities, and inform policymakers, business leaders, and community members. With campuses in Las Vegas and Reno, DRI serves as the non-profit research arm of the Nevada System of Higher Education. For more information, please visit www.dri.edu.

What can prehistoric ceramics of the California deserts tell us about the past?

What can prehistoric ceramics of the California deserts tell us about the past?

What can prehistoric ceramics of the California deserts tell us about the past?

Jan. 5, 2023
LAS VEGAS, NEV.

By Elyse DeFranco

Prehistoric Ceramics 
California Desert District
Artifacts

A Q&A With Archaeologist Greg Haynes

DRI archaeologist Greg Haynes, Ph.D., recently completed a synthetic report on the prehistoric ceramic artifacts of the Colorado and Mojave deserts for the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) California Desert District (CDD). The CDD manages the 11 million-acre California Desert Conservation Area, which holds cultural artifacts dating back thousands of years. Following a century of research on the prehistoric people and cultures of the Colorado and Mojave deserts of California, this is the first large-scale synthesis focused on ceramics and what they can tell us about the past.

Haynes’ report provides guidance for understanding prehistoric ceramics, identifies research questions for their study, and aids in the evaluation of ceramic-bearing resources for the National Register of Historic Places.

DRI sat down with Haynes to discuss this project, which he calls “one of the highlights of my career.”

DRI: Could you tell me a little bit about your background and how you came to DRI?

Haynes: I’ve been a professional archaeologist for about 35 years. I have a B.A., M.A. and Ph.D. in anthropology and my research focus is on the prehistoric archaeology of western North America. The hunter gatherer populations in the Great Basin, Mojave Desert, and the small-scale agricultural societies on the Colorado Plateau, namely the ancestral Pueblos or Anasazi. I was on staff at DRI as an Associate Research Scientist in archaeology between 1992 to 1998 and returned in 2019.

DRI: And how did you come to be involved with this particular report?

Haynes: The project is focused on creating a new synthetic context for prehistoric ceramics in the deserts of Southeastern California. I was awarded the project in large part because I have a professional background in the area, and I had a nationally recognized ceramic expert in the American Southwest on my team, Dr. Karen Harry, a Professor of Anthropology at UNLV.

map of mojave desert region

Left: Map of the Mojave Desert region. Right: Great Basin Brown Ware with incised decoration along rim, from the northeastern Mojave Desert.

Credit: Greg Haynes/DRI.

great basin brown ware decoration

DRI: Why is it important to catalog and identify ceramic artifacts?

Haynes: What the BLM wants to do, and what most archaeologists want to do with ceramic artifacts, is use them to identify cultural and temporal affiliations. Which groups made or used a particular site — that is, you find a pot sherd (piece of ceramic) and you want to infer what archaeological cultures made that ceramic and therefore used or made the archaeological site you’re looking at. They also want to know what time periods those ceramics date to. And many ceramics in the American Southwest are tied to a radiocarbon or tree-ring chronology, so they’re tightly constricted in time and space.

DRI: How are ceramics dated using radiocarbon dating methods or tree-ring chronology?

Haynes: In fact, they can’t be radiocarbon dated. They have to be in direct association with something that can either be radiocarbon dated or be dated through tree rings. For instance, if archaeologists find a pot in a house, and the house has a wooden roof beam over the top of it, the roof beam can be dated through a tree ring chronology (or dendrochronology). And by association, they therefore date the pot at that particular time period.

DRI: And radiocarbon dating only works for things that were previously living, right?

Haynes: Yes, that’s right. Now, there’s another type of dating nowadays called optically stimulated luminescence dating (OSL). And that you can use to actually date the ceramic itself, and as springboard projects develop from this particular one, I hope to learn more about OSL and perhaps use our own OSL lab here at DRI.

The important point though, is that the ceramics in the Colorado and Mojave deserts of Southeastern California, are primarily plain wares — they don’t have a lot of diagnostic features on them. And you need diagnostic features to be able to identify different types of pottery, and therefore the people who made them, as well as track them through time. Additionally, most of the pottery you find sits right on the ground surface. And if they are buried, there’s almost no association with organics that can be radiocarbon dated, tree rings, or stratification — that is, buried deposits that are layered so you can see how things change through time. So, they stump people. This inspired the BLM to seek a new synthetic context for these things, and new research directions about how we can use ceramics to tell us about precontact people and time.

DRI: When ceramics are found in the desert today, are they still collected and put into collections?

Haynes: In general, they’re not collected at all. And one reason is that there are hundreds of collections with tens of thousands of ceramic artifacts in repositories across the U.S. The BLM identified 16 repositories in the Western US that hold prehistoric ceramics from lands administered by the California Desert District. And while there is no absolute number of how many pieces of pottery are in those collections, it is tens of thousands — maybe even over 100,000.

example of a Tizon Brown Ware body sherd

An example of a Tizon Brown Ware body sherd from Arizona. The brown color is derived from residual mountain clays and the temper is visible on its surface.

Credit: Greg Haynes/DRI.

DRI: And how old are some of the artifacts that you documented in this report?

Haynes: They don’t date much before about A.D. 1000. Most of them date no earlier than A.D. 1100 or 1200.

DRI: Would ceramic artifacts last much longer than that?

Haynes: Ceramic artifacts certainly would — they’re fired stone, essentially. Clay molded into something and then fired until they’re essentially pieces of stone.

DRI: When you’re making these associations between the ceramics and the people, how does that work?

Haynes: Well, there are different attributes on the ceramics, like surface colors. For instance, a particular type of ceramic called Lower Colorado Buff ware was known to be made by ancestral Yuman-speaking populations and they have particular types of colors because of their clay sources (buff, orange, or red). And you can also do that with temper (small chunks of rock or other material mixed into the clay to give it some texture, so it doesn’t break apart when it’s being fired and used). The types of clay you might find in Lower Colorado Buff ware is different than the clay in other types of pottery like Tizon Brown ware, which is also found in the Mojave and parts of the Colorado deserts of California, and colored brown. And that’s because it’s made from residual, igneous clays formed in the mountains as opposed to alluvial clays formed on the valley floor near rivers.

example of Lower Colorado Buff painted ware

An example of Lower Colorado Buff painted ware from along the Colorado River. It is a red-on-orange bowl sherd with decorated elements on the interior of the vessel.

Credit: Greg Haynes/DRI.

DRI: And what can we learn from these artifacts?

Haynes: Well, what the BLM wanted to learn is, can these plain wares in the Mojave and Colorado deserts of southeastern California actually tell us who was at a site and at what time? That can be done to some extent, but it can’t be done with a lot of detail. So, if you find a site that has a whole bunch of Lower Colorado Buff Ware you can say, okay, the people who lived here were ancestral Yuman-speaking folk, but these same ceramic artifacts have not been tied to a very good chronology. You can’t tell when the site was occupied based on the ceramics, unfortunately. And people have tried to do that for years, but there simply has not been enough radiocarbon dating or stratified deposits associated with those ceramics to track them through time. OSL offers an opportunity to do that, but it has to be fairly widespread — it would take a lot of ceramic artifacts to develop a well-established chronology for plain ware artifacts.  

DRI: What do you mean by “wares”?

Haynes: A ware is a type of ceramic that is made by a particular prehistoric people.  If you were an archaeologist, however, we could debate what a ware is for quite a long time. I’ll just leave it at that simple, big idea.

DRI: I think you touched on this, but why are the ceramic resources in the Colorado and Mojave Deserts difficult to characterize and differentiate?

Haynes: It’s because they don’t have a lot of distinguishing attributes on them, like painted motifs. For instance, if you find a painted circle or a square on a piece of pottery that’s made in one location, but you don’t find it in the next region over, that may be related to cultural differences. For plain wares, there’s not a lot of decoration, they’re just plain wares, very utilitarian. So that’s what makes them difficult and the fact that they have not been tied to a well-established chronology. And we’re often working with just little fragments of ceramics, rather than large pieces or entire vessels.

Another important point about the ceramic context is that you will not be able to learn much about the ceramics in terms of culture and history unless you examine attributes that change through space and time – like one single attribute, how it changes or varies through time and where you find it. So, one thing you could look at are changes in rim morphology or shape over space and time. Or you could look at the distribution over space and time of stucco (something put around the base of a pot, presumably to strengthen it). Or you could source these ceramics using specialized techniques to identify their geochemical signature or fingerprint, and see how far and wide, through space and time, that geochemical signature or fingerprint can be found.

rim morphologies
example of a Lower Colorado Buff plain sherd

Top: Rim morphologies: a. straight walled; b. chimney neck; c. outward/gently recurved; d. outward flaring/exaggerated recurved wall; e. inward/gently recurved wall; f. inward flaring/exaggerated inverted wall.

Bottom: An example of a Lower Colorado Buff plain sherd from along the Colorado River. It has a thick stucco applied to its exterior.

Credit: Greg Haynes/DRI.

DRI: And by fingerprint, you mean a particular type of clay?

Haynes: That’s correct. You can do the same kind of analysis with what’s called burnishing, where the inside or the exterior of the pot is blackened, and then it’s polished. Where do you find burnishing, through space and through time?

DRI: Did you learn anything new or surprising while preparing this report?

Haynes: Part of the project was to go to a number of ceramic repositories and look at some of these collections. And I chose four museums to go to because they had by far the most ceramics. When you look at collections like that, you run across some incredibly interesting things that are just startling. For instance, I was at the Imperial Valley Desert Museum in El Centro. I was given this bag of prehistoric ceramics and they were Lower Colorado Buff ware, and I thought, “These are really weird — something’s wrong with them.” It was like the pottery itself had decorative waves in the clay, but they were clearly natural. So, I put the bag away because I was just confused by it. And I looked through other bags and looked at different pottery sherds. And the last day of the last hour, I came back to this bag because I’m just completely stymied by it. And I opened it up and looked at it and it dawned on me that this is an unfired pot. They had molded this either around the inside or the outside of a pot, but never fired it. And so, it was just natural clay shaped into a vessel that had somehow preserved on the surface.

LCBW vessels

Examples of LCBW vessels on display at the Imperial Valley Desert Museum (TOP: red-on-buff globular jar [olla] with chimney neck, medium to large; MIDDLE: flower pot recurved rim jar, medium to large, with stucco application; BOTTOM: globular [water] jar with chimney neck, medium to large).

Credit: Greg Haynes/DRI.

DRI: So, it just kind of baked in the sun naturally?

Haynes: Exactly. Another bag of pottery I was looking at was in the San Diego Museum of Us and it was from a collection obtained from the Cronese Basin, just west of Baker, California. I looked at these potsherds, and they were really grey and crumbly. And they were painted with black designs. I looked at them and thought “This is weird. I don’t know what this is.” So, I put it away. And I came back to it. And it dawned on me that whoever made this piece of pottery in the Cronese Basin was trying to mimic an Anasazi black-on-grey ware. They were trying to mimic a pottery vessel made perhaps hundreds of miles away. It was startling.

That was really one of the highlights of my career here at DRI.

DRI: And how will this report be used by the Bureau of Land Management?

Haynes: It’s been distributed to all the BLM field offices in the CDD and used as a synthetic overview. It also builds consistency for recording these artifacts in the field. When archaeologists go out and conduct inventory for regulatory compliance purposes under the National Historic Preservation Act, it aids them in recommending a ceramic-bearing site eligible or ineligible for the National Register of Historic Places. In addition, it can also be used by investigators to contextualize the ceramics in Southeastern California. And then offers a chapter on new research directions for their analysis.

DRI: Any final thoughts?

Haynes: Well, it was a tough project for two years. But it was incredibly fun to do — one of the highlights of my career.

We’re (the project principals) planning an invited symposium in 2024 in Riverside, California to discuss these plain wares with other archaeologists and other specialists, as well as Native American tribal members.

More Information

The technical report is the property of the BLM-CDD and will become available in the future on their website.

DRI Leading $5 Million Regional Climate Adaptation Project

DRI Leading $5 Million Regional Climate Adaptation Project

DRI is partnering with Scripps Institution of Oceanography to build climate resiliency through the California Nevada Adaptation Program (CNAP)

The impacts of climate change have been acute in California and Nevada, with most of the last two decades spent in extended drought conditions and 2021 wildfires producing Reno’s worst recorded air quality in the 21st century. Adapting to these challenges will require not only focused research to better predict climatic events, but will also depend on empowering local communities to use this knowledge to make informed decisions in the face of adversity. With $5 million in funding from NOAA’s Climate Adaptation Partners initiative, the California Nevada Adaptation Program (CNAP) will spend the next five years bringing together researchers, community members, and practitioners to cooperatively conduct research and identify solutions.

For the first time, CNAP will be hosted in Nevada under the leadership of DRI’s Tamara Wall, Ph.D., research professor of atmospheric science and deputy director of the Western Regional Climate Center (WRCC). DRI’s long-standing partnership with Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego will continue, with Dan Cayan, Ph.D., regional climate researcher and CNAP lead since its founding in 1999, and Julie Kalansky, Ph.D., who has served as CNAP program manager for six years, joining Wall to lead the project.

“The goal of CNAP has always been to expand more fully across the California and Nevada region,” Wall says. “This is the first time that DRI is leading CNAP, and it’s also the first time that CNAP is a system-wide effort. Bringing on partners from UNLV and UNR is important for meeting that goal and will help us address climate change impacts across the state.”

California and Nevada have partnered for the CNAP program since 2011, producing research and results that include: the first Nevada Climate Assessment; California’s Fourth Climate Change Assessment; recommendations for updating red flag warnings and the fire weather watch system; and analyses of water use and supply in California’s agricultural communities.

The next five years will focus on adaptation, with an intentional transition from statewide climate research toward preparing communities for local-level action to address regional climate hazards. Six projects will support adaptation needs to address four of the most pressing climate issues in the region: extreme heat, wildfire smoke, coastal flooding, and water scarcity. As part of the project’s commitment to equity and diversity, it will include a mentorship program within community colleges to prepare the future’s workforce to address climate impacts. In addition, a small grants program, Building Capacity through Reciprocity with Tribal Communities, will work to enact community-identified solutions for tribal communities by supporting a Leaders Indigenous Climate Fellowship Program.

“Centering CNAP’s research on adaptation allows us to focus on producing community-centered solutions,” Wall says. “Impacts from climate change are expected to amplify in the coming decades, and disadvantaged communities are the least able to manage those impacts without additional support. Our research includes community partners so that we can adequately understand community needs and concerns and actually improve people’s lives.”

Research Focus Areas

Extreme Heat

Highlights for planned research include creating the Southern Nevada Heat Resilience Lab (SNHRL), a regionally focused program that will bring together public service providers, including emergency responders and social services workers, with scientific experts on extreme heat. Real-time air temperature sensors will be installed in at-risk neighborhoods within Las Vegas, targeting locations such as public transit stops and buses, cooling centers, places with outdoor laborers, and unhoused communities. Following a trial period in Las Vegas, the project aims to expand local heat sensor networks to rural and Indigenous communities, where heat impacts are less well studied and understood

Water Resiliency

In order to help California prepare a more resilient workforce in the face of growing issues with water availability, CNAP will partner with community colleges in the San Joaquin Valley to create climate-related workforce training opportunities. The goal is to create a more climate-technical workforce to support community adaptation to changes in water availability and climate extremes.

