Consortium Launches New Online Water Data Platform to Transform Water Management in the Western United States as Droughts Intensify

Consortium Launches New Online Water Data Platform to Transform Water Management in the Western United States as Droughts Intensify

“What OpenET offers is a way for people to better understand their water usage. Giving farmers and water managers better information is the greatest value of OpenET.” – Denise Moyle, Farmer, Diamond Valley, Nevada

OpenET makes satellite-based data widely accessible to help 17 states develop more resilient water supplies

Reposted from OpenET

SACRAMENTO, CA – OpenET, a new online platform that uses satellites to estimate water consumed by crops and other plants, launched today, making critical data for water management widely available in 17 western states for the first time amid record drought.

OpenET fills a major information gap in water management in the West. Although water is essential to the health of our communities, wildlife, and food supply, access to accurate, timely data on the amount of water used to grow food has been fragmented and often expensive, keeping it out of the hands of many farmers and decision-makers. OpenET allows users to easily view and download this important water data for the current year and previous five years at no charge.

OpenET is providing this data down to the field scale in 17 western states as water supplies become increasingly scarce due to drought, climate change and population growth. The states covered by OpenET are Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming.

“OpenET addresses one of the biggest data gaps in water management in the western United States,” said Forrest Melton, program scientist for the NASA Western Water Applications Office. “This easy-to-use online platform provides scientifically robust data that are invaluable for water management at all scales, from an individual agricultural field to an entire river basin.”

As water supplies become increasingly scarce in arid regions, we need new, innovative tools like OpenET to manage water more precisely and sustainably,” said Robyn Grimm, senior manager, water information systems, at Environmental Defense Fund (EDF). “OpenET provides all farmers, policymakers and communities big and small with the same high-quality data on water use, so that we can all work together from the same playbook to develop more resilient water supplies across the West.”

“OpenET is a powerful application of cloud computing that will make a measurable impact on the ground in the agriculture sector. Google is proud to support such an important new tool to help improve water sustainability in the western United States as we see the impacts of climate change intensify,” said Google Earth Engine developer advocate Tyler Erickson.

“OpenET combines decades of research with advances in technology from just the past five years to make valuable water data much more affordable and accessible to all,” said Justin Huntington, a research professor at Desert Research Institute. “In the future we hope to expand OpenET to other arid regions of the world, such as South America, India and Africa.”

 

Justin-Huntington-OpenET-Technical-Team

“As someone who has worked on evapotranspiration for more than 40 years, I am thrilled to see multiple, independent models for estimating ET come together on a single, easy-to-navigate platform,” said Richard Allen, a professor of water resources engineering at the University of Idaho. “By putting these water consumption data into the hands of farmers and water managers across the western United States, OpenET will be transformative in helping us manage water more sustainably,” added Ayse Kilic, a professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

“In some parts of the arid West, more than 70% of irrigation water ends up as evapotranspiration. By automating calculations for this highly important water data, OpenET will enable the USGS and water managers to more easily create water budgets at the watershed scale, which is an essential first step toward proactive water management,” said Gabriel Senay, a scientist with the U.S. Geological Survey.

“Irrigated agriculture is essential to feeding a growing population,” said Martha Anderson, a research scientist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. “OpenET will be a powerful tool to help our nation’s farmers increase food production under conditions of limited freshwater resources.”

“OpenET has not just transformed access to information on ET, but has also facilitated important advances in the underlying science,” said Josh Fisher, a research scientist with the University of California, Los Angeles. “The collaborative approach used to develop OpenET will accelerate our ability to scale the platform to other regions, and to rapidly incorporate new information from future satellite missions.”

“The development of multi-model tools based on cloud computing, as provided by OpenET, is a paradigm shift, allowing water resources management in sustainable ways, not only in the United States, but also in many agricultural regions of the world, where agriculture and irrigation are increasing rapidly, as in Brazil”, added Anderson Ruhoff, a professor at the Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul in Brazil.

 

Screenshot of OpenET Data

Applications of OpenET data include:

  • Informing irrigation management and scheduling to maximize “crop per drop” and reduce costs for water, fertilizer and energy. ET data are being used by E&J Gallo Winery in California and Oregon state legislator and alfalfa farmer Mark Owens to reduce applied irrigation water while sustaining crop yields and quality.
  • Enabling water and land managers to develop more accurate water budgets, water trading programs and other innovative programs. Rosedale-Rio Bravo Water Storage District in California’s San Joaquin Valley is using OpenET in its online accounting and trading platform. Salt River Project in Arizona is using OpenET to improve their understanding of the impacts of wildfire and forest management on streamflow and groundwater recharge.

What is evapotranspiration?

The “ET” in OpenET stands for evapotranspiration — the process by which water evaporates from the land surface and transpires, or is released, from plants. ET is a key measure of water consumed by crops and other vegetation that can be used by farmers and water managers to better track water use as well as water saved, for instance, when farmers change crops or invest in new technologies.

Evapotranspiration can be estimated by satellites because the ET process absorbs energy and cools the land surface, and vegetation reflects and absorbs different amounts of visible and near-infrared light depending upon the density and health of the vegetation. These effects are visible to thermal and optical sensors on a satellite. Using sophisticated biophysical models, OpenET combines satellite information with local weather data to accurately estimate ET. 

Using publicly available data, OpenET brings together six independent models for estimating evapotranspiration onto a single computing platform, ultimately helping to build broader trust and agreement around this information.

OpenET data has been extensively compared to ground-based measurements collected in agricultural fields and natural landscapes, and tested by a wide variety of organizations through several use cases to ensure the highest accuracy.

Unprecedented public-private partnership

OpenET has been developed through an unprecedented public-private collaboration with input from more than 100 farmers, water managers, and other stakeholders. The project is led by Environmental Defense Fund, NASA, Desert Research Institute, and HabitatSeven. Additional team members include Google, the U.S. Geological Survey, U.S. Department of Agriculture, California State University Monterey Bay, University of Idaho, University of Maryland, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, University of Wisconsin-Madison, UCLA, and Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul in Brazil.

The OpenET project has received funding from the NASA Applied Sciences Program Western Water Applications Office, S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation, Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, Walton Family Foundation, Water Funder Initiative, Lyda Hill Philanthropies, The Keith Campbell Foundation for the Environment, Delta Water Agencies, and the Windward Fund. In-kind support has been provided by Google Earth Engine and partners in the agricultural and water management communities.

Providing farmers and local water managers free ET data is a core objective of the OpenET project. For-profit entities and other organizations looking for large-scale access to OpenET data will be able to purchase it through an application programming interface (API) expected to launch in 2022. Revenue generated will fund continuing research and development of OpenET data services.

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Environmental Defense Fund (edf.org), a leading international nonprofit organization, creates transformational solutions to the most serious environmental problems. EDF links science, economics, law and innovative private-sector partnerships. Connect with us on Twitter, Facebook and our Growing Returns blog.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (nasa.gov) is a U.S. government agency that leads an innovative program of exploration with commercial and international partners to enable human expansion across the solar system and bring new knowledge and opportunities back to Earth. With its fleet of Earth-observing satellites and instruments, NASA uses the vantage point of space to understand and explore our home planet, improve lives and safeguard our future.

The Desert Research Institute (dri.edu) 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.

Google Earth Engine (earthengine.google.com) is a geospatial processing platform that combines a multi-petabyte catalog of satellite imagery and other geospatial datasets with planetary-scale analysis capabilities. The platform is enabling scientists, developers and decision-makers to make substantive progress on global environmental and sustainability challenges.

Early Human Activities Impacted Earth’s Atmosphere More Than Previously Known

Early Human Activities Impacted Earth’s Atmosphere More Than Previously Known

Early Human Activities Impacted Earth’s Atmosphere More Than Previously Known
Oct 6, 2021
RENO, NV
By Kelsey Fitzgerald
Climate Change
Black Carbon
Ice Cores
Above: After a storm at the drilling camp on James Ross Island, northern Antarctic Peninsula.
Credit: Robert Mulvaney
New study links an increase in black carbon in Antarctic ice cores to Māori burning practices in New Zealand more than 700 years ago
drilling the James Ross Island ice core
The James Ross Island core drilled to bedrock in 2008 by the British Antarctic Survey provided an unprecedented record of soot deposition in the northern Antarctic Peninsula during the past 2000 years and revealed the surprising impacts of Māori burning in New Zealand starting in the late 13th century. Robert Mulvaney, Ph.D., pictured here led collection of the core.
Credit: Jack Triest
nature-article-screenshot

The full text of the study, Hemispheric black carbon increase after 13th C Māori arrival in New Zealand, is available from Nature: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41586-021-03858-9

Reno, Nev. (October 6, 2021) – Several years ago, while analyzing ice core samples from Antarctica’s James Ross Island, scientists Joe McConnell, Ph.D., and Nathan Chellman, Ph.D., from DRI, and Robert Mulvaney, Ph.D., from the British Antarctic Survey noticed something unusual: a substantial increase in levels of black carbon that began around the year 1300 and continued to the modern day.

Black carbon, commonly referred to as soot, is a light-absorbing particle that comes from combustion sources such as biomass burning (e.g. forest fires) and, more recently, fossil fuel combustion. Working in collaboration with an international team of scientists from the United Kingdom, Austria, Norway, Germany, Australia, Argentina, and the U.S., McConnell, Chellman, and Mulvaney set out to uncover the origins of the unexpected increase in black carbon captured in the Antarctic ice. 

The team’s findings, which published this week in Nature, point to an unlikely source: ancient Māori land-burning practices in New Zealand, conducted at a scale that impacted the atmosphere across much of the Southern Hemisphere and dwarfed other preindustrial emissions in the region during the past 2,000 years.  

“The idea that humans at this time in history caused such a significant change in atmospheric black carbon through their land clearing activities is quite surprising,” said McConnell, research professor of hydrology at DRI who designed and led the study. “We used to think that if you went back a few hundred years you’d be looking at a pristine, pre-industrial world, but it’s clear from this study that humans have been impacting the environment over the Southern Ocean and the Antarctica Peninsula for at least the last 700 years.” 

Norwegian US East Antarctic Traverse
Four ice cores from continental Antarctica were drilled in East Antarctica, including two as part of the Norwegian-American International Polar Year Antarctic Scientific Traverse.
Credit: Stein Tronstad
Tracing the black carbon to its source 

To identify the source of the black carbon, the study team analyzed an array of six ice cores collected from James Ross Island and continental Antarctica using DRI’s unique continuous ice-core analytical system. The method used to analyze black carbon in ice was first developed in McConnell’s lab in 2007.  

While the ice core from James Ross Island showed a notable increase in black carbon beginning around the year 1300, with levels tripling over the 700 years that followed and peaking during the 16th and 17th centuries, black carbon levels at sites in continental Antarctica during the same period of time stayed relatively stable.  

Andreas Stohl, Ph.D., of the University of Vienna led atmospheric model simulations of the transport and deposition of black carbon around the Southern Hemisphere that supported the findings.  

“From our models and the deposition pattern over Antarctica seen in the ice, it is clear that Patagonia, Tasmania, and New Zealand were the most likely points of origin of the increased black carbon emissions starting about 1300,” said Stohl.  

After consulting paleofire records from each of the three regions, only one viable possibility remained: New Zealand, where charcoal records showed a major increase in fire activity beginning about the year 1300. This date also coincided with the estimated arrival, colonization, and subsequent burning of much of New Zealand’s forested areas by the Māori people.  

This was a surprising conclusion, given New Zealand’s relatively small land area and the distance (nearly 4,500 miles), that smoke would have travelled to reach the ice core site on James Ross Island. 

“Compared to natural burning in places like the Amazon, or Southern Africa, or Australia, you wouldn’t expect Māori burning in New Zealand to have a big impact, but it does over the Southern Ocean and the Antarctic Peninsula,” said Chellman, postdoctoral fellow at DRI. “Being able to use ice core records to show impacts on atmospheric chemistry that reached across the entire Southern Ocean, and being able to attribute that to the Māori arrival and settlement of New Zealand 700 years ago was really amazing.” 

 

Graphic showing increase in black carbon at the year 1300 and inset of globe showing the distance ash travelled from new zealand to antarctica
Black carbon deposition during the past 2000 years measured in ice cores from Dronning Maud Land in continental Antarctica and James Ross Island at the northern tip of the Antarctic Peninsula. Atmospheric modeling and local burning records indicate that the pronounced increase in deposition in the northern Antarctic Peninsula starting in the late 13th century was related to Māori settlement of New Zealand nearly 4000 miles away and their use of fire for land clearing and management. Inset shows locations of New Zealand and ice-core drilling sites in Antarctica.
Credit: DRI
Research impacts 

The study findings are important for a number of reasons. First, the results have important implications for our understanding of Earth’s atmosphere and climate. Modern climate models rely on accurate information about past climate to make projections for the future, especially on emissions and concentrations of light-absorbing black carbon linked to Earth’s radiative balance. Although it is often assumed that human impacts during preindustrial times were negligible compared to background or natural burning, this study provides new evidence that emissions from human-related burning have impacted Earth’s atmosphere and possibly its climate far earlier, and at scales far larger, than previously imagined.  

Second, fallout from biomass burning is rich in micronutrients such as iron. Phytoplankton growth in much of the Southern Ocean is nutrient-limited so the increased fallout from Māori burning probably resulted in centuries of enhanced phytoplankton growth in large areas of the Southern Hemisphere. 

Third, the results refine what is known about the timing of the arrival of the Māori in New Zealand, one of the last habitable places on earth to be colonized by humans. Māori arrival dates based on radiocarbon dates vary from the 13th to 14th century, but the more precise dating made possible by the ice core records pinpoints the start of large scale burning by early Māori in New Zealand to 1297, with an uncertainty of 30 years. 

“From this study and other previous work our team has done such as on 2,000-year old lead pollution in the Arctic from ancient Rome, it is clear that ice core records are very valuable for learning about past human impacts on the environment,” McConnell said. “Even the most remote parts of Earth were not necessarily pristine in preindustrial times.”  

Continuous ice core analyses at DRI

Measuring the chemistry in a longitudinal sample of an ice core on DRI’s unique ice core analytical system.

Credit: Joe McConnell

Additional information: 

The full study, Hemispheric black carbon increase after 13th C Māori arrival in New Zealand, is available from Nature: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41586-021-03858-9 

Study authors included Joseph R. McConnell (DRI), Nathan J. Chellman (DRI), Robert Mulvaney (British Antarctic Survey), Sabine Eckhardt (Norwegian Institute for Air Research), Andreas Stohl (University of Vienna), Gill Plunkett (Queen’s University Belfast), Sepp Kipfstuhl (Alfred Wegener Institut, Germany) , Johannes Freitag (Alfred Wegener Institut, Germany), Elisabeth Isaksson (Norwegian Polar Institute), Kelly E. Gleason (DRI/Portland State University), Sandra O. Brugger (DRI), David B. McWethy (Montana State University), Nerilie J. Abram (Australian National University), Pengfei Liu (Georgia Institute of Technology/Harvard University), and Alberto J. Aristarain (Instituto Antartico Argentino). 

This study was made possible with funding from the National Science Foundation (0538416, 0968391, 1702830, 1832486, and 1925417), the DRI, and the Swiss National Science Foundation (P400P2_199285).   

To learn more about DRI’s Ice Core Laboratory, please visit: https://www.dri.edu/labs/trace-chemistry-laboratory/

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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.

Fire tornado prediction tools to be developed for public safety during extreme wildfires

Fire tornado prediction tools to be developed for public safety during extreme wildfires

Heavy ash-laden smoke billowed into the Lake Tahoe basin during the Caldor Fire, prompting citizen scientists to document the ash for a research project at the University of Nevada, Reno and the Desert Research Institute that is developing fire tornado prediction tools for public safety during extreme wildfires. 

Researchers at University of Nevada, Reno and DRI launch new citizen science project to gather ashfall data

By: Mike Wolterbeek, University of Nevada Reno

Reposted from University of Nevada, Reno – https://www.unr.edu/nevada-today/news/2021/fire-tornados-and-ashfall

RENO, Nev. – With massive wildfires plaguing the western United States, scientists have been tracking an increase in dangerous wildfire-generated extremes, including fire-generated thunderstorms and tornados embedded in wildfire plumes that can reach up to a mile high. University of Nevada, Reno and DRI researchers are building the predictive and diagnostic tools that will transform the understanding of fire-generated extreme weather and pave the way for future life-saving warnings to firefighters and the general public.

Extreme wildfires have emerged as a leading societal threat, causing mass casualties and destroying thousands of homes – and despite these impacts, fire-hazards are less understood and harder to predict than other weather related disasters. One of the least understood of these wildfire hazards are the severe fire-generated thunderstorms.

“There have been decades of success in using radar and satellite observations to issue life-saving warnings for severe weather; for fire-generated tornadic vortices and explosive storm clouds these same tools show remarkable, yet incompletely realized, potential,” Neil Lareau, atmospheric scientist from the University of Nevada, Reno’s Physics Department and lead for the research, said. “To fully realize this potential, new physical and conceptual models are needed for interpreting radar and satellite observations of the wildfire environment.”

These conceptual models will facilitate life-saving warnings and enhance decision support for wildfire stakeholders, thereby providing an immediate societal benefit.

Lareau and his colleague Meghan Collins of DRI will identify common factors contributing to the fire-generated tornados using satellite and weather radar and combine it with crowd-sourced ashfall data, through the launch of a new citizen science project called Ashfall Citizen Science. These crowd-sourced data will help improve the understanding of wildfire plumes by better documenting the size and shape of fire ash lofted into the sky.

“What we’re looking for are pictures of ash that falls throughout our region from citizen scientists,” Lareau said. “We’ll build conceptual and physical models to facilitate life-saving warnings and enhance decision support for wildfire stakeholders using the citizen science data in conjunction with our radar observations of fire-generated tornadic vortices and wildfire plumes to interpret the wildfire environment.”

The project will engage the public in wildfire science in two ways: it will develop middle-school in-class lessons focused on fire-generated weather, and it will employ a citizen science campaign with a new web app to collect photographs of the ash and debris that “rain” down from wildfire plumes.

The citizen science campaign is expected to reach thousands of users every year, and the in-classroom program upwards of 500 students per year.

“Our team will be sharing the science behind wildland fire with middle school classrooms across the region as part of this project,” Collins said.

So far, since starting the impromptu project in 2020, nearly 20,000 people have engaged the project, with about 100 photographs submitted from a wide ranging area of the western US.

“We’re looking for participation anywhere in the western states, from Idaho to Arizona,” Lareau said. “Community science, also known as citizen science, is important to this project. Gathering this kind of data over time and in many places would be prohibitive otherwise.”

This citizen science capability is well-suited for wildfires, which are hard to predict in their timing and location, and may thereby enhance the team’s ability to quantify fire-generated weather phenomena and their impacts. Citizen science has been used in other analogous applications, including to obtain observations of ashfall from volcanoes.

“You can help track wildfire ash and help scientists demystify fire weather,” Collins said. “Your photos of the size and shape of ash particles that fall around wildfires will play an important role in wildland fire research. Users submit time- and geo-tagged photographs of the ash with objects for scale in the photo.”

With this project funded by the National Science Foundation, the #Ashfallscience Twitter campaign will continue, and be amplified, during high impact wildfires. This approach is expected to reach thousands of users, increasing the likelihood of sufficient data collection. The next steps with these crowd-sourced data are to harvest images from Twitter and apply image processing tools to extract ash shapes and sizes, to aggregate data to form size and shape distributions, and mine NEXRAD radar data corresponding to the time and location of the #Ashfallscience images.

To participate and be a part of this community, use the Citizen Science Tahoe web app. In your phone’s browser (where you would Google something), type in: citizensciencetahoe.app, then click on Sign Up to create a username; or click Continue as Guest. Find the #Ashfall Citizen Science survey and share photos and observations of ashfall and smoke when you see them.

The radar and satellite capabilities described above and the expansion of citizen science observations provide the tools needed to transform the understanding of wildfire convective plumes and their link to fire-generated tornadic vortices. #Ashfallscience is a twitter- and web app-based citizen science data project which will increase the scientists’ ability to quantitively link radar observations with fire processes.

The size and shape distributions of ash in wildfire plumes is poorly characterized and difficult to measure “This combination of researcher- and volunteer-driven data collection will allow us to begin to build both empirical and theoretical relationships between ash properties and radar reflectivity,” Lareau said. “This is the key to building models for prediction of these otherwise mostly unpredictable extreme and dangerous fire behaviors.”

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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

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.

Yi Zhang of Princeton University Receives DRI’s 23rd Annual Wagner Award for Women in Atmospheric Science

Yi Zhang of Princeton University Receives DRI’s 23rd Annual Wagner Award for Women in Atmospheric Science

Photo: Yi Zhang, Ph.D,, (left) of Princeton University and Vera Samburova, Ph.D., (right) of DRI stand outside on DRI’s Reno campus following the Wagner Award Ceremony on Sept. 16, 2021. Credit: DRI.


Wagner Award is the only such honor for graduate women in the atmospheric sciences in the United States

 

Reno, Nev. (Sept 17, 2021) – DRI is pleased to announce that the 23rd annual Peter B. Wagner Memorial Award for Women in Atmospheric Sciences has been awarded to Yi Zhang, Ph.D., of Princeton University. Zhang received this honor on September 16 at an award ceremony and public lecture on her winning paper at the DRI campus in Reno.

The Wagner Award recognizes a woman pursuing a graduate education in the atmospheric sciences who has published an outstanding academic paper and includes a $1,500 prize.  This competitive national award has been conferred annually by DRI since 1998 and is the only such honor for graduate women in the atmospheric sciences in the United States.

Zhang is a student in Princeton University’s Program of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences. Her paper, Projections of tropical heat stress constrained by atmospheric dynamics, was published earlier this year in Nature Geoscience journal.

“We are pleased to honor Yi Zhang with this award, based on her outstanding research addressing knowledge gaps in model projections of extreme heat in tropical regions,” said Chair of the Wagner Award Selection Committee and Associate Research Professor in DRI’s Division of Atmospheric Sciences Vera Samburova. “Zhang was selected from a very strong pool of applicants from excellent colleges and universities around the U.S., and we hope that this recognition of her amazing contributions to atmospheric science helps her as she moves forward with her career.”

Runners up for the 2021 Award included: 2nd place  –  Victoria Ford from the Department of Geography, Texas A&M University College of Geosciences; 3rd place – Lily Hahn from the Department of Atmospheric Sciences, University of Washington; and, Ting-Yu Cha from the Department of Atmospheric Science, Colorado State University.

ABOUT THE PETER B. WAGNER MEMORIAL AWARD

Ms. Sue Wagner—former Nevada Gaming Commissioner, Nevada Lieutenant Governor, and DRI employee and widow of Dr. Peter B. Wagner—created the Peter B. Wagner Memorial Award for Women in Atmospheric Sciences in 1998. Dr. Wagner, an atmospheric scientist who had been a faculty member at the 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 the DRI’s Atmospheric Sciences Program a cash award to further their professional careers. Ms. Wagner later extended that opportunity nationally and specifically for women through the creation of the Peter B. Wagner Memorial Award in 1998.

For more information on the Peter B. Wagner Memorial Award, please visit: https://www.dri.edu/about/awards-and-scholarships/wagner/

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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 Research Professor Dr. Michael Dettinger Awarded 2021 Tyndall Lecture

DRI Research Professor Dr. Michael Dettinger Awarded 2021 Tyndall Lecture

Second DRI researcher to be recognized with this prestigious award

 

Reno, Nev. (September 10, 2021) – DRI announced that research professor Michael Dettinger, Ph.D., has been selected by the American Geophysical Union (AGU) to give this year’s Tyndall Lecture at the Fall 2021 AGU meeting. The prestigious Tyndall Lecture Award recognizes outstanding work in advancing understanding of global environmental change. Dettinger is the second DRI researcher to be recognized by AGU since the award’s inception in 2013. World-renown DRI researcher Kelly Redmond, Ph.D., was recognized with the second Tyndall Lecture award in 2014.

“I am deeply honored to be recognized with the Tyndall Lecture and to follow in the footsteps of Dr. Kelly Redmond,” said Dettinger. “I look forward to sharing my research at the Fall 2021 AGU meeting. My lecture will present a history of climate and water studies in the Western U.S. Water resources have not been a focus of previous Tyndall Lectures and with current conditions in the West, the time is right for taking a look at this history.”

Dr. Dettinger joined DRI several years ago following a long (38-year) career with the U.S. Geological Survey that began in Nevada with studies of Las Vegas valley groundwater and the carbonate-rock aquifers of Eastern and Southern Nevada in collaboration with DRI scientists in the early 1980s. His career has since focused on unraveling the complex interactions between water resources, climate variations and change, and ecosystems in the Western U.S.  He recently co-edited a book on atmospheric rivers. He is a Fellow of the AGU and a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

“We are proud of Mike’s accomplishments and are honored that he has been awarded DRI’s second Tyndall Lecture Award,” said DRI Executive Director, Division of Hydrologic Sciences Sean McKenna, Ph.D. “Mike has sustained his considerable energy, curiosity and creativity over a long career resulting in ground-breaking insights on global environmental change. His ability to communicate his findings in clear language and his dedication to mentor other researchers is a shining example of what we strive for at DRI.”

The Tyndall History of Global Environmental Change Lecture is presented annually and recognizes outstanding contributions to our understanding of global environmental change. It honors the life and work of Irish physicist John Tyndall, who confirmed the importance of the greenhouse effect in the late 1800s.

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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

Media Contact:
Detra Page
Communications Manager
Detra.page@dri.edu
702.591.3786

Study shows a recent reversal in the response of western Greenland’s ice caps to climate change

Study shows a recent reversal in the response of western Greenland’s ice caps to climate change

Study Shows A Recent Reversal in the Response of Western Greenland’s Ice Caps to Climate Change

Sept 9, 2021
RENO, NV

Climate Change
Polar Research
Ice Cores

Above: A wide view of the Nuussuaq Peninsula in West Greenland. Project collaborators investigate an ice core extracted from this region for signs of change and response to past periods of warming.

Credit: Sarah Das © Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

Research suggests some ice caps grew during past periods of warming

Although a warming climate is leading to rapid melting of the ice caps and glaciers along Greenland’s coastline, ice caps in this region sometimes grew during past periods of warming, according to new research published today in Nature Geoscience. The study team included Joseph McConnell, Nathan Chellman, and Monica Arienzo of DRI, who analyzed a 140 m ice core from an ice cap on Greenland’s Nuussuaq Peninsula at DRI’s Ice Core Laboratory in Reno, Nevada.

“The use of records from Greenland’s coastal ice caps in climate change research has been hampered by difficulties in creating chronologies for ice-core measurements,” said McConnell. “Here we used a novel approach based on synchronizing detailed measurements of heavy metals in an array of Greenland ice cores.”

“This allowed creation of a tightly constrained chronology in a coastal core for the first time, and it was this chronology that underpinned this climate study,” Chellman added.

The analysis was done using DRI’s unique continuous ice core analytical system, which was developed in McConnell’s lab and funded by grants from the National Science Foundation during the past 15 years.

The full news release from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution is below.

Ice capped and snow-covered mountains of coastal west Greenland. (Apr. 2015)

Ice capped and snow-covered mountains of coastal west Greenland. (Apr. 2015)

Credit: Matthew Osman © Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

Thumbnail image of nature geoscience paper

The full text of the study, “Abrupt Common Era hydroclimate shifts drive west Greenland ice cap change,” is available from Nature Geoscience: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41561-021-00818-w.pdf 

News release reposted from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution:

Woods Hole, Mass. (September 9, 2021) – Greenland may be best known for its enormous continental scale ice sheet that soars up to 3,000 meters above sea level, whose rapid melting is a leading contributor to global sea level rise. But surrounding this massive ice sheet, which covers 79% of the world’s largest island, is Greenland’s rugged coastline dotted with ice capped mountainous peaks. These peripheral glaciers and ice caps are now also undergoing severe melting due to anthropogenic (human-caused) warming.  However, climate warming and the loss of these ice caps may not have always gone hand-in-hand.

New collaborative research from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and five partner institutions (University of Arizona, University of Washington, Pennsylvania State University, Desert Research Institute and University of Bergen), published today in Nature Geoscience, reveals that during past periods glaciers and ice caps in coastal west Greenland experienced climate conditions much different than the interior of Greenland. Over the past 2,000 years, these ice caps endured periods of warming during which they grew larger rather than shrinking.

