Nevada Receives National Science Foundation Research Award for $20 Million

Nevada Receives National Science Foundation Research Award for $20 Million

drone in wildfire

May 17, 2022
LAS VEGAS

Fire Science
Wildland Fire Research
Workforce Development 

Nevada Receives National Science Foundation Research Award for $20 Million

To increase capacity for wildland fire research, education, and workforce development

The Nevada System of Higher Education (NSHE) has been awarded $20 million over a period of five years for the Harnessing the Data Revolution for Fire Science (HDRFS) project. This project is funded through the National Science Foundation Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (NSF EPSCoR); whose mission is to enhance research competitiveness of targeted jurisdictions (states, territories, commonwealth) by strengthening STEM capacity and capability. 

The overarching goal of the RII Track-1: Harnessing the Data Revolution for Fire Science (HDRFS) project is to increase the capacity of Nevada for wildland fire research, education, and workforce development and to demonstrate this increased capacity through technology-enhanced fire science in the regionally important sagebrush ecosystem. 

This system-wide partnership involves the three research institutions, the Desert Research Institute (DRI), the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV), and the University of Nevada, Reno (UNR). Further involvement includes faculty and students from NSHE undergraduate institutions.  

“NSF continues to serve as an essential partner in supporting the critical work of the NSHE EPSCoR,” said NSHE Board of Regents Chair Cathy McAdoo. “As our region currently faces extreme fire and water challenges, we appreciate this investment in Fire Science research and workforce development; giving NSHE institutions (DRI, UNLV, UNR) more capacity to solve our most pressing environmental issues.”  

This project will inform and improve land and fire management by providing scaling of fire effects and impacts from smaller to larger fires in four fire science areas: Ecology; Hydrology between fire events; Fire Processes; and Fire Emissions and their Atmospheric Aging during fire events. This will be achieved through strategic investments in expertise, facilities, Cyberinfrastructure Innovations, and Education and Workforce Development creating end-to-end pipelines for research and STEM advancements. 

“This project will generate and harness large amounts of data from diverse sensor platforms to accurately model landscapes and wildland fires from plot to watershed scales,” said Frederick Harris, Nevada NSF EPSCoR Project Director. “We will study how fires impact the societal needs outlined in the Nevada Science and Technology Plan.” 

In addition, NSHE researchers will study potential new areas of economic development for Nevada, emphasizing new opportunities for workforce development, diversity, hiring new faculty, and providing more scholarship opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students in STEM fields.  

“This NSF award funds critical fire science research, which continues to be a priority for Nevada,” said DRI President Kumud Acharya. “DRI has expertise in wildland fire research, and we look forward to working with our fellow NSHE institutions on this important project.” 

The award will enhance Nevada’s capabilities in wildland fire science, UAS, data acquisition, processing, and modeling, and rapid deployment, while strengthening Nevada’s network of external collaborators and stakeholders, who already include the major fire and land management agencies in the Great Basin and Western United States. 

“This marks an important investment for Nevada and the West,” said UNR President Brian Sandoval. “This National Science Foundation EPSCoR-supported project takes a comprehensive, collaborative approach. It will enhance the capacity of Nevada’s public research institutions to further tackle an issue of utmost importance and will do so by further deploying technology and cyberinfrastructure, and further building on the expertise and capabilities of our researchers and faculty.” 

“By joining forces, UNR, DRI, and UNLV are poised to reveal the power of cooperation in Nevada when it comes to addressing challenges important to the state and beyond its borders,” said UNLV President Keith Whitfield. “This research will advance our fundamental understanding of wildfires as it strengthens the capacity of our campuses to engage with each other and with Nevada’s students and citizens in addressing today’s complex challenges. This is but one example of how research works for Nevada.” 