Coastal Erosion

Southern California is lined with some of the most heavily used beaches on the West coast, and this region is likely to experience increased flooding and erosion due to sea-level rise. CNAP will partner with collaborators to explore nature-based solutions and Indigenous stewardship as coastal adaptation strategies.

Public Health in the Face of Extreme Heat and Wildfire Smoke

California and Northern Nevada are increasingly experiencing extreme weather conditions with overlapping heat waves and intense wildfires. CNAP will explore the public health impacts of these events by directly assessing a sample of households in Washoe County, Nevada. Research will include installing air sensors to monitor heat exposure and air pollution, conducting interviews to understand decision-making under environmentally challenging conditions, and baseline health monitoring.

Understanding Burnout in Climate Change Professionals

Previous CNAP research has shown that climate change professionals are experiencing high rates of burnout, and institutional support isn’t yet providing adequate resources to this population. CNAP will continue this line of study by evaluating the traits and communities that lead to more psychological resiliency and developing training materials based on the results for the CNAP team and partner networks.

State Climate Assessments

Both California and Nevada will likely produce new statewide climate assessments within the next five years, and CNAP will continue to coordinate among state and local efforts. CNAP will also pilot a mentoring program focused on early career faculty at universities and colleges in California and Nevada.

“NOAA Climate Adaptation Partnerships (CAP, formerly ‘RISA’) advances equitable adaptation through sustained regional research and community engagement,” says Caitlin Simpson, Program Manager, NOAA Climate Adaptation Partnerships. “Climate affects every part of society, and this is most visible to us when we see long-term changes in social and environmental conditions, increased unpredictability, and extreme weather events. We seek to help people plan for and adjust to a changing climate by supporting long-lasting partnerships among scientists, decision makers, and communities. The result is a shared understanding about society’s needs and the co-generation of credible and actionable knowledge to support community solutions. We work within regions composed of multiple US state/territory jurisdictions which share similar climates and cultures.”

“CNAP’s long history in the CAP/RISA program dates from 1997, and features many accomplishments, including substantial scientific contributions to all five of California’s climate assessments in close partnership with the state government. CNAP has achieved deep expertise on sea level rise, drought, water resources, and wildfire planning issues and has closely partnered with a number of federal and nonfederal partners to advance local, state, and regional planning around these issues. The NOAA Climate Program Office is thrilled to fund the California-Nevada Climate Applications Program (CNAP) team for another five years as a part of the CAP/RISA Network.”

 

CNAP logo

More information:

For additional information about CNAP visit: https://www.dri.edu/cnap/

CNAP Principal Investigators include Tamara Wall (DRI), Julie Kalansky (Scripps), and Daniel Cayan (Scripps).

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About DRI

The Desert Research Institute (DRI) is a recognized world leader in basic and applied environmental research. Committed to scientific excellence and integrity, DRI faculty, students who work alongside them, and staff have developed scientific knowledge and innovative technologies in research projects around the globe. Since 1959, DRI’s research has advanced scientific knowledge on topics ranging from humans’ impact on the environment to the environment’s impact on humans. DRI’s impactful science and inspiring solutions support Nevada’s diverse economy, provide science-based educational opportunities, and inform policymakers, business leaders, and community members. With campuses in Las Vegas and Reno, DRI serves as the non-profit research arm of the Nevada System of Higher Education. For more information, please visit www.dri.edu.

Tim Minor: Celebrating a Career in GIS and Remote Sensing

Tim Minor: Celebrating a Career in GIS and Remote Sensing

Tim Minor: Celebrating a Career in GIS and Remote Sensing

DECEMBER 21, 2022
RENO, NEV.

By Elyse DeFranco

Tim Minor
GIS
Remote Sensing

Above: Minor piloting a drone; he is a FAA-certified Remote Pilot in Command.

Credit: Tim Minor/DRI.

Tim Minor, M.A, recently retired from DRI after 31 years. His successful career as a geographic information systems (GIS) and remote sensing scientist brought him to DRI in 1991; he served as Deputy Director of DEES from 2012 to 2018, and Interim Executive Division Director of DEES from 2018 to 2021.

Minor’s work uses satellite and drone imagery to map and analyze invasive species, surface disturbance, ground water resources, and mountain watershed water quality, among many other applications. He is a FAA-certified Remote Pilot in Command, and he taught introductory and advanced courses in GIS applications and image processing methods.

DRI sat down with Minor to discuss his long career as a scientist and competitive runner, his career highlights (featuring a Ghanaian marathon), and his advice for young scientists (including his own son, Blake, an associate research scientist in DHS).

Tim Minor and Mary Cablk

Minor conducting field work with DRI biologist Mary Cablk, whom he frequently worked alongside.  

Credit: Tim Minor/DRI.

DRI: What first brought you to DRI?

Minor: Well, I grew up in Pacific Grove, California, and went to Monterey Peninsula College, and then got a scholarship to come to the University of Nevada. I only stayed two years, finished off my degree and went back to grad school at U.C. Santa Barbara. I got an offer to come up to Reno in 1989 to work for a mining company that needed a geologic remote sensing person. While I was working for them, I started meeting some people from DRI, and I just thought it was an amazing place.

There was a guy named Jonathan Davis who was a mentor of mine. He was one of my teachers at UNR and I was really looking forward to working with him, Dave Mouat, and some of the other amazing people at DRI. I didn’t know quite how that would work, but things just kind of fell in place. I got a job at DRI in 1991.

The sad part was that I was really looking forward to working with Jonathan Davis — his wife worked with me at my mining company — but they were involved in a horrible car accident a couple of months before I got to DRI; Jonathan was tragically killed. We have a Jonathan Davis scholarship in DEES in his name.

DRI: And you’ve been at DRI ever since?

Minor: Yep, I stayed at DRI for 31 years. I think one of the things that really helped me is that in the GIS/remote sensing field, there are opportunities to work on a lot of diverse projects. I started off working on an air quality project, and then I started doing a lot of stuff with water, biology, and vegetation. And it just kind of took off from there — it was very rewarding.

You know, I have a master’s degree, not a Ph.D. So, despite everyone calling me doctor all these years, I’m not. What I hope to have inspired here is that with your master’s, you can still go pretty far at DRI. I’m pretty proud of the fact that I became a director with a master’s.

I never really felt a ton of pressure to get my PhD. I was also still competing a lot – I was still running very seriously in the 90s and into the 2000s, so I had to make some choices. And I chose to continue to be a runner and have a career on that side instead of going after the Ph.D.

Newspaper clipping of Tim Minor running photo

A newspaper clipping from the Reno-Gazette Journal that covered Minor’s 1993 marathon race in Ghana. Minor finished in 9th place with only 3 hours of sleep in the preceding two days due to traveling.

Credit: Tim Minor/DRI.

DRI: Tell me more about your competitive running career.

Minor: I ran competitively for a long time, from the time I was 15 to age 51. I ran for Nevada as an undergrad and then I just kept going.

DRI: What inspired you to become a specialist in remote sensing?

Minor: I’ve always been a map freak. I think since I was four or five years old, I was the geeky kid in the back of the car telling my mom and dad where to go because I was looking at maps. I was just fascinated by spatial relationships. People talk about cognitive mapping and our brains and I just always loved thinking about, “Okay, where are we going, and how do we get there?” But I didn’t know what I could do with that. I remember as I got to junior college, I was like, “What am I going to really do? Is there anything you could do with this stuff?” And that’s kind of when remote sensing was starting to really take off and become a science unto itself. And then of course, GIS came along later, but the key for me was taking remote sensing classes at UNR back in the late 70s. And that got me even more excited about it and the possibilities. 

But what really helped me take off was UC Santa Barbara. Santa Barbara was way ahead of its time in terms of quantitative spatial analysis in geography. Every job I’ve gotten has been a UCSB connection, even at DRI.

DRI: What are some of your career highlights?

Minor: The biggest highlight goes all the way back to ’93 through ’98, when I was working on the Hilton Foundation projects with World Vision doing water development in developing countries. In 1993, I went to Ghana, West Africa and participated in some of the initial fieldwork that was involved in trying to develop better drinking water access for small villages in the central part of Ghana. And it was the most amazing experience.

I started off things with a bang in ‘93. I got off the plane and slept that night, and then the next morning ran a marathon. There was a marathon going on in the capital of Accra and one of my colleagues who was already there had signed me up. I thought he was just joking and I didn’t even know it was a full marathon, it was a little crazy. I couldn’t drink the water at the aid stations, so they had to drive around and give me water, but they got lost. So, it got a little hot as you can imagine. But talk about total immersion right off the bat. I just fell in love with the country and the people.

I love everything that came out of that. I showed my daughter, Emily, the pictures from Ghana and shared my experiences. And when she graduated from high school, she went over and worked in an orphanage in Ghana and just loved it herself. So, it was a really cool family legacy thing. As for the project itself, you know, sometimes in research, you wonder “What is this really doing for people? How is it impacting society? How is it impacting people and helping them?” Well, something like drilling a water well in a small village that can totally change the quality of the water and the quality of the life was pretty impactful. Without a doubt that was the best thing I was ever involved in.

DRI: Tell me more about the project in Ghana.

Minor: Well, it was unique in that it was a partnership, with Ghanaians basically running the program there. So many times with some of these projects in developing countries, you have people who want to do well but it ends up getting a little cloudy. We saw programs where other European countries had come in and tried to build mechanized wells, but the problem was that when they broke down, nobody would come to fix them. So, they were just gathering cobwebs and dust. The World Vision’s trick was to build simple hand pump wells, and they taught the villagers how to repair them. Our role was basically putting the x’s on the ground — we were telling them based on our geophysics and our remote sensing and our hydrologic knowledge, this is probably the best place to drill. Other projects would often just drill in the center of the village without any real forethought about the best hydrological position. And because it was hand pumps, water tables had to be relatively shallow, right? They couldn’t be super deep wells.

DRI: Are these wells still in use?

Minor: Very much so, yes. Braimah Apambire is involved with this project and he’s done some amazing things. And so yes, a lot of those wells and things are still active and still going. It’s pretty cool.

Tim Minor and students at UNR sitting at a table

Tim Minor speaking with students at a STEM camp held at the University of Nevada, Reno in September. 

Credit: Tim Minor/DRI.

DRI: How have things changed since you first started your career?

Minor: Well, let’s start with the science itself. Back in the day — and I really feel like an old geezer when I talk about this — computing power wasn’t what it is now. And I share this with my son Blake, who is a hydrologist at DRI in DHS – he’s got an office 50 feet away from the cube I’m in now. And it’s a little surreal that he is an assistant research scientist at DRI, but he’s been working at DRI for almost nine years because he started as an undergrad. I always joke with him that he has no idea how good he has it, with Earth Engine and the processing power he has at his fingertips. What takes him a few minutes to do now literally used to take me days.

The advancement of computer technology, the cloud and all the other computing power that’s out there, it’s just absolutely revolutionized the science of remote sensing, GIS, and spatial analysis. To watch that over my 41 years of working has just been unbelievable.

I love where DRI has gone. I’ll be very frank because I was on the Diversity Committee, but I’m encouraged to see that we’re finally reaching some diversity goals that I think we could actually feel good about. We’ve still got a ways to go, definitely. I really respect my longtime female colleagues at DRI — they’re very much pioneers in what they do. I think it’s so fantastic that we are finally getting there. You know, it’s just taken a long time.

In general, I like the diversity at DRI and how it’s evolved. I always thought that was one of our strengths, and one of our biggest selling points, our scientific diversity. One of the huge advantages I had as a GIS/remote sensing expert is all these different science disciplines use GIS and remote sensing in different ways. So, one day I would be working with the hydrologists, and the next day with the air quality folks, and the next day with the biologists. It’s just a really cool place for me to work and I think it’s one of the ways I was able to sustain my funding, by staying diversified. When I became a director, I told people all the time, “The key to us surviving at this place is diversification.” Both within your scientific discipline, but also thinking outside your discipline and how you may be able to work with others.

DRI: How has working at DRI impacted your scientific research and network?

Minor: The network’s been amazing. We used to joke about ourselves being the Santa Barbara mafia. We’ve always had this pretty good network, if you will, of all these people from Santa Barbara who have gone off and worked in all kinds of amazing places, and DRI just added to that exponentially. The connectivity and the networking I’ve been able to do across the world has been astounding. I’m just amazed at all the wonderful people I’ve been able to work with from countries like Brazil and Ghana, Israel and Europe, Canada, Mexico, Australia, China. It’s just been phenomenal. It’s incredible how your network just expands worldwide. 

DRI: What advice do you have for young scientists?

Minor: Diversify. You know, I would tell people to do what I didn’t do – don’t be in such a rush. Do a little gap program. Go check things out. Go travel. And when you travel, maybe go visit a science center and see what they’re doing, it helps establish your future network. Learn a language. It’s fantastic, it helps with everything. Work on your math skills. Math and stats, those will take you a long way, especially in my particular field, statistics was so valuable. But the biggest thing is diversifying — get a minor in something. I think that’s what’s really important. Don’t be so siloed in with how you professionally identify yourself.   

DRI: Do you speak another language?

Minor: A little bit of French, and one of the goals I have now that I’m retired is to get much better with Spanish.

DRI: That’s a great goal. That also feeds into my next question: what are your plans for retirement?

Minor: Well, become better at Spanish, and travel. Just in the last eight months, we went to Europe and did a bike tour, and took my parents to Kauai. And then we went to Sayulita, Mexico to do a little surfing.

We have a trailer so we’re going to be doing a lot of camping. I used to coach high school cross country and track for nine years, and I may go back to coaching because there are many aspects of it I enjoyed. My wife Shannon and I are race directors for Moms on the Run, a local charity race that supports cancer survivors.  That keeps us pretty busy in the winter and spring.

Also, I’m doing the classic DRI semi-retirement, so I’m coming back January 3rd as an hourly. I’m very involved in the Integrated Terrain Analysis Program. I did a phased retirement, and what it taught me is I love science too much — I don’t want to just completely walk away. 

DRI: Is there anything else you think is important that we didn’t discuss?

Minor: Well, I’ve always had a goal to work with Blake on a project. It’d be pretty cool to work with my son.

It’s just been a fantastic adventure. All the things I’ve gotten to do, if I’m writing up my life story – DRI was such a catalyst for some amazing experiences. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. It was a little scary when I ventured into the administrative realm. I got voted in as a deputy director, and then years later I was suddenly interim director. But I wouldn’t trade any of that because as a director I got to find out about all the other unique things people were doing, within our own division and across the institute. You know, things that you sometimes aren’t aware of when you’ve got your head down and are focused on your own research. It was just amazing to see what people were doing.