This novel study breaks down the climate history displayed in a core taken from an ice cap off Greenland’s western coast. According to the study’s researchers, while ice core drilling has been ongoing in Greenland since the mid-20th century, coastal ice core studies remain extremely limited, and these new findings are providing a new perspective on climate change compared to what scientists previously understood by using ice cores from the interior portions of the Greenland ice sheet alone.

“Glaciers and ice caps are unique high-resolution repositories of Earth’s climate history, and ice core analysis allows scientists to examine how environmental changes – like shifts in precipitation patterns and global warming – affect rates of snowfall, melting, and in turn influence ice cap growth and retreat,” said Sarah Das, Associate Scientist of Geology and Geophysics at WHOI. “Looking at differences in climate change recorded across several ice core records allows us to compare and contrast the climate history and ice response across different regions of the Arctic.” However, during the course of this study, it also became clear that many of these coastal ice caps are now melting so substantially that these incredible archives are in great peril of disappearing forever.

The research team on the ground of a coastal West Greenland ice cap, preparing to extract and examine ice cores.

The research team on the ground of a coastal West Greenland ice cap, preparing to extract and examine ice cores.

Credit: Sarah Das © Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

Due to the challenging nature of studying and accessing these ice caps, this team was the first to do such work, centering their study, which began in 2015, around a core collected from the Nuussuaq Peninsula in Greenland. This single core offers insight into how coastal climate conditions and ice cap changes covaried during the last 2,000 years, due to tracked changes in its chemical composition and the amount of snowfall archived year after year in the core. Through their analysis, investigators found that during periods of past warming, ice caps were growing rather than melting, contradicting what we see in the present day. 

“Currently, we know Greenland’s ice caps are melting due to warming, further contributing to sea level rise. But, we have yet to explore how these ice caps have changed in the past due to changes in climate,” said Matthew Osman, postdoctoral research associate at the University of Arizona and a 2019 graduate of the MIT-WHOI Joint program. “The findings of this study were a surprise because we see that there is an ongoing shift in the fundamental response of these ice caps to climate: today, they’re disappearing, but in the past, within small degrees of warming, they actually tended to grow.” 

According to Das and Osman, this phenomenon happens because of a “tug-of-war” between what causes an ice cap to grow (increased precipitation) or recede (increased melting) during periods of warming. Today, scientists observe melting rates that are outpacing the rate of annual snowfall atop ice caps. However, in past centuries these ice caps would expand due to increased levels of precipitation brought about by warmer temperatures. The difference between the past and present is the severity of modern anthropogenic warming.

The team gathered this data by drilling through an ice cap on top of one of the higher peaks of the Nuussuaq Peninsula. The entire core, about 140 meters in length, took about a week to retrieve. They then brought the meter-long pieces of core to the National Science Foundation Ice Core Facility in Denver, Colorado, and stored at -20 degrees Celsius. The core pieces were then analyzed by their layers for melt features and trace chemistry at the Desert Research Institute in Reno, Nevada. By looking at different properties of the core’s chemical content, such as parts per billion of lead and sulfur, investigators were able to accurately date the core by combining these measurements with a model of past glacier flow.

“These model estimates of ice cap flow, coupled with the actual ages that we have from this high precision chemistry, help us outline changes in ice cap growth over time. This method provides a new way of understanding past ice cap changes and how that is correlated with climate,” said Das. “Because we’re collecting a climate record from the coast, we’re able to document for the first time that there were these large shifts in temperature, snowfall and melt over the last 2,000 years, showing much more variability than is observed in records from the interior of Greenland,” Das added. 

“Our findings should urge researchers to return to these remaining ice caps and collect new climate records while they still exist,” added Osman. 

University of Arizona postdoctoral research associate Matthew Osman and U.S. Ice Drilling Program specialist Mike Waszkiewicz move an ice core barrel into place in West Greenland, as part of their work to study ice caps’ response to climate change.

The research team on the ground of a coastal West Greenland ice cap, preparing to extract and examine ice cores.

Credit: Sarah Das © Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

Additional collaborators and institutions:

  • Benjamin Smith, University of Washington
  • Luke Trusel, Pennsylvania State University
  • Joseph McConnell, Desert Research Institute
  • Nathan Chellman, Desert Research Institute
  • Monica Arienzo, Desert Research Institute
  • Harold Sodemann, University of Bergen and Bjerknes Centre for Climate Research 

This research is funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), with further support from the U.S. Department of Defense National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate Fellowship; and an Ocean Outlook Fellowship to the Bjerknes Centre for Climate Research; the National Infrastructure for High Performance Computing and Data Storage in Norway; Norwegian Research Council; and Air Greenland. 

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About Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) is a private, non-profit organization on Cape Cod, Massachusetts, dedicated to marine research, engineering, and higher education. Established in 1930, its primary mission is to understand the ocean and its interaction with the Earth as a whole, and to communicate an understanding of the ocean’s role in the changing global environment. WHOI’s pioneering discoveries stem from an ideal combination of science and engineering—one that has made it one of the most trusted and technically advanced leaders in basic and applied ocean research and exploration anywhere. WHOI is known for its multidisciplinary approach, superior ship operations, and unparalleled deep-sea robotics capabilities. We play a leading role in ocean observation and operate the most extensive suite of data-gathering platforms in the world. Top scientists, engineers, and students collaborate on more than 800 concurrent projects worldwide—both above and below the waves—pushing the boundaries of knowledge and possibility. For more information, please visit www.whoi.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.

DRI Taps Seasoned Development Executive to Lead  Nationwide Environmental Fundraising Efforts 

DRI Taps Seasoned Development Executive to Lead  Nationwide Environmental Fundraising Efforts 

Kristin Ghiggeri Burgarello Joins as Director of Advancement at DRI

 

LAS VEGAS (Sept. 2, 2021) – DRI is proud to welcome long-time education fundraising professional Kristin Ghiggeri Burgarello, who will serve as Director of Advancement. In her role, Burgarello will lead fundraising efforts for DRI in collaboration with the DRI Foundation.

Burgarello comes to DRI from the University of Nevada Reno (UNR), where she spent the last 17 years in development and alumni relations roles, including her last role as Executive Director of Development and previous role as Director of Development of the Reynolds School of Journalism. While at UNR, she helped secure major gifts to support buildings, student needs, faculty support, planned gifts, diversity initiatives, and many other key areas of support for the University. She also worked collaboratively with the deans and development directors in the College of Engineering, College of Science, College of Liberal Arts, Reynolds School of Journalism, Libraries, and Honors College to raise substantial funds to support their areas on campus.

“We are happy to welcome Kristin to our DRI family,” said DRI President Dr. Kumud Acharya. “Kristin’s expertise will be key in elevating DRI’s research, science-based results and their global implications to a broader support base. Our team of more than 450 scientists, engineers, and staff are currently conducting important environmental research aimed at preventing and fighting wildfires; the human health effects of air pollution and COVID; drought and the impacts to our drinking water levels and resources; and extreme weather. We look forward to expanding awareness of these and other imminent challenges through Kristin’s focused approach.”

In her role at DRI, Burgarello will focus on creating a culture of philanthropy that will direct awareness of critical environmental issues and the necessity to fund the life-saving research at DRI that aims to solve these and many other challenges affecting not only Nevada, but the Western region, country, and world.

“Kristin’s accomplishments in raising significant funds to support endowed scholarships, capital funds, planned gifts, and many other fundraising needs are impressive and equally impressive are the strong relationships she has built through the years both on and off-campus in Nevada and across the country,” said DRI Foundation Chair Mike Benjamin. “We are excited to have her expertise in-house as we broaden our outreach to address significant environmental challenges happening on a global scale.”

“I would like to thank President Acharya, Foundation Chair Benjamin, and the DRI Foundation Trustees for this amazing opportunity,” said Burgarello. “Also, I would like to personally thank DRI’s current donors and friends with whom I am eager to work to build upon their many contributions. I am thrilled to be able to combine my passion for DRI’s mission with my experience in fundraising and relationship-building, to create awareness for DRI’s work, not only at home in Nevada but across our nation, and beyond. Today more than ever as we face serious environmental challenges that threaten our very way of life, we need to invest in the critical research and ensuing solutions being developed at DRI right now. I look forward to connecting donors and friends with DRI to support our very timely and important environmental research.”

Anyone interested in making a gift in support of DRI may contact Kristin Burgarello at (775) 673-7386 or Kristin.Burgarello@dri.edu.

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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.

Media Contact:

Detra Page
Communications Manager
Detra.Page@DRI.edu
702-591-3786

Philippe Vidon, Ph.D. Appointed to Lead DRI’s Division of Earth and Ecosystem Sciences 

Philippe Vidon, Ph.D. Appointed to Lead DRI’s Division of Earth and Ecosystem Sciences 

Reno, Nev. (August 24, 2021) – DRI announced that Philippe Vidon, Ph.D., has been selected to lead the Institute’s Division of Earth and Ecosystem Sciences, which conducts high-quality basic and applied research in the life and Earth sciences, particularly those dealing with the complex interactions of geological processes, organisms, biological communities, and human societies on the Earth’s surface. Vidon comes to DRI from the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry (SUNY-ESF) in Syracuse, New York, where he served as the Director of the Council on Hydrologic Systems Science since 2019 and as professor since 2010.

“It’s an honor to join DRI and to lead the talented and diverse group of entrepreneurial scientists who make up the Division of Earth and Ecosystem Sciences,” said Vidon. “DRI and its faculty are recognized around the globe for their high-quality research of life and earth sciences, and I’m very pleased to be here.”

Vidon’s most recent research has focused on a broad range of topics including watershed management, water quality, soil biogeochemistry, bioenergy, and the impact of beaver dam analogues on floodplain hydrogeomorphology and landscape resiliency.

“We are excited to welcome Dr. Vidon to DRI,” said DRI President Kumud Acharya, Ph.D. “His broad range of research in Earth and environmental sciences, and his experience mentoring early and mid-career scientists make him a terrific addition.”

During his time at SUNY-ESF, Vidon served on numerous committees and advisory groups. These service activities addressed both academic as well as environmental challenges.

Philippe obtained his Ph.D. in geography from York University, ON, Canada, in 2004, and was a professor at Indiana University – Purdue University in Indianapolis until 2010. He earned his Master of Science at the National Agronomic Institute of Paris-Grignon in Paris, France, and his Bachelor of Science in physics at Pierre et Marie Curie University in France.

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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

New Study Points to Increase in High-risk Bushfire Days in Australia

New Study Points to Increase in High-risk Bushfire Days in Australia

Photo credit: Flickr photo by Fvanrenterghem. Shared under Creative Commons license 2.0

DRI Research Highlight

Victoria, Australia is already one of the most bushfire-prone areas in the world, and the number of high-risk days may triple by the end of the century, according to a new study in the International Journal of Wildland Fire. The study team included Tim Brown, Ph.D., research professor of climatology and director of the Western Regional Climate Center at the Desert Research Institute (DRI) in Reno, as well as scientists from Australia and other parts of the US. Brown contributed to the success of the project by collecting information on user needs, overseeing the creation of the historical dataset used in the analysis, and co-developing the methodology used to statistically downscale climate models. He also contributed to results analysis and co-authored the paper.

The full study, Downscaled GCM climate projections of fire weather over Victoria, Australia. Part 2*: a multi-model ensemble of 21st century trends, is available from the International Journal of Wildland Fire : https://www.publish.csiro.au/wf/WF20175

The full news release from CFA is below.

High-risk Bushfire Days Set to Soar This Century

Reposted from CFA

The number of high-risk bushfire days could triple in some parts of Victoria by the end of the century, according to new climate research by CFA and international research bodies.

The research, published this month in the International Journal of Wildland Fire, found that under different emissions scenarios both mean and extreme fire danger are expected to increase in Victoria.

Statewide, research modeling indicates a 10 to 20 percent increase in extreme Forest Fire Danger Index, with the greatest change projected in the northwest region.

However, the greatest relative change in the number of ‘Very High’ days per year will be in central and eastern parts of the state where there is a projected doubling and tripling, respectively in the number of ‘Very High’ days.  Report co-author, CFA Manager Research and Development Dr. Sarah Harris, said scenarios used in the research show increased temperature, caused by human-induced climate change, to be the main driver of heightened fire danger.

“Changes in temperature, humidity, and rainfall during spring and early summer mean the fire season will continue to start earlier and run longer. As a flow-on effect, springtime opportunities for prescribed burning could reduce,” she said.

CFA Chief Officer Jason Heffernan said he was proud of CFA’s robust research program, which he said brought further understanding of the impacts of climate change in the context of firefighting.

“As firefighters, we see the effects of these longer and more severe fire seasons and it’s important that we turn our minds towards what firefighting looks like in the not-too-distant future,” he said.

“CFA is undertaking work to identify challenges brought on by climate change and increased fire risk, and ways to solve them through adaptation and mitigation.

“CFA also proudly works to reduce our own greenhouse emissions, through initiatives such as increasing our use of rooftop solar and the number of hybrid vehicles in the fleet.”

CFA Manager Research and Development Sarah Harris co-authored the research with researchers Scott Clark (School of Earth, Atmosphere and Environment, Monash University), Timothy Brown (Desert Research Institute in Nevada, USA), Graham Mills (Monash University) and John T. Abatzoglou (School of Engineering, University of California).

The research was funded through Safer Together, a Victorian approach to reducing the risks of bushfire through fire and land agencies such as CFA, Forest Fire Management Victoria and Parks Victoria working together with communities, combining in-depth local knowledge with the latest science and technology to reduce bushfire risk on both public and private land.

Forest Fire Management Victoria Chief Fire Officer Chris Hardman said partnerships with community and agencies such as CFA and FRV help ensure we are unified in emergency preparedness and response to keep the community and environment safe.

“We know that Victoria is one of the most bushfire-prone areas in the world. Climate change is increasing the risk bushfires pose to our communities, our critical infrastructure, and our environment,” he said.

“That’s why our strategic approach to managing bushfire risk is based on the best evidence available, such as this research.

“We have a 365-day approach to fuel management, more mechanical treatment, and increasing capacity to contain bushfires at first attack. We are also prioritizing empowering Traditional Owners to lead self-determined cultural fire practices on country.”

Nevada receives $550,000 to enhance wildfire smoke air quality monitoring technologies, public messaging in rural communities

Carson City, NV – The Nevada Division of Environmental Protection (NDEP) and Desert Research Institute (DRI) are excited to announce a new partnership program that will expand wildfire smoke air quality monitoring infrastructure and public information resources for rural communities across the state. Funded by a $550,000 grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the new Nevada rural air quality monitoring and messaging program includes installation of approximately 60 smart technology air quality sensors that measure fine particle pollution – the major harmful pollutant in smoke – and additional communications tools to help rural Nevada families near the front lines better understand their risks from wildfire smoke and the steps they can take to protect their health.

“The growing impacts of climate change are being felt in all corners of Nevada, with record-breaking temperatures and extreme drought fueling catastrophic wildfires across the west,” said NDEP Administrator Greg Lovato. “In recent years, smoke pollution from increasingly frequent, intense, and widespread wildfires have led to some of the worst air quality conditions in Nevada’s history, and these trends are expected to continue. Given these concerns, over the past three years, the Nevada Division of Environmental Protection has moved quickly to expand and enhance our air quality monitoring network to rural communities throughout the state with new Purple Air sensors deployed in Elko, Spring Creek, Pershing County, Mineral County, and Storey County. The new air quality partnership program builds on this progress bringing us even closer to our goal of providing all Nevadans, in every community, with timely access to air quality information. I thank EPA and DRI for their active collaboration and support as we work together to harness the power of data and technology to bring localized air quality information to the doorsteps of rural Nevada communities.”

This program applies various methods of air quality monitoring and communications including:

  • Evaluating the performance of selected portable air quality sensors in the DRI combustion facility and in three rural NV counties
  • Identifying gaps in public knowledge of wildfire smoke risk in these counties
  • Developing educational materials for emergency managers to use to close the identified gaps

These methods will be continuously monitored and tailored based on the unique needs of the individual communities.

“We are excited to work collaboratively with NDEP and rural county emergency managers to expand the air quality monitoring network in Nevada and to develop custom messaging materials for communities frequently impacted by wildfire smoke,” said DRI Assistant Research Professor Kristin VanderMolen. “Together, this will enable emergency managers to make important safety decisions based on accurate, real-time, local-level air quality data, and to ensure that those communities are well informed about potential health risks and how to mitigate them.”

“Wildfire smoke is a significant threat to public health during fire season,” said Deborah Jordan, EPA’s Acting Regional Administrator for the Pacific Southwest office.   “This research on air quality sensors and purifiers will improve approaches for evaluating wildfire smoke and mitigating the associated health risks in northern Nevada.”

According to the 2020 State Climate Strategy Survey, Nevadans ranked wildfire, drought, and air quality as the top concerns facing the state. By implementing these measures, NDEP and DRI expect to help address these concerns and see a healthier, safer rural Nevada that is better equipped with communications resources needed to successfully minimize the health risks of wildfire smoke.

These improvements are also aligned with the EPA Strategic Plan goal to connect state research needs with EPA priorities. Specifically, the development and assessment of the effectiveness of health risk communication strategies in supporting actions to reduce wildland fire smoke exposure among at-risk and harder-to-reach populations.

For more information about air quality in Nevada, visit https://ndep.nv.gov/air.

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The Nevada Department of Conservation and Natural Resources’ mission is to protect, manage, and enhance Nevada’s natural, cultural, and recreational resources. This mission is accomplished by leading efforts to address the impacts of climate change and fostering partnerships that advance innovative solutions and strategies to protect natural resources for the benefit of all Nevadans. Established in 1957, the Department includes 11 divisions and programs (Environmental Protection, Forestry, Outdoor Recreation, State Parks, State Lands, Water Resources, Historic Preservation, Conservation Districts, Natural Heritage, Sagebrush Ecosystem, and Off-Highway Vehicles) and 11 boards and commissions.

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.

Senator Cortez Masto, Representatives Huffman, Lee, and Stewart Introduce Bicameral, Bipartisan Legislation to Transform Water Management in the West

Reposted news release from the office of Senator Cortez Masto.

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) today introduced legislation to get critical water use data in the hands of farmers, ranchers, and decision-makers for improved water management across the Western U.S. The Open Access Evapotranspiration (OpenET) Act would establish a program under the Department of the Interior (DOI) to use publicly available data from satellites and weather stations to provide estimates of evapotranspiration (ET), a critical measure of the water that is consumed and removed from a water system. ET represents the largest share of water use in most arid environments around the world. Companion legislation is being introduced in the House of Representatives by Congresswoman Susie Lee (D-Nev.-03), Congressman Chris Stewart (R-Utah-02), and Congressman Jared Huffman (D-Calif.-02).

“With Nevada and states across the West facing drought, we need to make it as easy as possible for our communities to conserve water and for farmers and ranchers to effectively manage their water use,” said Senator Cortez Masto. “My legislation will help accomplish that goal by equipping Nevadans with this critical water data. This data will help us protect our water resources and ensure our crops, livestock, and wildlife have water access, and passing this bill would mark a significant step in our plan for a more sustainable future.”

“The West faces a historic drought that demands action and innovation,” said Representative Susie Lee. “All of Nevada is currently in drought, and the entirety of my district, Nevada’s Third District, is in exceptional drought, the highest classification. In order to solve our water crisis, we need to better understand how much water is available and how much water is being used. With this program, we will have credible, transparent and easily accessible data on our consumptive water use so that we can make better water management decisions in Nevada and across the West.”

“Extreme drought fueled by climate change has become a dire challenge in the western United States, and it’s critical for us to operate with the best information and data possible as we manage this increasingly limited resource,” said Representative Huffman. “Knowing key water metrics like evaporation rates is incredibly valuable for folks across all sectors, and I‘m glad to join Representatives Lee and Stewart and Senator Cortez Masto in this bill to help farmers, water utilities, regulators, and governments alike all make well-informed water management decisions.”

“Water is the lifeblood of the American West, and the ongoing drought is taking a toll on everyone,” said Representative Stewart. “It’s absolutely necessary that we get the most use out of the water we already have. That starts with giving states more consistent, accessible, and accurate data. This legislation will allow us to be more prudent with our current resources and plan for the future of our communities.”

“The Nevada Division of Water Resources strongly supports the continued development and public accessibility of OpenET,” said Adam Sullivan, Nevada State Engineer, Nevada Division of Water Resources. “This outstanding program directly benefits water users throughout Nevada and the West who strive to improve efficiency and conserve water. Public access to these data will be increasingly vital to support water users and responsible water management needs into the future.”

“OpenET will allow water managers to assess how much water is being used via a cost-effective and easy-to-use web-based platform, filing a critical data gap in water management across the U.S.,” said Zane Marshall, Director, Water Resources, Southern Nevada Water Authority. “The Authority believes OpenET is a valuable tool for federal, state, and local policymakers and water users.”

“It’s more important than ever to provide consistent, accurate information to water users and water managers to allow them to make the most efficient decisions about water use,” said Desert Research Institute President Kumud Acharya. “OpenET is an innovative approach that provides agricultural water users and water managers access to the same information on consumptive water use. I appreciate the leadership of Nevada Senator Catherine Cortez Masto and Nevada Congresswoman Susie Lee on this important piece of legislation.”

“OpenET has been developed in close collaboration with partners from agriculture, cities, irrigation districts, and other stakeholders across the West,” said Laura Ziemer, Senior Counsel and Water Policy Advisor, Trout Unlimited.  OpenET is a forward-looking tool for supporting TU’s goals of water conservation and meaningful water allocation to promote the sustainability of both agriculture and watershed health.”

The West is facing the devastating impacts of increased drought and a changing climate, and to maximize the benefits of our water supplies, we must know how much water is available and how much is being used. Access to this data has been limited, inconsistent, and expensive, making it difficult for farmers, ranchers, and water managers to use it when making important decisions that could benefit communities. The OpenET program brings together an ensemble of well-established methods to calculate ET at the field-scale across the 17 Western states. Applications of this data include:

  • Assisting water users and decision-makers to better manage resources and protect financial viability of farm operations during drought;
  • Developing more accurate water budgets and innovative management programs to better promote conservation and sustainability efforts;
  • Employing data-driven groundwater management practices and understanding impacts of consumptive water use.

The bill text can be found here.

Senator Cortez Masto has worked to safeguard Nevada’s water and landscapes and the agricultural and outdoor recreation industries that rely on them. Her legislation to combat drought and protect the water supply in western states recently cleared a key Senate committee hurdle, and she is also leading a bipartisan bill to restore Lake Tahoe. She has introduced comprehensive legislation to prevent wildfires, fund state-of-the-art firefighting equipment and programs, and support recovery efforts for communities impacted by fires.

In Memory of Thomas Gallagher

In Memory of Thomas Gallagher

It is with deep sadness that we share the passing of Tom Gallagher, our dear friend and four-term Trustee, leader, and passionate supporter of DRI and the DRI Foundation. Tom strongly believed in supporting cutting-edge scientific research initiatives, and he was the first to donate to the newest emerging projects. Recently, Tom committed $1 million to the Innovation Research Program as a matching grant. Tom’s desire to make our world a better place for all and his commitment to the future of environmental science took him all over the world right along DRI researchers as they performed pioneering on-the-field analysis in Asia, the Middle East, and Africa.

Sitting alongside him, we have been able to experience his vision and leadership these last two decades in his role as Trustee, Executive Council, Vice Chairman, and founding member of the President’s Council. Tom’s extraordinary contributions will live on in these and many other life-saving initiatives and key programs. Our hearts and thoughts are with Tom’s wife Mary and the entire Gallagher family during this sad and difficult time. Tom’s obituary is below.

Thomas Edmund Gallagher

Thomas Edmund Gallagher died peacefully on July 15, 2021 surrounded by family at UC Irvine Medical Center following complications from a year long battle with cancer.   He was born in Michigan and grew up in Detroit.  He was the son of Edmund and Monica Gallagher, the oldest of eight children.

Thomas graduated magnum cum laude from College of the Holy Cross and cum laude from Harvard Law School. In the early 1970s, Thomas dedicated time to public service, including handling nominations for Attorney General and The Supreme Court while serving as chief legislative counsel for former US Senator John Tunney.  Thomas was a partner for twenty years in the law firm of Gibson Dunn and Crutcher, serving in the firm’s Los Angeles and New York offices, and as managing partner of its London and Riyadh offices.

During the late 1980s he initially served as Merv Griffin’s lawyer then transitioned to president and CEO of the Griffin Group, the investment and management company for Merv Griffin’s extensive hotel, gaming, entertainment, and media operations. Five years later his position included CEO of Resorts International. After the merger of Resorts International with Sun International, he joined Hilton Hotels Corporation as its Executive Vice President and General Counsel, leading the spinoff of its gaming businesses into a new NYSE company Park Place Entertainment. He subsequently became CEO of Park Place (renamed Caesars Entertainment), the world’s largest casino resort company at that time.

In 2004, after a successful 33 year career as a businessman and lawyer, Thomas ran for Congress for Nevada’s Third Congressional District. Although he lost his bid, Thomas continued to show his commitment to helping others while serving on the boards of several Nevada non-profit organizations, including the Guinn Center for Policy Priorities (a co-founder), the Black Mountain Institute, and Vegas PBS. He also served as a trustee of the UNLV Foundation and the Desert Research Institute Foundation. Committed to education, in 2017 he joined the UNLV William S. Boyd School of Law and Lee Business School as an Adjunct Professor, teaching Business Law and Ethics.

Tom is survived by his wife Mary Kay, his four adult children, seven grandchildren, his five brothers and two sisters, and many nieces and nephews. He was preceded in death by his parents and a granddaughter.

Cremation will take place in Orange, CA and a Memorial Mass will be held at a later date. In lieu of flowers a donation in his honor to the DRI Foundation in Reno would be welcomed.

DRI Scientist Contributes to New Research on Toxic Mercury Deposition in Forests

DRI Scientist Contributes to New Research on Toxic Mercury Deposition in Forests

DRI Research Highlight

Mercury is deposited from the atmosphere into forests worldwide in greater quantities than previously thought, according to new research in the journal PNAS led by former Desert Research Institute (DRI) scientist Daniel Obrist (currently with University of Massachusets, Lowell) and a team that included Hans Moosmüller of DRI in Reno. Moosmüller contributed analytical tools for the measurement of mercury fluxes in this study, and also participated in writing the paper. The full news release from UMass Lowell is below.

The full study, Previously unaccounted atmospheric mercury deposition in a midlatitude deciduous forest, is available from PNAS: https://www.pnas.org/content/118/29/e2105477118 

Study Shows Forests Play Grater Role in Depositing Toxic Mercury Across the Globe

Reposted from UMass Lowell

LOWELL, Mass. – Researchers led by a UMass Lowell environmental science professor say mercury measurements in a Massachusetts forest indicate the toxic element is deposited in forests across the globe in much greater quantities than previously understood.

The team’s results underscore concern for the health and well-being of people, wildlife and waterways, according to Prof. Daniel Obrist, as mercury accumulating in forests ultimately runs off into streams and rivers, ending up in lakes and oceans.

Mercury is a highly toxic pollutant that threatens fish, birds, mammals and humans. Hundreds of tons of it are released into the atmosphere each year by coal-burning power plants, as well as through gold mining and other industrial processes, and the pollutant is distributed by winds and currents across the globe. Long-term exposure to mercury, or consuming food containing high levels of the pollutant, can lead to reproductive, immune, neurological and cardiovascular problems, according to Obrist, chair of UMass Lowell’s Department of Environmental, Earth and Atmospheric Sciences.

Forests constitute the world’s most abundant, productive and widespread ecosystems on land, according to Obrist, who said the study is the first that examines a full picture of how mercury in the atmosphere is deposited at any rural forest in the world, including the deposition of mercury in its gaseous form, which most previous studies do not address.

“Trees take up gaseous mercury from the atmosphere through their leaves and as plants shed their leaves or die off, they basically transfer that atmospheric mercury to the ecosystems,” he said.

The results of the project, which is supported by a three-year, $873,000 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF), were published this week in an issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. UMass Lowell student Eric Roy, a double-major in meteorology and mathematics from Lowell, is among the study’s co-authors.