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About NSHE

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

About the Nevada System Sponsored Programs and EPSCoR

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

About DRI

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

Farm vehicles heavy as dinosaurs jeopardize future food security

Farm vehicles heavy as dinosaurs jeopardize future food security

Heavy farm machinery

May 17, 2022

Farm vehicles heavy as dinosaurs jeopardize future food security

Reposted from https://www.slu.se/en/ew-news/2022/5/farm-vehicles-heavy-as-dinosaurs-jeopardize-food-security/.

Farm vehicles are becoming so heavy that they jeopardize future food security in Europe, America and Australia. Larger and more flexible tires have limited the damage on the surface, but below the topsoil, the soil is becoming so compact that its long-term production capacity is threatened. These conclusions are made in a new global study, which also draws parallels to the sauropods, the heaviest animals that ever walked Earth.

The study, which was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) yesterday, was conducted by Professor Thomas Keller from the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU) and Agroscope in Switzerland, and Professor Dani Or from ETH Zurich in Switzerland and the Desert Research Institute in the USA.

Mechanization has greatly contributed to the success of modern agriculture, with vastly expanded food production capabilities achieved by the higher capacity of farm machinery. However, the increase in capacity has been accompanied by heavier vehicles that increase the risk of subsoil compaction.

While the total weight of laden combine harvesters could be around 4 tonnes in the late 1950s, we can today see modern vehicles weighing 36 tonnes in the fields, and the researchers behind the present study decided to investigate what this development has meant for arable land. The contact stress on the soil surface turned out to have remained constant at a low level during this period, which is due to the fact that the machines have been fitted with ever larger tires that distribute the weight over a larger surface. In the deeper soil layer, the subsoil, on the other hand, soil compaction has increased to levels that jeopardize the soil’s ability to produce food. This also has consequences for the soil’s ability to transport water and provide other important ecosystem services.

“Subsoil compaction by farm vehicles is a very serious problem, since once soils are compacted, they remain damaged for decades. This may be one of the reasons why harvests are no longer increasing and why we are now seeing more floods than before”, says lead author Professor Thomas Keller, from SLU in Sweden and Agriscope in Switzerland.

High risk of compaction in one fifth of the arable land globally

The researchers have also produced a map that shows how the risk of chronic subsoil compaction varies around the world and the risk turned out to be greatest in Europe, North and South America and Australia. Globally, about a fifth of all arable land is estimated to be at risk of far-reaching damage that is very difficult to repair. In other words, the chance that these soils will recover is small.

The risk is presently smaller in Asia and Africa, where the mechanization of agriculture has not reached the same high level yet.

“If the mechanization were to gain momentum in Asia and Africa, however, there is a risk of subsoil compaction also on these continents”, says Thomas Keller.

Vehicle manufacturers must pay more attention to subsoil compaction

To contribute to more sustainable agriculture, vehicle manufacturers need to be more concerned about the risk of subsoil compaction and its negative impact on the soil.

“Above all, the wheel loads of modern farm vehicles need to be reduced in order not to affect the subsoil to the same extent as today. The heavier the machines, the worse for the subsoils”, says Thomas Keller.

Did dinosaurs induce soil compaction?

The researchers also show that the heaviest farm vehicles used in modern agriculture approach the weight of the heaviest dinosaurs, the sauropods. This indicates that the sauropods probably induced soil compaction and affected the soil’s production capacity in the same way as modern farm vehicles.

“No one seemed to have wondered whether dinosaurs induced subsoil compaction, but since the sauropods were as heavy as modern farm vehicles, we thought this was a question that ought to be explored”, says Thomas Keller.

Like humans, sauropods depended on the soils ability to provide food, suggesting that they moved across the landscape in a way that reduced the risk of soil compaction. One possibility is that they restricted their movements to fixed “foraging trails” and grazed plants next to them with the help of their long necks. In this way, they could ensure that the surrounding land continued to produce the plant food they needed.

More information:

The full study, “Farm vehicles approaching weights of sauropods exceed safe mechanical limits for soil functioning,” is available from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences: https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.2117699119

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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.