Nevada NASA Programs appoint new Project Director, Dr. Eric Wilcox

Nevada NASA Programs appoint new Project Director, Dr. Eric Wilcox

Nevada NASA Programs appoint new Project Director, Dr. Eric Wilcox

December 5, 2022
LAS VEGAS, Nevada

Nevada NASA Programs
EPSCoR
NSHE

Nevada NASA EPSCoR and Space Grant Consortium announce the new Project Director, Dr. Eric Wilcox. Following an internal statewide NSHE search, the Research Affairs Council approved the appointment of Dr. Wilcox, who will take on the role of Project Director while continuing his work at DRI, where he is a Research Professor of Atmospheric Science.

As the Project Director, Dr. Wilcox will lead the multi-year NASA EPSCoR Research Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO), Research Infrastructure Development (RID), Rapid Response Research (R3), potential other NASA EPSCoR Programs and NASA Space Grant projects. As per NASA requirements, the Project Director is the lead PI on NASA EPSCoR and Space Grant awards, providing financial, reporting, and evaluation oversight as well as administrative coordination as needed. In this role, Dr. Wilcox, will align system-wide NASA EPSCoR program activities with state and national priorities in STEM research and education.  These priorities will target research development, economic development and workforce development priorities for the state and NASA Directorates.

“Under the leadership of former project director, Dr. Lynn Fenstermaker, these programs have provided STEM education and NASA-related research opportunities for hundreds of students and dozens of faculty from across NSHE,” said Dr. Eric Wilcox. “I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute to continuing this legacy. I have spent much of my career as a scientist working at NASA, or as part of the broader community of academic researchers involved with NASA, and I am excited to serve in a role where I can grow the number of students and researchers in Nevada engaged with the NASA community.”

Since 2010, Dr. Wilcox has managed DRI’s atmospheric modeling group, leading a broad research program with basic research focused on particulate pollutants, clouds, and climate change, as well as applied research, focused on weather forecasting for industrial safety, agriculture, and renewable energy applications. In this role, he mentors a team of graduate students, postdoctoral researchers, and technicians, and has been awarded more than $3.1M in sponsored project expenditures at DRI since 2010 with greater than $3.6M in external funding from NASA to Nevada as principal investigator or co-investigator through 2025.

He serves as a member representative to the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research on behalf of the Nevada System of Higher Education and served as DRI’s Faculty Senate Chair in 2020, leading efforts to determine the long-term impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on faculty and staff. He is also a member of the graduate faculty in the Interdisciplinary Atmospheric Sciences Program at UNR and teaches courses in Atmospheric Modeling and Atmospheric Physics.

Dr. Wilcox earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Physics at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) and a Ph.D. in Oceanography at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UCSD. Prior to joining DRI in 2010, Dr. Wilcox was a physical scientist in the Climate and Radiation Laboratory at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center and a postdoctoral fellow at the NOAA Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory at Princeton University. His research addresses the interactions among aerosols, clouds, and precipitation towards a goal of improved understanding of precipitation, cloud variability and radiative forcing of climate at regional scales. This work relies on satellite and in-situ observations, as well as simulations with numerical models of the atmosphere and climate.

 

eric wilcox headshot

Above: Eric Wilcox, Ph.D., was recently named the Project Director of the Nevada NASA NASA EPSCoR and Space Grant Consortium. 

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About NSHE

The Nevada System of Higher Education, comprised of two doctoral-granting research universities, a state college, four comprehensive community colleges, and one environmental research institute, serves the educational and job training needs of Nevada. NSHE provides educational opportunities to more than 100,000 students and is governed by the Nevada Board of Regents. The System includes the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, the University of Nevada, Reno, Nevada State College, Desert Research Institute, the College of Southern Nevada, Great Basin College, Truckee Meadows Community College, and Western Nevada College. For more information regarding NSHE please visit: https://nshe.nevada.edu/.

About the Nevada System Sponsored Programs and EPSCoR

The mission of the Nevada System Sponsored Programs and EPSCoR is to promote collaboration and multidisciplinary learning among NSHE institutions, and to enable alignment of efforts with the needs of the state to increase research and STEM competitiveness. The goal is to create new opportunities in the State of Nevada for workforce development and promote the development of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) disciplines for the state. For more information regarding Nevada EPSCoR please visit: https://epscorspo.nevada.edu/.

About DRI

The Desert Research Institute (DRI) is a recognized world leader in basic and applied environmental research. Committed to scientific excellence and integrity, DRI faculty, students who work alongside them, and staff have developed scientific knowledge and innovative technologies in research projects around the globe. Since 1959, DRI’s research has advanced scientific knowledge on topics ranging from humans’ impact on the environment to the environment’s impact on humans. DRI’s impactful science and inspiring solutions support Nevada’s diverse economy, provide science-based educational opportunities, and inform policymakers, business leaders, and community members. With campuses in Las Vegas and Reno, DRI serves as the non-profit research arm of the Nevada System of Higher Education. For more information, please visit www.dri.edu.

Successful Citizen Science Weather Tracking Effort Goes National, Receives Three Additional Years of Funding From NASA

Successful Citizen Science Weather Tracking Effort Goes National, Receives Three Additional Years of Funding From NASA

Mountain Rain or Snow Project Invites Community Observers Around the Country to Improve Winter Weather Predictions

Satellite technologies often struggle to differentiate snow from rain near the freezing point in mountainous regions, with impacts on flood predictions, avalanche forecasting, snowpack water storage, and road safety. To help improve these technologies, researchers from Lynker, DRI, and the University of Nevada, Reno are partnering with community observers to track winter storm activity across the country through a project called Mountain Rain or Snow. The project has been so successful at collecting data that demonstrates regional variation in the rain-snow threshold that NASA’s Citizen Science for Earth Systems Program is funding an additional three years.

The project began in 2019 as Tahoe Rain or Snow and expanded last year to include mountain regions across the country. Last winter, more than 1,100 people in the Sierra Nevada, Pacific Northwest, Rocky Mountains, and Northeast submitted real-time reports of rain, snow, or mixed precipitation. Community observers submitted 15,000 observations – a six-fold increase over the previous winter.

“Scientists have noticed that satellite predictions are not as effective as ground-based observations,” says Keith Jennings, Ph.D., water resources scientist at Lynker and the project lead. “Direct observations, made by people, are the most accurate way to discover how precipitation phase varies in time and space. We are filling an important gap with this project.”

Community members sign up to receive alerts when storms with predicted temperatures near freezing are in the forecast, and submit observations of the type of precipitation they are seeing via a web-based mobile phone app. These reports show that the Sierra Nevada region transitions from rain to snow around 36 degrees Fahrenheit, rather than around the freezing temperature of 32 degrees. In the Rockies, the snow-rain threshold is closer to 40 degrees, while it’s around 33 degrees in the Northeast. Expanding the project to include more regions will help scientists understand how the rain-to-snow temperature threshold varies according to local atmospheric conditions, improve scientists’ ability to make locally-relevant predictions, and improve the technology behind rain-snow estimates.

“With the help of community observers, we are amassing a very large database of ground-based observations. These will ultimately help to improve the predictive technologies that satellites use,” says Meghan Collins, M.S., associate research scientist at DRI. “The data the community observers have helped us collect is a big step towards being able to make those improvements. We understand the state of the problem much better now and will use the next three years to advance the solution.”

Mountain Rain or Snow welcomes new community observers as it expands to additional regions this season, including the Eastern Great Lakes; the Wasatch Range around Salt Lake City; and Western Montana around Missoula. To sign up, observers find the keyword that corresponds to their region at www.rainorsnow.org. Then, text the keyword to 855-909-0798 for guidance on how to participate.

Mountain Rain or Snow is a collaboration between Lynker, DRI, and the University of Nevada-Reno. In addition to the large network of community observers, the project team includes: Keith Jennings of Lynker; Monica Arienzo, Meghan Collins, and Benjamin Hatchett of DRI; Anne Nolin of the University of Nevada, Reno; and several student researchers. The group has expertise in hydroclimatology, hydrology, and geospatial analysis.

 

Mountain Rain or Snow information listed on a graphic

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About Lynker

Lynker delivers innovative solutions to support global environment security and economic prosperity as a trusted partner to governments, communities, industry, and nonprofits. We are a premier science, engineering, and technology company supporting some of the nation’s most important missions from atmosphere to ocean. We are scientists, engineers, conservationists, divers, observers, developers, technologists, educators, outreach specialists, artists, economists, policy specialists, and managers.

About DRI

The Desert Research Institute (DRI) is a recognized world leader in basic and applied environmental research. Committed to scientific excellence and integrity, DRI faculty, students who work alongside them, and staff have developed scientific knowledge and innovative technologies in research projects around the globe. Since 1959, DRI’s research has advanced scientific knowledge on topics ranging from humans’ impact on the environment to the environment’s impact on humans. DRI’s impactful science and inspiring solutions support Nevada’s diverse economy, provide science-based educational opportunities, and inform policymakers, business leaders, and community members. With campuses in Las Vegas and Reno, DRI serves as the non-profit research arm of the Nevada System of Higher Education. For more information, please visit www.dri.edu.

About the University of Nevada, Reno

The University of Nevada, Reno, is a public research university that is committed to the promise of a future powered by knowledge. Nevada’s land-grant university founded in 1874, the University serves 21,000 students. The University is a comprehensive, doctoral university, classified as an R1 institution with very high research activity by the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education. Additionally, it has attained the prestigious “Carnegie Engaged” classification, reflecting its student and institutional impact on civic engagement and service, fostered by extensive community and statewide collaborations. More than $800 million in advanced labs, residence halls and facilities has been invested on campus since 2009. It is home to the University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine and Wolf Pack Athletics, maintains a statewide outreach mission and presence through programs such as the University of Nevada, Reno Extension, Nevada Bureau of Mines and Geology, Small Business Development Center, Nevada Seismological Laboratory, and is part of the Nevada System of Higher Education. Through a commitment to world-improving research, student success and outreach benefiting the communities and businesses of Nevada, the University has impact across the state and around the world. For more information, visit www.unr.edu

New research examines the potential impacts of climate change on water quality in tropical reservoirs

New research examines the potential impacts of climate change on water quality in tropical reservoirs

New research examines the potential impacts of climate change on water quality in tropical reservoirs

NOVEMBER 21, 2022
LAS VEGAS, NEV.

By Elyse DeFranco

Climate Change
Water Quality
Tropical Reservoirs

Above: The Infiernillo Dam (“Little hell”), also known as Adolfo López Mateos Dam, is an embankment dam on the Balsas River near La Unión, Guerrero, Mexico. It is on the border between the states of Guerrero and Michoacán.

Credit: Arturo Peña Romano Medina, iStock Photo.

A Q&A With Study Author Erick Bandala, Ph.D.

In a new study, DRI’s Erick Bandala, assistant research professor of environmental science, worked with scientists in Mexico to address an important research gap: how will a warming climate alter water quality in tropical reservoirs? With scientists predicting that half of the world’s human population will live in tropical climates by 2050, this knowledge will be critical for adapting to a warming world.

Bandala and his coauthors developed algorithms that can be used to predict changes in water quality under the projected temperature intervals provided by climate change models developed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

DRI sat down with Bandala to discuss this study and how it ties into his broader research goals.

DRI: What was the impetus for this research?

Bandala: What we’re trying to do in my lab is create technologies for climate change adaptation. Many people do research on climate change and how it will impact water availability, so there is a lot of information about how water availability will change. But something that we believe is less studied – and that is the focal point of our research – is figuring out how global warming may have an effect on water quality. This is significant because even if you have a lot of water, if the water doesn’t have the proper quality, it cannot be used, or you will need to treat it to make it usable. So, in this study, we looked at water quality parameters in a reservoir in Mexico to predict how they could change over the next 80 years or so.

But we also need to come up with solutions for how to improve the water quality so that people can use it properly without facing the risk of illness. This is what we’re trying to do in my lab. We want to come up with solutions that can help people improve the quality of their drinking water. 

DRI: And what kind of solutions are you looking at?

Bandala: Well, I’m very glad that you asked that because we are developing materials that can remove contaminants from the water. And we are using the concept of circular economy, which means we want to use material that for someone is considered a waste, and turn it into something else that can be used for water treatment. For example, we have used crop waste and even plastic waste, and converted them into something that can be used to remove contaminants from water. So, we aren’t only interested in the effect of global warming on contaminants, but also in creating something that can be used for the removal of those pollutants from the water while having a low carbon and environmental footprint.

ALMD and water quality sampling site's geographical location.

Figure 1 from the study shows the Adolfo Lopez Mateos Dam (ALMD) and water quality sampling site’s geographical location.

Credit: Erick Bandala/DRI.

DRI: That’s amazing. And how did the international collaboration with your co-authors come about?

Bandala: Well, I believe that science is not an isolated work, and less so now than ever. I think that in many cases the most help is needed in developing countries. You know in my home country of Mexico, they have a saying, “the fleas always go to the skinnier dog.” That’s very true because now many developing countries are suffering the biggest effects of climate change, and I want to help people in these countries deal with all these problems. We are developing processes, technologies, and materials that can be used for helping people in Africa, or Central America, or Asian countries that are facing huge problems with water quality.

DRI: Returning to the study, is there a reason why the study team chose to examine water quality at this particular reservoir, the Adolfo Lopez Mateos Dam in Sinaloa, Mexico?

Bandala: The main reason for choosing that site was because it had reliable water data available – it’s very complicated to get access to a good and reliable data set. Also, many of the models that have been developed in the past are for cold water bodies, and this is a warm one – the differences are significant just because of the increased water temperature in the dam. 

DRI: The study showed that there was a temperature threshold where the bacteria in particular really thrived, and then above that temperature, it declined. Why is that?

Bandala: Well, bacteria are living organisms, so they have a preferred temperature range to grow in, just like everyone else. If you go too low or too high, then the reproduction or the growth of the colony will decline because it’s too hot or too cold. Now, we were very interested in microbiological contamination because this is one of the main issues in developing countries like Mexico, where many people are drinking water without the safeguards that are required. And because of that, we have very high mortality, mainly in children five years old or less. So, we wanted to understand how bacterial contamination might change under different climate scenarios.

DRI: What do you think are the biggest implications of this study?

Bandala: Well, I believe the study is probably the first one that I know of where we are really including the effects of global warming and calculating how the water quality in a water body will vary over time. In the past, I have published other papers trying to do the same, but honestly, as you said, it is highly complicated and we just partially achieved that goal. This time, I think we were really good at getting a nice model that will give us some good insight of the actual trends for a warm water body. Most of the studies are made in Canada, the U.S., or Europe, where the temperatures of the water may be in the range from 45 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit. In this case we were about 70 degrees, so it’s a completely different scenario. And that makes them not only challenging, but also interesting to address.

DRI: And do you have any studies that will continue this line of work?

Bandala: Well, we’re planning to use remote sensing to corroborate the information that we created for this paper. So, if that works, it may mean that you don’t need to jump into a big data set, but can simply collect information from satellites for the analysis. Hopefully, that will be the next thing.

male Hispanic scientist work in lab pouring water into a test tube

Erick Bandala, Ph.D., continues to work in his lab on developing materials that can remove contaminants from water.

Credit: Tommy Gugino/DRI.