For the past 16 months, the team has measured how mercury in the atmosphere gets deposited at Harvard Forest in Petersham, a nearly 4,000-acre site that includes hardwood deciduous broadleaf trees such as red oak and red maple that shed their leaves every year. A set of measurement systems placed at various heights on the forest’s 100-foot-tall research tower assessed the site’s gaseous mercury deposition from the tree canopy to the forest floor.

“Seventy-six percent of the mercury deposition at this forest comes from gaseous atmospheric mercury. It’s five times greater than mercury deposited by rain and snow and three times greater than mercury that gets deposited through litterfall, which is mercury transferred by leaves falling to the ground and which has previously been used by other researchers as a proxy for estimating gaseous mercury deposition in forests,” Obrist said.

“Our study suggests that mercury loading in forests has been underestimated by a factor of about two and that forests worldwide may be a much larger global absorber and collector of gaseous mercury than currently assumed. This larger-than-anticipated accumulation may explain surprisingly high mercury levels observed in soils across rural forests,” he said.

Plants seem to dominate as a source of mercury on land, accounting for 54 to 94 percent of the deposits in soils across North America. The total global amount of mercury deposited to land currently is estimated at about 1,500 to 1,800 metric tons per year, but it may be more than double if other forests show similar levels of deposition, according to Obrist.

The researchers are continuing their work at a second forest in Howland in northern Maine. Howland Forest, a nearly 600-acre research site full of evergreens that retain their leaves year-round, offers a distinctly different habitat than the deciduous forest in Petersham. Assessing both forests will allow researchers to examine differences in mercury accumulation between different forest types, Obrist said.

The work is providing a hands-on research experience for Roy, a UMass Lowell Honors College student who was invited to become a member of the university’s Immersive Scholar program in 2019. The initiative enables first-year students with outstanding academic credentials to participate in lab work and research right from the start of their academic studies.

“It’s really exciting to be a co-author,” Roy said. “This study allowed us to quantify how much mercury is being accumulated in this type of forest. Modelers can use these results to improve their understanding of how mercury cycles through the environment on a global scale and how that might change in the future.”

Roy helped analyze the data collected in the field.

“Eric’s contributions to the study are tremendous. It’s not very common for an undergrad to play such an important role in a major, federally funded research project,” Obrist said. “His work is really impressive and he has become more and more active in data analysis and doing complex flux calculations and data processing. He really earned himself second author position in the paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.”

Other contributors to the study include Asst. Prof. Róisín Commane of Columbia University; students and postdoctoral researchers from UMass Lowell and Columbia University; and collaborators from Harvard University; the Desert Research Institute in Reno, Nevada; and the Northwest Institute of Eco-Environment and Resources and the University of the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Lanzhou. Additional research support was provided by the U.S. Department of Energy.

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UMass Lowell is a national research university offering its more than 18,000 students bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in business, education, engineering, fine arts, health, humanities, sciences and social sciences. UMass Lowell delivers high-quality educational programs and personal attention from leading faculty and staff, all of which prepare graduates to be leaders in their communities and around the globe. www.uml.edu

New DRI Study Investigates Formation of Dangerous Compounds by E-cigarettes

New DRI Study Investigates Formation of Dangerous Compounds by E-cigarettes

Reno, Nev. (July 19, 2021) – Scientists with the Desert Research Institute (DRI) Organic Analytical Laboratory, led by Andrey Khlystov, Ph.D., have been awarded a $1.5M grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to study the formation of dangerous compounds by electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes).

E-cigarettes have grown in popularity in recent years, and emit nicotine and other harmful compounds including formaldehyde, a dangerous human carcinogen. However, the production of these chemicals may differ across different e-cigarette devices, use patterns, and e-liquid (“juice”) formations – and scientists currently lack a thorough understanding of how these chemicals form and how to best test for their presence.

DRI’s study, which will run for three years, will test popular e-cigarette types and devices under a wide range of use patterns to resolve questions about harmful and potentially harmful substances produced by e-cigarettes. Among other things, the research team will investigate interactions between flavoring compounds and coils at different ages, temperatures, and e-liquid formations, and how different combinations of power, puff topography, and e-liquid viscosity affect emissions.

“This project will identify the most important parameters underlying the formation of harmful and potentially harmful constituents produced by e-cigarettes – and thus help inform the public and policymakers regarding health safety of different e-cigarette devices and e-liquid formulations,” Khlystov said.

Information gained from this project is needed to advise the public on potential health risks of different devices and configurations, to establish standardized testing protocols, and to inform policymakers on regulating certain e-cigarette designs and/or e-liquid constituents.

Additional Information:

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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.

Wildfire Smoke Exposure Linked to Increased Risk of Contracting COVID-19

Wildfire Smoke Exposure Linked to Increased Risk of Contracting COVID-19

Wildfire Smoke Exposure Linked to Increased Risk of Contracting COVID-19

July 15, 2021
RENO, NEV.

By Kelsey Fitzgerald

Wildfire Smoke
COVID-19
Health

Above: Wildfire smoke has been linked to increased risk of contracting COVID-19, according to the results of a new study. 

Credit: U.S. Department of Agriculture (public domain image)

A new DRI-led study finds a 17.7 percent rise in COVID-19 cases after a prolonged 2020 wildfire smoke event in Reno, Nev.

Wildfire smoke may greatly increase susceptibility to SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, according to new research from the Center for Genomic Medicine at the Desert Research Institute (DRI), Washoe County Health District (WCHD), and Renown Health (Renown) in Reno, Nev.

In a study published earlier this week in the Journal of Exposure Science and Environmental Epidemiology, the DRI-led research team set out to examine whether smoke from 2020 wildfires in the Western U.S. was associated with an increase in SARS-CoV-2 infections in Reno.

To explore this, the study team used models to analyze the relationship between fine particulate matter (PM 2.5) from wildfire smoke and SARS-CoV-2 test positivity rate data from Renown Health, a large, integrated healthcare network serving Nevada, Lake Tahoe, and northeast California. According to their results, PM 2.5 from wildfire smoke was responsible for a 17.7 percent increase in the number of COVID-19 cases that occurred during a period of prolonged smoke that took place between Aug. 16 and Oct. 10, 2020.

“Our results showed a substantial increase in the COVID-19 positivity rate in Reno during a time when we were affected by heavy wildfire smoke from California wildfires,” said Daniel Kiser, M.S., co-lead author of the study and assistant research scientist of data science at DRI. “This is important to be aware of as we are already confronting heavy wildfire smoke from the Beckwourth Complex fire and with COVID-19 cases again rising in Nevada and other parts of the Western U.S.”

smoke coming from a burning forest

Wildfire smoke may greatly increase susceptibility to SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, according to new research from the Center for Genomic Medicine at the Desert Research Institute, Washoe County Health District, and Renown Health in Reno, Nev.

Credit: DRI.

Thumbnail image of paper by Kiser et al.

The full text of the study, “SARS-CoV-2 test positivity rate in Reno, Nevada: association with PM2.5 during the 2020 wildfire smoke events in the western United States,” is available from the Journal of Exposure Science and Environmental Epidemiology: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41370-021-00366-w

Reno, located in Washoe County (population 450,000) of northern Nevada, was exposed to higher concentrations of PM2.5 for longer periods of time in 2020 than other nearby metropolitan areas, including San Francisco. Reno experienced 43 days of elevated PM2.5 during the study period, as opposed to 26 days in the San Francisco Bay Area.

“We had a unique situation here in Reno last year where we were exposed to wildfire smoke more often than many other areas, including the Bay Area,” said Gai Elhanan, M.D., co-lead author of the study and associate research scientist of computer science at DRI. “We are located in an intermountain valley that restricts the dispersion of pollutants and possibly increases the magnitude of exposure, which makes it even more important for us to understand smoke impacts on human health.”

Kiser’s and Elhanan’s new research builds upon past work of studies in San Francisco and Orange County by controlling for additional variables such as the general prevalence of the virus, air temperature, and the number of tests administered, in a location that was heavily impacted by wildfire smoke.

“We believe that our study greatly strengthens the evidence that wildfire smoke can enhance the spread of SARS-CoV-2,” said Elhanan. “We would love public health officials across the U.S. to be a lot more aware of this because there are things we can do in terms of public preparedness in the community to allow people to escape smoke during wildfire events.”

More information:

Additional study authors include William Metcalf (DRI), Brendan Schnieder (WCHD), and Joseph Grzymski, a corresponding author (DRI/Renown). This research was funded by Renown Health and the Nevada Governor’s Office of Economic Development Coronavirus Relief Fund.

The full text of the study, “SARS-CoV-2 test positivity rate in Reno, Nevada: association with PM2.5 during the 2020 wildfire smoke events in the western United States,” is available from the Journal of Exposure Science and Environmental Epidemiology: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41370-021-00366-w

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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 the region’s largest, local 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 Washoe County Health District Air Quality Management Division –

The Air Quality Management Division (AQMD) implements clean air solutions that protect the quality of life for the citizens of Reno, Sparks, and Washoe County through community partnerships along with programs and services such as air monitoring, permitting and compliance, planning, and public education. To learn more, please visit OurCleanAir.com

Media Contact:

Detra Page
Desert Research Institute
detra.page@dri.edu
702-591-3786

Rosen Applauds Over $500,000 Awarded to Desert Research Institute to Mitigate Risk of Wildfire Smoke in Rural Communities

 

WASHINGTON, D.C. –U.S. Senator Jacky Rosen (D-NV) released the following statement applauding the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for awarding a grant totaling $544,763 to the Desert Research Institute (DRI) for development, research, implementation, and evaluation of air quality sensors and purifiers to mitigate wildfire smoke risks in northern Nevada.

“In 2020, nearly 60,000 wildfires burned more than 10.3 million acres across the United States. Unfortunately, the current drought and historic temperatures have a crippling effect on western states like Nevada, creating an ideal environment for the spread of wildfires,” said Senator Rosen. “I am glad that the EPA has recognized the smoke hazard that accompanies these increased wildfires, impacting the air quality in rural communities, and putting Nevadans’ health at risk. With this grant, DRI can provide air quality monitors for rural communities and develop educational materials on wildfire smoke risk. Today’s announcement builds upon bipartisan efforts in the Senate to provide Nevadans with the most up-to-date safety measures and resources to protect them from wildfires.”

BACKGROUND: The goal of the project is to increase wildfire smoke risk mitigation in northern Nevada rural communities through the development, implementation, and evaluation of stakeholder-driven monitoring and messaging. Researchers will evaluate the performance of selected portable air quality sensors and place them in three rural Nevada counties to monitor air quality; develop education materials to reduce knowledge gaps in wildfire smoke risk among emergency managers and the public; and evaluate the effectiveness of in air quality monitoring and messaging to mitigate wildfire smoke risk.

2020 Lake Tahoe Clarity Report: Trends Holding but Threats Remain

2020 Lake Tahoe Clarity Report: Trends Holding but Threats Remain

Photo caption: Scientist conducts a Secchi disk measurement at Lake Tahoe. Credit: Brant Allen/UC Davis TERC. This news release was written by the

Lake Tahoe, CA/NV (July 8, 2021) – Lake Tahoe’s water clarity measurements, which are indicators of the health of the watershed, averaged 62.9 feet through 2020, the UC Davis Tahoe Environmental Research Center and the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency announced today.

Lake Tahoe’s clarity peaked in February 2020 when it was deeper than 80 feet. It was at its lowest in mid-May when it measured at slightly more than 50 feet. These readings were within the average range of the last decade. Average clarity in 2020 was just slightly better than the previous year’s average of 62.7 feet.

Clarity has been measured by UC Davis researchers since the 1960s as the depth to which a 10-inch white disk, called a Secchi disk, remains visible when lowered through the water. Because lake clarity measurements vary from day to day and year to year, managers and scientists remain focused on long-term trends as an indicator of the lake’s health.

Measurements show Lake Tahoe’s annual clarity has plateaued over the past 20 years. Despite this progress, summer clarity continues to decline by over a half-foot per year.

“While there is a good understanding of how fine clay particles and tiny algal cells reduce clarity, the biggest challenges are in reducing their presence in the surface water,” said Geoffrey Schladow, director of the UC Davis Tahoe Environmental Research Center. “Here climate change, and in particular the warming of the surface water, is exerting an undue influence.”

A recent review of clarity data by the Tahoe Science Advisory Council reaffirmed the understanding of main drivers of clarity loss. The council commissioned a panel of scientists from regional academic and government research institutions, which concluded that fine sediment particles and algae continue to be the dominant variables affecting Tahoe’s clarity. They recommended that water quality agencies continue to focus on reducing fine sediment and nutrient loads.

Past UC Davis research and the council’s report pointed to several other factors affecting Tahoe’s famed clarity. Climate change is altering precipitation and snowmelt patterns and increasing the temperature of the lake and impeding deep lake mixing. Such mixing in late winter can bring cold, clear water up from deep in the lake, which improves clarity. In 2020, the mixing was extremely shallow and contributed to the lack of improvement.

“Adaptive management is crucial when confronting evolving threats like climate change, invasive species, and expanding visitation rates in the Tahoe Basin, but it is an approach that requires targeted data to assess response to changing conditions and management actions,” said Alan Heyvaert, past Tahoe Science Advisory Council co-chair and Desert Research Institute associate research professor. “This council report demonstrates the value of continued investment and innovation in sustained monitoring and assessment at Tahoe.”

How is clarity measured and why?

Lake Tahoe is known around the world for its water clarity and cobalt blue color. Historically, clarity averaged about 100 feet. A development boom in the mid-20th century brought about unintended environmental impacts, including reduction of the lake’s pristine clarity. For decades, researchers have been documenting changes in the lake, and the research has informed policymakers and stakeholders on management strategies to protect the lake and stabilize its decline in clarity.

In 2020, UC Davis scientists took 27 individual readings at Lake Tahoe’s long-term index station. Using technology beyond the Secchi disk, researchers continue to refine their understanding of lake physics and ecology to determine the evolving causes of clarity change.

The states of California and Nevada, which share Lake Tahoe, are actively working to restore average lake clarity to its historic 100 feet. Under the Clean Water Act, the Lake Tahoe Total Maximum Daily Load is a science-based plan to reduce the amount of fine sediment and nutrients entering the lake by reducing pollution through improved roadway maintenance and erosion control on roadways and private properties.

More than 80 organizations, including government agencies, nonprofits, and research institutions, are working collaboratively with scientists to improve Lake Tahoe’s water clarity and ecological health under the Lake Tahoe Environmental Improvement Program, or EIP, which is one of the most comprehensive, landscape-scale restoration programs in the nation.

“Regaining Lake Tahoe’s water clarity is a commitment we all share, and together we are making a difference,” said Joanne S. Marchetta, executive director of the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency. “While the long‐term clarity trend shows we are on the right track, we need to remain vigilant about restoration while we look to understand more about the role climate change and other threats are playing.”

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Visitors and residents help protect Tahoe’s environment with their smartphones

Visitors and residents help protect Tahoe’s environment with their smartphones

LAKE TAHOE (JUNE 29, 2021) –– With a paddle in one hand and a smartphone in the other, Emily Frey leaned over the hull of her kayak to snap a photo of an aquatic plant fragment floating on Tahoe’s deep blue waters. The photo is part of a report she submitted through the recently updated Citizen Science Tahoe app – a free, mobile-ready tool to crowdsource the collection of important scientific data at Lake Tahoe. In the midst of Tahoe’s busy summer season, and with the Fourth of July weekend approaching, the app update is well-timed to engage thousands of visitors in protecting Tahoe’s environment by quickly and easily reporting observations of aquatic invasive species, litter, water quality, algae, and more.

“With the Citizen Science Tahoe app, anyone can help Keep Tahoe Blue by taking a few minutes to report what you see at the lake,” said Frey, Citizen Science Program Coordinator for the League to Save Lake Tahoe. “While you’re paddling, hiking, or just lounging, pop open the app and report cloudy water, algae, invasive species, or litter on the beach. Tahoe scientists can’t have their eyes on the Lake at all times, but together we can.”

The app was developed by the UC Davis Tahoe Environmental Research Center (TERC) in 2015 to collect citizen science data as ground-truthing for Lake Tahoe’s real-time nearshore monitoring network. The League to Save Lake Tahoe (Keep Tahoe Blue) and Desert Research Institute (DRI) joined shortly after, adding a range of new surveys offered through the app. This summer, the team welcomed three additional partners: Clean Up the Lake, the Tahoe Water Suppliers Association, and Take Care Tahoe.

“The Citizen Science Tahoe app is growing, which is great news for Lake Tahoe and everyone who enjoys it,” said Heather Segale, Education and Outreach Director with the UC Davis Tahoe Environmental Research Center. “When ‘citizen scientist’ volunteers – visitors, locals, and everyone in between – submit data through the app, it advances our understanding of Lake Tahoe and informs research and advocacy efforts to better preserve this special place.”

With the addition of new partners, the app is even more useful. As Clean Up the Lake continues to protect Tahoe’s nearshore underwater environment, the organization is using the app to record litter found on the shoreline that may end up in the Lake if not picked up or reported. Take Care Tahoe community ambassadors are reporting issues they see at Tahoe’s most popular recreation areas, along with the interactions they have when helping visitors explore Tahoe’s outdoors responsibly. Visitors can use the app to find or report water refill stations thanks to the Tahoe Water Suppliers Association.

“Citizen science is accelerating our understanding of how and when Tahoe gets its water, whether as rain, snow or a wintry mix,” said Meghan Collins, Education Program Manager at the Desert Research Institute in Reno. “Millions of people depend on Tahoe for their water supply. The Citizen Science Tahoe app allows Tahoe-lovers to advance science and practice environmental stewardship all year long.”

The Citizen Science Tahoe app’s recent updates have made it more flexible for scientists, and quicker and easier for users. Visit citizensciencetahoe.org to get started. The upgraded app doesn’t need to be downloaded, and you don’t even need to use your cellular data. Simply wait to upload images once you’re connected to Wi-Fi. This makes the app easy to use in even the most remote locations.

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Media Resources: photos

Media Contacts:

Heather Segale, UC Davis Tahoe Environmental Research Center; hmsegale@ucdavis.edu, 530-906-9100 The UC Davis Tahoe Environmental Research Center (TERC) is dedicated to interdisciplinary research and education to advance the knowledge of aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems and to communicate science-informed solutions worldwide. Interested in learning about Lake Tahoe? When you visit the Tahoe Science Center, you learn the latest findings from the world-class UC Davis Tahoe Environmental Research Center, a global leader in research, education, and public outreach on lakes. Advanced reservations are required at tahoe.ucdavis.edu/tahoesciencecenter.

Kelsey Fitzgerald, Desert Research Institute; kelsey.fitzgerald@dri.edu, 775-741-0496 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, and staff have developed scientific knowledge and innovative technologies in research projects around the globe. Since 1959, DRI’s research has advanced scientific knowledge, supported Nevada’s diversifying economy, provided science-based educational opportunities, and informed policy makers, business leaders, and community members. With campuses in Reno and Las Vegas, DRI serves as the non-profit research arm of the Nevada System of Higher Education. For more information, please visit www.dri.edu.

Chris Joseph, League to Save Lake Tahoe/Keep Tahoe Blue; cjoseph@keeptahoeblue.org, 805-722-5646 The League to Save Lake Tahoe, also known by its iconic slogan “Keep Tahoe Blue,” is Tahoe’s oldest and largest nonprofit environmental advocacy organization. Our team of solutions-oriented Tahoe advocates use innovation, boots-on-the-ground action, and a holistic approach to solve the environmental challenges threatening the lake we love. In our 64th year, we continue pushing to Keep Tahoe Blue in an ever-changing world. Learn more at keeptahoeblue.org.

Study Launches on Extreme Heat Risk in Coastal Communities

Study Launches on Extreme Heat Risk in Coastal Communities

Building upon past research and introducing different modeling techniques, this study will help to project extreme heat risk in coastal communities. 

HOUSTON, TX  (June 29, 2021) – The Desert Research Institute (DRI) and the Houston Advanced Research Center (HARC) announce the launch of a comprehensive extreme heat risk modeling project funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to study and predict the risk of extreme heat within coastal communities.

Texans along the Gulf Coast are more than familiar with the extreme heat during the long summer days. But how high will future temperatures rise and what areas will be most impacted by these changes? How does sea breeze influence heat forecasts for these communities along the coast? A joint study conducted by DRI and HARC seeks to answer these questions by developing a modeling framework for urban heat in coastal cities and using machine learning to analyze multiple datasets to better project what will occur.

“We will quantify how urban temperature will be impacted by different urban heat mitigation strategies contemplated in the Houston’s Climate Adaptation Plan (2020) and Resilient Houston (2020) reports,” stated DRI Associate Research Professor Dr. John Mejia. “Strategies include the cooling effect of greening the city and widespread use of rooftop solar panels. We will also assess the potential warming effect of converting open spaces to new developments. We hope that our results can provide tangible information for decision-making to increase resilience to extreme heat events across economic sectors.”

Extreme heat in urban areas presents society with significant economic, health, safety, and security challenges. As part of the NOAA Climate Program Office’s (CPO) Extreme Heat Risk Initiative, this research project will address extreme heat along the coast and how communities may better prepare for the impacts.

“Building upon the existing data to model these projections will help coastal communities better understand the risk and impacts associated with extreme heat,” states Dr. Ebrahim Eslami, Research Scientist, HARC. “The end report will be a guide to help prepare for the warmer days ahead.”

Understanding the modeling uncertainties, such as the role of land and sea breezes, in the prediction of extreme heat is a standing scientific challenge. This research project will use new observationally-based products and cutting-edge high-resolution modeling to better characterize the urban Heat Index for forecasting and planning times scales in coastal communities. The Greater Houston area will serve as a testbed for this project and modeling framework, which could be applied to other cities influenced by large water bodies both in the nation and worldwide.

The two-year study will culminate in a report compiling the analyses in the summer of 2023. For more information, please visit www.cpo.noaa.gov.

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About DRI      
DRI is a recognized world leader in basic and applied environmental research. Committed to scientific excellence and integrity, DRI faculty, students, and staff have developed scientific knowledge and innovative technologies in research projects around the globe. Since 1959, DRI’s research has advanced scientific knowledge, supported Nevada’s diversifying economy, provided science-based educational opportunities, and informed policymakers, business leaders, and community members. With campuses in Reno and Las Vegas, DRI serves as the non-profit research arm of the Nevada System of Higher Education.  

About HARC 
HARC is a nonprofit research hub providing independent analysis on energy, air, and water issues to people seeking scientific answers. Its research activities support the implementation of policies and technologies that promote sustainability based on scientific principles. HARC is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization building a sustainable future in which people thrive and nature flourishes. For further information, contact HARC at (281) 364-6000 or visit  www.HARCresearch.org. Connect with HARC, via Instagram, LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter. Like or follow @HARCresearch. 

DRI Ice Core Lab Data Shows Magnitude of Historic Fire Activity in Southern Hemisphere

DRI Ice Core Lab Data Shows Magnitude of Historic Fire Activity in Southern Hemisphere

DRI Ice Core Lab Data Shows Magnitude of Historic Fire Activity in Southern Hemisphere

May 28, 2021
RENO, NEV.

Ice Cores
Wildfires
Climate Change

Above: Smoke from human-caused wildfires on the Patagonian steppe are trapped in Antarctic ice. 

Credit: Kathy Kasic/Brett Kuxhausen, Montana State University.

A new study in Science Advances features ice core data from the DRI Ice Core Laboratory and research by Nathan Chellman, Ph.D., Monica Arienzo, Ph.D., and Joe McConnell, Ph.D.

Fire emissions in the Southern Hemisphere may have been much higher during pre-industrial times than in the present day, according to new research from an international team of scientists including Nathan Chellman, Ph.D., Monica Arienzo, Ph.D., and Joe McConnell, Ph.D., of the Desert Research Institute (DRI) in Reno.

The study, published today in Science Advances, used new ice core data from DRI’s Ice Core Laboratory to document changes in levels of soot from ancient fires and modern fossil fuel combustion during the years 1750 to 2000. Many of the 14 Antarctic ice cores included in the study were obtained through national and international collaborations, and together comprise an unprecedented long-term record of Southern Hemisphere fire activity that provided the foundation for the modeling effort described in the new paper.

All of the ice cores were analyzed using a specialized method for soot measurements in ice that McConnell and his team pioneered at DRI nearly 15 years ago. This method is now widely used in laboratories around the world.

For more information about the DRI Ice Core Laboratory, please visit: https://www.dri.edu/labs/trace-chemistry-laboratory/. The full news release from Harvard University, A fiery past sheds new light on the future of global climate change, is posted below.

Co-author Dr. Robert Mulvaney from the British Antarctic Arctic Survey drilling the James Ross Island core in the Antarctic Peninsula.

Co-author Dr. Robert Mulvaney from the British Antarctic Arctic Survey drilling the James Ross Island core in the Antarctic Peninsula. 

Credit: Robert Mulvaney.

Thumnail image of Science Advances paper, links to paper

The full text of the paper, Improved estimates of preindustrial biomass burning reduce the magnitude of aerosol climate forcing in the Southern Hemisphere, is available from Science Advances: https://advances.sciencemag.org/content/7/22/eabc1379.abstract

A fiery past sheds new light on the future of global climate change

Ice core samples reveal significant smoke aerosols in the pre-industrial Southern Hemisphere 

By Leah Burrows, Harvard University

Centuries-old smoke particles preserved in the ice reveal a fiery past in the Southern Hemisphere and shed new light on the future impacts of global climate change, according to new research published in Science Advances.

“Up till now, the magnitude of past fire activity, and thus the amount of smoke in the preindustrial atmosphere, has not been well characterized,” said Pengfei Liu, a former graduate student and postdoctoral fellow at the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) and first author of the paper. “These results have importance for understanding the evolution of climate change from the 1750s until today, and for predicting future climate.”

One of the biggest uncertainties when it comes to predicting the future impacts of climate change is how fast surface temperatures will rise in response to increases in greenhouse gases. Predicting these temperatures is complicated since it involves the calculation of competing warming and cooling effects in the atmosphere. Greenhouse gases trap heat and warm the planet’s surface while aerosol particles in the atmosphere from volcanoes, fires and other combustion cool the planet by blocking sunlight or seeding cloud cover. Understanding how sensitive surface temperature is to each of these effects and how they interact is critical to predicting the future impact of climate change.

Ancient ice from James Ross Island in the Northern Antarctic Peninsula about to be extracted from the drill barrel.

Ancient ice from James Ross Island in the Northern Antarctic Peninsula about to be extracted from the drill barrel. 

Credit: Robert Mulvaney.

Many of today’s climate models rely on past levels of greenhouse gasses and aerosols to validate their predictions for the future. But there’s a problem: While pre-industrial levels of greenhouse gasses are well documented, the amount of smoke aerosols in the preindustrial atmosphere is not. 

To model smoke in the pre-industrial Southern Hemisphere, the research team looked to Antarctica, where the ice trapped smoke particles emitted from fires in Australia, Africa and South America. Ice core scientists and co-authors of the study, Joseph McConnell and Nathan Chellman from the Desert Research Institute in Nevada, measured soot, a key component of smoke, deposited in an array of 14 ice cores from across the continent, many provided by international collaborators.

“Soot deposited in glacier ice directly reflects past atmospheric concentrations so well-dated ice cores provide the most reliable long-term records,” said McConnell.    

What they found was unexpected.

“While most studies have assumed less fire took place in the preindustrial era, the ice cores suggested a much fierier past, at least in the Southern Hemisphere,” said Loretta Mickley, Senior Research Fellow in Chemistry-Climate Interactions at SEAS and senior author of the paper.

To account for these levels of smoke, the researchers ran computer simulations that account for both wildfires and the burning practices of indigenous people.

“The computer simulations of fire show that the atmosphere of the Southern Hemisphere could have been very smoky in the century before the Industrial Revolution. Soot concentrations in the atmosphere were up to four times greater than previous studies suggested. Most of this was caused by widespread and regular burning practiced by indigenous peoples in the pre-colonial period,” said Jed Kaplan, Associate Professor at the University of Hong Kong and co-author of the study.

Drilling ice cores in East Antarctica as part of the Norwegian-U.S. International IPY Scientific Traverse of East Antarctica.

Drilling ice cores in East Antarctica as part of the Norwegian-U.S. International IPY Scientific Traverse of East Antarctica.