For Outdoor Workers, Extreme Heat Poses Extreme Danger

For Outdoor Workers, Extreme Heat Poses Extreme Danger

extreme heat and workforce health

May 11, 2022
LAS VEGAS

Extreme Heat
Outdoor Workers
Workforce Health

For Outdoor Workers, Extreme Heat Poses Extreme Danger

Study explores effects of summertime heat waves on workforce health in Las Vegas, Phoenix, and Los Angeles

Working outdoors during periods of extreme heat can cause discomfort, heat stress, or heat illnesses – all growing concerns for people who live and work in Southwestern cities like Las Vegas, where summer temperatures creep higher each year. But, did you know that female outdoor workers are experiencing disproportionate impacts? Or, that more experienced outdoor workers are at higher risk than those with fewer years on the job? 

In a new study in the International Journal of Environmental Science and Technology, scientists from DRI, Nevada State College, and the Guinn Center for Policy Priorities explore the growing threat that extreme heat poses to workforce health in three of the hottest cities in North America – Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and Phoenix. Their study results hold important findings for outdoor workers, their employers, and policymakers across the Southwestern U.S.   

To assess the relationship between extreme heat and nonfatal workplace heat-related illness, the study compared data on occupational injuries and illnesses for the years 2011-2018 with heat index data from Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and Phoenix. Heat index data combines temperature and humidity as a measure of how people feel the heat. 

“We expected to see a correlation between high temperatures and people getting sick – and we found that there was a very clear trend in most cases,” said lead author Erick Bandala, Ph.D., assistant research professor of environmental science at DRI. “Surprisingly, this type of analysis hadn’t been done in the past, and there are some really interesting social implications to what we learned.” 

First, the research team analyzed changes in heat index data for the three cities. They found a significant increase in heat index at two of the three locations (Phoenix and Las Vegas) during the study period, with average heat index values for June-Aug climbing from “extreme caution” in 2012 into the “danger” range by 2018. Over the same period, data from the Bureau of Labor and Statistics showed that the number of nonfatal heat-related workplace injuries and illnesses in each of the three states increased steadily, climbing from below the national average in 2011 to above the national average in 2018.  

heat-related nonfatal workplace injuries

According to new research, the number of heat-related nonfatal workplace injuries in Arizona, California, and Nevada increased between 2011 and 2018. The three states now exceed the U.S. average.

Credit: Erick Bandala/DRI.

“Our data indicate that the increases in heat are happening alongside increases in the number of nonfatal occupational injuries across these three states,” Bandala said. “Every year we are seeing increased heat waves and higher temperatures, and all of the people who work outside in the streets or in gardens or agriculture are exposed to this.”

Next, the study team looked deeper into the data to learn about the number of male and female workers being affected by heat-related workplace injuries. At the beginning of the study in 2011, 26 to 50 percent of the people affected across the three states were female. By 2018, 42 to 86 percent of the people affected were female.

Study authors believe that the reason for this increase may be due to more women entering the outdoor workforce, or it could be related to the vulnerability of women to certain heat-related effects, like hyponatremia — a condition that develops when too much plain water is consumed under high heat conditions and sodium levels in blood get too low.

“As the number of female workers exposed to extreme temperatures increases, there is an increasing need to consider the effect of gender and use different approaches to recommend prevention measures as hormonal factors and cycles that can be exacerbated during exposure to extreme heat,” said study coauthor Kebret Kebede, M.D., associate professor of biology at Nevada State College.

The authors examined other variables, such as the length of an employee’s service with an employer. They found that the number of heat-related injury/illnesses tended to increase as the length of service with the employer increased, and that those with more than five years of service were at greater risk than those with less than one year of service. This may be due to employees with more years of service having a reduced perception of risk, or could be a cumulative effect of years of chronic heat exposure on the well-being of outdoor workers.

heat-related injuries/illnesses

New research shows that in Arizona, Nevada and California, the number of heat-related injuries/illnesses tended to increase as length of service with the employer increased.