More on this study:

Modeling the effect of climate change scenarios on water quality for tropical reservoirs

Published Sep. 5 in the Journal of Environmental Management

https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jenvman.2022.116137

Scientists Uncover Conditions Key to Formation of the Great Barrier Reef

Scientists Uncover Conditions Key to Formation of the Great Barrier Reef

New research shows that the growth of K’gari, the world’s largest sand island, was crucial for creating the clear waters that allowed the Great Barrier Reef to flourish.

Australia’s famed Great Barrier Reef is known for being the world’s largest coral reef – overflowing with marine life, it is the only living thing visible from space. Scientists have long sought to understand the conditions that led to the reef’s formation, as conditions seemed suitable long before the reef’s birth. Now, a new study claims the answer might be K’gari, the world’s largest sand island (also known as Frasier Island).

Nick Patton, Ph.D., a postdoctoral researcher now at DRI, teamed up with an international group of researchers from Sweden, New Zealand, Australia, and the United States for the study published Nov. 14 in Nature GeoScience. Their research showed that the sand island formed between 700,000 and 800,000 years ago, and that the reef was only able to establish once the island protected it from the northern flow of sand that naturally occurs in this area.

“The Great Barrier Reef is the world’s largest coral reef ecosystem, yet what I find so interesting is that we still do not really know what caused its initial inception,” says Daniel Ellerton, Ph.D., of Stockholm University and the study’s lead author. “Previous research has highlighted that several mechanisms are likely responsible and here we demonstrate an additional factor that should be considered.”

K’gari juts out like a finger from Australia’s eastern coast below the far southern reach of the Great Barrier Reef. The island itself is a UNESCO World Heritage area, covered with lush rainforest and freshwater dune lakes. It formed as wave action carried sediment north along the coast. As the sediment accumulated, the island formed a barrier that protected the coastal region to the north. Without the island, the coral reef would be covered in this drifting sand.

The timing of the island’s formation is due to a major shift in the Earth’s climate called the Mid-Pleistocene Transition, which saw glacial cycles extend from about 40,000 years to around 100,000. The longer cycle allowed for ice caps to grow larger, decreasing sea levels across the planet.

“Our work highlights how changes in sea-level variability approximately 700,000 years ago directly caused a dramatic reorganization of the coast and the formation of the Great Barrier Reef, as we know it today,” says Patton.

There is evidence that the Great Barrier Reef is around 650,000 years old, supporting the theory that K’gari directed sand away from Australia’s northeastern coast, providing the clear waters needed for coral growth.

To determine the age of K’gari, the researchers used a method called optically stimulated luminescence dating. This method provides an age estimate for the last time that sediments, like quartz sand, were exposed to light.

“These large coastal dune fields have rich geologic and climatic archives that provide important information on Earth’s history,” Patton says.

The research team engaged with the traditional inhabitants of K’gari and the adjacent Cooloola Sand Mass (the Butchulla and Kabi’ Kabi’ peoples, respectively) through an Australian Research Council Discovery Grant to understand the formation and evolution of these systems.

Studies that look back in time don’t only help us understand how ecosystems formed – they can also provide a glimpse into the possible future, the researchers say.

“Sea-level change is something we often hear about in the news, but I did not realize the sheer power of the ocean until working on this project,” Patton says. “As we observe in this study, rising and falling sea-levels have the ability to both create and destroy entire coastlines and ecosystems.”

“This research highlights the complex evolution of coastal environments over long timescales,” Ellerton says. “Coastlines globally are at risk from rising sea-levels under predicted global warming which poses a serious threat. If we are going to manage coasts and coral reefs under climate change scenarios, we need to understand how these complex responses occur.”

More Information:

The full study, Fraser Island and initiation of the Great Barrier Reef linked by Middle Pleistocene sea-level change, is available from Nature Geoscience: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41561-022-01062-6

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About DRI

The Desert Research Institute (DRI) is a recognized world leader in basic and applied environmental research. Committed to scientific excellence and integrity, DRI faculty, students who work alongside them, and staff have developed scientific knowledge and innovative technologies in research projects around the globe. Since 1959, DRI’s research has advanced scientific knowledge on topics ranging from humans’ impact on the environment to the environment’s impact on humans. DRI’s impactful science and inspiring solutions support Nevada’s diverse economy, provide science-based educational opportunities, and inform policymakers, business leaders, and community members. With campuses in Las Vegas and Reno, DRI serves as the non-profit research arm of the Nevada System of Higher Education. For more information, please visit www.dri.edu.

Jim Hudson: Celebrating a Career in Cloud Physics

Jim Hudson: Celebrating a Career in Cloud Physics

Jim Hudson: Celebrating a Career in Cloud Physics

NOVEMBER 17, 2022
RENO, NEV.

Cloud Physics
Cloud Condensation Nuclei
Atmospheric Science

Above: Throughout his career Jim Hudson, Ph.D., worked in planes such as the NCAR C-130 on several projects during his time at DRI.

Credit: Jim Hudson/DRI.

Research Professor Jim Hudson, Ph.D., the Institute’s longest-serving employee, recently retired from DRI after 51 years studying cloud condensation nuclei (CCN) – tiny particles around which cloud droplets form. Hudson originally came to DRI as a graduate student in 1970, following the completion of his Master’s degree in physics at the University of Michigan. Here, he worked under the direction of cloud physicist and Director of Atmospheric Sciences Patrick Squires and graduated with his Ph.D. in Atmospheric Physics from the University of Nevada, Reno, in 1976.

Hudson’s long and successful career at DRI has taken him from his current home base in Reno to 31 aircraft field projects around the globe. He developed the continuous flow diffusion cloud chamber, isothermal haze chamber, and five CCN spectrometers. He has led projects sponsored by the National Science Foundation (NSF), National Aeronautics and Space Association (NASA), Department of Energy (DOE), and others. He has co-authored 97 peer-reviewed publications in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres, Journal of the Atmospheric Sciences, Journal of Applied Meteorology, Tellus, Atmospheric Chemistry & Physics, Atmospheric Physics, Atmospheric Science Letters, Journal of Atmospheric Chemistry, Geophysical Research Letters, Journal of the Meteorological Society of Japan, Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, Aerosol Science and Technology, Atmospheric Environment, Journal of Atmospheric & Oceanic Technology, Idojaras, and Science, and delivered 146 conference presentations.

Although he officially retired in August 2021, Hudson is continuing at as an Emeritus Scholar at DRI. We sat down with Hudson to learn about some of his career highlights:

DRI: What inspired you to become a cloud physicist?

Hudson: I did not set out to be a scientist although I had a lot of science interests as a child and took all math and science courses offered in high school. Other interest were law and politics. When taking the Kuder vocational interest test in my junior year in spite of conscious efforts to score high in persuasion (for law or politics) I could not resist science responses.  Thus, I was dismayed that of the ten interest categories science tied with persuasion. Physical Science, biology, and chemistry in the first three high school years did not pique my interest but physics in the senior year with its more logical nature turned me to science. Despite feeling at the time that scientists are mere pawns to politicians and businessmen I majored in physics and mathematics in the Honors College of Western Michigan University (BA 1968).  An attraction of physics was great job prospects, but that crashed, especially for high energy physics that had attracted me to the University of Michigan.  Thus, in my last semester and summer there I drifted into aeronomy, which included a good deal of physics.  When I learned that clouds also have physics, I found a more interesting application of my background.  But the familiar down-to-Earth clouds were not studied at Michigan.  DRI in Reno was the place to study the clouds that concern weather.

Thus, I traded the study of atomic nuclei for cloud nuclei under a founding father of cloud physics, Patrick Squires.  At that time the main goal of cloud physics was understanding the onset of precipitation and perhaps controlling it. This leads to cloud seeding, which usually involved the ice phase, which was thought to be the origin of all precipitation until warm rain was discovered in the 1940s.  Being from Australia where the ice phase is less common directed Squires toward warm non-freezing clouds.

DRI: Which of your career accomplishments are you most proud of?

Hudson: In 2012 I finally realized that the DRI high-resolution CCN spectrometers often resolved two modes.  Although I and many others had known for decades that direct aerosol size distributions often displayed bimodality, I did not appreciate its importance until then.  Only then did I begin analyzing cloud microphysics (droplet and drop size distributions) in terms of CCN bimodality.  I have so far found opposite responses to CCN bimodality in stratus and cumulus clouds.  Bimodality seems to make more smaller droplets and less drizzle in stratus but fewer larger droplets and more drizzle in cumuli.

Jim Hudson and other male scientists

Jim Hudson, Ph.D. (left), poses for a picture with fellow scientists in September 1973 at a lab inside the Sage Building at UNR.

Credit: Jim Hudson/DRI.

DRI: What unanswered questions do you still want to solve?

Hudson: What’s known as the “indirect aerosol effect” continues to be the largest climate uncertainty. This is the interaction of air pollution with clouds and relates back to the 1950s discovery by Squires and Sean Twomey, that continental clouds differ from maritime clouds. They have more droplets, smaller droplets, and don’t precipitate as readily as maritime clouds. Why is that? Because there are more CCN over continents than oceans. Why are there more CCN over continents? That is a billion-dollar question. Are there significant natural continental sources or is it all anthropogenic?  This is such a difficult problem that most research dances around this question.  We actually know more about the unnatural sources, the man-made sources, than we do about the natural sources. The indirect aerosol effect is so important because to some yet to be known extent it probably counteracts the so-called greenhouse trace gas effect.  One does not need a degree to know that clouds are complicated.  We have known since the 1950s that CCN affect clouds though many have claimed that air motions (dynamics) are more important.  But when the effects of the clouds on the CCN are realized things get even more complicated.  Clouds thus are both a sink and a source of the CCN that in turn profoundly affect them.  This makes the foundation of science, cause and effect, especially challenging for clouds.

DRI: What are you working on as an Emeritus Scholar at DRI?

Hudson: I just want to further analyze the data I’ve collected over the last 30 or more years but now in terms of CCN bimodality.  Few atmospheric scientists delve into the extensive sets of aircraft data.  I’ve been in more than 30 cloud projects where we fly 10-20 research flights of 4-12 hours duration in a month or two.  Multitudes of data are collected throughout these flights, but only small fractions are analyzed or presented.  This is very time-consuming work much of which would be impossible if I were still employed.  These CCN cloud interactions are vitally important for the indirect aerosol effect and for fundamental cloud physics. I feel compelled to complete as much of this analysis as possible.

DRI: What has changed most at DRI during the course of your career?

Hudson: In the first, two or three decades of DRI partial contracts were not done.  In the 1970s there was actual pasting of letters and words onto paper.  Before the turn of the century proposals were hand delivered to parcel services.  Before the teens, Journals were printed onto paper and did not have supplementary material.

DRI: What advice do you have for future scientists?

Hudson: Look at the data. All of the data. Not just the data that you think is good, the data that fits your model. In all science, there’s always conflict between the theorists (modelers in cloud physics) and the experimentalists (observationalists). Peter Hobbs of University of Washington would say, “the modelers believe the data, and the observationalists believe the models.” Each are more aware of the pitfalls of their own area. I think he overstated that because he did not believe many models.  Conflicts between modelers and observationalists seem to be most intense in cloud physics. When I was in high energy physics 50 years ago there were articles about how theorists looked down on the experimentalists even though science is based on experiments.

DRI: Who have you most enjoyed working with at DRI?

Hudson: Of course, I did a lot of work with Squires in the beginning and then John Hallett for several field projects.  We must remember the engineers, who really built and maintained the CCN instruments, Gary Keyser, Rick Purcell, Norm Robinson, Dan Wermers and Morien Roberts. And then my students, Paul Frisbie, Xiaoyu Da, Hongguo Li, Yonghong Xie, Seong Soo Yum, David Mitchell, Subhashree Mishra, Samantha Tabor, Vandana Jha and Stephen Noble.  Fred Rogers was my fellow student under Squires.  In earlier years I worked with Dennis Lamb, Dick Egami, and Eric Broten.

male scientist in lab holding equipment

Jim Hudson, Ph.D., inventories the equipment in his lab space.

Credit: Jim Hudson/DRI.

Footprints Claimed as Evidence of Ice Age Humans in North America Need Better Dating, New Research Shows

Footprints Claimed as Evidence of Ice Age Humans in North America Need Better Dating, New Research Shows

Footprints Claimed as Evidence of Ice Age Humans in North America Need Better Dating, New Research Shows

November 15, 2022
RENO, Nevada
Footprints
Dating
Ice Age Humans
Above: Closeup photographs of excavated human trackways from the shores of an ice age lake that once filled the Tularosa Basin in south-central New Mexico, in what is now White Sands National Park.
Credit: Jeff Pigati & Kathleen Springer, USGS.

The preserved footprints found in New Mexico’s Lake Otero Basin would upend scientific understanding of how, and when, humans first arrived in North America, if they are accurately dated. A new study brings the age claim into question.

The wide expanse of an ancient lakebed in New Mexico holds the preserved footprints of life that roamed millennia ago. Giant sloths and mammoths left their mark, and alongside them, signs of our human ancestors. Research published in September 2021 claimed that these footprints are “definitive evidence of human occupation of North America” during the last ice age, dating back to between 23 and 21 thousand years ago. Now, a new study disputes the evidence of such an early age.

Scientists from DRI, Kansas State University, the University of Nevada, Reno, and Oregon State University caution in Quaternary Research that the dating evidence is insufficient for claims that would so radically alter our understanding of when, and how, humans first arrived in North America. Using the same dating method and materials, the new study shows that the footprints could have been left thousands of years later than originally claimed.

“I read the original Science article on the human footprints at White Sands and was initially struck not only by how tremendous the footprints were on their own, but how important accurate dating would be,” says Charles Oviatt, emeritus professor of geology at Kansas State University and one of the new study’s authors. “I saw potential problems with the scientific tests of the dates reported in the Science paper.”

“It really does throw a lot of what we think we know into question,” says David Rhode, Ph.D., a paleoecologist at DRI and co-author of the new study. “That’s why it’s important to really nail down this age, and why we’re suggesting that we need better evidence.”

Archaeologists and historians use a number of methods to determine the timing of historic events. Based on these methods, scientists tend to agree that the earliest known dates of humanity’s colonization of North America lie between 14 and 16 thousand years ago, after the last ice age. If the original claims are correct, current chronological models in fields as varied as paleogenetics and regional geochronology would need to be reevaluated.

“23 to 21 thousand years ago is in a timeframe where you need to really pay attention to how people got into North America,” says Rhode. “At that time, there was a huge, mile-high mountain range of ice covering Canada to the north, and the pathway down the Pacific Coast wasn’t very accommodating either – so it may have been that people had to come here much earlier than that.”

By studying ancient DNA from human fossils and using rates of genetic change (a sort of molecular clock using DNA), paleogeneticists surmise that the American Southwest was first occupied no earlier than 20 thousand years ago. If the footprints are older, it throws into question the use and integrity of these genetic models. It’s possible that the ages from one study at a single site in a New Mexico lake basin are valid, and that age estimates from a variety of other fields are invalid, the authors write, but more robust evidence is needed to confirm the claims.