Credit: Mary Albert.

This result agrees with the ice core records that also show that soot was abundant before the start of the industrial era and has remained relatively constant through the 20th century. The modeling suggests that as land-use changes decreased fire activity, emissions from industry increased.

What does this finding mean for future surface temperatures?

By underestimating the cooling effect of smoke particles in the pre-industrial world, climate models might have overestimated the warming effect of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses in order to account for the observed increases in surface temperatures.

“Climate scientists have known that the most recent generation of climate models have been over-estimating surface temperature sensitivity to greenhouse gasses, but we haven’t known why or by how much,” said Liu. “This research offers a possible explanation.”

“Clearly the world is warming but the key question is how fast will it warm as greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise. This research allows us to refine our predictions moving forward,” said Mickley.

The research was co-authored by Yang Li, Monica Arienzo, John Kodros, Jeffrey Pierce, Michael Sigl, Johannes Freitag, Robert Mulvaney, and Mark Curran.

It was funded by the National Science Foundation’s Geosciences Directorate under grants AGS-1702814 and 1702830, with additional support from 0538416, 0538427, and 0839093.

 

Additional Information:

The full text of the paper, Improved estimates of preindustrial biomass burning reduce the magnitude of aerosol climate forcing in the Southern Hemisphere, is available from Science Advances: https://advances.sciencemag.org/content/7/22/eabc1379.abstract

The news release above was reposted with permission from Harvard University: https://www.seas.harvard.edu/news/2021/05/fiery-past-sheds-new-light-future-global-climate-change. 

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About the Desert Research Institute
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, and staff have developed scientific knowledge and innovative technologies in research projects around the globe. Since 1959, DRI’s research has advanced scientific knowledge, supported Nevada’s diversifying economy, provided science-based educational opportunities, and informed policymakers, business leaders, and community members. With campuses in Reno and Las Vegas, DRI serves as the non-profit research arm of the Nevada System of Higher Education. For more information, please visit www.dri.edu

Does Cold Wildfire Smoke Contribute to Water Repellent Soils in Burned Areas?

Does Cold Wildfire Smoke Contribute to Water Repellent Soils in Burned Areas?

Does Cold Wildfire Smoke Contribute to Water Repellent Soils in Burned Areas?

May 25, 2021
RENO, NEV.

By Kelsey Fitzgerald

Soil Science
Wildfires
Hydrology

Above: After a wildfire, soils in burned areas often become water repellent, leading to increased erosion and flooding after rainfall events. The hillside shown here burned in California’s Loyalton Fire during August 2020.

Credit: Kelsey Fitzgerald/DRI.

A new DRI pilot study finds severe water repellency in sand samples after treatment with both hot and cold smoke.

After a wildfire, soils in burned areas often become water repellent, leading to increased erosion and flooding after rainfall events – a phenomenon that many scientists have attributed to smoke and heat-induced changes in soil chemistry. But this post-fire water repellency may also be caused by wildfire smoke in the absence of heat, according to a new paper from the Desert Research Institute (DRI) in Nevada.

In this pilot study (exploratory research that takes place before a larger-scale study), an interdisciplinary team of scientists led by DRI Associate Research Professor of Atmospheric Science Vera Samburova, Ph.D., exposed samples of clean sand to smoke from burning Jeffrey pine needles and branches in DRI’s combustion chamber, then analyzed the time it took for water droplets placed on the sand surface to be absorbed – a measure of water repellency.

Natasha Sushenko processes samples in the Environmental Microbiology Lab at the Desert Research Institute during a COVID-19 wastewater monitoring study.

A new pilot study by an interdisciplinary team from DRI exposed samples of clean sand to smoke from burning Jeffrey pine needles and branches, then analyzed the time it took for water droplets placed on the sand surface to be absorbed — a measure of water repellency. After exposure to smoke, water droplets sometimes remained on the sand surface for more than 50 minutes without soaking in.

Credit: Vera Samburova/DRI.

The full text of the paper, Effect of Biomass-Burning Emissions on Soil Water Repellency: A Pilot Laboratory Study, is available from Fire: https://www.mdpi.com/2571-6255/4/2/24

The pilot study investigated the effects of smoke and heat on water repellency of the sand and was the first study to also incorporate an analysis of cold smoke. In the experiments, sand was used in place of soil because it could be cleaned thoroughly and analyzed accurately, and Jeffrey pine for a fuel source because it represents a common wildland fire fuel in the Western U.S.

Before exposure to Jeffrey pine smoke, water droplets placed on the surface of the sand samples were quickly absorbed. But after exposure to smoke, the sand samples showed severe-to-extreme water repellency, in some cases retaining water droplets on the sand surface for more than 50 minutes without soaking in. It made little difference whether or not samples had been exposed to heat and smoke, or just cold smoke.

“The classic explanation for fire-induced water repellency is that it is caused as smoke diffuses under rather hot conditions and settles down into the soils, but our work shows that the smoke does not have to be hot to turn the sand hydrophobic — simply the presence of the chemical substances in the smoke is enough,” Samburova said. “This is something we really need to look deeper into because soil water repellency leads to increases in flooding, erosion, and surface runoff.”

Above, left: Jeffrey pine needles and sticks were used as a fuel source in the new DRI study because Jeffrey pine represents a common wildland fire fuel in the Western U.S.

Credit: Vera Samburova/DRI.

Above, right: Jeffrey pine needles and branches burn inside of the combustion chamber at DRI during a new study that investigated the effects of smoke and heat on water repellency of sand samples.

Credit: Vera Samburova/DRI.

This study built on previously published work by former DRI postdoctoral researcher Rose Shillito, Ph.D., (currently with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers), Markus Berli, Ph.D., of DRI, and Teamrat Ghezzehei, Ph.D., of University of California, Merced, in which the researchers developed an analytical model for relating soil water repellency to infiltration of water.

“Our earlier paper focused on how fire changes the properties of soils, from a hydrology perspective,” Berli explained. “In our current study, we were interested in learning more about the chemistry behind the process of how soils come to be hydrophobic. We’re bringing together geochemistry and organic geochemistry with soil physics and hydrology to understand the impact of fire-induced water repellency on hydrology.”

The project team is now working on a larger proposal to further investigate questions touched on by this study about the roles of heat and smoke in fire-induced water repellency. Among other things, they would like to know how long soil water repellency lasts after a fire, and gain a better understanding of the detailed processes and mechanisms through which cold smoke affects the soil.

In her free time, Natasha enjoys hiking and being outside in beautiful areas like the Desolation Wilderness in California.

DRI’s combustion chamber, pictured here, is a specialized facility that has been designed and built for the open combustion of solid fuels under controlled conditions. In this experiment, it was used to expose samples of clean sand to Jeffrey pine smoke. 

Credit: Kelsey Fitzgerald/DRI.

Gaining a thorough understanding of the process that leads to fire-induced soil water repellency is important because land managers need this information in order to accurately predict where soils are likely to be hydrophobic after a fire, Berli explained.

“We still don’t really understand the processes that lead to this fire-induced soil water repellency,” Berli said. “Depending on what we find, the measures to predict fire-induced water repellency might be different, and this can have a significant impact on how we can predict and prevent flooding or debris flows that happen after a fire.”

“This study was one big step forward, but it highlights the importance of future research on how fires affect soil, because wildfires are affecting thousands and thousands of square kilometers of land each year in the Western U.S., ” Samburova added. “Some of our future goals are to find out how exactly this soil water repellency happens, where it happens and how long it lasts.”

Additional Information:

This study was made possible with support from DRI and the National Science Foundation. Study authors included Vera Samburova, Ph.D., Rose Shillito, Ph.D. (currently with U.S. Army Corps of Engineers), Markus Berli, Ph.D., Andrey Khlystov, Ph.D., and Hans Moosmüller, Ph.D., all from DRI.

The full text of the paper, Effect of Biomass-Burning Emissions on Soil Water Repellency: A Pilot Laboratory Study, is available from Fire: https://www.mdpi.com/2571-6255/4/2/24

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About the Desert Research Institute
The Desert Research Institute (DRI) is a recognized world leader in basic and applied interdisciplinary research. Committed to scientific excellence and integrity, DRI faculty, students, and staff have developed scientific knowledge and innovative technologies in research projects around the globe. Since 1959, DRI’s research has advanced scientific knowledge, supported Nevada’s diversifying economy, provided science-based educational opportunities, and informed policy makers, business leaders, and community members. With campuses in Reno and Las Vegas, DRI serves as the non-profit research arm of the Nevada System of Higher Education. For more information, please visit www.dri.edu

New Study Investigates the Distribution of Deep Underground Microbial Life

New Study Investigates the Distribution of Deep Underground Microbial Life

Above: DeMMO field team from left to right: Lily Momper, Brittany Kruger, and Caitlin Casar sampling fracture fluids from a DeMMO borehole installation. Credit: Matt Kapust.


Las Vegas, Nev. – Below the Earth’s surface, a zone of life known as the continental deep subsurface is home to large populations of bacteria and archaea, but little is known about how these microbial populations are distributed. To learn whether they are spread evenly across rock surfaces or prefer to colonize specific minerals in the rocks, scientists from Northwestern University and the Desert Research Institute (DRI) went deep inside of a former gold mine in South Dakota and grew biofilms (collections of microorganisms) on rocks. Their results, which published in April in the journal Frontiers in Microbiology, show that the microbes formed “hotspots” around certain minerals in the rocks. Brittany Kruger, Ph.D., Assistant Research Scientist in Biogeochemistry from DRI in Las Vegas, served as field lead for the Northwestern research team at the Sanford Underground Research Facility (SURF), where this study was conducted.

The full text of the paper Rock-Hosted Subsurface Biofilms: Mineral Selectivity Drives Hotspots for Intraterrestrial Life is available from Frontiers in the Environment: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fmicb.2021.658988/full

The press release below was reposted with permission from Northwestern University in Evanston, IL:


Earth’s crust mineralogy drives hotspots for intraterrestrial life

Northwestern University – Evanston, IL

April 9, 2021 – Below the verdant surface and organic rich soil, life extends kilometers into Earth’s deep rocky crust. The continental deep subsurface is likely one of the largest reservoirs of bacteria and archaea on Earth, many forming biofilms – like a microbial coating of the rock surface. This microbial population survives without light or oxygen and with minimal organic carbon sources, and can get energy by eating or respiring minerals. Distributed throughout the deep subsurface, these biofilms could represent 20-80% of the total bacterial and archaeal biomass in the continental subsurface according to the most recent estimate. But are these microbial populations spread evenly on rock surfaces, or do they prefer to colonize specific minerals in the rocks?

To answer this question, researchers from Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, led a study to analyze the growth and distribution of microbial communities in deep continental subsurface settings. This work shows that the host rock mineral composition drives biofilm distribution, producing “hotspots” of microbial life. The study was published in Frontiers in Microbiology.

Hotspots of microbial life

To realize this study, the researchers went 1.5 kilometers below the surface in the Deep Mine Microbial Observatory (DeMMO), housed within a former gold mine now known as the Sanford Underground Research Facility (SURF), located in Lead, South Dakota. There, below-ground, the researchers cultivated biofilms on native rocks rich in iron and sulfur-bearing minerals. After six months, the researchers analyzed the microbial composition and physical characteristics of newly grown biofilms, as well as its distributions using microscopy, spectroscopy and spatial modeling approaches.

The spatial analyses conducted by the researchers revealed hotspots where the biofilm was denser. These hotspots correlate with iron-rich mineral grains in the rocks, highlighting some mineral preferences for biofilm colonization. “Our results demonstrate the strong spatial dependence of biofilm colonization on minerals in rock surfaces. We think that this spatial dependence is due to microbes getting their energy from the minerals they colonize,” explains Caitlin Casar, first author of the study.

Future research

Altogether, these results demonstrate that host rock mineralogy is a key driver of biofilm distribution, which could help improve estimates of the microbial distribution of the Earth’s deep continental subsurface. But leading intraterrestrial studies could also inform other topics. “Our findings could inform the contribution of biofilms to global nutrient cycles, and also have astrobiological implications as these findings provide insight into biomass distributions in a Mars analog system” says Caitlin Casar.

Indeed, extraterrestrial life could exist in similar subsurface environments where the microorganisms are protected from both radiation and extreme temperatures. Mars, for example, has an iron and sulfur-rich composition similar to DeMMO’s rock formations, which we now know are capable of driving the formation of microbial hotspots below-ground.

 

Reno Tech Company Contributes to School Robotics Education

Reno Tech Company Contributes to School Robotics Education

Reno, NV – Virginia Turner and Bob Pratte, teachers at Traner Middle School in Reno, NV, were at the receiving end of a generous donation made by TrainerRoad to help foster STEM education in the Washoe County School District. Based in Reno, TrainerRoad is a virtual bicycle training and technology company that helps customers reach their goals with cycling’s most effective training and coaching system.

TrainerRoad granted $5,000 to Nevada Robotics to support teachers to develop a classroom-based robotics program. With this funding, Nevada Robotics purchased curriculum to introduce the concepts of FIRST LEGO League while providing access to online professional development and five LEGO Mindstorm Robotics sets.

TrainerRoad has also generously committed to mentoring the students with employees explaining their career journey and how they use STEM components in their work. All stakeholders hope this engagement will introduce a wide range of career options to inspire the students. The program will continue next year with the addition of a competitive team through the Tesla grant, further expanding the impact at the school.

The Economic Development Authority of Western Nevada (EDAWN) supported this donation by facilitating the connection and supporting the training of the teachers. Caroline Hanson, EDAWN’s Regional Robotics Coordinator, has been serving as a robotics educator and coach mentor, working with the teachers to make sure they are comfortable with the content and materials and will be available to troubleshoot at student meetings throughout the spring. Caroline will also host an end-of-school-year showcase for students to share their accomplishments.

Other companies interested in engaging to impact STEM education in Washoe County School District at this or other levels can reach out to Caroline Hanson and/or Nevada Robotics directly via the contact information provided below.

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About EDAWN
The Economic Development Authority of Western Nevada (EDAWN) is a private/public partnership established in 1983, committed to adding quality jobs to the region by recruiting new companies, supporting the success of existing companies, and assisting newly forming companies, to diversify the economy and have a positive impact on the quality of life in Greater Reno-Sparks. www.edawn.org

Media Contact:
Caroline Hanson
Regional Robotics Coordinator
hanson@edawn.org

About Nevada Robotics
In July 2018 Tesla selected the Desert Research Institute’s Science Alive program to receive Tesla’s Nevada K-12 Education Investment Funding, and the Nevada Robotics program was born from this initial investment. With this, Nevada Robotics collaborates with community and industry partners in delivering engaging robotics education to Nevada’s K – 12 students in support of their vision for all students across Nevada to think creatively and solve complex problems through hands-on robotics education. https://nevadarobotics.org/

Media Contact:
AJ Long
Robotics and STEM Education Administrator
775-830-3287
AJ.Long@dri.edu

Monica Arienzo, Ph.D., Receives DRI’s First National Science Foundation CAREER Award

Monica Arienzo, Ph.D., Receives DRI’s First National Science Foundation CAREER Award

Above: Monica Arienzo, Ph.D., is an assistant research professor of hydrology at the Desert Research Institute in Reno and winner of DRI’s first CAREER Award from the National Science Foundation.


 

Reno, Nev. (May 3, 2021) – The Desert Research Institute (DRI) is pleased to announce that Monica Arienzo, Ph.D., has been awarded a CAREER Award from the National Science Foundation (NSF) – the first such award received by a DRI scientist in the Institute’s 62-year history.

The Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Program is one of the NSF’s most prestigious awards and recognizes early-career faculty who have the potential to serve as role models in research and education, and to lead advances in the mission of their organization. The CAREER Award will provide Arienzo with a grant for $550,787 to forward her research into microplastics, tiny (less than 5mm in length) particles of plastic that pollute the environment.

Arienzo is an assistant research professor of hydrology with DRI’s Division of Hydrologic Sciences in Reno. She is the director of DRI’s Microplastics Laboratory, where her research focuses on the sources and concentrations of microplastics found in snowy peaks, lakes, rivers, and drinking water, including the waters of Lake Tahoe.

With the funding from the CAREER award, Arienzo plans to continue her investigation into the sources, transport, and fate of microplastics in snow-dominated environments of the Sierra Nevada in Nevada and California. As part of her project, two Ph.D. students and between four-to-six undergraduate students will be trained on microplastic sampling, laboratory analysis, and hydrology.

“I am incredibly honored to receive the CAREER award and appreciate this opportunity to continue researching an important environmental pollutant while also including additional Ph.D. students and undergraduate students in the research effort,” Arienzo said.

Arienzo (second from left) and the members of the Microplastics Laboratory conduct fieldwork at Lake Tahoe.

Arienzo (second from left) and the members of the Microplastics Laboratory conduct fieldwork at Lake Tahoe during May 2019.

Arienzo will also integrate her research findings into a middle school mobile teaching kit through DRI’s Green Boxes program. The teaching kit will include a series of lessons on the topics of hydrology, microplastics, anthropogenic pollution, and water quality.

“We are proud of Dr. Arienzo’s accomplishments and the recognition from the NSF of the important research she is conducting in the area of microplastics,” said DRI President Kumud Acharya, Ph.D. “As a result of the grant provided by the CAREER award, Dr. Arienzo is able to expand her research and invest in others.”

Arienzo joined DRI as a post-doctoral fellow in 2014 and was promoted to Assistant Research Professor in 2016. She has worked extensively using geochemical tools to understand climatic changes of the past and human impacts to the environment. She holds a Ph.D. in Marine Geology and Geophysics from the University of Miami, and a B.A. in Geology from Franklin & Marshall College.

More information:

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About Desert Research Institute The Desert Research Institute (DRI) is a recognized world leader in basic and applied interdisciplinary research. Committed to scientific excellence and integrity, DRI faculty, students, and staff have developed scientific knowledge and innovative technologies in research projects around the globe. Since 1959, DRI’s research has advanced scientific knowledge, supported Nevada’s diversifying economy, provided science-based educational opportunities, and informed policy makers, business leaders, and community members. With campuses in Reno and Las Vegas, DRI serves as the non-profit research arm of the Nevada System of Higher Education. For more information, please visit www.dri.edu.

Hundreds Around the Globe Gather Online to Hear Earth Week Message from  Scientist, Explorer Dr. Kathryn D. Sullivan During World Premiere of the  Desert Research Institute Foundation’s Special Presentation

Hundreds Around the Globe Gather Online to Hear Earth Week Message from Scientist, Explorer Dr. Kathryn D. Sullivan During World Premiere of the Desert Research Institute Foundation’s Special Presentation

Hundreds Around the Globe Gather Online to Hear Earth Week Message from Scientist, Explorer Dr. Kathryn D. Sullivan During World Premiere of the Desert Research Institute Foundation’s Special Presentation

The program will broadcast on Vegas PBS Channel 10 on April 25 at 4:30 p.m. and again May 1 at 4 p.m.,
and on Reno PBS on May 1 at 4 p.m.  

Las Vegas (April 22, 2021) – Hundreds of people around the globe tuned in to watch the virtual world premiere of the Desert Research Institute (DRI) Foundation’s Earth Week special presentation of Sea, Earth and Sky: Celebrating the Spirit of Scientific Exploration, Discovery and Innovation honoring Dr. Kathryn D. Sullivan, the 31st DRI Nevada Medalist. A key feature of the hour-long online program was a highly-anticipated conversation with Dr. Sullivan as she shared eye-opening viewpoints about the state of planet Earth today.

Dr. Sullivan has seen the planet from many perspectives. She is a former NASA astronaut who completed three missions to space becoming the first American woman to walk in space, author of Handprints on Hubble: An Astronaut’s Story of Invention, former Administrator of NOAA, and most recently the first woman to dive to the Challenger Deep in the Marianas Trench.

“Climate is an everything issue, and it’s not a question whether the planet will be okay — the planet will be fine, there will be a chunk of rock, third one out from the sun, and orbiting around perhaps in perpetuity. The question is what becomes of everything that lives on this planet, including us but not only us,” says Sullivan. “That’s what we really need to think about, and it’s just super clear from the data that the way we are currently living our lives is pushing too much of the planet towards the limits of its operating system. Every complex system has such limits and there is always a train of consequences when you go blasting by them.”

Dr. Sullivan went on to provide her key takeaways for the human beings living on planet Earth.

“I think we need to be giving more thought to how we can temper a bit how we are living today. To do more to ensure a viable tomorrow and also how we can look at what we are building and how we are operating our societies and businesses today, and be very intentional about making them more resilient, which means move the needle from just hyper-efficiency and hyper-economic return into a longer time frame view that ensures the system retains some resiliency.”

Dr. Sullivan has dedicated her entire career to studying our planet, looking at Earth in unique ways and sharing her discoveries with the world.

“The scale, the immensity and power of our planet and its systems are very impressive, no two ways about it. It’s extraordinary. At the same time, my perspectives have taught me that every one of the systems of our planet, the geological, the biological, the forest, the trees, the air, the water, the ocean — things we tend to think of as separate —are really, richly, pervasively interconnected.”

Dr. Sullivan spoke about how science has become entangled with politics and how to restore the role of evidence-based science in our lives.

“When people participate in something, when they experience science in their own lives, that’s what opens the mental gateway to realizing, actually to revitalizing our innate scientific aptitudes.  In the crib we are all scientists. The scientific method is the essence of how a human infant develops into an adult,” says Sullivan. “If we can create experiences in classrooms, in museums, in civic settings where there is an issue under discussion that let us participate in the building of an answer – that’s powerful. Things I helped build and participated in lead to a different kind of understanding, and they open different prospects for progress.”

Dr. Sullivan was presented with the 31st DRI Nevada Medal which has recognized outstanding achievement in science, engineering and technology for the last 30 years.

The special online presentation also featured the latest work of DRI as a global leader in environmental research and development, the history of the Nevada Medal award and special guest appearances rounded out the hour-long online broadcast.

Those who missed the virtual premiere or would like to watch it again, the program is set to broadcast on Vegas PBS Channel 10 on April 25 at 4:30 p.m. and again May 1 at 4 p.m., and on Reno PBS on May 1 at 4 p.m. After that the program will also be available for viewing on the DRI website.

About Desert Research Institute

The Desert Research Institute (DRI) is a recognized world leader in basic and applied interdisciplinary research. Committed to scientific excellence and integrity, DRI faculty, students, and staff have developed scientific knowledge and innovative technologies in research projects around the globe. Since 1959, DRI’s research has advanced scientific knowledge, supported Nevada’s diversifying economy, provided science-based educational opportunities, and informed policy makers, business leaders, and community members. With campuses in Reno and Las Vegas, DRI serves as the non-profit research arm of the Nevada System of Higher Education. For more information, please visit  www.dri.edu.

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Media Contact:
Detra Page
DRI Communications Manager
702.591.3786
Detra.page@dri.edu

DRI Scientists Contribute to Breakthrough Study on Microbial Evolution

DRI Scientists Contribute to Breakthrough Study on Microbial Evolution

Above: Equipment for subsurface sampling of microbes stands in Death Valley, California. Credit: Duane Moser/DRI.

Las Vegas, Nev. (April 15, 2021) – Although certain microbes have the ability to evolve very quickly, the opposite can also be true, according to new research from an international team of scientists including Duane Moser, Ph.D., Joshua Sackett, Ph.D., and Brittany Kruger, Ph.D. of the Desert Research Institute (DRI) in Las Vegas. The new paper, which was led by scientists from the Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences and published last week in Nature publishing group’s ISME Journal, identifies a group of microbes from the deepest regions of the continental subsurface biosphere that have been at an evolutionary standstill for approximately 175 million years.

The study used partial genomes of the microbe, Candidatus Desulforudis audaxviator that were collected from deep underground in South Africa, Siberia, and California. Moser contributed the North American samples, which were collected in 2015 at a depth of 752 m (2,467 ft.) during activities of the NASA Astrobiology Institute’s Life Underground project (Jan Amend, USC, PI) from the Death Valley Regional Flow System, a vast fractured rock aquifer that underlies portions of Nevada and Eastern CA. The North America re-discovery of D. audaxviator brings an old story full-circle for Moser in that he also collected the samples from which the organism was originally described from fracture networks as much as 4 – 5 km (2.5 – 3.1 miles) deep in South Africa while a postdoc with TC Onstott at Princeton University in the early 2000s.

The full text of the paper, Evolutionary stasis of a deep subsurface microbial lineage, is available from ISME Journal: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41396-021-00965-3

The press release below is reposted with permission from Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences.


Living fossils: Microbe discovered in evolutionary stasis for millions of years

BIGELOW LABORATORY FOR OCEAN SCIENCES

It’s like something out of science fiction. Research led by Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences has revealed that a group of microbes, which feed off chemical reactions triggered by radioactivity, have been at an evolutionary standstill for millions of years. The discovery could have significant implications for biotechnology applications and scientific understanding of microbial evolution.

“This discovery shows that we must be careful when making assumptions about the speed of evolution and how we interpret the tree of life,” said Eric Becraft, the lead author on the paper. “It is possible that some organisms go into an evolutionary full-sprint, while others slow to a crawl, challenging the establishment of reliable molecular timelines.”

Becraft, now an assistant professor of biology at the University of Northern Alabama, completed the research as part of his postdoctoral work at Bigelow Laboratory and recently published it in the Nature publishing group’s ISME Journal.

The microbe, Candidatus Desulforudis audaxviator, was first discovered in 2008 by a team of scientists, led by Tullis Onstott, a co-author on the new study. Found in a South African gold mine almost two miles beneath the Earth’s surface, the microbes acquire the energy they need from chemical reactions caused by the natural radioactive decay in minerals. They inhabit water-filled cavities inside rocks in a completely independent ecosystem, free from reliance on sunlight or any other organisms.

Because of their unique biology and isolation, the authors of the new study wanted to understand how the microbes evolved. They searched other environmental samples from deep underground and discovered Candidatus Desulforudis audaxviator in Siberia and California, as well as in several additional mines in South Africa. Since each environment was chemically different, these discoveries gave the researchers a unique opportunity to look for differences that have emerged between the populations over their millions of years of evolution.

“We wanted to use that information to understand how they evolved and what kind of environmental conditions lead to what kind of genetic adaptations,” said Bigelow Laboratory Senior Research Scientist Ramunas Stepanauskas, the corresponding author on the paper and Becraft’s postdoctoral advisor. “We thought of the microbes as though they were inhabitants of isolated islands, like the finches that Darwin studied in the Galapagos.”

Scanning electron micrograph image of C.D. audaxviator microbe taken from a mine in South Africa.

C.D. audaxviator Scanning Electron Micrograph from 3.2 km depth in Driefontein Mine, South Africa. Image courtesy of Gordon Southam and Greg Wanger.

Using advanced tools that allow scientists to read the genetic blueprints of individual cells, the researchers examined the genomes of 126 microbes obtained from three continents. Surprisingly, they all turned out to be almost identical.

“It was shocking,” Stepanauskas said. “They had the same makeup, and so we started scratching our heads.”

Scientists found no evidence that the microbes can travel long distances, survive on the surface, or live long in the presence of oxygen. So, once researchers determined that there was no possibility the samples were cross-contaminated during research, plausible explanations dwindled.

“The best explanation we have at the moment is that these microbes did not change much since their physical locations separated during the breakup of supercontinent Pangaea, about 175 million years ago,” Stepanauskas said. “They appear to be living fossils from those days. That sounds quite crazy and goes against the contemporary understanding of microbial evolution.”

What this means for the pace of microbial evolution, which often happens at a much more accelerated rate, is surprising. Many well-studied bacteria, such as E. coli, have been found to evolve in only a few years in response to environmental changes, such as exposure to antibiotics.

Stepanauskas and his colleagues hypothesize the standstill evolution they discovered is due to the microbe’s powerful protections against mutation, which have essentially locked their genetic code. If the researchers are correct, this would be a rare feature with potentially valuable benefits.

Microbial enzymes that create copies of DNA molecules, called DNA polymerases, are widely used in biotechnology. Enzymes with high fidelity, or the ability to recreate themselves with little differences between the copy and the original, are especially valuable.

“There’s a high demand for DNA polymerases that don’t make many mistakes,” Stepanauskas said. “Such enzymes may be useful for DNA sequencing, diagnostic tests, and gene therapy.”