Credit: Erick Bandala/DRI.

In severe cases, heat-related illness or injury can cause extensive damage to all tissues and organs, disrupting the central nervous system, blood-clotting mechanisms, and liver and kidney functions. In these cases, lengthy recoveries are required. The authors found concerning evidence that heat-related injuries are keeping many outdoor workers away from work for more than 30 days.

“These lengthy recovery times are a significant problem for workers and their families, many of whom are living day-to-day,” Bandala said. “When we have these extreme heat conditions coming every year and a lot of people working outside, we need to know what are the consequences of these problems, and we need the people to know about the risk so that they take proper precautions.”

heat-related injuries

Authors of a new study on the impacts of extreme heat on workplace health found concerning evidence that heat-related injuries are keeping many outdoor workers away from work for more than 30 days.

Credit: Erick Bandala/DRI.

The study also explored connections between heat-related injuries/illnesses and the number of hours worked, the time of day that the event occurred, and the ethnicities and age groups that were most impacted. 

Study authors hope that their results will be useful to policymakers to protect outdoor workers. They also hope that the information will be useful to outdoor workers who need to stay safe during times of extreme heat, and employers who rely on a healthy workforce to keep their businesses operating.

 “This study underscores the importance of and the need for the work the Nevada Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is doing to adopt a regulation to address heat illness,” stated Nancy Brune, Ph.D., study co-author and senior fellow at the Guinn Center.  

“As temperatures continue to rise and heat-related illnesses and deaths continue to rise, the need for public policies to alleviate health and economic impacts is growing,” Bandala said.  “I hope to continue doing research on this problem so that we can have a better of understanding of the impacts of extreme heat and how to help the people who are most vulnerable.”

More information:

The full study, “Assessing the effect of extreme heat on workforce health in the southwestern USA,” is available from the International Journal of Environmental Science and Technology: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s13762-022-04180-1

This project was funded by NOAA/IRAP (Grant no. NA18AR4310341) and the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (GM103440) from the National Institutes of Health. Study authors included Erick Bandala (DRI), Nancy Brune (Guinn Center for Policy Priorities), and Kebret Kebede (Nevada State College).

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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 Nevada State College

Nevada State College, a four-year public institution, is a member of the Nevada System of Higher Education. Nevada State places a special emphasis on the advancement of a diverse and largely under-served student population. Located on a developing 512-acre campus in the foothills of Henderson, Nevada, the college was established in 2002 as a new tier in the state system between the research universities and the two-year colleges and, as such, is Nevada’s only state college. Nevada State College is one of the fastest-growing colleges in the country and the fastest growing in Nevada. It currently has more than 7,000 students and more than 800 full- and part-time employees. For more information, visit http://nsc.edu. 

About the Guinn Center

The Guinn Center is a policy research center, affiliated with the University of Nevada, Reno, with offices in both Las Vegas and Reno. The Guinn Center provides data-driven research and policy analysis. The Guinn Center seeks to identify and advance common-sense policy solutions through research , policy engagement, and strategic partnerships.

Study Develops Framework for Forecasting Contribution of Snowpack to Flood Risk During Winter Storms

Study Develops Framework for Forecasting Contribution of Snowpack to Flood Risk During Winter Storms

flooding along the South Fork of the Yuba River in California

May 3, 2022
RENO, NEV.

Forecasting
Flood Risk
Winter Storms

Above: During January 2017, a rain-on-snow event caused flooding along the South Fork of the Yuba River in California. Climate change is expected to make such events larger and more frequent.

Credit: JD Richey. 

Study Develops Framework for Forecasting Contribution of Snowpack to Flood Risk During Winter Storms

New research advances effort to create a decision-support tool for reservoir operators and flood managers

Anne Heggli in the snow

Lead author Anne Heggli of DRI digs through deep snow to reach a monitoring site during a 2019 field project at the UC Berkeley Central Sierra Snow Laboratory in the Tahoe National Forest.