At the center of the debate are the tiny seeds of an aquatic plant used to age the footprints. The timeframe for the seeds was identified using radiocarbon dating methods, in which researchers examine a type of carbon known as Carbon-14. Carbon-14 originates in the atmosphere and is absorbed by plants through photosynthesis. These carbon isotopes decay at a constant rate over time, and comparing the amount of Carbon-14 in the atmosphere to the amount present in fossilized plant material allows scientists to determine their approximate age. But the plant species used, Ruppia cirrhosa, grows underwater and therefore obtains much of its carbon for photosynthesis not directly from the atmosphere as terrestrial plants do, but from dissolved carbon atoms in the water.

“While the researchers recognize the problem, they underestimate the basic biology of the plant,” says Rhode. “For the most part, it’s using the carbon it finds in the lake waters. And in most cases, that means it’s taking in carbon from sources other than the contemporary atmosphere – sources which are usually pretty old.”

This method is likely to give radiocarbon-based age estimates of the plant that are much older than the plants themselves. Ancient carbon enters the groundwater of the Lake Otero basin from eroded bedrock of the Tularosa Valley and the surrounding mountains, and occurs in extensive calcium carbonate deposits throughout the basin.

The authors demonstrated this effect by examining Ruppia plant material with a known age from the same region. Botanists collected living Ruppia plants from a nearby spring-fed pond in 1947 and archived them at the University of New Mexico herbarium. Using the same radiocarbon dating method, the plants that were alive in 1947 returned a radiocarbon date suggesting they were about 7400 years old, an offset resulting from the use of ancient groundwater by the plant. The authors note that if the ages of the Ruppia seeds dated from the human footprints were also offset by roughly 7400 years, their real age would be between 15 and 13 thousand years old – a date which aligns with ages of several other known early North American archaeological sites.

The dating of the footprints can be resolved through other methods, including radiocarbon dating of terrestrial plants (which use atmospheric carbon and not carbon from groundwater) and optically stimulated luminescence dating of quartz found in the sediment, the authors write.

“These trackways really are a great resource for understanding the past, there’s no doubt about that,” says Rhode. “I’d love to see them myself. I’m just cautious about the ages that the researchers put to them.”

More Information:

The full study, A critical assessment of claims that human footprints in the Lake Otero basin, New Mexico date to the Last Glacial Maximum, is available from Quaternary Research: https://doi.org/10.1017/qua.2022.38

Study authors include Charles Oviatt (K-State), David B. Madsen (UNR), David Rhode (DRI), and Loren G. Davis (OSU).

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About DRI

The Desert Research Institute (DRI) is a recognized world leader in basic and applied environmental research. Committed to scientific excellence and integrity, DRI faculty, students who work alongside them, and staff have developed scientific knowledge and innovative technologies in research projects around the globe. Since 1959, DRI’s research has advanced scientific knowledge on topics ranging from humans’ impact on the environment to the environment’s impact on humans. DRI’s impactful science and inspiring solutions support Nevada’s diverse economy, provide science-based educational opportunities, and inform policymakers, business leaders, and community members. With campuses in Las Vegas and Reno, DRI serves as the non-profit research arm of the Nevada System of Higher Education. For more information, please visit www.dri.edu.

About the University of Nevada, Reno

The University of Nevada, Reno, is a public research university that is committed to the promise of a future powered by knowledge. Nevada’s land-grant university founded in 1874, the University serves 21,000 students. The University is a comprehensive, doctoral university, classified as an R1 institution with very high research activity by the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education. Additionally, it has attained the prestigious “Carnegie Engaged” classification, reflecting its student and institutional impact on civic engagement and service, fostered by extensive community and statewide collaborations. More than $800 million in advanced labs, residence halls and facilities has been invested on campus since 2009. It is home to the University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine and Wolf Pack Athletics, maintains a statewide outreach mission and presence through programs such as the University of Nevada, Reno Extension, Nevada Bureau of Mines and Geology, Small Business Development Center, Nevada Seismological Laboratory, and is part of the Nevada System of Higher Education. Through a commitment to world-improving research, student success and outreach benefiting the communities and businesses of Nevada, the University has impact across the state and around the world. For more information, visit www.unr.edu.

Childhood Traumas Strongly Impact Both Mental and Physical Health

Childhood Traumas Strongly Impact Both Mental and Physical Health

Childhood Traumas Strongly Impact Both Mental and Physical Health

Adult risk for obesity, chronic pain, migraines, and mental disorders increases in proportion to the number and types of traumas experienced in childhood

HPN Renown and DRI Logos

The social environments we grow up in are critical when determining our wellbeing and health later in life. Most Americans (67%) report experiencing at least one traumatic event in childhood, and a new study shows that these experiences have significant impacts on our health risks as adults. Physical illnesses such as obesity and chronic pain are affected, but mental disorders show the most significant association, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), bipolar disorder, substance abuse, and depression.

Scientists from DRI and the University of Nevada, Reno, led the study, published on Oct. 6 in the journal Frontiers in Psychiatry. More than 16,000 people from the Reno area volunteered for the research as part of the Healthy Nevada Project, one of the most visible genomic studies in the United States powered by Renown Health. Participants answered questions about their social environments before age 18, including experiences with emotional, physical, or sexual mistreatment, neglect, and substance abuse in the household. The researchers combined this information with anonymized medical records to build on existing research about how childhood traumas affect health outcomes.

“The study provides insight as to how social determinants of health may influence adult health disorders,” said Robert Read, M.S., a researcher at the Center for Genomic Medicine at DRI and one of the study’s lead authors.

Nearly two-thirds (66%) of participants recalled at least one type of trauma, and almost one-quarter (24%) reported experiencing more than four. Women and people of African American and Latinx descent reported a higher prevalence of traumatic experiences than men and those with European ancestry, but people in low-income households were the most impacted.

Thirteen mental illnesses showed the most statistically significant associations, including mood disorders, depression, PTSD, anxiety disorders, eating disorders, schizophrenia, and substance abuse. For every reported type of abuse experienced in childhood, a participant’s risk for PTSD increased 47%. Each cumulative trauma also increased one’s risk for making a suicide attempt by 33%.

The researchers note that although the study is rooted in Nevada — which has high rates of adults with mental illness and poor access to care — it provides a window into deeply rooted public health issues across the nation.

“Combatting the prevalence of childhood traumas is a complex problem,” said Karen Schlauch, Ph.D., a bioinformatics researcher at DRI and one of the study’s lead authors. “Personal experiences with neglect and abuse are more challenging to address, but many of the underlying issues can be tackled at the community level, like food insecurity and poverty.”

Beyond improving our understanding of how early social environments influence our health, Schlauch says that the next target for research is understanding how childhood traumas may be linked with specific traits like impulsivity — a prominent trait in Nevada’s gambling communities.

“In order to address the devastating impacts of early-life adversity on local population health and inequities, we must focus on the dominant social and behavioral mechanisms affecting Nevadans,” said Stephanie Koning, Ph.D., an assistant professor at the School of Public Health at the University of Nevada, Reno, and study co-author. “Beyond how population needs drive our research, we are partnering with community-based organizations to promote evidence-based interventions across individual, community, and state levels.”

As the study team expands their analysis of the health impacts of early-life adversity, they are exploring how to use the Healthy Nevada Project database to inform community-based interventions. They’ve partnered with community institutional partners — including the Stacie Mathewson Behavioral Health & Addiction Institute and Northern Nevada HOPES — for research and advocacy focused on promoting healthy childhood social environments and well-being throughout an individual’s life.

More information: 

The full text of the study, Using phenome-wide association studies and the SF-12 quality of life metric to identify profound consequences of adverse childhood experiences on adult mental and physical health in a Northern Nevadan population, is available from Frontiers in Psychiatry: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9583677/.

This project was funded by the Stacie Mathewson Behavioral Health and Addiction Institute, Renown Health, and the Renown Health Foundation. Study authors included Karen Schlauch (DRI), Robert Read (DRI), Stephanie Koning (UNR), Iva Neveux (DRI), and Joseph Grzymski (DRI/Renown Health).

For more information on the Healthy Nevada Project®, please visit: https://healthynv.org/.

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About DRI

The Desert Research Institute (DRI) is a recognized world leader in basic and applied environmental research. Committed to scientific excellence and integrity, DRI faculty, students who work alongside them, and staff have developed scientific knowledge and innovative technologies in research projects around the globe. Since 1959, DRI’s research has advanced scientific knowledge on topics ranging from humans’ impact on the environment to the environment’s impact on humans. DRI’s impactful science and inspiring solutions support Nevada’s diverse economy, provide science-based educational opportunities, and inform policymakers, business leaders, and community members. With campuses in Las Vegas and Reno, DRI serves as the non-profit research arm of the Nevada System of Higher Education. For more information, please visit www.dri.edu.

About Renown 

Renown Health is the region’s largest, locally governed, not-for-profit integrated healthcare network serving Nevada, Lake Tahoe and northeast California. With a diverse workforce of more than 7,000 employees, Renown has fostered a longstanding culture of excellence, determination and innovation. The organization comprises a trauma center, two acute care hospitals, a children’s hospital, a rehabilitation hospital, a medical group and urgent care network, and the region’s largest, locally owned not-for-profit insurance company, Hometown Health. Renown is currently enrolling participants in the world’s largest community-based genetic population health study, the Healthy Nevada Project®. For more information, visit renown.org. 

About the University of Nevada, Reno

The University of Nevada, Reno, is a public research university that is committed to the promise of a future powered by knowledge. Nevada’s land-grant university founded in 1874, the University serves 21,000 students. The University is a comprehensive, doctoral university, classified as an R1 institution with very high research activity by the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education. Additionally, it has attained the prestigious “Carnegie Engaged” classification, reflecting its student and institutional impact on civic engagement and service, fostered by extensive community and statewide collaborations. More than $800 million in advanced labs, residence halls and facilities has been invested on campus since 2009. It is home to the University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine and Wolf Pack Athletics, maintains a statewide outreach mission and presence through programs such as the University of Nevada, Reno Extension, Nevada Bureau of Mines and Geology, Small Business Development Center, Nevada Seismological Laboratory, and is part of the Nevada System of Higher Education. Through a commitment to world-improving research, student success and outreach benefiting the communities and businesses of Nevada, the University has impact across the state and around the world. For more information, visit www.unr.edu.

DRI Recognizes Lily Hahn as the 2022 Peter B. Wagner Memorial Award-Winner for Women in Atmospheric Sciences

DRI Recognizes Lily Hahn as the 2022 Peter B. Wagner Memorial Award-Winner for Women in Atmospheric Sciences

DRI Recognizes Lily Hahn as the 2022 Peter B. Wagner Memorial Award Winner for Women in Atmospheric Sciences

November 3, 2022
RENO, Nevada

Wagner Award
Atmospheric Sciences
Lily Hahn

Above: The 2022 Wagner Award winner, Lily Hahn, presents her research during an award ceremony at DRI’s campus in Reno on November 2, 2022.

Credit: Jessi LeMay/DRI.

DRI is pleased to announce that the 24th annual Peter B. Wagner Memorial Award for Women in Atmospheric Sciences has been awarded to Lily Hahn of the University of Washington, Seattle. An award ceremony commemorating her achievement was held at the DRI campus in Reno on Nov. 2, 2022.

The Peter B. Wagner Memorial Award for Women in Atmospheric Sciences is an annual competition recognizing the published works of women pursuing a master’s or Ph.D. in the atmospheric sciences or any related program at a university in the United States. The award is presented to women graduate students with outstanding academic publications and includes a $1,500 prize. This award has been presented annually by DRI since 1998 and is the only such honor designated for graduate women in the atmospheric sciences in the United States.

Hahn, a Ph.D. student in the Department of Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Washington, Seattle, is receiving this award for her paper Seasonality in Arctic Warming Driven by Sea Ice Effective Heat Capacity. Hahn’s research investigates the processes that cause Arctic warming to peak during early winter under rising concentrations of atmospheric greenhouse gases. A fundamental cause of this warming pattern is the transition from frozen sea ice to open ocean, which maintains warmer temperatures later in the year and produces peak warming in early winter. This information is essential for developing accurate models for projecting the timing and extent of Arctic warming under climate change scenarios.

“I’m very excited to receive the Wagner Memorial Award,” Hahn says. “I’m grateful to the selection committee for their time and consideration, and to my advisors and coauthors for their collaboration and guidance. I really enjoyed this project as an opportunity to design idealized model experiments to isolate and understand the mechanisms of Arctic warming. It’s awesome to receive recognition, the opportunity to share this work at DRI, and inspiration to continue pursuing creative and impactful research as I wrap up my Ph.D.”

 

two female scientists smile at the camera

Lily Hahn (right) the 2022 recipient of the Peter Wagner Memorial Award for Women in Atmospheric Sciences, with Vera Samburova (left), Chair of Award Committee and Associate Research Professor at DRI.

Credit: Jessi LeMay/DRI.

Runners up for the 2022 award include: 2nd place – Lyssa M. Freese from the Department of Earth, Atmosphere and Planetary Sciences at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for the paper Antarctic Radiative and Temperature Responses to a Doubling of CO2.

3rd place – Tehya Stockman from the Department of Civil, Environmental, and Architectural Engineering at the University of Colorado, Boulder for the paper Measurements and Simulations of Aerosol Released While Singing and Playing Wind Instruments; and Yingxiao Zhang from the Department of Climate and Space Sciences and Engineering at the University of Michigan for the paper Projected Climate-Driven Changes in Pollen-Emission Season Length and Magnitude Over the Continental United States.

About the Peter B. Wagner Memorial Award

Ms. Sue Wagner — former Nevada Gaming Commissioner, Nevada Lieutenant Governor, DRI Atmospheric Scientist, and widow of Dr. Peter B. Wagner — created the Peter B. Wagner Memorial Award for Women in Atmospheric Sciences in 1998. Dr. Wagner, a faculty member at DRI since 1968, was killed while conducting research in a 1980 plane crash that also claimed the lives of three other Institute employees.

In 1981, Dr. Wagner’s family and friends established a memorial scholarship to provide promising graduate students in DRI’s Atmospheric Sciences Program an award to further pursue their professional careers. Since 1998, this opportunity has extended specifically to women pursuing graduate education across the nation.

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About DRI

The Desert Research Institute (DRI) is a recognized world leader in basic and applied environmental research. Committed to scientific excellence and integrity, DRI faculty, students who work alongside them, and staff have developed scientific knowledge and innovative technologies in research projects around the globe. Since 1959, DRI’s research has advanced scientific knowledge on topics ranging from humans’ impact on the environment to the environment’s impact on humans. DRI’s impactful science and inspiring solutions support Nevada’s diverse economy, provide science-based educational opportunities, and inform policymakers, business leaders, and community members. With campuses in Las Vegas and Reno, DRI serves as the non-profit research arm of the Nevada System of Higher Education. For more information, please visit www.dri.edu.