Beyond potential applications, the results of this study could have far-reaching implications and change the way scientists think about microbial genetics and the pace of their evolution.

“These findings are a powerful reminder that the various microbial branches we observe on the tree of life may differ vastly in the time since their last common ancestor,” Becraft said. “Understanding this is critical to understanding the history of life on Earth.”

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Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences is an independent, nonprofit research institute located in East Boothbay, Maine. From the Arctic to the Antarctic, Bigelow Laboratory scientists use innovative approaches to study the foundation of global ocean health and unlock its potential to improve the future for all life on the planet. Learn more at bigelow.org, and join the conversation on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter.

Drought Conditions Intensify Across California and Nevada

Drought Conditions Intensify Across California and Nevada

Above: WestWide Drought Tracker data for winter 2020-21 show that precipitation levels across California and Nevada have fallen far below normal. Credit: WRCC/DRI.


91 percent of California and 100 percent of Nevada now in drought

Reno, Nev. (Mar 11, 2021) – Drought conditions are intensifying across California and Nevada, with U.S. Drought Monitor showing 91 percent of California and 100 percent of Nevada now in drought, according to a Drought Status Update released this morning by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS), the California-Nevada Applications Program (CNAP), and the Western Regional Climate Center at the Desert Research Institute.

The Drought Status Update is issued every two weeks on Drought.gov as part of the California-Nevada Drought Early Warning System and communicates the current state of drought conditions in California and Nevada using information from sources such as the U.S. Drought Monitor, NOAA, CNAP, the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), the Center for Western Weather and Water Extremes (CW3E), and others.

According to today’s update, California and Nevada remain entrenched in moderate-to-exceptional levels of drought, with precipitation totals and snowpack falling below normal. Although recent spring storms have brought moisture to certain areas of the region, those and other potential spring storms are not expected to significantly improve the drought conditions.

“The chance of getting back to an average snowpack for this winter is looking less and less likely,” said Tamara Wall, Ph.D., Associate Research Professor at DRI and Co-Principal Investigator of the CNAP program. “It is time to really start thinking about the impact that this will have across California and Nevada as we move into the warmer months.”

In Nevada, conditions are especially dire, with 40 percent of the state now classified by the U.S. Drought Monitor as “exceptional drought,” or D4 – more area than at any point during the previous drought of 2012-2016. In the Carson, Truckee, and Walker Basins, reservoir storage is also lower than it was this time last year, all currently at less than 40 percent of capacity.

During the last two weeks, the authors have noted a significant increase in drought impact reports from water utilities to agriculture as it has become clearer that drought is here to stay in California and Nevada and the region’s odds of reaching normal are low.

“Recently, we’ve seen confirmation that any remaining storms won’t bring much drought relief and drought impacts are intensifying and expanding,” said Amanda Sheffield, Ph.D., NOAA NIDIS Regional Drought Information Coordinator for California-Nevada.

Seasonal forecasts predict a continuation of warm, dry conditions over the Great Basin and Southwestern U.S. as we head into spring and early summer. As drought conditions intensify, impacts to agriculture, water supplies, and forests are expected, as well as increased wildfire potential.

“The abnormally dry conditions that we’ve had this winter mean a second dry year for much of California and Nevada, which means that working on our drought preparedness right now is essential,” said Julie Kalansky, CNAP Program Manager, Scripps Institution of Oceanography. “These conditions have potential implications for agriculture, ecosystem health, water supply, and fire potential.”

Additional information:

To view the full Drought Status Update for March 11, 2021, on Drought.gov, please visit: https://www.drought.gov/drought-status-updates/drought-status-update-california-nevada-2 

Partner logos

 

 

 

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The Desert Research Institute (DRI) is a recognized world leader in basic and applied interdisciplinary research. Committed to scientific excellence and integrity, DRI faculty, students, and staff have developed scientific knowledge and innovative technologies in research projects around the globe. Since 1959, DRI’s research has advanced scientific knowledge, supported Nevada’s diversifying economy, provided science-based educational opportunities, and informed policy makers, business leaders, and community members. With campuses in Reno and Las Vegas, DRI serves as the non-profit research arm of the Nevada System of Higher Education. For more information, please visit  www.dri.edu.

 

Daniel McEvoy Receives Board of Regents 2021 Rising Researcher Award

Daniel McEvoy Receives Board of Regents 2021 Rising Researcher Award

Reno, Nev. (Mar. 9, 2021) – Last week, the Nevada System of Higher Education (NSHE) Board of Regents named Desert Research Institute (DRI) scientist Daniel McEvoy, Ph.D., the recipient of the 2021 Rising Researcher Award. This honor is given annually to one NSHE faculty member from DRI, the University of Nevada, Reno (UNR), and the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) in recognition of their early-career accomplishments and potential for future advancement and recognition in research.

McEvoy is an Assistant Research Professor with DRI’s Division of Atmospheric Sciences and Regional Climatologist for the Western Regional Climate Center. His research has increased our understanding of land surface-atmospheric feedbacks and evaporative processes on droughts, the connections between drought, climate, and wildland fire, and natural resource management applications of weather, climate, and satellite data.

“It is a great honor to receive this year’s Rising Researcher Award,” McEvoy said. “I look forward to continuing my work in climatology for many years to come.”

Some of McEvoy’s most recent published work describes how changes in evaporative demand (a measure of how dry the air is, sometimes described as “atmospheric thirst”) is expected to impact the frequency of extreme fire danger and drought in Nevada and California through the end of the 21st century. He specializes in using big climate data to create applied climate products such as Climate Engine and the Evaporative Demand Drought Index that can be accessed and used in real-world settings such as land and water management.

During the first five years of his career, McEvoy has given over 60 presentations at national scientific conferences and workshops, published 17 peer-reviewed publications to high-quality journals such as Geophysical Research Letters and Journal of Hydrometeorology, and has contributed to two book chapters. McEvoy has also successfully developed and funded more than a dozen grants and contracts from diverse sources such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, California Department of Water Resources, NASA, SERVIR, and Google. These funded projects total more than $3.2 million.

McEvoy holds Ph.D. and M.S. degrees in Atmospheric Science from the University of Nevada, Reno, and a B.S. in Environmental Science from Plattsburgh State University of New York. He joined DRI in 2010 as a graduate research assistant working under advisor John Mejia, Ph.D.

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The Desert Research Institute (DRI) is a recognized world leader in basic and applied interdisciplinary research. Committed to scientific excellence and integrity, DRI faculty, students, and staff have developed scientific knowledge and innovative technologies in research projects around the globe. Since 1959, DRI’s research has advanced scientific knowledge, supported Nevada’s diversifying economy, provided science-based educational opportunities, and informed policy makers, business leaders, and community members. With campuses in Reno and Las Vegas, DRI serves as the non-profit research arm of the Nevada System of Higher Education. For more information, please visit  www.dri.edu.

Desert Research Institute Foundation Welcomes New Board Members and Officers

Desert Research Institute Foundation Welcomes New Board Members and Officers

Newly-Appointed Trustees and Officers Bring Diverse Experience and Background to Leadership Roles at Global Environmental Research Leader 

LAS VEGAS (Feb. 23, 2021) – The DRI Research Foundation, based in Nevada, is announcing the addition of long-time community leaders to its Board of Trustees and the selection of its Board leadership at the state’s top environmental research institute.

The Members of the Board of Trustees of the DRI Foundation have elected the following individuals as officers of the Foundation for a two-year term beginning January 1, 2021:

  • Michael Benjamin, Chair
  • Nora James, Vice-Chair
  • Kenneth G. Ladd II, Treasurer

Benjamin is a serial entrepreneur presently involved in medical technology, marketing and farming, James is a long-time writer and editor, and Ladd, in addition to serving as the Chair of the Board for Nevada HAND, is a retired national bank executive.

DRI Foundation also welcomed the following new Trustees to the Board, each serving a four-year term, beginning January 1, 2021:

  • Mark Foree, General Manager at Truckee Meadows Water Authority
  • Mary Kay Gallagher, Philanthropist and Trustee of the Tom and Mary Gallagher Foundation
  • Steve Hill, Chief Executive Officer of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority
  • Stephanie Kruse, Founder and Chair of the Board at KPS3 Advertising, Web and Public Relations
  • Kristin McMillan Porter, Senior Advisor at the Porter Group LLC

“We are proud to welcome the new trustees to the DRI Foundation Board and congratulate our outstanding current trustees as they take on greater responsibility in their new leadership roles as officers,” said Dr. Kumud Acharya, DRI President. “The combined experience and skills of our Board members will be invaluable in making lasting contributions toward supporting the overall mission of environmental stewardship through focused broader outreach, private philanthropy and ambassadorship.”

The upcoming DRI Nevada Medal 2021 honoring former NASA Astronaut and Earth Explorer Dr. Kathryn D. Sullivan, is an example of key programs under the guidance of the DRI Foundation leadership. This year’s Nevada Medal titled, Sea, Earth and Sky: Celebrating the Spirit of Exploration, Discovery and Innovation, will be made available globally as a special, evening hour-long program for the first time in its 30-year history. To register for the free virtual event please visit NevadaMedal.com.

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The DRI Foundation serves to cultivate private philanthropic giving in support of the mission and vision of the Desert Research Institute. For over 25 years 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.  

The Desert Research Institute (DRI) is a recognized world leader in basic and applied interdisciplinary research. Committed to scientific excellence and integrity, DRI faculty, students, and staff have developed scientific knowledge and innovative technologies in research projects around the globe. Since 1959, DRI’s research has advanced scientific knowledge, supported Nevada’s diversifying economy, provided science-based educational opportunities, and informed policymakers, business leaders, and community members. With campuses in Reno and Las Vegas, DRI serves as the non-profit research arm of the Nevada System of Higher Education. For more information, please visit  www.dri.edu.

Traditional hydrologic models may misidentify snow as rain, new citizen science data shows

Traditional hydrologic models may misidentify snow as rain, new citizen science data shows

Traditional hydrologic models may misidentify snow as rain, new citizen science data shows

FEB. 22, 2021
RENO, NEV.

Weather Forecasting
Climate
Citizen Science

Tahoe Rain or Snow weather spotters help reduce inaccuracies in estimating precipitation

Normally, we think of the freezing point of water as 32°F – but in the world of weather forecasting and hydrologic prediction, that isn’t always the case. In the Lake Tahoe region of the Sierra Nevada, the shift from snow to rain during winter storms may actually occur at temperatures closer to 39.5°F, according to new research from the Desert Research Institute (DRI), Lynker Technologies, and citizen scientists from the Tahoe Rain or Snow project.

The new paper, which published this month in Frontiers in Earth Science, used data collected by 200 volunteer weather spotters to identify the temperature cutoff between rain and snow in winter storms that occurred during the 2020 season. Their results have implications for the accuracy of water resources management, weather forecasting, and more.

“Scientists use a temperature threshold to determine where and when a storm will transition from rain to snow, but if that threshold is off, it can affect our predictions of flooding, snow accumulation, and even avalanche formation,” said Keith Jennings, Ph.D., Water Resources Scientist at Lynker Technologies and one of the lead authors on the study.

DRI scientist Monica Arienzo collects data for the Tahoe Rain or Snow project with Lake Tahoe in the distance.
From a backcountry area near Lake Tahoe, Desert Research Institute scientist Monica Arienzo collects field data from her smartphone for the Tahoe Rain or Snow project. January 2021.
Credit: DRI.
Thumbnail image of Tahoe Rain or Snow paper

The full text of the study “Enhancing Engagement of Citizen Scientists to Monitor Precipitation Phase” is available from Frontiers in Environmental Science: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/feart.2021.617594/full

Previous studies have found that thresholds used are particularly problematic in the Sierra Nevada, where a significant proportion of winter precipitation falls near 32°F. When the temperature is near freezing, weather forecasts and hydrologic models have difficulty correctly predicting whether it will be raining or snowing.

Tahoe Rain or Snow was launched in 2019 to take on the challenge of enhancing the prediction of snow accumulation and rainfall that may lead to flooding by making real-time observations of winter weather. The team is comprised of two scientists, one education specialist, and about 200 volunteer weather spotters from the Lake Tahoe and western slope regions of the Sierra Nevada and Truckee Meadows.

Tahoe Rain or Snow harnesses the power of hundreds of local volunteers. The real-time observations that they share with scientists add an incredible amount of value to the study of hydrology and clarify crucial gaps left by weather models,” said Meghan Collins, M.S., Education Program Manager for DRI and another lead author on the paper.

DRI scientist Meghan Collins collects data from her smartphone for the Tahoe Rain or Snow project
Closeup of smartphone displaying the Citizen Science Tahoe app
Above: Desert Research Institute scientist Meghan Collins collects data from her smartphone for the Tahoe Rain or Snow project using the Citizen Science Tahoe app during January 2021.

Credit: DRI (left) and Keith Jennings/Lynker Techologies (right)

In 2020, these citizen scientists submitted over 1,000 timestamped, geotagged observations of precipitation phases through the Citizen Science Tahoe mobile phone app.

Ground-based observations submitted by the Tahoe Rain or Snow team in 2020 showed that a much warmer temperature threshold of 39.5°F for splitting precipitation into rain and snow may be more accurate for our mountain region. In contrast, a 32°F rain-snow temperature threshold would have vastly overpredicted rainfall, leading to pronounced underestimates of snow accumulation. Such model errors can lead to issues in water resources management, travel planning, and avalanche risk prediction.

Tahoe Rain or Snow citizen scientists across our region open a door to improve our understanding of winter storms”, said Monica Arienzo, Ph.D., Assistant Research Professor of Hydrology at DRI and another lead author on the paper. “Growing our team of volunteer scientists is important given that climate change is causing the proportion of precipitation falling as snow to decrease, and they help enhance the predictions of precipitation that we rely on in the Sierra Nevada and Truckee Meadows.”

Tahoe Rain or Snow is continuing in 2021. To join, text WINTER to 877-909-0798. You will find out how to download the Citizen Science Tahoe app and receive alerts as to good times to send weather observations. Tahoe Rain or Snow particularly needs observations from sparsely populated, remote, or backcountry areas of the Sierra Nevada.

DRI scientist Monica Arienzo collects data for the Tahoe Rain or Snow project with a rainbow-colored umbrella
Desert Research Institute scientist Monica Arienzo collects field data from her smartphone for the Tahoe Rain or Snow project. January 2021.
Credit: DRI.

Additional Information:

This study was funded by Nevada NASA EPSCoR Grant 20-23, 19-40.

The full text of the study “Enhancing Engagement of Citizen Scientists to Monitor Precipitation Phase” is available from Frontiers in Environmental Science: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/feart.2021.617594/full

To learn more about the Tahoe Rain or Snow project, please visit: https://www.dri.edu/project/tahoe-rain-or-snow/

 

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The Desert Research Institute (DRI) is a recognized world leader in basic and applied interdisciplinary research. Committed to scientific excellence and integrity, DRI faculty, students, and staff have developed scientific knowledge and innovative technologies in research projects around the globe. Since 1959, DRI’s research has advanced scientific knowledge, supported Nevada’s diversifying economy, provided science-based educational opportunities, and informed policymakers, business leaders, and community members. With campuses in Reno and Las Vegas, DRI serves as the non-profit research arm of the Nevada System of Higher Education. For more information, please visit  www.dri.edu.

Lynker Technologies delivers innovative solutions to support global environmental sustainability and economic prosperity as a trusted partner to governments, communities, research institutions, and industry. We are passionate about what we do and the high value we provide to water resources management, hydrologic science, and conservation across the US and beyond. For more information, please visit https://www.lynker.com/.

Hundreds Around the Globe Gather Online to Hear Earth Week Message from  Scientist, Explorer Dr. Kathryn D. Sullivan During World Premiere of the  Desert Research Institute Foundation’s Special Presentation

DRI Foundation Celebrates International Women and Girls in Science Day Feb. 11; Launches NevadaMedal.com registration for spring event honoring world-renowned former NASA Astronaut

The 31st DRI Nevada Medal will honor Earth Explorer Dr. Kathryn D. Sullivan during special evening hour-long virtual program on April 20, 2021

 

LAS VEGAS (Feb. 9, 2021) – DRI Foundation is marking International Women and Girls in Science Day on February 11 with the launch of NevadaMedal.com. The web portal will be the place to register and learn more about the upcoming 31st DRI Nevada Medal which will be held on Tuesday, April 20, 2021 at 5 p.m. PDT in honor of Dr. Kathryn D. Sullivan.

Titled “Sea, Earth and Sky: Celebrating the Spirit of Scientific Exploration, Discovery and Innovation,” the special evening hour-long program will highlight Dr. Sullivan’s remarkable career as a geologist, oceanographer, NASA astronaut and administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

“As the first American woman to walk in space and the first woman ever to reach the deepest-known spot in our Earth’s oceans, we believe Dr. Sullivan exemplifies what this day is all about,” said Dr. Kumud Acharya, DRI President. “We felt it was only fitting then that we mark the spirit of this day with launching the website for the special event that will recognize Dr. Sullivan’s contributions to the world through her exploration and discoveries.”

The April 20 program will highlight DRI’s groundbreaking and innovative work in environmental research. For more than six decades, DRI’s trailblazing scientists have studied our earth, skies, and waterways in order to make our world a better place to live.

“For more than 30 years, DRI has bestowed the Nevada Medal to the great minds of the science, technology and engineering fields. This year will be a celebration of an adventurer, explorer, and trailblazer unlike any other,” said Dr. Acharya.

A key feature of the program will be a fireside chat between Dr. Sullivan and James Fallows, award-winning writer and national correspondent for The Atlantic. Sullivan will share stories and memorable moments from her life-changing work, recounting her experience as a member of the team that launched and maintained the Hubble Space Telescope. She also will describe her voyage to the Challenger Deep in the Mariana Trench, about seven miles below the ocean’s surface.

The special virtual program is free and open to a limited audience. Early registration is encouraged at NevadaMedal.com.

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The DRI Foundation serves to cultivate private philanthropic giving in support of the mission and vision of the Desert Research Institute. For over 25 years 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. 

The Desert Research Institute (DRI) is a recognized world leader in basic and applied interdisciplinary research. Committed to scientific excellence and integrity, DRI faculty, students, and staff have developed scientific knowledge and innovative technologies in research projects around the globe. Since 1959, DRI’s research has advanced scientific knowledge, supported Nevada’s diversifying economy, provided science-based educational opportunities, and informed policy makers, business leaders, and community members. With campuses in Reno and Las Vegas, DRI serves as the non-profit research arm of the Nevada System of Higher Education. For more information, please visit  www.dri.edu.

As climate warms, summer monsoons to produce less streamflow

As climate warms, summer monsoons to produce less streamflow

Photo caption: A monsoon rain event in the East River watershed of Colorado, a pristine, high elevation, snow-dominated headwater basin of the Colorado River. Credit: Xavier Fane.


New study holds implications for future water supply in the Colorado River Basin

 

Las Vegas, Nev. (Monday, Feb. 1, 2021) – In the summer of 2019, Desert Research Institute (DRI) scientist Rosemary Carroll, Ph.D., waited for the arrival of the North American Monsoon, which normally brings a needed dose of summer moisture to the area where she lives in Crested Butte, Colo. – but for the fourth year in a row, the rains never really came.

“2019 had just a horrendous monsoon,” Carroll said. “Just the weakest monsoon. And we’d had a few years of weak monsoons before that, which had really gotten me wondering, how important is the monsoon to late summer streamflow here in the Upper Colorado River basin? And how do monsoons influence the following year’s streamflow?”

Working in partnership with colleagues David Gochis, Ph.D., of the National Center for Atmospheric Research and Kenneth Williams, Ph.D., of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Carroll set out to explore the importance of monsoon rain in streamflow generation in a Colorado River headwater basin.

The team’s findings, which are published in a new paper in Geophysical Research Letters, point to both the importance of monsoon rains in maintaining the Upper Colorado River’s water supply and the diminishing ability of monsoons to replenish summer streamflow in a warmer future with less snow accumulation.

Their study focuses on the East River watershed, a pristine, high elevation, snow-dominated headwater basin of the Colorado River and part of the Watershed Function Scientific Focus Area (SFA) program that is exploring how disturbances in mountain systems – such as floods, drought, changing snowpack and earlier snowmelt – impact the downstream delivery of water, nutrients, carbon, and metals.

Using a hydrologic model and multiple decades of climate data from the East River watershed, Carroll and her colleagues found that monsoon rains normally deliver about 18 percent of the basin’s water and produce about 10 percent of the annual streamflow, with streamflow generated primarily in the higher elevations of the basin.

“The amount of streamflow produced by monsoons, while not geographically extensive, is actually somewhat substantial,” Carroll said. “It was larger than I thought it would be. That doesn’t mean all of that water gets to a reservoir – some likely is used by riparian vegetation or irrigation, but it still does go to meet some need within the basin.”

DRI scientist Rosemary Carroll stands in the East River measuring stream discharge in Colorado.

Desert Research Institute scientist Rosemary Carroll measures stream discharge in the East River, Colorado. Credit: Kenneth H. Williams.

Next, the team explored the ability of these summer rains to produce streamflow during cool years with high snow accumulation, and during warm years with less snow accumulation. During cool years with more snow, soil moisture levels were higher going into summer, and greater streamflow was generated by the monsoon rains. During warmer years with low snowpack, dry soils absorbed much of the monsoonal rains, and less runoff made it to the streams.

“You can think of the soil zone as a sponge that needs to fill up before it can allow water to move through it,” Carroll said. “So, if it’s already depleted because you had low snowpack, the monsoon then has to fill it back up, and that decreases the amount of water you actually get in the river.”

As the climate warms, snowpack in the Rocky Mountains and other mountain systems is expected to decline, leading to reduced streamflow. Rising temperatures also lead to increased soil evaporation and increased water use by plants. According to the results of Carroll’s study, these changes will reduce the ability of water from the monsoon to make it to the river as streamflow.

“Our results indicate that as we move toward a climate that is warmer and our snowpack decreases, the ability of monsoon rain to buffer these losses in streamflow is also going to go down,” Carroll said. “So, the monsoon is not some silver bullet that is going to help mitigate those changes.”

The Colorado River is a critically important resource for people living in Southern Nevada, where it accounts for about 90 percent of the water supply. Although runoff from winter snowpack provides a much larger proportion of streamflow each year than the monsoons, the monsoonal moisture is important to both ecosystems and people in part because it arrives at a different time of year. And in a system like the Colorado River, where every drop of water is allocated, if monsoon rains do not arrive, it creates a shortage somewhere downstream.

“In terms of water resources, if monsoon rains are useful and contribute to late-season streamflow, then the loss of that water obviously has implications for the ecology of these systems,” Carroll said. “This water is really important in supporting aquatic habitat there. But it’s also really important for human use. If any amount of water that we rely on isn’t there,  then something has to give. The Upper Basin will have to consider how they are going to manage their water to meet those downstream obligations.”

Additional information:

The full text of the study, Efficiency of the Summer Monsoon in Generating Streamflow Within a Snow‐Dominated Headwater Basin of the Colorado River, is available from Geophysical Research Letters: https://agupubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1029/2020GL090856

For more information on Rosemary Carroll, please visit: https://www.dri.edu/directory/rosemary-carroll/

For more information on the Watershed Function Scientific Focus Area (SFA) program, please visit: http://watershed.lbl.gov/ 

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The Desert Research Institute (DRI) is a recognized world leader in basic and applied interdisciplinary research. Committed to scientific excellence and integrity, DRI faculty, students, and staff have developed scientific knowledge and innovative technologies in research projects around the globe. Since 1959, DRI’s research has advanced scientific knowledge, supported Nevada’s diversifying economy, provided science-based educational opportunities, and informed policy makers, business leaders, and community members. With campuses in Reno and Las Vegas, DRI serves as the non-profit research arm of the Nevada System of Higher Education. For more information, please visit  www.dri.edu.

Renown Institute for Health Innovation expands partnership with Gilead Sciences and Siemens Healthineers to offer ELF – Enhanced Liver Fibrosis testing for Nevada NASH study participants

Together, will test over 30,000 qualifying study participants by 2023 for risk of cirrhosis and liver-related illnesses

RENO, Nev. (Dec. 15, 2020) – Renown Institute for Health (IHI)  announced today that the organization and Gilead Sciences, Inc. will be joining forces with Siemens Healthineers to offer the Enhanced Liver Fibrosis (ELF™) Test to people with risks for nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) enrolled in the Healthy Nevada Project (HNP).

The ELF Test will help identify people most at risk for progressing to cirrhosis and liver-related outcomes and allow healthcare providers to intervene before irreparable damage occurs. This noninvasive blood test uses three serum biomarkers to create an ELF score from a predefined algorithm, which can be used by doctors to help evaluate if a patient requires increased medical care and monitoring for their condition.

Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), which includes NASH, is prevalent in Nevada and under-diagnosed, likely affecting more than 500,000 adult Nevadans. If undetected and untreated, NASH can result in liver cirrhosis and may require liver transplantation or lead to death. There are more than 12,000 people on a waitlist for liver transplantation in the US and this number continues to rise due to the increasing prevalence of NAFLD.

“Thanks to important data collected through our Nonalcoholic Steatohepatitis Liver Disease Genome Atlas study, we now know that NASH is prevalent in the state of Nevada,” said Tony Slonim, M.D., DrPH, FACHE, president and CEO of Renown Health. “We are proud to expand our partnership with Gilead and begin working with Siemens Healthineers to improve health of those with liver disease and to take early detection one step further by offering Enhanced Liver Fibrosis, ELF testing for patients of Renown Health. This test provides our team of highly-skilled physicians an advanced, noninvasive method to actively assess dynamic liver fibrosis in study participants and intervene whenever necessary, contributing to a healthier Nevada.”

“Gilead believes that noninvasive tests, including the ELF Test, will help improve the experience of people living with NASH. These tests may help to diagnose liver disease, monitor disease progression and evaluate responses to treatment without the requirement for liver biopsy,” said Rob Myers, MD, Vice President, Liver Fibrosis Clinical Research at Gilead Sciences. “The ELF Test has proven itself to be a valuable tool in NASH management and we hope this partnership will further support its use in routine care.”

“We are very pleased that NASH patients in the Healthy Nevada Project ® now have access to the ELF Test which offers clinically useful prognostic information for their condition with the convenience of a simple blood test. Using our advanced laboratory expertise together with Renown IHI and Gilead, we can work toward better understanding of NASH and liver disease in a representative patient population,” said Sebastian Kronmueller, Head of Molecular Diagnostics at Siemens Healthineers.

“We launched the Healthy Nevada Project ® to help people understand more about their health, to identify serious health risks, and to give people access to innovations like ELF, so that they can live their best lives,” said Renown’s chief scientific officer, Dr. Joseph Grzymski, who is also a research professor at the Desert Research Institute and principal investigator of the Healthy Nevada Project ®. It’s incredibly rewarding to be able to report clinical findings to help our 50,000 volunteer study participants, and to assist healthcare providers in helping their patients.”

The provision of the ELF Test builds on a previously announced strategic collaboration between the Renown IHI and Gilead in July 2019. This ongoing partnership aims to collect and analyze de-identified genetic and electronic health data from 60,000 qualifying study participants to enhance the understanding of NAFLD and NASH and to potentially inform development of treatment options for these diseases.   

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About NAFLD and NASH

NAFLD is a build-up of fat in the liver of people who do not have a history of alcohol misuse. It is normal for the liver to contain some fat, but if more than 5 percent of the liver content is fat, it’s considered a fatty liver (steatosis). NASH is the most severe form of NAFLD in which a person has liver cell damage and inflammation of the liver.  Inflammation and liver cell damage can cause fibrosis, or scarring of the liver, and can cause decreased liver function (1).  The symptoms of NASH are often silent or non-specific, making it difficult to diagnose.  About one-third of people with NASH develop cirrhosis or irreversible liver damage (2).

About the ELF™ Test

The ELF Test is a noninvasive blood test that can quickly identify which patients are at an elevated risk for developing cirrhosis and other liver-related clinical events (LREs). In contrast to standard liver enzyme tests that reflect liver damage that has already occurred, the ELF Test combines the three serum direct biomarkers of active fibrosis.