Credit: M. Heggli. 

Reno, Nev. (May 3, 2022) –In the Sierra Nevada, midwinter “rain-on-snow” events occur when rain falls onto existing snowpack and have resulted in some of the region’s biggest and most damaging floods. Rain-on-snow events are projected to increase in size and frequency in the coming years, but little guidance exists for water resource managers on how to mitigate flood risk during times of rapidly changing snowpack. Their minute-by-minute decisions during winter storms can have long-lasting impacts to people, property, and water supplies.

A new study by a team from DRI, University of California, Berkeley, the National Weather Service, and University of Nevada, Reno, provides the first framework for a snowpack decision support tool that could help water managers prepare for potential flooding during rain-on-snow events, using hourly data from existing snow monitoring stations.

“During rain-on-snow events, the people managing our water resources always have decisions to make, and it’s really challenging when you’re dealing with people’s lives and property and livelihood,” said DRI Graduate Assistant and lead author Anne Heggli, M.S. “With this work, we’re leveraging existing monitoring networks to maximize the investment that has already been made, and give the data new meaning as we work to solve existing problems that will potentially become larger as we confront climate change.”

snow depth sensor installation

Lead author Anne Heggli of DRI installing a snow depth sensor at the UC Berkeley Central Sierra Snow Laboratory in the Tahoe National Forest for the 2021-2022 winter.

Credit: P. Kucera. 

To develop a testable framework for a decision support tool, Heggli and her colleagues used hourly soil moisture data from UC Berkeley’s Central Sierra Snow Laboratory from 2006-2019 to identify periods of terrestrial water input. Next, they developed quality control procedures to improve model accuracy. From their results, they learned lessons about midwinter runoff that can be used to develop the framework for a more broadly applicable snowpack runoff decision support tool.

“We know the condition (cold content) of the snowpack leading into a rain-on-snow event can either help mitigate or exacerbate flooding concerns,” said study coauthor Tim Bardsley of the National Weather Service in Reno. “The challenge is that the simplified physics and lumped nature of our current operational river forecast models struggle to provide helpful guidance here. This research and framework aims to help fill that information gap.”

“This study and the runoff decision framework that has been built from its data are great examples of the research-to-operations focus that has been so important at the Central Sierra Snow Lab for the past 75 years,” said study coauthor Andrew Schwartz, Ph.D., manager of the snow lab. “This work can help inform decisions by water managers as the climate and our water resources change, and that’s the goal – to have better tools available for our water.”

The idea for this project was sparked during the winter of 2017, when Heggli and her brother were testing snow water content sensors in California. Several large rain-on-snow events occurred, including a series of January and February storms that culminated in the Oroville Dam Spillway Crisis.

“I noticed in our sensors that there were these interesting signatures – and I heard a prominent water manager say that they had no idea how the snowpack was going to respond to these rain-on-snow events,” Heggli explained. “After hearing the need of the water manager and seeing the pattern in the data, I wondered if we could use some of that hourly snowpack data to shave off some level of uncertainty about how the snowpack would react to rain.”

Heggli is currently enrolled in a Ph.D. program at UNR, and has been working under the direction of DRI faculty advisor Benjamin Hatchett, Ph.D., to advance her long-term goal of creating a decision support tool for reservoir operators and flood managers.

The results of this study can next be used to develop basin-specific decision support systems that will provide real-time guidance for water resource managers. The study results will also be used in a new project with the Nevada Department of Transportation.

“Anne’s work, inspired by observation, demonstrates how much we still can learn from creatively analyzing existing data to produce actionable information supporting resource management during high-impact weather events as well as the value of continued investment to maintain and expand our environmental networks,” said Hatchett, DRI Assistant Research Professor of Atmospheric Science.