Arsenic Contaminates Private Drinking Water Wells Across the Western Great Basin

Elevated levels of arsenic and other metals found in Nevada’s private wells

Study shows that many household wells need better drinking water treatment and monitoring

 

Outside of Nevada’s bustling cities, private wells are the primary source of drinking water, serving 182,000 people. Yet some of the tested private wells in Nevada are contaminated with levels of heavy metals that exceed federal, state or health-based guidelines, a new study published in Science of The Total Environment shows. Consuming water contaminated by metals such as arsenic can cause adverse health effects.

Scientists from DRI and the University of Hawaii Cancer Center recruited households with private wells through the Healthy Nevada Project. Households were sent free water testing kits, and participants were notified of their water quality results and recommended actions they could take. More than 170 households participated in the research, with the majority from Northern Nevada around Reno, Carson City and Fallon.

“The goals of the Healthy Nevada project are to understand how genetics, environment, social factors and healthcare interact. We directly engaged our participants to better understand environmental contaminants that may cause adverse health outcomes,” said co-author Joseph Grzymski, Ph.D., research professor at DRI, principal investigator of the Healthy Nevada Project®, and chief scientific officer for Renown Health.

Nearly one-quarter (22%) of the private wells sampled had arsenic that exceeded safe levels determined by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) — with levels 80 times higher than the limit in some cases. Elevated levels of uranium, lead, cadmium, and iron were also found.

 

two female scientists collect well water samples

Monica Arienzo, Ph.D., and Erika Robtoy, undergraduate student at the University of Nevada, Reno collect well water samples in Palomino Valley, Nevada.

Credit: Daniel Saftner/DRI.

“We know from previous research that Nevada’s arid climate and geologic landscape produce these heavy metals in our groundwater,” says Monica Arienzo, Ph.D., an associate research professor at DRI who led the study. “It was important for us to reach out to community members with private wells to see how this is impacting the safety of their drinking water.”

Fewer than half (41%) of the wells sampled used water treatment systems, and some treated water samples still contained arsenic levels over EPA guidelines. Although average levels of heavy metal contaminants were lower in treated water, many homes were unable to reduce contaminants to levels considered safe.

The state leaves private well owners responsible for monitoring their own water quality, and well water testing helps ensure water is safe to drink. This study shows that more frequent testing is needed to ensure Nevada’s rural communities have safe drinking water. This is particularly important as the effects of climate change and population growth alter the chemistry of groundwater, potentially increasing metal concentrations.

“The results emphasize the importance of regular water quality monitoring and treatment systems,” said co-author Daniel Saftner, M.S., assistant research scientist at DRI.

Although the research focused on wells in Nevada, other arid communities in Western states are facing similar risks of water contamination.

 

More information:

The full study, Naturally Occurring Metals in Unregulated Domestic Wells in Nevada, USA, is available from Science of The Total Environment: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.scitotenv.2022.158277.

This project was funded by an NIH award (#1R01ES030948-01). The Healthy Nevada Project was funded by grants from Renown Health and the Renown Health Foundation. Study authors included Monica M. Arienzo (DRI), Daniel Saftner (DRI), Steven N. Bacon (DRI), Erika Robtoy (DRI), Iva Neveux (DRI), Karen Schlauch (DRI), Michele Carbone (University of Hawaii Cancer Center) and Joseph Grzymski (DRI/Renown Health).

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About DRI

The Desert Research Institute (DRI) is a recognized world leader in basic and applied environmental research. Committed to scientific excellence and integrity, DRI faculty, students who work alongside them, and staff have developed scientific knowledge and innovative technologies in research projects around the globe. Since 1959, DRI’s research has advanced scientific knowledge on topics ranging from humans’ impact on the environment to the environment’s impact on humans. DRI’s impactful science and inspiring solutions support Nevada’s diverse economy, provide science-based educational opportunities, and inform policymakers, business leaders, and community members. With campuses in Las Vegas and Reno, DRI serves as the non-profit research arm of the Nevada System of Higher Education. For more information, please visit www.dri.edu.

About Renown Health

Renown Health is Nevada’s largest, not-for-profit integrated healthcare network serving Nevada, Lake Tahoe, and northeast California. With a diverse workforce of more than 6,500 employees, Renown has fostered a longstanding culture of excellence, determination, and innovation. The organization comprises a trauma center, two acute care hospitals, a children’s hospital, a rehabilitation hospital, a medical group and urgent care network, and the locally owned not-for-profit insurance company, Hometown Health. Renown is currently enrolling participants in a community-based genetic population health study, the Healthy Nevada Project®. For more information, visit renown.org.

About the University of Hawaiʻi Cancer Center

The University of Hawaiʻi Cancer Center through its various activities, including scientific research and clinical trials, adds more than $57 million to the Oʻahu economy.  It is one of only 71 research institutions designated by the National Cancer Institute.  An organized research unit within the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa, the UH Cancer Center is dedicated to eliminating cancer through research, education, patient care and community outreach with an emphasis on the unique ethnic, cultural, and environmental characteristics of Hawaiʻi and the Pacific.  Learn more at https://www.uhcancercenter.org.  Like us on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/UHCancerCenter.  Follow us on Twitter @UHCancerCenter.

Media Contacts:

Renown Public Relations
M: 775.691.7308
E: news@renown.org

Detra Page – DRI
M: 702.591.3786
E: Detra.Page@dri.edu

DRI Welcomes Emily McDonald-Williams as STEM Education Program Manager

DRI Welcomes Emily McDonald-Williams as STEM Education Program Manager

DRI Welcomes Emily McDonald-Williams as STEM Education Program Manager

October 11, 2022
RENO, Nevada

DRI is excited to welcome Emily McDonald-Williams as its STEM Education Program Manager. She brings experience as a 4-H Coordinator at Oregon State University, where she focused on developing and expanding STEM education opportunities on a state, national, and international basis. Prior to her work at Oregon State University, she worked with Montana State Parks and the Bureau of Land Management with a focus on integrating natural resource content with hands-on education throughout the community.

“Emily’s experience in STEM education and her desire to expand high-quality programs and offerings makes her a terrific addition to DRI’s STEM Education group,” said DRI Executive Director of the Division of Earth and Ecosystem Sciences Philippe Vidon, Ph.D. “We are delighted for Emily to lead DRI’s K-12 STEM Education program.”

Along with her dedication to expanding high-quality STEM education opportunities, McDonald-Williams will focus on designing curriculum that is inclusive, accessible, and provided equitably.

“I’m thrilled to lead DRI’s impactful K-12 STEM education program,” said McDonald-Williams. “My experience in STEM education, community outreach, and environmental conservation and restoration work has prepared me for this new role.”  

In addition to obtaining a Bachelor of Arts in environmental studies and biology from the University of California, Santa Cruz, McDonald-Williams also holds a Master of Science in education from Southern Oregon University, with a concentration in STEM curriculum and instruction.

 

headshot of emily mcdonald williams

Emily McDonald-Williams, STEM Education Program Manager at Desert Research Institute (DRI).

Credit: Jessi LeMay/DRI.

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About DRI 

The Desert Research Institute (DRI) is a recognized world leader in basic and applied environmental research. Committed to scientific excellence and integrity, DRI faculty, students who work alongside them, and staff have developed scientific knowledge and innovative technologies in research projects around the globe. Since 1959, DRI’s research has advanced scientific knowledge on topics ranging from humans’ impact on the environment to the environment’s impact on humans. DRI’s impactful science and inspiring solutions support Nevada’s diverse economy, provide science-based educational opportunities, and inform policymakers, business leaders, and community members. With campuses in Las Vegas and Reno, DRI serves as the non-profit research arm of the Nevada System of Higher Education. For more information, please visit www.dri.edu.

 

Nevada Gold Mines Supports DRI’s Nevada Robotics STEM Education Programs

Nevada Gold Mines Supports DRI’s Nevada Robotics STEM Education Programs

Supports Educator Training, Robots & Equipment, and Outreach Throughout the State

women puts together pieces for her robot

To address the economic need for a strong STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) workforce in Nevada, the goal is to bring robotics and engineering to every school across the state. With support from Nevada Gold Mines (NGM), Nevada’s educators are able to increase STEM education in the classroom with hands-on robotics training and support.

Thanks to NGM and other founding partners, more than 1,200 educators have been trained in educational robotics to date. This summer, 333 educators attended the Robotics Academy of Nevada (RAN) educator professional development training series held in Las Vegas, Reno, and the first inaugural event in Elko. Training increases educator confidence in robotics lessons and brings engineering, computer science, and coding to life in the classroom.

In addition to the new Elko RAN, Nevada’s rural communities are receiving greater access to STEM and robotics education, thanks to support from NGM. Through the Desert Research Institute Foundation, NGM provided funding to Nevada Robotics for a Rural STEM Coordinator to support the Elko and Spring Creek Boys and Girls Clubs, help local robotics educators, and host family STEM and Career Nights in rural Nevada. The goal is to increase equitable access to high-quality STEM education with training, support, and equipment.

“Robotics is an amazing way to spark a lifelong interest in STEM, teamwork, and creative problem solving for students of all ages,” said Christine Keener, chief operating officer, Barrick North America. “Nevada Gold Mines recognizes the need for additional STEM education in Nevada’s rural communities, and we are honored to provide the funding for a Rural STEM Coordinator.”

“Thanks to support from Nevada Gold Mines, we’re thrilled to be able to expand access to STEM education in Nevada’s rural communities by hiring a Rural STEM Coordinator,” said A.J. Long, M.A., head of the Nevada Robotics program at DRI.

The Nevada Robotics program, launched in 2018, introduces Nevada teachers to the engineering and robotics skills needed to build and program automated and remote-controlled robots with groups of students. Teaching students the fundamentals of engineering, computer science, and coding will help fill the STEM workforce pipeline gap in Nevada.

To support DRI’s Nevada Robotics program or for more information on how to make a gift to support DRI, please contact Kristin Burgarello, director of advancement, at 775.673.7386 or Kristin.Burgarello@dri.edu.

african american women pieces togethera robot on top of a desk

Scientists Unveil New System for Naming Majority of the World’s Microorganisms

Scientists Unveil New System for Naming Majority of the World’s Microorganisms

Scientists Unveil New System for Naming Majority of the World’s Microorganisms

September 20, 2022
LAS VEGAS, Nev.

Microorganisms
SeqCode
Prokaryotes

Above: Fluorescent-stained bacteria (pink) and archaea (green) from near-boiling water from Great Boiling Spring in Gerlach, Nevada. Photo credit: Jeremy Dodsworth. 

The SeqCode is a universal system, created through collaboration of hundreds of scientists, to formally register and name single-celled microorganisms known as prokaryotes.

Reposted from https://www.unlv.edu/news/release/scientists-unveil-new-system-naming-majority-worlds-microorganisms.

What’s in a name? For microorganisms, apparently a lot.

Prokaryotes are single-celled microorganisms – bacteria are an example – that are abundant the world over. They exist in the oceans, in soils, in extreme environments like hot springs, and even alongside and inside other organisms including humans.

In short, they’re everywhere, and scientists worldwide are working to both categorize and communicate about them. But here’s the rub: Most don’t have a name.

Less than 0.2% of known prokaryotes have been formally named because current regulations – described in the International Code of Nomenclature of Prokaryotes (ICNP) – require new species to be grown in a lab and freely distributed as pure and viable cultures in collections. Essentially, to name it you have to have multiple physical specimens to prove it.

In an article published Sept. 19 in the journal Nature Microbiology, a team of scientists present a new system, the SeqCode, and a corresponding registration portal that could help microbiologists effectively categorize and communicate about the massive number of identified yet uncultivated prokaryotes.

“Our goal is to unite field and laboratory studies in microbiology and respond to significant recent advancements in environmental genomics by providing a path to formally name the majority of identified yet unnamed prokaryotes,” said UNLV microbiologist Brian Hedlund, lead author on the paper and key collaborator on the development of the SeqCode. “The SeqCode should serve the community by promoting high genome quality standards, good naming practice, and a well-ordered database.”

Creating the SeqCode

Nearly 850 scientists representing multiple disciplines from more than 40 countries participated in a series of NSF-funded online workshops in 2021 to develop the new SeqCode, which uses genome sequence data for both cultivated and uncultivated prokaryotes as the basis for naming prokaryotes.

Since the 2000s, scientists who study prokaryotes in environments all over the world have used environmental genomics techniques to sample and study them, and hundreds of thousands of genome sequences are available in public databases. The community participating in the workshops, which were organized by Hedlund and colleague Anna-Louise Reysenbach from Portland State University, overwhelmingly supported the development of an alternative to the ICNP that would accept DNA sequence data and ultimately improve resources for researchers.

“The key pieces are in place for an orderly expansion of prokaryotic systematics to the entire prokaryotic tree of life,” said William B. Whitman, SeqCode corresponding author and University of Georgia microbiologist. “This expansion will serve the research and the broader community by providing a common language for all prokaryotes that is systematically organized and supported by data-rich genomic datasets and associated metadata.”

To qualify for inclusion in the SeqCode, genomeses must meet rigorous scientific standards to ensure quality, stability, and open data sharing. And, though it’s not yet universally accepted, the SeqCode fundamentally aligns with established international principles for naming other organisms, including plants and animals.

“Any organism with a high-quality genome sequence – from a pure culture or not – can be named under the SeqCode,” said Hedlund. “We will also automatically accept all names formed under the ICNP. I expect through time that the SeqCode will be used much more frequently than the ICNP.”

Creating Clarity Amongst Chaos

One of the primary goals for the new system, authors argue, is to reverse a trend in the field where “unregulated” names are used in literature out of necessity. This can lead to mistakes that increase the likelihood of subsequent renaming later on, making it difficult for scientists to review and compare data and communicate effectively. Conversely, authors argue that the SeqCode “embraces findability, accessibility, interoperability, and reusability principles.”

Hedlund referenced Chlamydia and related organisms as an example. Since these organisms can’t be grown, stored, or distributed as pure cultures, they’re currently unable to be officially named.

“It could be pretty confusing for clinicians to not have valid names for newly discovered chlamydiae,” says Hedlund. “There’s a risk of those names being poorly cataloged, which could stifle tracking of disease outbreaks and communication among scientists, doctors, and the public.”

Overcoming Controversy

Despite its intended goal to create clarity and synergy with accepted standards for naming, the move is not without controversy.

The SeqCode follows a previous attempt by scientists to modify the ICNP to allow uncultivated prokaryotes to be named based on having a DNA sequence that would serve as the evidence (or ‘type’) for the organism – as opposed to the ICNP rules now which require a culture into two permanent collections.

In 2020, a team led by Desert Research Institute biologist Alison Murray published a paper, also in Nature Microbiology, that was co-authored or endorsed by nearly 120 scientists representing 22 countries calling for action on the proposed modifications of the ICNP to accept DNA sequences as types or to go an alternate route. However, the proposed modifications were rejected by the International Committee on Systematics of Prokaryotes, the group responsible for governing the naming of prokaryotes.

“It is clear that the global community of scientists is ready for a paradigm change in how we name prokaryotes – to be inclusive of the breadth of prokaryotic life,” said Murray. “Modern genome technologies can resolve genomes of uncultivated organisms at the high degree of precision needed to ensure integrity and provide stability to the field of microbiology. Naming these taxa is the way to communicate their existence, their evolutionary history and predict their physiological capabilities.”