The ELF Test algorithm measures each of these biomarkers to create an ELF score, which can be used as an aid to assess the risk for future disease progression. Doctors may use this ELF score to help evaluate if a patient requires increased medical care and monitoring for their condition. Individuals interested in determining their risk for NASH and its progression are encouraged to enroll in the Nonalcoholic Steatohepatitis Liver Disease Genome Atlas study. Those who have already consented and participated in the study will be contacted with more information on how to receive an ELF blood test. For more information or to enroll, please contact RenownIHI@renown.org or (775) 982-6914.

The Enhanced Liver Fibrosis (ELF™) Test kit is not available for sale in the U.S. Product availability may vary from country to country and is subject to varying regulatory requirements.

In the U.S., the ELF Testing Service is available from Siemens Healthcare Laboratory, LLC (SHL), a CLIA-certified laboratory located in Berkeley, Calif. The ELF Testing Service, including the establishment of performance characteristics, was developed by SHL. The ELF Test has not been cleared or approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. SHL is regulated under CLIA as qualified to perform high complexity testing. The ELF Test is used for clinical purposes and should not be regarded as investigational use only or research use only.

About Renown Health

Renown Health is the region’s largest, locally owned and 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’s institute model addresses social determinants of health and includes: Child Health, Behavioral Health & Addiction, Healthy Aging and Health Innovation. Clinical institutes include: Cancer, Heart and Vascular Health, Neurosciences and Robotic Surgery. 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 Renown Institute for Health Innovation

Renown Institute for Health Innovation is a collaboration between Renown Health – a locally governed and locally owned, not-for-profit integrated healthcare network serving Nevada, Lake Tahoe and northeast California; and the Desert Research Institute – a recognized world leader in investigating the effects of natural and human-induced environmental change and advancing technologies aimed at assessing a changing planet. Renown IHI research teams are focused on integrating personal healthcare and environmental data with socioeconomic determinants to help Nevada address some of its most complex environmental health problems; while simultaneously expanding the state’s access to leading-edge clinical trials and fostering new connections with biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies.

Renown Health is Nevada’s most comprehensive and integrated healthcare network and maintains electronic health records for 1.02 million registered patients. In 2016, Renown Health and the Desert Research Institute established the Healthy Nevada Project (HNP), the nation’s first community-based population health study. In 2017 HNP began a partnership with Helix to leverage its population health services, Exome+™ sequencing, and consumer engagement tools. The HNP is now an ongoing collaboration between Renown IHI, the Desert Research Institute, a global leader in environmental data and applied research, and Helix, a personal genomics company. HNP combines genetic, environmental, social and clinical data to address individual and community health needs with the goal of improving health across the state and the nation. The HNP currently has over 60,000 participants. For more information, visit healthynv.org.

About Gilead Sciences

Gilead Sciences, Inc. is a research-based biopharmaceutical company that discovers, develops and commercializes innovative medicines in areas of unmet medical need. The company strives to transform and simplify care for people with life-threatening illnesses around the world. Gilead has operations in more than 35 countries worldwide, with headquarters in Foster City, California. For more information on Gilead Sciences, please visit the company’s website at www.gilead.com.

About Siemens Healthineers

Siemens Healthineers AG (listed in Frankfurt, Germany: SHL) is shaping the future of Healthcare. As a leading medical technology company headquartered in Erlangen, Germany, Siemens Healthineers enables healthcare providers worldwide through its regional companies to increase value by empowering them on their journey towards expanding precision medicine, transforming care delivery, improving the patient experience, and digitalizing healthcare. Siemens Healthineers is continuously developing its product and service portfolio, with AI-supported applications and digital offerings that play an increasingly important role in the next generation of medical technology. These new applications will enhance the company’s foundation in in-vitro diagnostic, image-guided therapy, and in-vivo diagnostics. Siemens Healthineers also provides a range of services and solutions to enhance healthcare providers ability to provide high-quality, efficient care to patients. In fiscal 2020, which ended on September 30, 2020, Siemens Healthineers, which has approximately 54,000 employees worldwide, generated revenue of €14.5 billion and adjusted EBIT of €2.2 billion. Further information is available at www.siemens-healthineers.com.

What happens when rain falls on desert soils? An updated model provides answers

What happens when rain falls on desert soils? An updated model provides answers

What happens when rain falls on desert soils?

DEC. 14, 2020
LAS VEGAS, NEV.

Soils
Hydrology
Deserts

An updated model from DRI scientists in Las Vegas provides a new understanding of water movement in dry soils

Several years ago, while studying the environmental impacts of large-scale solar farms in the Nevada desert, Desert Research Institute (DRI) scientists Yuan Luo, Ph.D. and Markus Berli, Ph.D. became interested in one particular question: how does the presence of thousands of solar panels impact desert hydrology?

This question led to more questions. “How do solar panels change the way water hits the ground when it rains?” they asked. “Where does the water go? How much of the rain water  stays in the soil? How deep does it go into the soil?”

“To understand how solar panels impact desert hydrology, we basically needed a better understanding of how desert soils function hydraulically,” explained Luo, postdoctoral researcher with DRI’s Division of Hydrologic Sciences and lead author of a new study in Vadose Zone Journal.

DRI scientists Yuan Luo (left) and Markus Berli (right) inside of DRI's SEPHAS Lysimeter facility in Boulder City, Nev.

DRI scientists Yuan Luo (left) and Markus Berli (right) conducting research at DRI’s SEPHAS Lysimeter facility in Boulder City, Nev. November 2020.

Photograph by Ali Swallow/DRI.

The full text of the paper “Modeling near-surface water redistribution in a desert soil”, is available from Vadose Zone Journal: https://acsess.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/vzj2.20081

In the study, Luo, Berli, and colleagues Teamrat Ghezzehei, Ph.D. of the University of California, Merced, and Zhongbo Yu, Ph.D. of the University of Hohai, China, make important improvements to our understanding of how water moves through and gets stored in dry soils by refining an existing computer model.

The model, called HYDRUS-1D, simulates how water redistributes in a sandy desert soil based on precipitation and evaporation data. A first version of the model was developed by a previous DRI graduate student named Jelle Dijkema, but was not working well under conditions where soil moisture levels near the soil surface were very low.

To refine and expand the usefulness of Dijkema’s model, Luo analyzed data from DRI’s SEPHAS Lysimeter facility, located in Boulder City, Nev. Here, large, underground, soil-filled steel tanks have been installed over truck scales to allow researchers to study natural water gains and losses in a soil column under controlled conditions.

Above: Yuan Luo and Markus Berli of DRI’s Division of Hydrologic Sciences used data from DRI’s SEPHAS Lysimeter facility (shown here) to refine an existing model called HYDRUS-1D, which simulates how water moves through dry soils.

Photographs by Ali Swallow/DRI.

Using data from the lysimeters, Luo explored the use of several hydraulic equations to refine Dijkema’s model. The end result, which is described in the new paper, was an improved understanding and model of how moisture moves through and is stored in the upper layers of dry desert soils.

“The first version of the model had some shortcomings,” Luo explained. “It wasn’t working well for very dry soils with volumetric water content lower than 10 percent. The SEPHAS lysimeters provided us with really good data to help understand the phenomenon of how water moves through dry soils as a result of rainfall and evaporation.” 

In desert environments, understanding the movement of water through soils is helpful for a variety of practical uses, including soil restoration, erosion and dust management, and flood risk mitigation. For example, this model will be useful for desert restoration projects, where project managers need to know how much water will be available in the soil  for plants after a desert rainstorm, Berli said. It is also a key piece of the puzzle needed to help answer their original question about how solar farms impact desert hydrology.

“The model is very technical, but all of this technical stuff is just a mathematical way to describe how rainwater moves in the soil once the water hits the soil,” Berli said. “In the bigger picture, this study was motivated by the very practical question of what happens to rainwater when falling on solar farms with thousands and thousands of solar panels in the desert – but to answer questions like that, sometimes you have to dig deep and answer more fundamental questions first.”

Yuan Luo near a lysimeter tank at DRI's SEPHAS Lysimeter facility in boulder city, nevada

DRI scientist Yuan Luo standes near a weighing lysimeter at DRI’s SEPHAS Lysimeter facility in Boulder City, Nev. November 2020.

Photograph by Ali Swallow/DRI.

“In the bigger picture, this study was motivated by the very practical question of what happens to rainwater when falling on solar farms with thousands and thousands of solar panels in the desert – but to answer questions like that, sometimes you have to dig deep and answer more fundamental questions first.”

Additional Information:

This study was funded by the DRI Foundation Innovative Research Program, the National Science Foundation, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Rose Shillito, Ph.D. (DRI/ACOE) and Nicole Damon (DRI) also contributed to the success of this project.

The full text of the paper “Modeling near-surface water redistribution in a desert soil”, is available from Vadose Zone Journal: https://acsess.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/vzj2.20081  

To learn more about DRI’s SEPHAS Lysimeter facility, please visit: https://www.dri.edu/sephas/lysimeters/

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The Desert Research Institute (DRI) is a recognized world leader in basic and applied interdisciplinary research. Committed to scientific excellence and integrity, DRI faculty, students, and staff have developed scientific knowledge and innovative technologies in research projects around the globe. Since 1959, DRI’s research has advanced scientific knowledge, supported Nevada’s diversifying economy, provided science-based educational opportunities, and informed policy makers, business leaders, and community members. With campuses in Reno and Las Vegas, DRI serves as the non-profit research arm of the Nevada System of Higher Education. For more information, please visit  www.dri.edu.

Researchers Markus Berli and Yuan Luo near a sign for the Desert Research Institute

DRI scientists Markus Berli and Yuan Luo. November 2020.

Photograph by Ali Swallow/DRI.

Climate change and “atmospheric thirst” to increase fire danger and drought in Nevada and California

Climate change and “atmospheric thirst” to increase fire danger and drought in Nevada and California

Climate change and “atmospheric thirst” to increase fire danger and drought in Nevada and California

New study shows impacts of increased levels of evaporative demand as climate grows warmer and drier

Climate change and a “thirsty atmosphere” will bring more extreme wildfire danger and multi-year droughts to Nevada and California by the end of this century, according to new research from the Desert Research Institute (DRI), the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego, and the University of California, Merced.

In a new study published in Earth’s Future, scientists looked at future projections of evaporative demand – a measure of how dry the air is – in California and Nevada through the end of the 21st century. They then examined how changes in evaporative demand would impact the frequency of extreme fire danger and three-year droughts, based on metrics from the Evaporative Demand Drought Index (EDDI) and the Standardized Precipitation Evapotranspiration Index (SPEI).

According to their results, climate change projections show consistent future increases in atmospheric evaporative demand (or the “atmospheric thirst”) over California and Nevada. These changes were largely driven by warmer temperatures, and would likely lead to significant on-the-ground environmental impacts.

 

Maps showing increases in evaporative demand toward end of next century.

Study results show increases of 13 to 18 percent in evaporative demand during all four seasons by the end of the century.

Credit: Dan McEvoy/DRI.

“Higher evaporative demand during summer and autumn—peak fire season in the region—means faster drying of soil moisture and vegetation, and available fuels becoming more flammable, leading to fires that can burn faster and hotter,” explained lead author Dan McEvoy, Ph.D.,  Assistant Research Professor of Climatology at DRI.

“Increased evaporative demand with warming enables fuels to be drier for longer periods,” added coauthor John Abatzoglou, Ph.D., Associate Professor with the University of California, Merced. “This is a recipe for more active fire seasons.”

The research team found that days with extreme fire danger in summer and autumn are expected to increase four to 10 times by the end of the century. Their results also showed that multi-year droughts, similar to that experienced in California and Nevada during 2012-2016, were projected to increase three to 15 times by the end of the century.

“One major takeaway was that we can expect to see a lot more days in the summer and autumn with extreme fire danger related to increased temperature and evaporative demand,” McEvoy said. “Another takeaway was that even in locations where precipitation may not change that much in future, droughts are going to become more severe due to higher evaporative demand.”

Graph showing increase in extreme fire danger days in 2020.

California and Nevada on average experienced a record-setting number of “extreme fire danger” days in 2020, as indicated by the line on the graph above. Extreme fire danger days were calculated using the Evaporative Demand Drought Index (EDDI), with methods described in McEvoy et al. (2020). Data source: http://www.climatologylab.org/gridmet.html.

Credit: Dan McEvoy/DRI.

Study authors say that the cumulative effects of increases in evaporative demand will stress native ecosystems, increase fire danger, negatively impact agriculture where water demands cannot be met, and exacerbate impacts to society during periods of prolonged dryness. Several members of the research team are part of the California-Nevada Applications Program (CNAP), and will use these study results to provide resource managers with a view of possible future scenarios.

“These results provide information to support science-based, long-term planning for fire management agencies, forest management agencies, and water resource managers,” said coauthor Julie Kalansky, Ph.D., Program Manager for CNAP. “We plan to work with partners to help integrate the findings from this paper to support building climate resilience.”

 

Additional Information:

This study was funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) California-Nevada Climate Applications Program (CNAP) and the NOAA National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS) California-Nevada Drought Early Warning System.

The full text of the paper, “Projected Changes in Reference Evapotranspiration in California and Nevada: Implications for Drought and Wildland Fire Danger,” is available from Earth’s Future: https://agupubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1029/2020EF001736

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The Desert Research Institute (DRI) is a recognized world leader in basic and applied interdisciplinary research. Committed to scientific excellence and integrity, DRI faculty, students, and staff have developed scientific knowledge and innovative technologies in research projects around the globe. Since 1959, DRI’s research has advanced scientific knowledge, supported Nevada’s diversifying economy, provided science-based educational opportunities, and informed policy makers, business leaders, and community members. With campuses in Reno and Las Vegas, DRI serves as the non-profit research arm of the Nevada System of Higher Education. For more information, please visit  www.dri.edu.

New luminescence rock dating technique to help answer archaeological questions in Lincoln County, Nevada

New luminescence rock dating technique to help answer archaeological questions in Lincoln County, Nevada

Above: In Coal Valley, located in Lincoln County, Nev., dry playas and ancient shorelines of ice-aged lakes hold clues to some of the Great Basin’s earliest inhabitants. DRI archaeologists are working to learn more about these ancient cultures through a new luminescence dating technique. Credit: DRI.


 

Reno, Nev. (Nov 16, 2020) – In Lincoln County, Nev., dry playas and ancient shorelines of ice-aged lakes hold clues to some of the Great Basin’s earliest inhabitants – but assigning precise dates to archaeological artifacts and features buried within the region’s shifting sands and silts has long proved challenging.

Now, with new funding from the Lincoln County Archaeological Initiative managed by the Bureau of Land Management, a group of scientists led by Christina Neudorf, Ph.D. and Teresa Wriston, Ph.D. of the Desert Research Institute (DRI) in Reno will improve our knowledge of Lincoln County’s rich archaeological history by developing and refining a new technique in luminescence dating.

Luminescence dating, which uses light emitted by minerals to date events in the past, is a technique most commonly applied to silt or sand samples. In this project, the research team will apply new methods in luminescence dating to analyze the burial ages of larger rock samples.

“Trying to develop a technique to date the burial ages of rocks will help us better understand the lake levels of the past and when people would have used or settled along these beaches,” said Neudorf, Assistant Research Professor of Geology and manager of DRI’s Luminescence Laboratory. “We think this will be more accurate than dating sand, which often gets reworked and redeposited over time.”

The project involves several phases. Researchers will first conduct fieldwork in Coal Valley, located within the Basin and Range National Monument, to gather rock samples from pre-approved areas close to known archaeological sites. They will then process the samples at the DRI Luminescence Laboratory in Reno by extracting and dating quartz and feldspar from the rock. Finally, the team will analyze their data and produce a technical report detailing enhanced knowledge of lake history and archaeology for the use of future archaeological surveys in Lincoln County. They will also produce a series of videos that summarize the work.

The ability to date rock surfaces using luminescence dating is an exciting advance that will help archaeologists more quickly identify appropriate areas of the landscape for study, Wriston said. Eventually, she hopes to be able to use this technique to date rock art by identifying when the rock surface was covered with paint, or to date when particular artifacts that have been buried were last used or exposed to light.

“This technique will really revolutionize Paleoamerican archaeological studies in the west,” Wriston said. “We know that people used these shorelines; that’s what attracted the earliest people to the Great Basin. This luminescence dating technique will help us build on results of previous work in the Coal Valley area of Lincoln County and give us a more complete picture of the ancient lake history and people’s place in it.”

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The Desert Research Institute (DRI) is a recognized world leader in basic and applied interdisciplinary research. Committed to scientific excellence and integrity, DRI faculty, students, and staff have developed scientific knowledge and innovative technologies in research projects around the globe. Since 1959, DRI’s research has advanced scientific knowledge, supported Nevada’s diversifying economy, provided science-based educational opportunities, and informed policy makers, business leaders, and community members. With campuses in Reno and Las Vegas, DRI serves as the non-profit research arm of the Nevada System of Higher Education. For more information, please visit  www.dri.edu.

Local Scientists Tackle Timely Nevada Environmental and Climate Discoveries and Solutions During First “Conversations with DRI Innovators” Event

Local Scientists Tackle Timely Nevada Environmental and Climate Discoveries and Solutions During First “Conversations with DRI Innovators” Event

Researchers debriefed global participants on microplastics in the environment, a new online snow tracker tool for water resource management, and the role of dogs in body recovery.

Link to Event Video Presentation Available at – https://www.dri.edu/conversations-with-dri-innovators/.

Las Vegas, Nev. (Friday, Nov. 13, 2020) – Nevada-based scientists from the Desert Research Institute (DRI) shared their most recent findings and potential solutions to environmental and climate change questions with a global audience this week during the first “Conversations with DRI Innovators” virtual event.

Tuesday’s 60-minute presentation featured research on microplastics in Lake Tahoe and the Las Vegas wash using a state-of-the-art instrument, a look at how dogs can help recover drowned victims in the deep waters of Lake Tahoe, and also as criminal trial evidence, the development of a real-time snow tracker online tool, and the chemistry of snowfall in the Sierras for water resource management and public safety.

“These findings have far-reaching impact beyond Nevada and our country as the work of DRI researchers can be found around the world,” said Tina Quigley, DRI Foundation Chair. “While this research was centered throughout Nevada, DRI scientists are working on finding real-life solutions to these real-world questions that will benefit all of us, our families, our earth.”

The DRI Foundation’s Innovation Research Program (IRP) awarded seed grants to kick-start the highlighted research and talented scientists. This early support has been leveraged into other awards such as from the National Science Foundation and National Weather Service to continue expanding their developing research.

“This is donor-driven research funding at its best, and I am proud to be part of the group cheering on some of the greatest minds of the scientific community from right here in Nevada,” added Quigley.

A video recording of the fast-paced, hour-long presentation from IRP grant recipients and DRI faculty along with additional information may be found online at – https://www.dri.edu/conversations-with-dri-innovators/.

The four speakers and the topics covered, in order of presentation along with approximate start times for each, are as follows:

  • :04 – DRI, IRP overview, and speaker introductions. – Tina Quigley, Moderator, Former CEO of the Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada

Each presentation runs approximately 10 minutes.

  • 7:33 – Types of microplastics found at Lake Tahoe and Las Vegas Wash and how an easy to install mesh currently being tested on clothes dryer vents may be part of the solution. – Dr. Monica Arienzo, Assistant Research Professor, DRI Division of Hydrologic Sciences and National Science Foundation Grant Recipient.
  • 22:11 – A new online tool just developed will help track snow droughts in a warmer climate in order to help understand the need for changing water resource management strategies. – Dr. Daniel McEvoy, Assistant Research Professor of Climatology, DRI Division of Atmospheric Sciences, Researcher with the Western Regional Climate Center and National Weather Service Grant Recipient. 
  • 34:23 – Using the chemistry of atmospheric river snowfall to improve water resource management in the Western U.S. – Dr. Nathan Chellman, Postdoctoral Fellow, DRI Division of Hydrologic Sciences. 
  • 46:59 – Advancing the science of canine odor detection – from criminal trials to accidental drownings and how dogs and plants may help detect cadavers. – Dr. Mary E. Cablk, Associate Research Professor of Biology, DRI Division of Earth and Ecosystem Sciences, University of Nevada, Reno Adjunct Professor in Forensic Anthropology
    and Auxiliary Deputy with several county Sheriff Offices in the State of Nevada.

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About the DRI Foundation Innovation Research Program (IRP): The DRI Foundation’s IRP provides the start-up funding DRI scientists need to test new ideas and produce initial data, which will help them build the scientific case for future research projects. The 2020 Innovation Research Project winners were selected through a competitive selection process. The selected projects demonstrate creative, innovative research or technological development that advances DRI’s mission. For more information on this and other upcoming events please visit: https://www.dri.edu/foundation/.

About the Desert Research Institute (DRI): The DRI is a recognized world leader in basic and applied interdisciplinary research. Committed to scientific excellence and integrity, DRI faculty, students, and staff have developed scientific knowledge and innovative technologies in research projects around the globe. Since 1959, DRI’s research has advanced scientific knowledge, supported Nevada’s diversifying economy, provided science-based educational opportunities, and informed policy makers, business leaders, and community members. With campuses in Reno and Las Vegas, DRI serves as the non-profit research arm of the Nevada System of Higher Education. For more information, please visit  www.dri.edu.

Media Contact

Justin Broglio
Communications Manager, Desert Research Institute
775-762-8320
Justin.Broglio@dri.edu
@DRIScience

DRI Archaeologists to document ancient rock art at Fort Hunter Liggett

DRI Archaeologists to document ancient rock art at Fort Hunter Liggett

Caption: Pictographs from a site at Fort Hunter Liggett, processed with D-stretch imagery. DRI Archaeologists will soon travel to Fort Hunter Liggett, in California, to document rock art in high resolution. Credit: Fort Hunter Liggett.


 

Las Vegas, Nev. (Nov. 10, 2020) – Long ago, before widespread European-American settlement, ancestors of the Salinan Tribe left rock art featuring colorful handprints and abstract symbols at various sites located along narrow valleys and rugged hills in southern Monterey County, Calif. This month, a group of Desert Research Institute (DRI) archaeologists will document several of these sites using high resolution photography, in partnership with the U.S. Army’s Fort Hunter Liggett Cultural Resources Management Program.

The project, which is co-led by DRI’s Greg Haynes, Ph.D. and Dave Page, M.A., with technical support from staff at Fort Hunter Liggett, will provide updated photographic documentation and a rock art management plan for pictographs (images painted on rock) and petroglyphs (images carved into rock) at eight different sites located on the grounds of Fort Hunter Liggett. One site, called La Cueva Pintada, or the Painted Cave, is estimated to have hundreds of pictographs and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

“Many of the pictographs are handprints, but kind of unusual – they look like they were made by people swiping their fingers across the rock face,” Haynes said. “There are also various abstract symbols. They’re multicolored – red, white, black, yellow, and possibly blue or green – so part of our work will be to determine what pigments were used and to advise the Army on how to best preserve them.”

The DRI project team includes Megan Stueve, M.A., who will provide expertise in rock art recording and in the photographic documentation of pictographs using D-stretch imagery, a computer program that helps bring out colors that can’t be seen with the naked eye.

“D-stretch, short for decorrelation stretching, is a type of image processing that essentially stretches or exaggerates the colors to make them easier to see,” Stueve explained. “Images that you can already see become very visible and that those are faint hopefully become more visible.”

Rock art at Fort Hunter Liggett

DRI Archaeologists will use D-Stretch imagery to document rock art at Fort Hunter Liggett in high resolution. The photographs on the left, showing pictographs from a site at Fort Hunter Liggett, have not been altered; The photographs on the right, processed with D-stretch imagery, show the pictographs in greater detail. Credit: Fort Hunter Liggett.

In addition to petroglyphs and pictographs, the Salinan people of this region left behind an abundance of bedrock mortars, circular depressions in rock outcrops that were likely used for grinding food items such as acorns, but may also have been used to grind the pigment to make the pictographs. The extensive use of the area might indicate it was used as a habitation locale or meeting area, or possibly for ceremonial purposes, Stueve said.

Although all of the sites that the DRI team will visit have been documented previously, some site records have not been updated in more than 30 years. As part of this project, they will provide Fort Hunter Liggett with up-to-date site records and photographs, and also make recommendations for future study and preservation of these pictographs and petroglyphs.

“The Army wants a management plan for the preservation of these historical resources,” Haynes said. “In addition to these pictographs, there are a few other important historic sites nearby. There’s a mission called Mission San Antonio de Padua that was founded in 1771 by Father Junipero Serra, and a hacienda that was built for William Randolph Hearst. It’s an important area with an interesting history.”

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The Desert Research Institute (DRI) is a recognized world leader in basic and applied interdisciplinary research. Committed to scientific excellence and integrity, DRI faculty, students, and staff have developed scientific knowledge and innovative technologies in research projects around the globe. Since 1959, DRI’s research has advanced scientific knowledge, supported Nevada’s diversifying economy, provided science-based educational opportunities, and informed policy makers, business leaders, and community members. With campuses in Reno and Las Vegas, 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 winner of 22nd Annual Wagner Award for Women in Atmospheric Science

DRI announces winner of 22nd Annual Wagner Award for Women in Atmospheric Science

Anne Barkley of University of Miami to be honored in a virtual ceremony on Oct. 27, 2020

 

Reno, Nev. (October 1, 2020) – The Desert Research Institute (DRI) is pleased to announce that the 22nd Annual Peter B. Wagner Memorial Award for Women in Atmospheric Sciences has been awarded to Anne E. Barkley from the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences (RSMAS) at the University of Miami in Florida.

This competitive national award, conferred annually by DRI since 1998, recognizes a woman pursuing a graduate education in the atmospheric sciences who has published an outstanding academic paper and includes a $1,500 prize. The Wagner Award is the only such honor for graduate women in the atmospheric sciences in the United States.

Barkley is a fourth-year Ph.D. candidate in the laboratory of Professor Cassandra Gaston, and studies atmospheric aerosols (airborne particles of liquids or solids) and their impact on climate. Her paper, titled African biomass burning is a substantial source of phosphorus deposition to the Amazon, Tropical Atlantic Ocean, and Southern Ocean, was published last year in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

“Barkley was selected from a very strong pool of applicants from excellent colleges and universities around the U.S.,” said Vera Samburova, Ph.D., Chair of the Wagner Award Selection Committee and Associate Research Professor in DRI’s Division of Atmospheric Sciences. “We are very pleased to honor her for her outstanding work in atmospheric science.”

Barkley will present her paper at an online award ceremony on Tuesday Oct. 27, at 12 p.m. PST. This event will celebrate DRI’s long-term commitment to recognizing achievements of women in the sciences and will provide opportunities for the public to meet and engage with outstanding scientists.

Runners up for this year’s award included: Therese Carter (2nd place) from the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, “How emissions uncertainty influences the distribution and radiative impacts of smoke from fires in North America,” ACP 2020; Allison C. Vander Wall (3rd place) from the Department of Chemistry at the University of California, Irvine, “Evidence for a kinetically controlled burying mechanism for growth of high viscosity secondary organic aerosol,” Environ. Sci.: Processes Impacts, 2020; and Weimeng Kong from the California Institute of Technology, “Rapid growth of new atmospheric particles by nitric acid and ammonia condensation,” Nature 2020.

Details:  

  • Date: Tuesday Oct. 27, 2020
  • Time: 12 p.m. PST
  • The Zoom link can be provided by Vera Samburova (vera.samburova@dri.edu)

Background:  

Ms. Sue Wagner—former Nevada Gaming Commissioner, Nevada Lieutenant Governor, and DRI employee and widow of Dr. Peter B. Wagner—created the Peter B. Wagner Memorial Award for Women in Atmospheric Sciences in 1998. Dr. Wagner, an atmospheric scientist who had been a faculty member at the Desert Research Institute 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 the Desert Research Institute’s Atmospheric Sciences Program a cash award to further their professional careers. Ms. Wagner later extended that opportunity nationally and specifically for women through the creation of the Peter B. Wagner Memorial Award in 1998.

More information: https://www.dri.edu/about/awards-and-scholarships/wagner/

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The Desert Research Institute (DRI) is a recognized world leader in basic and applied interdisciplinary research. Committed to scientific excellence and integrity, DRI faculty, students, and staff have developed scientific knowledge and innovative technologies in research projects around the globe. Since 1959, DRI’s research has advanced scientific knowledge, supported Nevada’s diversifying economy, provided science-based educational opportunities, and informed policy makers, business leaders, and community members. With campuses in Reno and Las Vegas, DRI serves as the non-profit research arm of the Nevada System of Higher Education. For more information, please visit  www.dri.edu.