More information:

The full text of the study, Toward snowpack runoff decision support, is available from iScience: https://www.cell.com/iscience/fulltext/S2589-0042(22)00510-7. 

This project was funded by University Corporation for Atmospheric Research’s COMET Outreach program, Desert Research Institute’s Internal Project Assignment program, and the Nevada Space Grant Consortium Graduate Research Opportunity Fellowship. Study authors included Anne Heggli (DRI), Benjamin Hatchett (DRI), Andrew Schwartz (University of California, Berkeley), Tim Bardsley (National Weather Service, Reno), and Emily Hand (University of Nevada, Reno).

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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.

Study Shows Importance of Ensuring Participant and Provider Follow-up After a Genetic Screening Result

Study Shows Importance of Ensuring Participant and Provider Follow-up After a Genetic Screening Result

Graphic representation of the DNA sequence

April 27, 2022
RENO, Nev.

Genetics
Genetics Screening
Actionable Care Plans
Above: Graphic representation of the DNA sequence. In a recent study, Healthy Nevada Project scientists looked at the impact that notifying a patient of a positive finding for a CDC Tier 1 condition had on the care that the patient received in the months and years that followed.
Credit: Gio_tto, “Graphic representation of the DNA sequence”, https://www.istockphoto.com/photo/dna-sequence-gm498188318-79526609.
Study Shows Importance of Ensuring Participant and Provider Follow-up After a Genetic Screening Result
New research from the Healthy Nevada Project® finds that a confirmed diagnosis does not always result in changes to patient care
front page of Incomplete Penetrance of Population-Based Genetic Screening Results in Electronic Health Record

The full text of the study,  Incomplete Penetrance of Population-Based Genetic Screening Results in Electronic Health Record, is available from Frontiers in Genetics: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fgene.2022.866169/full?&utm_source=Email_to_authors_&utm_medium=Email&utm_content=T1_11.5e1_author&utm_campaign=Email_publication&field=&journalName=Frontiers_in_Genetics&id=866169.

Reno, Nev. (April 27, 2022)Presenting individuals with potentially life-altering health information doesn’t mean the individuals – or their healthcare providers – will act on it. Follow-up education and conversations about actionable care plans with patients and their doctors are key next steps, according to new research from the Healthy Nevada Project.  

The Healthy Nevada Project is a genetic screening and research project that launched in 2016 as a partnership between DRI and Renown Health. The project now has more than 50,000 participants, with genetic sequencing provided by Helix 

Between September 2018 and September 2020, the Healthy Nevada Project successfully notified 293 participants that they were genetically at risk for hereditary breast and ovarian cancer syndrome, Lynch syndrome, or familial hypercholesterolemia – three common genetic conditions known collectively as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Tier 1 conditions. In a study published today in Frontiers in Genetics, Healthy Nevada Project scientists looked at the impact that notifying a patient of a positive finding for a CDC Tier 1 condition had on the care that the patient received in the months and years that followed.  

According to their results, among the 293 Healthy Nevada Project participants who were notified of their genetic risk of a CDC Tier 1 condition, 71 percent of participants with electronic health records shared their findings with healthcare providers. However, only 30 percent of the electronic health records for these patients contained documentation of the genetic diagnosis, and only 10 percent of examined patients experienced a possible change in care after receiving the results of their genetic screening.  

“The Healthy Nevada Project was implemented with a ‘hands-off’ approach where the participants receive their findings and decide with whom and when to share those findings. The findings were not automatically added to their electronic health records,” said Dr. Gai Elhanan, health data scientist at DRI and co-lead author of the study. “What we’re learning now is that to ensure that important genetic findings are integrated into the care journey it is important to make their inclusion into the electronic health records part of the study.” 

This study builds on previous Healthy Nevada Project research published in Nature Medicine demonstrating the importance of screening for CDC Tier 1 conditions, which affect about one in 75 individuals and can be mitigated or even prevented from developing into disease when detected early. This study found that as many as 90 percent of the CDC Tier 1 cases are missed by clinical providers during normal clinical care screenings and examinations. 