The 2020 setback led to a redoubling of efforts among the growing cadre of scientists and, ultimately, the “alternative route” which led to the formation of the SeqCode.

“Many people came to the table to share their perspectives, their energy, and their skills to make it happen,” said Hedlund. “The response to our workshops from scientists all over the world was incredible and helped validate why the time has come to formally make a change in how prokaryotes are named.”

Tension still exists among some scientists, who argue that less can be known about uncultivated prokaryotes than those that can be grown and manipulated in a lab as pure cultures. Additionally, nuances in processing and interpreting DNA sequence data could potentially lead to erroneous conclusions, a point that Hedlund claims is also true of studies of pure cultures.

The authors say this new system is not intended to discourage traditional cultivation of prokaryotes, but instead is designed by the scientific community to improve communication across the microbial sciences.

“We view this ‘SeqCode v.1.0’ as a necessary first step toward a unified system of nomenclature to communicate the full diversity of prokaryotes and we will cooperate with the community toward the realization of this vision,” authors write.

More information:

The paper, “SeqCode: a nomenclatural code for prokaryotes described from sequence data” was published Sept. 19 in the journal Nature Microbiology.  Learn more about the SeqCode at https://seqco.de/.

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About DRI

The Desert Research Institute (DRI) is a recognized world leader in basic and applied environmental research. Committed to scientific excellence and integrity, DRI faculty, students who work alongside them, and staff have developed scientific knowledge and innovative technologies in research projects around the globe. Since 1959, DRI’s research has advanced scientific knowledge on topics ranging from humans’ impact on the environment to the environment’s impact on humans. DRI’s impactful science and inspiring solutions support Nevada’s diverse economy, provide science-based educational opportunities, and inform policymakers, business leaders, and community members. With campuses in Las Vegas and Reno, DRI serves as the non-profit research arm of the Nevada System of Higher Education. For more information, please visit www.dri.edu.

About UNLV

UNLV is a doctoral-degree-granting institution of more than 30,000 students and nearly 4,000 faculty and staff that has earned the nation’s highest recognition for both research and community engagement from the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. UNLV offers a broad range of respected academic programs and is committed to recruiting and retaining top students and faculty, educating the region’s diverse population and workforce, driving economic activity, and creating an academic health center for Southern Nevada. Learn more at unlv.edu

Restoring our relationship with hímu (willow) requires human interaction rather than protection

Restoring our relationship with hímu (willow) requires human interaction rather than protection

Restoring our relationship with hímu (willow) requires human interaction rather than protection

SEPT 19, 2022
RENO, NEV.

By Robin Smuda, Climate Reporter Intern

Native Climate
Hímu
Willow

dá∙bal (dah-ball; big sage), ťá∙gɨm (tdah-goom; pinion pine), and hímu (him-oo; willow) are why Wá∙šiw (Washo) live here.

In between the high lush landscape of dáɁaw (Lake Tahoe) and the expanse of arid landscapes within the Great Basin, the Wá∙šiw have lived here and have lived with this community for countless generations. The continuation of life for the Wá∙šiw is based around plants that always stand: dá∙bal, ťá∙gɨm, and hímu. With them, survival is always possible, and they can help us understand our problems. But current viewpoints that prioritize protection over interaction with the environment are at odds with strong traditional relationships between the Wá∙šiw people and these plants.

washoe lands map

Wá∙šiw traditional homelands (shown in light and dark green) are located in the mountains and valleys around dáɁaw (Lake Tahoe), along what is now the California-Nevada border. Today, most Wá∙šiw people live in colonies and communities of the Carson Valley of Nevada (shown in black).

Credit: Washoe Tribe of Nevada and California.

HÍMU IN WÁ∙ŠIW WEAVING

hímu, particularly the willow that grows in the valleys around the Lake Tahoe region (“valley hímu,” also known as coyote willow) is especially important to Wá∙šiw basket weaving for tradition and quality material. Baskets can be woven from most materials, but quality Wá∙šiw basketry wants and sometimes requires strong valley hímu for its strength and clean color.

Healthy valley hímu can grow long stalks independently, but human encouragement is the traditional way. Traditional growth patterns were propagated by planting hímu, pruning them, having fire consume or interact with them, shaping them to provide shade from hot sun-filled days, and more. The continued handling leads the plant to grow long and strong.

“My great aunts, the Smokey Sisters, and other elder basket weavers like Marie Kizer and Florine Conway, harvested and tended to the willow in Dresslerville along the river and surrounding areas,” said Melanie Smokey, Wá∙šiw basket weaver. “They would talk to the willow and were proud of this area. They graciously accepted visitors who asked to harvest willow in the area. Once everyone gathered their bounty, then they would all go to the Senior Center where a pre-planned good meal was served in honor of the guests. They were proud of their Wá∙šiw má∙š, their lands. Their baskets didn’t just hang on a wall, their baskets were used to gather, to sift pinenut and acorn flour in, and to cook in. They wanted basketry to continue so they taught and encouraged young people.”

Without the human touch, knots, bends, and eyes (from buds of branches) can become common. These become hindrances for collection of the long stalks that are necessary for a strong product and create weaknesses in the weaving.

Valley hímu has become the main variant of willow used for weaving, despite other types being readily available, because of the ability to grow tall and straight. These willows create the structure of the basket. hímu that grows in the mountains (“mountain hímu”) grows low and bunched, providing shorter stalks that make for weaker baskets, which last for one season at most.

Mountain hímu that grows in the Tahoe Basin has been used for fishing traps or twine, and temporary burden baskets, explained Smokey. The hímu in Northern Nevada’s arid low valleys is stronger, straighter, and necessary for complete and keepable baskets.

The long stalks of valley hímu create baskets of maximum strength that hold together under use of fire for roasting or carrying heavy objects for years. The feeling and fact of strength from valley hímu is most apparent in baby boards, which carry the next generation, make the child feel safe, and last for decades.

hímu burden basket on top of table

A ~100 year old Wá∙šiw hímu burden basket that was used over 2 lifetimes. Basket was on display as part of Wa She Shu It’ Deh at Meeks Bay, courtesy of Melba Rakow.

Credit: Robin Smuda.

VALLEY HÍMU IN DECLINE: DROUGHT, HEAT, FIRE, AND MORE

Valley hímu on Wá∙šiw lands are under stress from drought and heat. hímu that is tall and healthy enough for weaving is practically nonexistent in the wild in Carson Valley, according to local weavers. Wá∙šiw weavers have harvested usable stalks in limited amounts from the Nature Conservancy preserve at River Fork Ranch in the Carson Valley, but finding quality hímu in other areas is so difficult that gatherers protect locations from many people out of respect, for the land is not a guarantee.

“…my cousin Sue goes clear to Oregon to get hers because this lady grows it for her in her yard,” says Melba Rakow, Wá∙šiw Elder and employee of the Culture and Language Resources Department of the Washoe Tribe of Nevada and California.

In addition to drought and heat, the unnaturally long and powerful fires from years of current forest management practices and climate change harm valley hímu as they tear through the landscape. hímu is burned down, damaged, or in some cases preemptively destroyed with herbicide as they are seen as an agricultural weed and potential fire hazard.

Changes in the timing of the warm season may also be impacting the timing of hímu flowering. Wá∙šiw weavers have noticed that the timing of flowering is becoming more unpredictable. Analysis of weather data by Paige Johnson and Kyle Bocinsky from the Native Climate team found that in Minden, Nev., the first warm spell of the year (measured as 7 consecutive days where the minimum daily temperature rose above 28oF) has been happening earlier in the year. Their data shows that the first warm spell is occurring about 2.8 days earlier every decade, which amounts to nearly 3 weeks over the last 70 years.

graph of 7-day warm spells

The earliest 7-day warm spells recorded each year at a weather station in Minden, Nev. 

Credit: Paige Johnson and Kyle Bocinsky, Native Climate.

INTERACTION, NOT EXPLOITATION

Some of the problems facing Wá∙šiw today are the ability to restart traditional valley hímu growing practices and access to land, water, and money needed to propagate them. Many of the best areas for hímu growing are controlled by resource production and natural conservation mindsets. Most parks and natural areas in the Carson Valley are designed to keep nature in its pure state. Ranches that surround the Carson River and lusher areas of the Carson Valley are focused on livestock production and control large areas of land and water.

Working and living with the land gets us to a healthier environment, says Herman Filmore, Director of Culture/Language Resources Department of the Washoe Tribe of Nevada and California. The plants and land are sovereign beings, and we live with them, which includes human interaction and use. He explains that the idea of untamed wilderness Indigenous peoples lived in is detrimentally wrong. Plants were harvested and propagated on purpose. Landscapes were managed and areas were cleared. The difference is that human needs were not the only concerns.

Campsites were used and plants were cared for, but not always, as rest is important for the plants and the landscape, says Rakow. The overworking of land is something she has seen in her life. Ranchers in the Carson Valley used to have cattle graze one area and let that area heal for years before using the land again. Today, this is much less common.

Valley hímu near a creek

Valley hímu growth near an unkept creek. Note that the majority of the branches are broken or twisted and unusable for weaving. 

Credit: Robin Smuda.

A RETURN TO TRADITIONAL WAYS

These are long-standing problems, but solutions are underway. For the first time in a generation, valley hímu is now being worked with on Wá∙šiw land in mass. It is a return and reimagining of what was done before. Rhiana Jones and the Washoe Tribe’s Environmental Department have been working on a pilot project to grow hímu that will be accessible to the whole community. She and others have propagated hímu stalks on the Dresslerville Reservation in the Carson Valley using traditional methods of fire and pruning to encourage great-quality stalks.

While efforts to have valley hímu in our community again are growing stronger, much still needs to be done in order to restore our relationship with this plant and the landscape as a whole. hímu faces many of the same challenges that we do — less water, intense heat, destruction of the environment, and out-of-control fire. They are resilient, as they always have been. It falls on people to become reconnected and move forward with them for generations to come.

hímu cradle boards with roasting pans, baskets, and a cedar net

hímu cradle boards, 3 used roasting pans, lidded baskets, and a traditionally made cedar net on display at Wa She Shu It’ Deh at Meeks Bay courtesy of the Culture and Language Resources Department of the Washoe Tribe of Nevada and California.

Credit: Robin Smuda.

Robin Smuda is a Wašiw person and a member of the Washoe Tribe of Nevada and California. Currently, they are a reporter intern with Native Climate at DRI and studying Cultural Anthropology at the University of Nevada, Reno. Robin is planning on studying Ethno-Archeology and Indigenous Studies in grad school, with a focus on the transition from pre- and post-contact in the Great Basin.

New study examines impacts of three desert landscaping strategies on urban irrigation and air temperatures

New study examines impacts of three desert landscaping strategies on urban irrigation and air temperatures

New study examines impacts of three desert landscaping strategies on urban irrigation and air temperatures

As Las Vegas and other Southwestern cities look for ways to reduce water use during a historic drought, the removal of grass lawns and other areas of “nonfunctional turf” has been recommended by the Southern Nevada Water Authority and written into Nevada state law with AB356. But, will this change from turf-grass to other landscaping types result in other unintended climate impacts in urban areas, such as increased air or surface temperatures?

In a new study in the journal Hydrology, a team of scientists from DRI, Arizona State University (ASU), and the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV), examined the irrigation water requirements of three common types of urban landscapes. Then, they compared air temperature, surface temperature, and wind speed around the three sites to learn how differences in landscape types impact their surrounding environment.

The three landscape types analyzed in the study were a “mesic” tree and turf-grass landscape with water-intensive plants; a “xeric” landscape consisting primarily of desert plants on drip irrigation; and an intermediate “oasis” landscape type with a mix of high-and low water use plants. The sites were located around buildings in an experimental study area at ASU in Phoenix.

As expected, the mesic (tree and turf-grass) landscape showed the highest water consumption rate. However, the mesic site also had the lowest surface and air temperatures, both in the daytime and nighttime, thus creating better conditions for outdoor thermal comfort.

The site with xeric (desert) landscaping had the lowest irrigation water requirement but the highest temperatures. Air temperatures in the xeric landscape plot averaged 3oC (5.4oF) higher than in the other two landscape types.

The oasis landscape, with a mix of high- and low-water use plants, provided the best of both worlds – lower irrigation water requirements than the mesic site but more daytime cooling than the xeric landscape.

“The simple take-home message from what we learned was that xeric (desert) landscaping is not the best long-term solution and neither is mesic (tree-turf),” said the study’s lead author Rubab Saher, Ph.D., Maki postdoctoral research associate at DRI. “An ‘oasis’ style landscape, which contains trees like Acacia or ghost gum, and shrubs like dwarf poinciana, requiring light irrigation, are the best solution, because it conserves water but also contributes to cooling through the evapotranspiration of the plants.”

The study also examined the role of buildings and open sky to understand the effect of shade on the landscape. They found that shade in the narrow space between buildings created shade of comparable temperature to that under a tree in a mesic landscape and are interested in doing follow-up studies to learn more about the impact of building orientation on maximizing summer shade.

“I became interested in this topic because urban irrigation and water efficient landscaping are really important issues in the Western U.S., but haven’t been studied very thoroughly,” said Saher. “People have been applying methods for calculating irrigation from agricultural fields, but urban areas are very different landscapes, and the ways that homeowners irrigate are very unpredictable.”

The authors hope that their findings are helpful to homeowners, city planners, or anyone trying to help conserve water but prevent warming temperatures in arid urban regions.

“Removing turf grass from the landscape is an excellent approach for saving water, but if we remove all the turf grass, the temperature will go up,” Saher said. “For every acre of turf grass removed, we also need to plant native and/or rainfed trees to make arid cities livable in the long run.”

More information:

The full study, Assessing the Microclimate Effects and Irrigation Water Requirements of Mesic, Oasis, and Xeric Landscapes, is available from Hydrology: https://www.mdpi.com/2306-5338/9/6/104

This study was made possible with funding from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV), and DRI’s Maki Postdoctoral fellowship. Study authors included Rubab Saher (DRI), Ariane Middel (ASU), Haroon Stephen (UNLV), and Sajjad Ahmad (UNLV).

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About DRI

The Desert Research Institute (DRI) is a recognized world leader in basic and applied environmental research. Committed to scientific excellence and integrity, DRI faculty, students who work alongside them, and staff have developed scientific knowledge and innovative technologies in research projects around the globe. Since 1959, DRI’s research has advanced scientific knowledge on topics ranging from humans’ impact on the environment to the environment’s impact on humans. DRI’s impactful science and inspiring solutions support Nevada’s diverse economy, provide science-based educational opportunities, and inform policymakers, business leaders, and community members. With campuses in Las Vegas and Reno, DRI serves as the non-profit research arm of the Nevada System of Higher Education. For more information, please visit www.dri.edu.

About ASU

Arizona State University, ranked No. 1 “Most Innovative School” in the nation by U.S. News & World Report for seven years in succession, has forged the model for a New American University by operating on the principles that learning is a personal and lifelong journey for everyone, and that people thrive on experience and discovery that cannot be bound by traditional academic disciplines. Through innovation and a commitment to educational access, ASU has drawn pioneering researchers to its faculty even as it expands opportunities for qualified students.