Wildfire smoke more dangerous than other air pollutants for asthma patients

Wildfire smoke more dangerous than other air pollutants for asthma patients

Photo caption: Smoke from wildfires covering the city of Sparks, Nevada. Credit: GChapel, Adobe Images.

 

Reno, Nev. (Sept. 22, 2020) – For people who suffer from asthma, wildfire smoke is more hazardous than other types of air pollution, according to a new study from the Desert Research Institute (DRI), the Renown Institute for Health Innovation (Renown IHI) and the Washoe County Health District (WCHD).

The study, which published last month in the journal Environmental Health, examined associations between airborne particulate matter (PM) from sources such as wildfire, transportation and industry, and medical visits for asthma at Renown Health’s emergency departments and urgent care centers in Reno, Nev. during the six-year period from 2013-2018.

According to their results, on days when wildfire smoke was present, elevated levels of PM2.5 (fine particles of 0-2.5 micrometers in size, about 30 times smaller than a human hair) led to a 6.1 percent increase in medical visits for asthma patients when compared with days of similar pollution levels that came from non-wildfire sources.

“Since we found significantly stronger associations of PM2.5 with asthma visits when wildfire smoke was present, our results suggest that wildfire PM is more hazardous than non-wildfire PM for patients with asthma,” said lead author Daniel Kiser, M.S., Data Scientist with DRI and Renown IHI.

 


Above, a timelapse video from DRI’s Western Regional Climate Center shows an impressive smoke front move into the city of Reno on August 18, 2013. The smoke, which rolls in at approximately 1:05 in the video, was from the American River fire near Sacramento, Calif.


An increase in the harmfulness of PM from wildfires compared to PM from other sources may be attributable to differences in the chemical composition of PM or changes in human behavior, since people are more likely to be outdoors in the summer, when wildfires typically occur. The research team notes that caution should be used when applying these results to other areas of the country, such as the Southeastern United States, since the harmfulness of wildfire smoke may be affected by the type of fuel that is being burned. Other factors, such as the distance that wildfire smoke was carried by the wind and burn temperature, may also play a role in the harmfulness of wildfire smoke.

The researchers found that air quality in the Reno area was affected by wildfire smoke on a total of 188 days during the study period. A total of 18,836 asthma-related emergency room and urgent care visits occurred over the same five-year period of time, indicating that the influences of wildfire smoke and other types of air pollution on this medical condition are important to understand.

“In places like Reno, where wildfire events occur regularly during parts of the year and are expected to become more frequent in the future, an accurate understanding of the impacts of wildfire smoke on population health is critical,” Kiser said.

comparison of clear, moderate and smoky days in Stead, NV

From left to right, this series of three photos documents recent air quality conditions on clear, moderate, very smoky days in Stead, Nev. Credit: Daniel Kiser/DRI.

Additional Information:

The full text of the article “Particulate matter and emergency visits for asthma: a time-series study of their association in the presence and absence of wildfire smoke in Reno, Nevada, 2013–2018,” is available from Environmental Health: https://ehjournal.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12940-020-00646-2

To learn more about the Renown Institute for Health Innovation, please visit: https://www.dri.edu/renown-ihi/

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About the Desert Research Institute

The Desert Research Institute (DRI) is a recognized world leader in basic and applied interdisciplinary research. Committed to scientific excellence and integrity, DRI faculty, students, and staff have developed scientific knowledge and innovative technologies in research projects around the globe. Since 1959, DRI’s research has advanced scientific knowledge, supported Nevada’s diversifying economy, provided science-based educational opportunities, and informed policymakers, business leaders, and community members. With campuses in Reno and Las Vegas, DRI serves as the non-profit research arm of the Nevada System of Higher Education. For more information, visit  www.dri.edu.

DRI, EDF, NASA, and Google Announce Web Application to Transform Water Management in the Western United States

DRI, EDF, NASA, and Google Announce Web Application to Transform Water Management in the Western United States

DRI, EDF, NASA, and Google Announce Web Application to Transform Water Management in the Western United States

RENO, NEV.
SEPT 15, 2020

Hydrology
Nevada Agriculture
Evapotranspiration
Remote-Sensing
Data Visualization

OpenET will provide easily accessible satellite-based water data to help build a resilient future for agriculture. 

The Desert Research Institute (DRI), the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), NASA, and Google, proudly announced plans today to develop a new web application called OpenET to enable western U.S. farmers and water managers to accurately track water consumption by crops and other vegetation using data from satellites and weather stations.

“OpenET will help fill one of the biggest data gaps in water management in the western United States. Our primary goal is to make sure we are providing evapotranspiration data that is accurate, consistent, scientifically based and useful for water management, whether for an individual agricultural field or an entire river basin,” said Forrest Melton, program scientist for the NASA Western Water Applications Office. “OpenET is being created through an innovative collaboration among a national team of scientists, technology experts, farmers, government policy-makers and environmental nonprofits.”

Currently, access to accurate, timely satellite-based data on the amount of water used to grow food is fragmented and often expensive, keeping it out of the hands of many farmers and decision-makers. Water supplies in the western U.S. are critical to the health of our communities, food supply and wildlife, but they are facing increasing pressures in the face of population growth and a changing climate.

“After 10 years of working with farmers and water agencies to develop ET estimates, it couldn’t be more rewarding to be creating an application like OpenET that uses best available science and makes ET data much more affordable and accessible to all,” said Justin Huntington, a research professor at the Desert Research Institute. “We also see OpenET having the potential to scale up to other regions of the world, including South America and Africa.”

Applications of OpenET data include:

  • Informing irrigation management and scheduling practices to maximize “crop per drop” and reduce costs for water and fertilizer.
  • Enabling water and land managers to develop more accurate water budgets and innovative management programs that promote adequate water supplies for agriculture, people and ecosystems.
  • Supporting groundwater management, water trading and conservation programs that increase the economic viability of agriculture across the West. 

“OpenET will empower farmers and water managers across the West to build more accurate water budgets and identify stress, resulting in a more resilient system for agriculture, people and ecosystems,” said Robyn Grimm, senior manager, water information systems, at EDF. “We envision OpenET leveling the playing field by providing all farmers with data that until now have not been widely accessible to everyone.”

Screenshot of the OpenET web application

Using publicly available data from multiple satellites and weather stations, OpenET will bring together an ensemble of well-established methods to calculate ET on a single platform. This approach will ensure data continuity, help refine the strengths and accuracy of the methods, and create a well-documented, shared basis for decision-making that truly represents the best available science.

What is Evapotranspiration?

The “ET” in OpenET stands for evapotranspiration — the process by which water evaporates from the land surface and transpires from plants. Evapotranspiration, a key measure of water consumed by crops and vegetation, can be tracked by satellites because the process cools plants and soil down, so irrigated fields appear cooler in satellite images.

Using publicly available data, OpenET will make several methods for estimating evapotranspiration more widely accessible, ultimately helping to build broader trust and agreement around this information. OpenET will also make it possible to track the amount of evapotranspiration reduced when farmers change cropping patterns, invest in new technologies, or adopt water-saving practices.

OpenET is expected to be available to the public in 2021.

OpenET will initially provide field-scale ET data in 17 states, with plans to expand to the entire United States and beyond. States include Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming.

 

OpenET FAQ page

Download the OpenET Frequently Asked Questions on OpenETdata.org

Unprecedented Collaboration

OpenET is being developed with input from more than 100 stakeholders across the West.

“OpenET is a powerful application of cloud computing that will lead to measurable results on the ground in the agriculture sector. Google is proud to support such an important new tool,” said Google Earth Engine developer advocate Tyler Erickson.

DRI, NASA, EDF, and HabitatSeven are the project leads for OpenET. Additional collaborators include Google Earth Engine, USGS, USDA Agricultural Research Service, California State University Monterey Bay, University of Idaho, University of Maryland, University of Nebraska-Lincoln and University of Wisconsin-Madison.

The OpenET project has received funding from the NASA Applied Sciences Program Western Water Applications Office, S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation, Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, Walton Family Foundation, Water Funder Initiative, Lyda Hill Philanthropies, Delta Water Agencies, and the Windward Fund. In-kind support has been provided by Google Earth Engine and partners in the agricultural and water management communities.

Providing farmers and local water managers free ET data is a core objective of the OpenET project. For-profit entities and other organizations looking for large-scale access to OpenET data will be able to purchase it through an application programming interface (API). Revenue generated will fund continuing research and development of OpenET data services.

Landsat Satellite image
OpenET screenshot

Above, left: An artist’s conception of the Landsat Data Continuity Mission (LDCM), the eighth satellite in the long-running Landsat program, flying over the US Gulf Coast.
Above, right: OpenET will cover 17 western U.S. states: Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming. Over time, the intent is to expand OpenET to include other states in the U.S. and other regions across the globe.

Credit: Vic Etyemezian/DRI.

Support for OpenET

“The Harney Basin is running a groundwater deficit of 120,000 acre-feet to 130,000 acre-feet per year. We have used ET data to gain a better understanding of our water consumption and design more efficient irrigation systems that use about 15% less water. This could translate to a savings of 18% to 20% on electricity costs for pumping, too. With the demands on water from a growing population and feeding more people, we have to figure out how to get the best value from every drop of water. ET data is crucial to providing this information. ”
—Oregon State Rep. Mark Owens. Mr. Owens owns or manages 3,200 acres of farmland in Oregon.

“Reliable water data is almost as critical to farmers and water managers as the water supply itself. With added pressure from population growth and the uncertainty that climate change impacts have on existing and future water supply, OpenET allows planning for agricultural water needs in a way that just wasn’t possible before.”
—E. Joaquin Esquivel, Chair of the California State Water Resources Control Board

“Every five years, the Bureau of Reclamation is tasked with creating a report that summarizes water use and loss for the Upper Colorado River Basin states. Currently, there are several satellite-based methodologies to measure water, many of which will be incorporated into OpenET. Consequently, OpenET will serve as a valuable tool for us to test and compare ET measurement methodologies to determine the best approach for future studies.”
—James Prairie, Hydrologic Engineer, U.S. Department of Interior, Bureau of Reclamation

“OpenET will be a valuable tool to estimate historical and current water consumed by crops across Nevada. OpenET data also will be especially useful for monitoring consumptive use to support local groundwater management plans that are needed in response to long-term groundwater level declines.”
—Adam Sullivan, P.E., Nevada Deputy State Engineer

“To comply with the new groundwater law in California, it’s imperative to have accurate, transparent water use data to serve to build a groundwater budget. But currently ET data can be very expensive to acquire from consultants or universities, and the methodologies are often inconsistent and unclear. Consequently, Rosedale turned to OpenET for accurate parcel-level ET water data at a lower cost to build an online accounting platform for our landowners to more easily manage their own groundwater budgets. Because the OpenET project has brought together a team of leading experts on several approaches for measuring ET, I’m confident it will become the de facto source of water data among landowners and water managers alike.”
—Eric Averett, General Manager, Rosedale-Rio Bravo Water Storage District (California)

“OpenET represents a game-changing leap forward for water management in the West. OpenET will give water users in the Delta a much less expensive alternative method for complying with the state requirement to monitor and report on their water diversions. Instead of physically measuring every diversion in the Delta, farmers will be able to look up OpenET’s estimate of their crop water use. If the estimate is acceptable to the farmer, the farmer knows that it will be acceptable to us. Concurring on OpenET’s ensemble measurement will save time, money and confusion.”
—Michael George, Delta Watermaster­­­ (California)

“OpenET is a great step forward for managing water needs in a time when demand far surpasses supply. Helping our farmers and ranchers more effectively manage their water use not only helps their crop and bottom line, but creates opportunities for more water to remain in our river systems to benefit both people and nature.”
—Aaron Derwingson, Water Projects Director, Colorado River Program, The Nature Conservancy

 

Evapotranspiration grahic

Additional Information

Download the OpenET FAQ: https://OpenETdata.org/faq.pdf

Images of OpenET are available at https://bit.ly/3bEQWee

Learn more about OpenET at https://OpenETdata.org

Connect with OpenET on Twitter at @OpenETdata

Dr. Kumud Acharya Appointed Permanent President of DRI

Dr. Kumud Acharya Appointed Permanent President of DRI

LAS VEGAS – Dr. Kumud Acharya, an ecological engineer whose pioneering work in Nevada helped local and state water managers address aquatic invasive species threatening both Lake Mead and Lake Tahoe, was appointed the permanent president of the Desert Research Institute by the Nevada Board of Regents on Thursday.

“President Acharya is a highly respected and well-admired scientist by his colleagues and the institute community. I am confident he is the right person to lead DRI moving forward,” said Nevada System of Higher Education (NSHE) Chancellor Melody Rose.

Board of Regents Chair Mark Doubrava added, “Over the past year I believe Kumud has shown his ability to help advance DRI’s stellar reputation in research and promote how the work done at DRI helps us better understand the world and improve the lives of all Nevadans.”

Dr. Acharya, who was given a four-year contract, said he was humbled and honored to be named DRI’s permanent president.

“I am honored to be selected by the Board of Regents, Chancellor Rose, and the faculty and staff to serve this great Institution,” said President Acharya. “I am humbled by the trust that the faculty and staff have placed in me and I will work to further DRI’s mission of performing world-class scientific research to improve people’s lives throughout Nevada and the world.”

ABOUT Dr. Kumud Acharya

Dr. Acharya began his career at DRI in 2006 as an assistant research professor. During his tenure, he has brought in over $18 million in external research grants and contracts and has previously served as the interim Vice President for Research, a senior director of DRI’s former Center for Environmental Remediation and Monitoring, as Executive Director for DRI’s Division of Hydrologic Sciences, and as the Chief Technology Advisor for Water Start.

Prior to joining DRI, Dr. Acharya served five years combined as a postdoctoral and endowed research fellow at Arizona State University and the University of Louisville. He has a bachelor’s degree in Civil Engineering, M.S. in Environmental Engineering, and Ph.D. in Biology and Environmental Sciences.

The Desert Research Institute (DRI) is a recognized world leader in basic and applied interdisciplinary research. Committed to scientific excellence and integrity, DRI faculty, students, and staff have developed scientific knowledge and innovative technologies in research projects around the globe. Since 1959, DRI’s research has advanced scientific knowledge, supported Nevada’s diversifying economy, provided science-based educational opportunities, and informed policymakers, business leaders, and community members. With campuses in Reno and Las Vegas, DRI is one of eight institutions in the Nevada System of Higher Education.

The Nevada System of Higher Education, comprised of two doctoral-granting 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 Board of Regents.

Population genetic screening shown to efficiently identify increased risk for inherited disease

Population genetic screening shown to efficiently identify increased risk for inherited disease

Healthy Nevada Project’s community-based approach reveals up to 90% of CDC Tier 1 genetic condition risks missed using clinical care guidelines

Reno, Nev. (July 27, 2020) – In a new study published today in the journal Nature Medicine, researchers behind the Healthy Nevada Project® suggest that community-based genetic screening has the potential to efficiently identify individuals who may be at increased risk for three common inherited genetic conditions known to cause several forms of cancer and increased risk for heart disease or stroke.

In 2018, the Healthy Nevada Project® (the largest, community-based population health study combining genetic, clinical, environmental, and social data) started notifying consenting study participants who have certain genetic variants that predispose them to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Tier 1 genetic conditions. The study focused on identifying carriers of these conditions, which include Hereditary Breast and Ovarian Cancer, Lynch Syndrome, and Familial Hypercholesterolemia, because they are the most common conditions and early detection and treatment could significantly lower morbidity and mortality.

Initial results from almost 27,000 study participants showed that 90% of carriers of the CDC Tier 1 genetic conditions were not previously identified in a clinical setting. The authors conclude that population genetic screening would identify at-risk carriers not identified during routine care.

“Our first goal was to deliver actionable health data back to the participants of the study and understand whether or not broad population screening of CDC Tier 1 genomic conditions was a practical tool to identify at-risk individuals,” explained Joseph Grzymski, Ph.D., the principal investigator of the Healthy Nevada Project®, a research professor at the Desert Research Institute (DRI), chief scientific officer for Renown Health and lead author of the study.

“Now, two years into doing that, it is clear that the clinical guidelines for detecting risk in individuals are too narrow and miss too many at-risk individuals.”

Within the group of 26,906 Healthy Nevada Project® participants that Grzymski’s research team studied, 358 (1.33%) were carriers for CDC Tier 1 conditions. However, only 25% of those individuals met clinical guidelines for genetic screening. Additionally, more than 20% of the carriers already had a diagnosis of disease-relevant to their underlying genetic condition.

“We’re at a point now where it’s possible to do clinical-grade genetic screening at population-scale,” added James Lu, M.D. Ph.D., co-founder and chief scientific officer of Helix and senior co-author of the study. “What this study demonstrates is the potential impact of doing so. By making genetic screening available more broadly, we can help the millions of Americans who are unaware that they are living at increased risk for highly actionable, genetic conditions take action.”

Most notably, the study found that of the 273 participants who were carriers of the CDC Tier 1 genetic conditions and had clinical record information, only 22 individuals showed any previous suspicion of their underlying genetic conditions.

“For the first time, we are providing information at the individual level so study participants can make lifesaving changes to reduce their risk based on their genetics,” said Anthony Slonim, M.D., Dr.PH., FACHE, president and CEO of Renown Health and co-director of the Project® study. “We’re conducting research on the community level to develop leading-edge research on health determinants for entire neighborhoods, states and eventually, the country. Returning these results allows us to understand the prevalence of genetically programmed diseases and illnesses that we have here in Nevada and ensure we are providing the best prevention and care plans. For the individual, the return of results can be lifechanging.”

According to the CDC, early detection and intervention of Tier 1 genetic conditions could have a meaningful potential for clinical actionability and a positive impact on public health.

The Healthy Nevada Project®, which launched in 2016, offers free genetic testing to every Nevadan, aged 18 and older, interested in learning more about their health and genetic profile. With more than 50,000 study participants enrolled in four years, the Healthy Nevada Project® has become the fastest-enrolling genetic study in the world. For more about the Healthy Nevada Project® please visit healthynv.org

Renown Institute for Health Innovation is a collaboration between Renown Health – a locally governed and locally owned, not-for-profit integrated healthcare network serving Nevada, Lake Tahoe and northeast California; and the Desert Research Institute – a recognized world leader in investigating the effects of natural and humaninduced environmental change and advancing technologies aimed at assessing a changing planet. Renown IHI research teams are focused on integrating personal healthcare and environmental data with socioeconomic determinants to help Nevada address some of its most complex environmental health problems; while simultaneously expanding the state’s access to leading-edge clinical trials and fostering new connections with biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies. Learn more at Healthynv.org.

Helix is the leading population genomics company operating at the intersection of clinical care, research, and genomics. Its end-to-end platform enables health systems, life sciences companies, and payers to advance genomic research and accelerate the integration of genomic data into clinical care. Powered by one of the world’s largest CLIA / CAP next-generation sequencing labs and its proprietary Exome+Ⓡ assay, Helix supports all aspects of population genomics including recruitment and engagement, clinically actionable disease screening, return of results, and basic and translational research. In response to the COVID-19 public health crisis, Helix has launched a sensitive and scalable end-to-end COVID-19 test system to meet the needs of health systems, employers, governments, and other organizations across the country. Learn more at www.helix.com.

Media Contacts:
Justin Broglio, APR
Communications Manager, Desert Research Institute
(775) 762-8320
jbroglio@dri.edu

Sarah Bobulsky
Helix
(415) 916-2740
sarah.bobulsky@helix.com

Cassie Harris
Public Relations Business Partner, Renown Health
(775) 691-7308
news@renown.org

New USDA Grant Will Fund COVID-19 Rapid Response Toolkit for Tribal Extension Agents

New USDA Grant Will Fund COVID-19 Rapid Response Toolkit for Tribal Extension Agents

Reno, Nev. (July 23, 2020) – Several members of the Native Waters on Arid Lands (NWAL) project team, led by Maureen McCarthy, Ph.D., of the Desert Research Institute (DRI) in Reno, have been awarded a $300k grant from the US Department of Agriculture National Institute of Food and Agriculture (USDA-NIFA) to develop a COVID-19 Rapid Response Toolkit for Tribal Extension Agents (COVID-19 Toolkit).

Tribal Extension Agents with the Federally-Recognized Tribes Extension Program (FRTEP) normally provide a lifeline of in-person, community-based services to tribal farmers, ranchers, and resource managers – but since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, they have been forced to transition to virtual delivery of critical services with no additional resources, training, or tools. The COVID-19 Toolkit project will support Tribal Extension Programs in Nevada and Arizona by developing a virtual platform for outreach and training materials needed by agents in the field, including webinars and short training videos.

In addition, FRTEP agents in the field will be equipped with ruggedized computer tablets that will allow them to access the virtual platform in advance and during one-on-one technical consultations and small social-distanced group meetings with tribal farmers and ranchers. A COVID-19 CARE Working Group will be established to share timely information and solve needs-based problems for tribal farmers and ranchers and assist reservation communities with food access to lessen the hardships of COVID-19 throughout Indian Country.

The project will run from August 2020 until July 2022, and will be led by McCarthy with support from Alexandra Lutz, Ph.D. (DRI), Kyle Bocinsky (Crow Canyon Archaeological Center), Trent Teegerstrom (Tribal Extension, University of Arizona), and Staci Emm (Tribal Extension, University of Nevada, Reno).

“With this funding, we will translate and share research produced as part of the NWAL project, and tailor it to respond to urgent needs identified by our Tribal partners,” McCarthy said. “Information delivered will be virtually-accessible and place-based and focused on addressing the challenges facing Indian farmers and ranchers during COVID-19 response and recovery. The COVID-19 Toolkit will provide geolocated environmental data, training videos, webinars, and other materials to FRTEP agents working under social distancing constraints and responding to a rapidly increasing demand for water and agricultural outreach support.”

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About the Desert Research Institute

The Desert Research Institute (DRI) is a recognized world leader in basic and applied interdisciplinary research. Committed to scientific excellence and integrity, DRI faculty, students, and staff have developed scientific knowledge and innovative technologies in research projects around the globe. Since 1959, DRI’s research has advanced scientific knowledge, supported Nevada’s diversifying economy, provided science-based educational opportunities, and informed policy makers, business leaders, and community members. With campuses in Reno and Las Vegas, DRI serves as the non-profit research arm of the Nevada System of Higher Education. For more information, please visit www.dri.edu.

About Native Waters on Arid Lands

The Native Waters on Arid Lands (NWAL; https://nativewaters-aridlands.com) project seeks to enhance the climate resiliency of agriculture on American Indian lands of the Great Basin and Southwest by building the capacity within tribal communities to develop and implement reservation-wide plans, policies, and practices to support sustainable agriculture and water management. Partners in the project include the Desert Research Institute; the University of Nevada, Reno; the University of Arizona; First Americans Land-Grant Consortium; Utah State University; Ohio University; United States Geological Survey; and the Federally Recognized Tribal Extension Program in Nevada and Arizona. This project is funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

 

New study investigates link between clothes dryers and microplastic pollution in Lake Tahoe

New study investigates link between clothes dryers and microplastic pollution in Lake Tahoe

Reno, Nev. & South Lake Tahoe, Cal. (July 20, 2020) – Last year, Desert Research Institute (DRI) and the League to Save Lake Tahoe detected microplastics in Lake Tahoe for the first time ever, many of which were microfibers. This discovery revealed that microplastic pollution is not just present in oceans, but also in mountains and lakes, including highly protected areas like Lake Tahoe.

Now, two DRI scientists aim to identify the source of these microfibers, with help from the League to Save Lake Tahoe’s citizen scientists and other volunteers from the Tahoe Basin. In a new study, volunteers from around the Tahoe region are installing specially made lint-catchers on the vents of their clothes dryers to assess whether dryers are releasing these tiny fibers into the environment.

“Several studies have been done on the washing process and how that can input microplastics into our waterways, but only a few studies have look at the drying process as a source of microplastics,” said Monica Arienzo, Ph.D., Assistant Research Professor of Hydrology at DRI. “That got us thinking about studying the drying process as a source of microplastics to the air.”

Working in collaboration with Meghan Collins, M.S., DRI’s Education Program Manager, the researchers developed a design for a lint-catcher that fits on the outside of a dryer vent. They then worked with the League to Save Lake Tahoe to create a plan for engaging citizen scientists in the study, tapping into the League’s network of dedicated Pipe Keepers and other volunteer groups.

   

Photo caption: (Above, left) Using a custom-made lint catcher, citizen scientist volunteers in the Tahoe Basin will help collect data for a new study on dryer lint. (Above, right) Closeup image of microfibers found in snow from Sierra Nevada. Fibers such as these are potentially emitted from the drying process. Credit: DRI.


Citizen scientists, including those who are brand new to volunteer data collection and research, can contribute to the study in one of two ways: 1) By sharing their drying habits with the researchers (how many loads they dry, dryer settings, and other details) for a month via the Citizen Science Tahoe app, or 2) By installing a lint catcher on the dryer vent on the outside of their home and sharing their drying habits.

The study will run from July 12 until August 7, at which time participants will mail back a custom-made fiberglass mesh net that sits inside the dryer vent cover, and researchers will analyze the contents.

“We will use all of this information to understand the connection between synthetic clothes, dryers, and microfiber emissions into the environment,” Collins said. “We are also hoping that our lint catcher design will provide an easy solution for helping individuals to reduce their ‘microplastic footprint’. We’re excited to see what citizen scientists think about this solution.”

While litter of all types poses a threat to the Lake Tahoe environment, plastic trash is consistently the most-gathered class of litter items at Keep Tahoe Blue beach and community cleanups. Plastic trash may breakdown to create microplastic pollution, which can end up in the Lake.

“Our hope is that this and future studies will narrow in on the sources of microplastic pollution at Tahoe,” noted Jesse Patterson, Chief Strategy Officer at the League to Save Lake Tahoe. “Combined with litter data gathered by Keep Tahoe Blue volunteers, we hope to convert the findings into solutions to the pollution problem facing our Lake. This is only possible through the partnership of research experts at DRI and passionate citizen scientists.”

This project is made possible in part by support from the REI Co-op. For more information on how to participate, please visit: https://t.e2ma.net/webview/d5jb6e/5737d228884cbb56c17378bdf8decceb

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About the Desert Research Institute

The Desert Research Institute (DRI) is a recognized world leader in basic and applied interdisciplinary research. Committed to scientific excellence and integrity, DRI faculty, students, and staff have developed scientific knowledge and innovative technologies in research projects around the globe. Since 1959, DRI’s research has advanced scientific knowledge, supported Nevada’s diversifying economy, provided science-based educational opportunities, and informed policy makers, business leaders, and community members. With campuses in Reno and Las Vegas, DRI serves as the non-profit research arm of the Nevada System of Higher Education. For more information, please visit www.dri.edu.

Media Contact:
Justin Broglio, Communications Manager
Desert Research Institute
775.762.8320
justin.broglio@dri.edu

About the League to Save Lake Tahoe

The League to Save Lake Tahoe, also known by the slogan “Keep Tahoe Blue,” is Tahoe’s oldest and largest nonprofit environmental advocacy organization. The League is dedicated to community engagement and education, and collaborating to find solutions to Tahoe’s environmental challenges. Through the League’s main campaigns, its expert staff and dedicated volunteers A.C.T. to Keep Tahoe Blue: we Advance restoration, Combat pollution and Tackle invasive species. Learn more at keeptahoeblue.org.

Media Contact:
Chris Joseph, Communications Manager
League to Save Lake Tahoe
805.722.5646
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New USDA grant to support  Diné (Navajo) and Hopi Teachers in Placed-Based STEM curriculum

New USDA grant to support Diné (Navajo) and Hopi Teachers in Placed-Based STEM curriculum

Reno, Nev. (July 14, 2020) – Meghan Collins, M.S., Education Lead for the Native Waters on Arid Lands (NWAL) project and Assistant Research Scientist at the Desert Research Institute (DRI) in Reno has received a $100k grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (USDA-NIFA) to develop teacher leadership and science knowledge with Diné (Navajo) and Hopi communities.