During the current study, the Healthy Nevada Project scientists found that 19 percent of studied participants had already developed one of the CDC Tier 1 conditions, and thus would have potentially benefited from earlier notification about their condition. The study team hopes that their findings will encourage individuals in Nevada to obtain genetic testing for these relatively common conditions. Even if individuals are older or have already suffered from diseases related to these conditions, testing could also prove beneficial to siblings, children, and grandchildren who may also be at risk and who could subsequently be screened in the event of a positive finding. 

The study team also encourages informing health care providers of the importance of incorporating genetic diagnoses into the pharmaceutical (for example, for Familial Hypercholesterolemia) and treatment advice given to patients.  

“As a result of this analysis, the clinicians at Renown Health and the Healthy Nevada Project researchers have made significant changes, including obtaining informed consent from participants to report positive findings from their genetics reports directly into their electronic medical record,” said Daniel Kiser, M.S., assistant research scientist of data science at DRI and co-lead author of the study. “This will help both participants, their clinical providers, and the whole state maximize the long-term benefits of the Healthy Nevada Project voluntary population-based genetic screening.”  

Additional information:

The full text of the study,  Incomplete Penetrance of Population-Based Genetic Screening Results in Electronic Health Record, is available from Frontiers in Genetics: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fgene.2022.866169/full?&utm_source=Email_to_authors_&utm_medium=Email&utm_content=T1_11.5e1_author&utm_campaign=Email_publication&field=&journalName=Frontiers_in_Genetics&id=866169.  

This project was funded by Renown Health, the Renown Health Foundation, and the Nevada Governor’s Office of Economic Development. Study authors included Gai Elhanan (DRI), Daniel Kiser (DRI), Iva Neveux (DRI), Shaun Dabe (Renown Health), Alexander Bolze (Helix), William Metcalf (DRI), James Lu (Helix), and Joseph Grzymski (DRI/Renown Health).  

For more information on the Healthy Nevada Project® or to request genetic screening, please visit: https://healthynv.org/ 

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About DRI

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

About Renown Health 

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

About Helix 

Helix is the leading population genomics and viral surveillance company operating at the intersection of clinical care, research, and data analytics. Helix enables health systems, life sciences companies, payers, and government partners to accelerate the integration of genomic data into patient care and public health decision making. Learn more at www.helix.com.   

New study shows robust increases in atmospheric thirst across much of U.S. during past 40 years

New study shows robust increases in atmospheric thirst across much of U.S. during past 40 years

Dry Nevada landscape with mountains

April 6, 2022
RENO, Nev.

Atmospheric Thrist
Temperature
Climate

Above:  A dry Nevada landscape. New research led by DRI scientists shows that atmospheric thirst is a persistent force in pushing Western landscapes and water supplies toward drought.

Credit: Riccardo Panella/DRI.

New study shows robust increases in atmospheric thirst across much of U.S. during past 40 years

Largest changes centered over Rio Grande region of Southwestern U.S.

A multi-dataset assessment of climatic drivers and uncertainties of recent trends in evaporative demand across the continental U.S.
The full text of the study, A multi-dataset assessment of climatic drivers and uncertainties of recent trends in evaporative demand across the continental U.S., is freely available from the Journal of Hydrometeorology: https://journals.ametsoc.org/view/journals/hydr/23/4/JHM-D-21-0163.1.xml.

Reno, Nev. (April 6, 2022) –In arid Western states, the climate is growing warmer and drier, leading to increased demand for water resources from humans and ecosystems. Now, the atmosphere across much of the U.S. is also demanding a greater share of water than it used to, according to a new study by a team from DRI, University of California, Merced, and Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego.