About UNLV

UNLV is a doctoral-degree-granting institution of more than 30,000 students and nearly 4,000 faculty and staff that has earned the nation’s highest recognition for both research and community engagement from the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. UNLV offers a broad range of respected academic programs and is committed to recruiting and retaining top students and faculty, educating the region’s diverse population and workforce, driving economic activity, and creating an academic health center for Southern Nevada. Learn more at unlv.edu

 

Media Contacts:

Detra Page
DRI
702.591.3786
Detra.page@dri.edu

David Rozul
ASU
480-965-3779
david.rozul@asu.edu

Cheryl Bella
UNLV
702-895-3965 (o)
702-499-3930 (c)
cheryl.bella@unlv.edu

Growing numbers of Native American households in Nevada face plumbing poverty, water quality problems

Growing numbers of Native American households in Nevada face plumbing poverty, water quality problems

New study analyzes trends, opportunities, and challenges related to water security in Nevada’s Native American communities

A growing number of Native American households in Nevada have no access to indoor plumbing, a condition known as “plumbing poverty,” according to a new study by a team from DRI and the Guinn Center for Policy Priorities.

The study assesses trends and challenges associated with water security (reliable access to a sufficient quantity of safe, clean water) in Native American households and communities of Nevada and also found a concerning increase in the number of Safe Drinking Water Act violations during the last 15 years.

Native American communities in the Western U.S., including Nevada, are particularly vulnerable to water security challenges because of factors including population growth, climate change, drought, and water rights. In rural areas, aging or absent water infrastructure creates additional challenges.

In this study, the research team used U.S. Census microdata on household plumbing characteristics to learn about the access of Native American community members to “complete plumbing facilities,” including piped water (hot and cold), a flush toilet, and a bathtub or shower. They also used water quality reports from the Environmental Protection Agency to learn about drinking water sources and health violations.

According to their results, during the 30-year time period from 1990-2019, an average of 0.67 percent of Native American households in Nevada lacked complete indoor plumbing – higher than the national average of 0.4 percent. Their findings show a consistent increase in the lack of access to plumbing over the last few decades, with more than 20,000 people affected in 2019.

“Previous studies have found that Native American households are more likely to lack complete indoor plumbing than other households in the U.S., and our results show a similar trend here in Nevada,” said lead author Erick Bandala, Ph.D., assistant research professor of environmental science at DRI. “This can create quality of life problems, for example, during the COVID-19 pandemic, when lack of indoor plumbing could have prevented basic health measures like hand-washing.”

graph representation of Native Americans  in Nevada with no access to plumbing from 1990 to 2019

Native American community members in Nevada with no access to plumbing from 1990 to 2019.

Credit: Erick Bandala, DRI.

Plumbing poverty may correlate with other types of poverty. Analysis by the study team showed that as the number of people living in a household increased, access to complete plumbing decreased significantly, in agreement with other studies.

Study findings also showed a significant increase in the number of Safe Drinking Water Act violations in water facilities serving Native American Communities in Nevada from 2005 to 2020. The most common health-based violations included presence of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), presence of coliform bacteria, and presence of inorganic chemicals.

“Water accessibility, reliability, and quality are major challenges for Native American communities in Nevada and throughout the Southwest,” said coauthor Maureen McCarthy, Ph.D., research professor of environmental science and director of the Native Climate project at DRI.

graph displaying Types of Safe Drinking Water Act violations

Types of Safe Drinking Water Act violations documented by the EPA for public water systems serving Native American communities in Nevada, 2005-2020.

Credit: Erick Bandala, DRI.

The study authors hope that their findings are useful to decision-makers and members of the general public who may not be aware that plumbing poverty and water quality are significant problems in Nevada.

More information:

The full study, “Assessing the effect of extreme heat on workforce health in the southwestern USA,” is available from the International Journal of Environmental Science and Technology: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1462901122002179?dgcid=author

This project was funded by the General Frederick West Lander Endowment at DRI. Study authors included Erick Bandala (DRI), Maureen McCarthy (DRI), and Nancy Brune (DRI, formerly of the Guinn Center for Policy Priorities).

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About DRI

The Desert Research Institute (DRI) is a recognized world leader in basic and applied environmental research. Committed to scientific excellence and integrity, DRI faculty, students who work alongside them, and staff have developed scientific knowledge and innovative technologies in research projects around the globe. Since 1959, DRI’s research has advanced scientific knowledge on topics ranging from humans’ impact on the environment to the environment’s impact on humans. DRI’s impactful science and inspiring solutions support Nevada’s diverse economy, provide science-based educational opportunities, and inform policymakers, business leaders, and community members. With campuses in Las Vegas and Reno, DRI serves as the non-profit research arm of the Nevada System of Higher Education. For more information, please visit www.dri.edu.

DRI and Save Red Rock Celebrate The Passage Of SB99 Which Funds a Statewide Cloud Seeding Initiative

Save Red Rock Partners with DRI to “Make it Rain” in Red Rock Canyon

Save Red Rock Partners with DRI to “Make It Rain” in Red Rock Canyon

September 1, 2022
LAS VEGAS, Nev.

Above: The sun shines on Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. 

Photo courtesy of Pengcheng Zhu (iStock). 

Environmental nonprofit raises funds to enable cloud seeding technology in the region 

Save Red Rock is partnering with DRI to fund a cloud seeding program which will augment precipitation in the Spring Mountains, helping to replenish the aquifers within the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. The partnership is working to alleviate some of the devastating effects of drought by stimulating additional snowfall in the winter and rainfall in the summer from naturally-occurring storm clouds in the area. The nonprofit is organizing a community crowdfunding campaign, aptly titled Make it Rain,” to raise $150,000 towards the multi-seasonal cloud seeding project.

“Drought conditions are at a critical level for much of the flora and fauna in the southwest,” says Save Red Rock President Heather Fisher. “The health and beauty of our outdoor sanctuaries like Red Rock Canyon are at risk. Along with our climate scientists, it’s up to all of us to act now and protect these endangered ecosystems for the long term.”

Cloud seeding is a safe and effective method used all over the world to enhance precipitation. It works by sending silver iodide, a natural and non-toxic compound, into a potential storm cloud which increases the likelihood of precipitation. Winter seeding techniques feature ground-based generators operated remotely by meteorologists who monitor conditions and carefully evaluate when to seed. Each generator has the potential of adding an average of 3,000 acre feet of snow melt per year. DRI’s last project in Lee Canyon proved even more successful, generating 5,656 acre feet, or approximately 1.8 billion gallons.

DRI has been pioneering cloud seeding programs since the early 1960s. They now offer time-tested methods that are proven to enhance snowfall in five mountain ranges, including the Lake Tahoe Basin (CA/NV), the Spring Mountains (NV), the Santa Rosa Mountains (NV), the San Juan Mountains (CO), and the Upper Colorado River Headwaters region (CO).

“Save Red Rock is the ideal partner for us on this project,” said DRI’s Program Director Frank McDonough. “Desert Research Institute is a proud pioneer of weather optimization research and practices, which have been used successfully for generations. However, as we focus on the science, it’s crucial that we work with other community organizations to fund, place and promote the use of our equipment.”

Community leaders have already started committing to the fundraising effort, including sponsor Brett Torino, Founder of The Brett Torino Foundation who will offer Torino Ranch in Lovell Canyon as the host site for the winter cloud seed generators; and Jeremy Burkhardt, Chairman of Origin Acoustics, who donated the first $25,000 to kickstart the crowdfund.

“Business has been good to me and it’s important to give back,” says Burkhardt. “I’m supporting Save Red Rock in this cloud seeding project because I believe in helping the environment and the beautiful canyon I love.” 

More information:

Additional donations to support DRI’s cloud seeding program for Save Red Rock can be made at https://saveredrock.com/make-it-rain/For those interested in learning more about how cloud seeding works, DRI and Save Red Rock will be hosting a public webinar on Thursday, Sept. 8 at 10 am. Pre-registration is encouraged and available here

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About Save Red Rock

Save Red Rock is a 501c3 organization with a mission to preserve, protect, and enhance the natural, cultural, recreational, and scenic resources in and around the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area to ensure natural resource sustainability and promote responsible recreational enjoyment for all user groups now and for future generations.

About the Cottonwood Springs Water Stewards

The Cottonwood Springs Water Stewards is a committee of Save Red Rock whose goal is to preserve the springs and aquifers in Red Rock Canyon. Members of the Stewards include experts in botany, environmental science, land management and more.

About DRI

The Desert Research Institute (DRI) is a recognized world leader in basic and applied environmental research. Committed to scientific excellence and integrity, DRI faculty, students who work alongside them, and staff have developed scientific knowledge and innovative technologies in research projects around the globe. Since 1959, DRI’s research has advanced scientific knowledge on topics ranging from humans’ impact on the environment to the environment’s impact on humans. DRI’s impactful science and inspiring solutions support Nevada’s diverse economy, provide science-based educational opportunities, and inform policymakers, business leaders, and community members. With campuses in Las Vegas and Reno, DRI serves as the non-profit research arm of the Nevada System of Higher Education. For more information, please visit www.dri.edu.

The making of a megafire: Study explores why some wildfires grow fast and furious

The making of a megafire: Study explores why some wildfires grow fast and furious

Reposted from https://www.fs.usda.gov/research/pnw/news/releases/making-megafire-study-explores-why-some-wildfires-grow-fast-and-furious.

Photo courtesy of the National Interagency Fire Center.

Some wildfires grow much larger and a lot faster than others to become megafires. But why? As their name suggests, megafires are wildfires of extreme size with great destructive potential, which can make them especially challenging to manage. As megafires become more frequent in the Western United States, better wildfire prediction is needed to protect lives, property, and resources.

A recent study led by the USDA Forest Service’s Pacific Northwest Research Station explores why some fires turn into megafires by analyzing the effects of daily weather conditions. The findings can help fire managers anticipate which fires are likely to grow most rapidly and become megafires.

“Ours is the first study to systematically and quantitatively compare daily weather conditions with daily fire growth using multiple fires across the country,” said Brian Potter, research meteorologist at the station’s Pacific Wildland Fire Sciences Laboratory in Seattle, Wash. Along with Daniel McEvoy, researcher with the Desert Research Institute, Potter analyzed 40 fires that burned in California, the Great Basin, the Rockies, the Northwest, and the Southwest between 2002 and 2017.

The two researchers looked at a particular kind of megafire, which they called “fires of unusual size” or FOUS. These fires were 90,000 acres or larger and grew an additional 22,000 acres or more after at least one blowup, or growth, event. The scientists then compared these unusually large wildfires with smaller wildfires from the same general area. For each fire, they looked at the effects of prevailing dryness and daily weather conditions.

The scientists were surprised to find that the daily weather during these types of fires was, if anything, less extreme than during the smaller fires in their study sample. The FOUS tended to develop after two to four weeks of drier weather, which appears to prime them to grow much more when strong, dry winds occur.

More information:

  • The largest wildfires developed because they responded to one- or two-day, high-wind events and preceding dryness more strongly than the other wildfires.
  • It was how the wildfires responded to weather, not the weather itself, that appeared to differentiate the largest fires from other fires.
  • The study’s findings suggest that when the previous couple of weeks have been dry, fire managers may need to be more aware than usual of infrequent high-wind days, even when overall conditions are mild.

Potter, Brian E.; McEvoy, Daniel. 2021. Weather factors associated with extremely large fires and fire growth days. Earth Interactions. 25(1): 160-176.

Clery Notice: Confirmed Positive Case of Coronavirus on DRI’s Reno Campus August 17

Clery Notice: Confirmed Positive Cases of Coronavirus on DRI’s Reno Campus

Today, August 17, 2022, we were also notified of an individual on our Reno campus who received a positive test for the coronavirus (COVID-19) yesterday. This individual was last on DRI’s Reno campus on Monday, August 15, 2022 in the GBERL, Maxey and CRVB buildings. Close contacts with this individual have already been notified.

The health and well-being of our employees is something that is taken very seriously and is of the highest priority. We are issuing the following notice of communicable disease out of an abundance of caution.

 The following are suggestions everyone should consider:

  • Face coverings are encouraged while working around others at our DRI campus.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick. When you are sick, keep your distance from others to protect them from getting sick too.
  • Please stay home from work, school, and errands when you are sick. This will help prevent spreading your illness to others.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing. It may prevent those around you from getting sick. Serious respiratory illnesses are spread by cough, sneezing, or unclean hands.
  • Washing your hands often will help protect you from germs. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs are often spread when a person touches something that is contaminated with germs and then touches his or her eyes, nose, or mouth.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces at home, work or school, especially when someone is ill. Get plenty of sleep, be physically active, manage your stress, drink plenty of fluids, and eat nutritious food.

Location of Incidents: DRI Reno Campus – GBERL, Maxey and CRVB Buildings

Description of Incidents: The individual accessed areas of DRI’s Reno campus – GBERL, Maxey and CRVB Buildings. DRI has notified anyone who may have had close contact with the individual on campus.

The Washoe County Health District encourages anyone with concerns to call the General Public Helpline at 775.328.2427. The number is live Monday – Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. for COVID-19 questions.

Clery Notice: Confirmed Positive Case of Coronavirus on DRI’s Las Vegas Campus August 17

Clery Notice: Confirmed Positive Case of Coronavirus on DRI’s Las Vegas Campus

Today, Wednesday, August 17, 2022 we were notified of an individual on our Las Vegas campus who received a positive test for the coronavirus (COVID-19) today.  This individual was last on DRI’s Las Vegas campus on Monday, August 15, 2022 in the Phase 1 building.  This individual did not have any close contacts while last on campus.

The health and well-being of our employees is something that is taken very seriously and is of the highest priority. We are issuing the following notice of communicable disease as an abundance of caution.

Your health and the health of the community is of primary concern to DRI. We are issuing this notice of communicable disease as an abundance of caution. The following are suggestions everyone should consider:

  • Face coverings are encouraged while working around others at our DRI campus.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick. When you are sick, keep your distance from others to protect them from getting sick too.
  • Please stay home from work, school, and errands when you are sick. This will help prevent spreading your illness to others.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing. It may prevent those around you from getting sick. Serious respiratory illnesses are spread by cough, sneezing, or unclean hands.
  • Washing your hands often will help protect you from germs. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs are often spread when a person touches something that is contaminated with germs and then touches his or her eyes, nose, or mouth.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces at home, work or school, especially when someone is ill. Get plenty of sleep, be physically active, manage your stress, drink plenty of fluids, and eat nutritious food.

Location of Incident: DRI Las Vegas Campus – Phase 1 Building

Description of Incident: The individual accessed areas of DRI’s Las Vegas campus – Phase 1 Building. DRI has notified anyone who may have had close contact with the individual on campus.

The Southern Nevada Health District encourages anyone with concerns to call the General Public Helpline at (702) 759-INFO (4636). The number is live Monday-Friday, 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. for COVID-19 questions.