With this funding, Collins, Karletta Chief, Ph.D. (University of Arizona), Kyle Bocinsky, Ph.D. (DRI/Crow Canyon Archaeological Center), and several other members of the NWAL team will work with teachers serving Indigenous communities to develop and adapt STEM curriculum to place-based contexts. The project, called “Teaching Native Waters,” will host in-depth, yearlong professional development experiences to 20 middle and high school teachers serving Indigenous students in the Diné (Navajo) and Hopi Nations.

“This project builds on opportunities that we identified during the course of the Native Waters on Arid Lands project, where teachers wanted ways to bring local climate science data into their classrooms for the benefit of young and future generations,” said Collins. “We are thrilled to be able to continue this important work with new funding from USDA-NIFA, and help make science from the NWAL project actionable in K-12 classrooms.”

The long-term goal of “Teaching Native Waters” is to include more Native American students in the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields. This project will help to address issues of diversity in STEM and important gaps in professional development for teachers serving rural students.

This grant was one of four awards given out through USDA-NIFA’s Women and Minorities in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Fields program (WAMS). WAMS supports research, education/teaching, and extension projects to increase participation by women and underrepresented minorities from rural areas in science technology engineering and math.

This project is expected to begin in August 2020 and run through July 2022. Additional DRI researchers that will be working on the Teaching Native Waters project include NWAL Program Director Maureen McCarthy, Ph.D., and NWAL water quality lead Alexandra Lutz, Ph.D.

The full award announcement is here: https://cris.nifa.usda.gov/cgi-bin/starfinder/0?path=fastlink1.txt&id=anon&pass=&search=R=88821&format=WEBFMT6NT

 

DRI’S WaterStart Program GOED Knowledge Fund Success Story

DRI’S WaterStart Program GOED Knowledge Fund Success Story

This story was reposted with permission from the Nevada Governor’s Office of Economic Development.

CARSON CITY, Nev. – After investments totaling $4.3 million through the Knowledge Fund administered by the Nevada Governor’s Office of Economic Development (GOED), the WaterStart program is spinning out of the Desert Research Institute (DRI) into a successful company that has already addressed $30 million in water technology challenges based in Nevada.

“The WaterStart spin out of DRI represents yet another success story of the Knowledge Fund,” said Michael Brown, GOED executive director. “GOED is looking forward to continuing to work with WaterStart providing technology solutions for Nevada’s water resource-based challenges as well as growing the water-tech sector in our state thereby creating high paying employment opportunities for Nevadans.”

With a growing membership, proven model, and diversified funding, WaterStart is ready to write its next chapter and operate as an independent entity. WaterStart was founded as a non-profit in 2013 in response to the impacts of the Great Recession and 20 years of continuous drought in Nevada. The public-private partnership was housed within DRI and funded by GOED. Dedicated to deploying new water technologies and making Nevada a hub for water innovation, WaterStart membership and sponsors are made up of the State’s largest water agencies, consumers and philanthropies including; the Southern Nevada Water Authority, Truckee Meadows Water Authority, MGM Resorts and NV Gold, the Wells Fargo Foundation and OneDrop.

“The WaterStart model has enabled DRI to build on our global leadership in water research to better understand the needs of the water industry and develop relationships with the private sector,” said Kumud Acharya, Interim President of DRI.

Funding to create WaterStart as well as continuous financial support since 2013 has come from the Knowledge Fund, which was established to foster the development of intellectual property and commercialization of new technologies at Nevada’s three research institutions in an effort to diversify and strengthen the state’s economy. Part of the Knowledge Fund’s mandate is to build research capacity for the development of technologies that can be commercialized as well as setting up centers to engage in research and development collaborations with the private sector.

Today, WaterStart’s membership has expanded into Australia and the United Kingdom. In May, WaterStart welcomed the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California as its newest member. Delivering water to a six-county service area with nearly 19 million people, Metropolitan is now WaterStart’s largest member and its first in California.

“The recent growth of our membership into Australia, the United Kingdom and now California speaks volumes about how far we’ve come and the impact we can make,” said Nathan Allen, WaterStart’s executive director. “We’re grateful for the support we’ve received from the Knowledge Fund and DRI. Our Nevada community has given us a solid foundation to scale-up and pursue our vision of deploying technologies that benefit 100 million people.”

WaterStart and its members will continue to address and solve challenges at the nexus of the economy and water. Based in Nevada, WaterStart will expand its positive impact in the State as it drives job creation, conservation, and water security by bringing in cutting edge, innovative companies to solve water issues in the driest state in the Union.

“This is an exciting time for WaterStart and its members,” said Dave Johnson, Chairman of the Board for WaterStart. “After years of hard work, the organization is ready to step out on its own. This change will allow WaterStart to broaden its impact as it works with members and partners around the world to solve our most pressing water technology needs.”

Additional documents:

Economic Impact of WaterStart on Clark County 2015-2018

Metropolitan Water District Partners with WaterStart to Continue 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. More information on the Governor’s Office of Economic Development can be viewed at diversifynevada.com.

About the Desert Research Institute

The Desert Research Institute (DRI) is a recognized world leader in basic and applied interdisciplinary research. Committed to scientific excellence and integrity, DRI faculty, students, and staff have developed scientific knowledge and innovative technologies in research projects around the globe. Since 1959, DRI’s research has advanced scientific knowledge, supported Nevada’s diversifying economy, provided science-based educational opportunities, and informed policymakers, business leaders, and community members. With campuses in Reno and Las Vegas, DRI serves as the non-profit research arm of the Nevada System of Higher Education. For more information, visit  www.dri.edu.

About WaterStart

WaterStart is a non-profit collective of globally recognized leaders who are adapting to change by scaling up new solutions to water challenges. Driven by the needs of water agencies and large consumers, we provide a channel for pooling resources to accelerate the development and adoption of innovative water technologies. Established in 2013 in Las Vegas, Nevada, WaterStart’s globally recognized members, sponsors, and portfolio companies come from across the United States, expanding into Queensland, Australia in 2018 and into the United Kingdom in 2020. For more information, visit www.waterstart.com.

Camp Fire tragedy leads to new wildfire research

Camp Fire tragedy leads to new wildfire research

With a new $2 Million grant from the National Science Foundation, an interdisciplinary team of researchers including Adam Watts, Ph.D. of the Desert Research Institute (DRI) in Reno are initiating an effort to develop new tools for assessing and mitigating wildfire risk. Watts, an associate research professor in fire ecology at DRI, will contribute expertise in fire surveying and data collection using unmanned aerial systems (UAS). Working alongside researchers from UCLA, University at Buffalo, National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder (NCAR), and the University of Nevada, Reno, Watts will help the project team to create a live digital platform that quantifies the risk of wildfires to wildland-urban interface communities in terms of probability of loss. The tool will be used by wildfire managers, emergency responders, and utility companies help them make informed decisions and take preventive actions in order to scientifically reduce the risk of fires.

The press release below is reposted with permission from the University of Nevada, Reno.


“Our lives should not be sacrificed this easily”: Camp Fire tragedy leads to new wildfire research

On November 8, 2018, the deadliest wildfire in California’s history ignited in Butte County outside the city of Paradise. When it was declared contained 17 days later, the Camp Fire had burned more than 150,000 acres, destroyed 18,000 buildings and taken 86 lives.

Like many, Hamed Ebrahimian, assistant professor in the College of Engineering, was moved by this tragedy. And when he discovered the fire was part of a growing trend of wildfire danger—for the last twenty years, on average, seven million acres of U.S. land have burned in wildfires annually—he got to work.

Harnessing his expertise in computational modeling in civil engineering, Ebrahimian began pursuing a better way to understand fire risk. He assembled a multi-institutional group of researchers with a similar desire to use science and technology to reduce the chances that the world would suffer from another wildfire of the magnitude of the Camp Fire. Now, with the help of a 5-year, $2 million grant from the National Science Foundation’s LEAP-HI program, Ebrahimian is ready to realize his vision.

“Some of the most tragic fatalities in the Camp Fire were due to unpredicted fire behavior, which surprised the victims and eliminated the proper reaction time. I told myself that we are in a digital and technology era and our lives should not be sacrificed this easily,” Ebrahimian said. “Two years later, I am grateful to be part of a solid team and to have received the support to execute this vision.”

The vision: A computational platform for multi-level wildfire risk assessment

Researchers at the Desert Research Institute (DRI), UCLA, University at Buffalo, National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder (NCAR), and the University of Nevada, Reno Colleges of Science and Business are gathered together under the leadership of the University’s College of Engineering to redefine wildfire risk monitoring and management through the development of a new computational platform. The platform is intended for use by wildfire managers, emergency responders and utility companies to plan for, respond to, and mitigate the risk of wildfires.

“This is an interdisciplinary intervention with a diverse team to blend different thinking modalities and to build a digital platform that can be used to monitor the risk of wildfire on a spectrum of spatial resolution and time,” Ebrahimian said. “Once developed, the computational platform will increase the efficiency of the wildfire management process by providing timely actionable information to decision-makers.”

The research project envisions an eventual live digital platform that evolves with new data and dynamically updates the long-term (seasons/months ahead) to short-term (weeks/days ahead) pre-ignition fire risks at regional and community scales for risk management, and the post-ignition fire behavior at near-real-time (hours-days) for situational awareness.

Ebrahimian explained, “Our objective is to develop a systematic framework to quantify the risk of wildfires to wildland-urban-interface communities in terms of the total probability of loss. Loss is defined as a combination of monetary damage and the change in the quality of life of people. The risk, thus, depends, on one hand, on the characteristics of the community, its structure, and location and, on the other hand, on the wildland and the factors affecting the fire ignition and spread, such as topography, climate conditions, fuel type and moisture. Now, we want to have the capability to combine all these factors and predict the seasons-month ahead to weeks-days-ahead risk for different communities and regions.”

This goal will be accomplished by creating and integrating transdisciplinary scientific knowledge and techniques in the fields of data harnessing (collection, processing, fusion, and uncertainty quantification), computational modeling (wild- and urban-fire initiation and spread, as well as social quality-of-life models), stochastic simulation, and model-based inference.

“This is a complex undertaking and requires the integration of various sources of data with a hierarchy of data-driven and physics-based models,” Ebrahimian continued. “The core idea is inspired by the many years of research advancement in the field of earthquake risk assessment and disaster resilience. Once developed and validated, the framework will be crucial to help make informed decisions and take preventive actions in order to scientifically reduce the risk of fires, and therefore, their effects on our communities and people. This can help reduce the risk of fires but the risk can never be eliminated. Therefore, another component of our computational platform is focused on predicting how active fires will behave and propagate. This will be instrumental to help the ground-zero firefighting activities.”

“A global concern”: collaboration through the NSF LEAP-HI program

Designed to challenge the engineering research community to take a leadership role in addressing demanding, urgent and consequential issues facing our nation, the Leading Engineering for America’s Prosperity, Health, and Infrastructure (LEAP-HI) program supports research that requires “sustained and coordinated effort from interdisciplinary research teams.” As such, LEAP-HI grants are complex, cross-disciplinary, and highly competitive—only a few projects are granted in each annual cycle. For Ebrahimian’s project, key contributions will come from engineers and scientists from institutions across the nation.

UCLA

Ertugrul Taciroglu

Ertugrul Taciroglu, professor and chair of the civil and environmental engineering department at the  UCLA Samueli School of Engineering, will lead the development of advanced tools that will make use of computer vision and machine-learning techniques to extract terrain and fuel characteristics from satellite and drone data. He will also work on the development of the Bayesian model updating techniques that will assimilate live-data from an ongoing fire into a high-fidelity wildfire forward simulation code.

“This approach is expected to enable direct utilization of event data for physics-based, near-real-time predictions of fire propagation,” Taciroglu said. “Better characterization wildfire propagation will help improved understanding of loss risks as well as pre-emptive mitigation methodologies.”

Taciroglu’s current research focuses on combining physics-based and data-driven models using a variety of techniques ranging from the more-conventional Bayesian updating and particle-filtering approaches to machine learning. His research group is also developing various tools for extracting metadata from images and point clouds to be used for defining computational domains in a variety of applications ranging from earthquake engineering to wildfire modeling.

University at Buffalo

Negar Elhami-Khorasani (photo courtesy of The Onion Studio)

Negar Elhami-Khorasani, assistant professor in the Department of Civil, Structural and Environmental Engineering at the University at Buffalo (UB), will develop a data-driven urban fire spread model to evaluate risk of wildfire in wildland urban interface communities (WIC). She will study temporal and spatial spread of fire in WIC, considering uncertainties in urban fuel, landscape, vegetation, and environmental factors. She will work with the rest of the team to establish a continuous fire risk assessment framework moving from the wildland into the urban interface. She will also collaborate with the University of Nevada, Reno to translate total burned area in a community to economic losses and its effects on community residents’ perception of life.

“. . . [F]ires are projected to become more frequent and intense. The economic and social impacts of wildfires . . . represent a global concern.”

“Wildfires have always been part of the natural landscape for a healthy ecosystem, yet these fires are projected to become more frequent and intense,” Elhami-Khorasani said. “The economic and social impacts of wildfires have risen in recent years, and now represent a global concern.”

National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder (NCAR)

Branko Kosovic

Branko Kosovic, director of the Weather Systems and Assessment Program at the Research Applications Laboratory of the National Center for Atmospheric Research, will lead the NCAR effort on assessing wildland fire risk assessment. He will focus on combining satellite imagery with highly detailed weather forecasts, analyzing environmental conditions such as fuel moisture, and applying an advanced weather-fire computer model.

“The goal is to develop a unique system for detailed assessments of wildland fire risk, alerting residents and firefighters days to weeks in advance of the potential for a major fire,” Kosovic said. “Such predictions can be vital for reducing the likelihood of a major fire and enabling fire crews to respond more rapidly in the event of a blaze igniting.”

An expert on wildfire prediction, Kosovic has led the NCAR team that is developing an advanced weather–wildland fire behavior model for the Colorado Wildfire Prediction System. He also oversaw the development of a data product of daily dead and live fuel moisture across the contiguous United States, which combines satellite and surface observations using a machine learning model. Kosovic is the Chair of the Ad Hoc Committee on Wildfire Weather, Technology and Risk of the American Meteorological Society.

Desert Research Institute (DRI)

Adam Watts

From the Desert Research Institute (DRI), Adam Watts, associate research professor in fire ecology, will contribute his expertise in fire surveying and data collection using unmanned aerial systems (UAS).

“Collecting refined data though aerial surveillance is an important undertaking that will inform the properties of fuel on the ground for pre-ignition fire risk assessment,” said Watts. “We, moreover, have significant experience in flying instrumented UAS on active fires to collected near-real-time data that will be used for fire propagation and behavior predictions.”

Watts is UAS Lead for the Fire and Smoke Model Evaluation Experiment (FASMEE) project, and a certified Wildland Fire Ecologist and Wildland Fire Practitioner. These skills and connections will provide prescribed-fire observation opportunities, leveraged data resources, and valuable external collaborations as well as extension capabilities via DRI’s Science Alive programs. Watts also directs the Airborne Systems Testing and Environmental Research Laboratory, where expertise in UAS payload development and deployment over wildland fires will be used to support relevant project tasks.

The Colleges of Business, Science and Engineering at the University of Nevada, Reno

Amir Talaei-Khoei

In the College of Business, Amir Talaei-Khoei, associate professor, will extend the engineering approach of the team to a humanistic perspective. His main goal is to understand the underlying effects of wildfire on the quality of people’s lives, including their perception about their individual and social viabilities. Amir is looking into closing the loop by not only investigating physical damages caused by wildfires, but also exploring the changes in people’s quality of life. In this study, the quality of life assessment instruments will be employed for the first time to take a social and humanistic approach in understanding wildfire impacts. This perspective is the first of its kind.

Talaei-Khoei has previously taken a similar approach utilizing quality of life assessment instruments to understand the effect of aging in people’s individual and social enthusiasms. Amir’s experience in leading a global multi-institutional initiative for Improving Elderly’s Quality of Life will provide an infrastructure in which the impact of wildfire will be assessed. The Department of Information Systems at the College of Business in the University of Nevada, Reno has a group of experts in this area and will provide a collaborative environment that will support Talaei-Khoei’s work in wildfire.

Neil Lareau

Neil Lareau, assistant professor in the Atmospheric Sciences program of the Department of Physics, will lead the effort to collect real-time data on wildfire plumes and fire progression using state-of-the-science scanning lidars and radars. These scanning remote sensors can see into the dense ash surrounding a fire, thereby enabling researchers to probe fire evolution by measuring fire-generated winds, plume dynamics, and changes in the fire perimeter. These real-time data will be fed into the modeling components of the study to constrain, and ultimately improve, the model predictions of fire progression.

Hamed Ebrahimian

The research of Hamed Ebrahimian, assistant professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, is mainly focused on integrating physics-based models with data for data assimilation, estimation, identification, model updating, and uncertainty quantifications. As the project PI, he will oversee the development of various project pieces and their integration into a unified whole. He will also contribute his research expertise to develop a stochastic simulation framework for probabilistic wildfire risk assessment. Further, he will integrate measurement data with computational fire models to improve fire behavior prediction capabilities.

Community Engagement

This research and the technological outcomes of the project will not have an impact without the contribution and guidelines of the community partners, including researchers, field experts, practitioners and fire management authorities. Therefore, an active outreach effort is embedded in the research execution plan.

“We are looking forward to work with the broader fire community to exchange knowledge and tune the research outcomes toward addressing the existing pain points and technical gaps. Our objective is to have a practical, adoptable, and useful technology framework, and for this, we welcome any collaborative efforts,” said Ebrahimian.

For Ebrahimian and the rest of the researchers, the education of academic scholars and motivating K-12 students is essential. A sustainable technology development effort necessitates a comprehensive educational component, which trains the future workforce to continue carrying the torch. The project will involve eight graduate students and one post-doctoral scholar in a convergence research environment, training the next generation of transdisciplinary experts and researchers on wildfire hazards. A new joint educational curriculum between the civil engineering and physics departments at the University of Nevada, Reno, is planned to train the future workforce in wildfire engineering. Finally, the project includes an educational outreach program that will target local schools through University K-12 outreach programs. This effort will yield lesson modules on wildfires, which will highlight the important roles of STEM research in developing novel solutions to emerging problems.

“This project exemplifies the engineering spirit. Through collaboration, it provides multiple lenses for understanding a pressing problem not only in the United States but around the world. It advances our common goal of protecting lives and increasing prosperity. Because it integrates essential educational components, it further ensures that the next generation will build on its successes,” University of Nevada, Reno College of Engineering Dean Manos Maragakis said. “We are proud of Hamed and his exceptional collaborators, and we are grateful for their contributions to our global community.”

Like the LEAP-HI wildfire project itself, this article represents a collaborative effort from Christine Lee (UCLA), Peter Murphy (UB), David Hosansky (NCAR), Justin Broglio (DRI), Allie Crichton (College of Business), Jennifer Kent (College of Science), Mike Wolterbeek (Marketing and Communications) and each member of the research team. 

 

Tu Biomics, Agriculture Biotechnology Company Spins Out Of DRI

Tu Biomics, Agriculture Biotechnology Company Spins Out Of DRI

Carson City, Nev. – The Desert Research Institute (DRI) has successfully spun out its first research-based company focused on innovative solutions in agriculture with support from the Governor’s Office of Economic Development (GOED) Knowledge Fund.

Tu Biomics Inc., inspired by DRI’s expertise in microbial ecology, is an agricultural biotechnology company that targets the soil health challenges associated with industrial-scale farming. In conjunction with DRI’s plant and molecular biology scientists, Tu Biomics is developing a platform of organically derived biocontrol agents (BCAs) as a sustainable, effective alternative to currently available synthetic chemistry options.

After GOED funded a $350,000 Knowledge Fund research project at DRI, Tu Biomics subsequently received nearly $1 million in seed financing from venture investors and industry partners.

“Identifying and developing the technology further towards market readiness as well as the actual Tu Biomics business formation is an excellent example of how GOED’s Knowledge Fund works,” said Michael Brown, GOED Executive Director.

DRI’s advanced climate-controlled EcoCell research facility in Reno

DRI researchers Jay Arnone and Jessica Larsen examine garlic samples grown in DRI’s advanced climate-controlled EcoCell research facility in Reno, Nevada.

Subsequently, the state venture program Battle Born Growth Escalator provided key seed funding. Through the Knowledge Fund and Battle Born Growth Escalator, crucial components of Innovation Based Economic Development (IBED) were reinforced by utilizing GOED’s programs enabling an effective continuum of converting research into launching businesses.

“DRI scientists have long supported Nevada’s agricultural industry. The innovations coming out of our labs were the catalyst in creating Tu Biomics, which is developing commercially viable organic solutions for farmers addressing their biggest crop yield issues,” said Mike Benjamin, President of the Desert Research Corporation, which serves as DRI’s technology commercialization entity.

“The creation of Tu Biomics, with its strong leadership, engaged board of directors and a leading industry partnership, is a validation that Nevada’s higher education research and development engine is working,” Benjamin added. “We will continue to support the research coming out of DRI and tech transfer will continue to thrive by creating solutions for our state and region throughout this adverse economic period.”

In collaboration with the largest garlic grower and shipper in the U.S., the Tu Biomics research team has demonstrated the ability of its BCAs to suppress eight (8) economically significant soil-borne diseases affecting hundreds of agricultural and ornamental plants globally. The team is currently focused on pathogens that impact the key crops of garlic, leafy greens, and strawberries.

“Tu Biomics is another example of the growth of the entrepreneurial and investor community in northern Nevada”, said Brian Speicher, former business development lead at DRI, and CEO of Tu Biomics. “There is a deep reservoir of basic and applied science at DRI, and I believe this is just the first spin-out of many addressing challenges in a number of industries.”

DRI’s Frits Went Laboratory

DRI’s Frits Went Laboratory 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.

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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. More information on the Governor’s Office of Economic Development can be viewed at diversifynevada.com.

About the Desert Research Institute
The Desert Research Institute (DRI) is a recognized world leader in basic and applied interdisciplinary research. Committed to scientific excellence and integrity, DRI faculty, students, and staff have developed scientific knowledge and innovative technologies in research projects around the globe. Since 1959, DRI’s research has advanced scientific knowledge, supported Nevada’s diversifying economy, provided science-based educational opportunities, and informed policymakers, business leaders, and community members. With campuses in Reno and Las Vegas, DRI serves as the non-profit research arm of the Nevada System of Higher Education. For more information, visit  www.dri.edu.

New study reveals key information about the microbiome of an important anticancer compound-producing Antarctic marine invertebrate

New study reveals key information about the microbiome of an important anticancer compound-producing Antarctic marine invertebrate

New study reveals key information about the microbiome of an important anticancer compound-producing Antarctic marine invertebrate

RENO, NEV.
JUNE 25, 2020

Microbiology
Melanoma
Ascidians

Could the cure for melanoma – the most dangerous type of skin cancer – be a compound derived from a marine invertebrate that lives at the bottom of the ocean? A group of scientists led by Alison Murray, Ph.D. of the Desert Research Institute (DRI) in Reno think so, and are looking to the microbiome of an Antarctic ascidian called Synoicum adareanum to better understand the possibilities for development of a melanoma-specific drug.

 Ascidians, or “sea squirts”, are primitive, sac-like marine animals that live attached to ocean-bottoms around the world, and feed on plankton by filtering seawater. S. adareanum, which grows in small colonies in the waters surrounding Antarctica, is known to contain a bioactive compound called “Palmerolide A” with promising anti-melanoma properties – and researchers believe that the compound is produced by bacteria that are naturally associated with S. adareanum.

In a new paper published this month in the journal Marine Drugs, Murray and collaborators from the University of South Florida, the Los Alamos National Laboratory, and the Université de Nantes, France, present important new findings measuring palmerolide levels across samples collected from Antarctica’s Anvers Island Archipelago and characterizing the community of bacteria that make up the microbiome of S. adareanum

“Our longer-term goal is to figure out which of the many bacteria within this species is producing palmerolide, but to do this, there is a lot we need to learn about the microbiome of S. adareanum,” Murray said. “Our new study describes many advances that we have made toward that goal over the last few years.”

Synoicum adareanum

Synoicum adareanum: The Antarctic sea squirt, Synoicum adareanum at 80’ (24 meters) lives amongst the red algae, bryozoans and starfish on the seafloor. It is a non-motile benthic species that gets its nutrition from microorganisms and organic carbon in the seawater. Its microbiome hosts a suite of different microorganisms that can provide defenses against predation and infection in some cases. Tissues of this animal were found to contain high levels of a compound that is active against melanoma, which is thought to be produced by a member of the sea squirt’s microbiome.

Credit: Bill Baker, USF

In 2008, Murray worked with Bill Baker, Ph.D., of the University of South Florida, and DRI postdoctoral researcher Christian Riesenfeld, Ph.D., to publish a study on the microbial diversity of one individual S. adareanum. Their new study builds upon this research by characterizing the microbial diversity of 63 different individuals that were collected from around Anvers Island.

Their results identify a what the researchers call the “core microbiome” of the species – a common suite of 21 bacterial taxa that were present in more than 80 percent of samples, and six bacterial taxa that were present in all 63 samples.

“It is a key “first” for Antarctic science to have been able to find and identify this core microbiome in a fairly large regional study of these organisms,” Murray said. “This is information that we need to get to the next step of identifying the producer of palmerolide.”

Another “first” for Antarctic science, and for the study of natural products in nature in general, was a comparison of palmerolide levels across all 63 samples that showed the compound was present in every specimen at high (milligram per gram specimen tissue) levels, but the researchers found no trends between sites, samples, or microbiome bacteria. Additional analysis looking at the co-occurrence relationships of the taxa across the large data set showed some of the ways that bacteria are interacting with each other and with the host species in this marine ecosystem.

 “The microbiome itself is unique in composition from other ascidians, and seems to be pretty interesting, with a lot of interaction,” Murray said. “Our study has opened the doors to understand the ecology of this system.”

From the assemblage of bacteria that the researchers have identified as making up the core microbiome of S. adareanum, they next hope to use a genomics approach to finally be able to identify which of the bacteria are producing palmerolide – an important and needed advancement toward the development of a melanoma treatment.  

“It would be a really big deal to use this compound to develop a drug for fighting melanoma, because there are just so few drugs at the moment that can be used to treat it,” Murray said. “If we can identify the bacteria that produce this chemical, and with its genome understand how to cultivate it in a laboratory setting, this would enable us to provide a sustainable supply of palmerolide that would not rely on harvesting wild populations of this species in Antarctica.”

 

Anvers Island Antarctica

Anvers Island Antarctica: Samples for microbiome characterization were collected by SCUBA divers working on the sea ice off Anvers Island, in the Antarctic Peninsula. Diving through holes cut in the sea ice requires dry suites, and relatively short dive times. (photographed Prof. Bill Baker in the hole, and his graduate student Chris Petri suited on the sled).

Credit: Maggy Amsler

DNA-stained micrograph

DNA-stained micrograph: Cultivation efforts led to isolation of a new bacterial species affiliated with the Pseudovibrio genus – a group known to produce bioactive compounds – this is the first cold-adapted member of this genus. This strain has unusual branching morphology (seen in the DNA-stained micrograph), and storage granules that appear yellow.

Credit: Eric Lundin, DRI

“It is a key “first” for Antarctic science to have been able to find and identify this core microbiome in a fairly large regional study of these organisms,” Murray said. “This is information that we need to get to the next step of identifying the producer of palmerolide.”

Additional information

The full text of the study, “Uncovering the Core Microbiome and Distribution of Palmerolide in Synoicum adareanum Across the Anvers Island Archipelago, Antarctica,” is available from Marine Drugs: https://www.mdpi.com/1660-3397/18/6/298/htm

This research was supported by the National Institute of Health, National Cancer Institute, and the National Science Foundation.

 

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About the Desert Research Institute

The Desert Research Institute (DRI) is a recognized world leader in basic and applied interdisciplinary research. Committed to scientific excellence and integrity, DRI faculty, students, and staff have developed scientific knowledge and innovative technologies in research projects around the globe. Since 1959, DRI’s research has advanced scientific knowledge, supported Nevada’s diversifying economy, provided science-based educational opportunities, and informed policy makers, business leaders, and community members. With campuses in Reno and Las Vegas, DRI serves as the non-profit research arm of the Nevada System of Higher Education. For more information, please visit www.dri.edu.

 

Media Contact

Justin Broglio
Communications Manager, Desert Research Institute
775-762-8320
Justin.Broglio@dri.edu
@DRIScience