The study was published in the Journal of Hydrometeorology and assessed trends in evaporative demand across the U.S. during a 40-year period from 1980-2020 using five datasets. Evaporative demand, sometimes described as “atmospheric thirst,” is a measure of the potential loss of water from the earth’s surface to the atmosphere based on variables including temperature, humidity, wind speed, and solar radiation.

The team’s findings showed substantial increases in atmospheric thirst across much of the Western U.S. during the past 40 years, with the largest and most robust increases in an area centered around the Rio Grande and Lower Colorado rivers. These regions have experienced changes on the order of two-to-three standard deviations from what was seen during the baseline period of 1980-2000.

“This means that atmospheric thirst conditions in parts of the country are now verging outside of the range that was experienced 20 to 40 years ago, especially in some regions of the Southwest,” said lead author Christine Albano, Ph.D., of DRI. “This is really important to understand, because we know that atmospheric thirst is a persistent force in pushing Western landscapes and water supplies toward drought.”

Figure showing changes in atmospheric thirst
Figure showing changes in atmospheric thirst, measured in terms of reference evapotranspiration (mm), from 1980-2020. The largest changes are centered over the Rio Grande region of the southwestern U.S.
Credit: DRI.
To learn more about the role that different climate variables play in determining atmospheric thirst, Albano and her colleagues analyzed the relative influences of temperature, wind speed, solar radiation, and humidity. They found that, on average, increases in temperature were responsible for 57 percent of the changes observed in all regions, with humidity (26 percent), wind speed (10 percent), and solar radiation (8 percent) playing lesser roles.

“This study shows the dominant role that warming has played on the increasing evaporative demand and foreshadows the increased water stressors the West faces with continued warming,” said study co-author John Abatzoglou, Ph.D., of University of California, Merced.

For farmers and other water users, increases in atmospheric thirst mean that in the future, more water will be required to meet existing water needs. Some of these changes observed in this study are centered over areas where warming temperatures and lower-than-average precipitation are already creating stress on water supplies.

For example, in the Rio Grande region, the study authors calculated that atmospheric thirst increased by 8 to 15 percent between 1980 and 2020. Holding all else equal and assuming no other changes in management, this means that 8 to 15 percent more water is now required to maintain the same thoroughly-watered crop.

“Our analysis suggests that crops now require more water than they did in the past and can be expected to require more water in the future,” said study co-author Justin Huntington, Ph.D., of DRI.

Other impacts of increased atmospheric thirst include drought, increased forest fire area, and reduced streamflows.

“Our results indicate that, decade by decade, for every drop of precipitation that falls, less and less water is likely to drain into streams, wetlands, aquifers, or other water bodies,” said study co-author Michael Dettinger, Ph.D., of Scripps Institution of Oceanography and DRI. “Resource managers, policy makers, and the public need to be aware of these changes and plan for these impacts now and into the future.”

Members of the team are now developing seasonal to sub-seasonal forecasts of evaporative demand.

“We anticipate these types of forecasts will be important for drought and fire forecasting applications,” said study co-author Dan McEvoy, Ph.D., of DRI.

Additional information:

The full text of the study, A multi-dataset assessment of climatic drivers and uncertainties of recent trends in evaporative demand across the continental U.S., is freely available from the Journal of Hydrometeorology: https://journals.ametsoc.org/view/journals/hydr/23/4/JHM-D-21-0163.1.xml

The study team included Christine Albano (DRI), John Abatzoglou (UC Merced), Daniel McEvoy (DRI), Justin Huntington (DRI), Charles Morton (DRI), Michael Dettinger (Scripps Institution of Oceanography/DRI), and Thomas Ott (DRI).

This research was funded by the Sulo and Aileen Maki Endowment Fund to the Desert Research Institute’s Division of Hydrologic Sciences, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) California-Nevada Climate Applications Program (NA17OAR4310284), NOAA National Integrated Drought Information System California-Nevada Drought Early Warning System (NA20OAR4310253C), the NASA Applied Sciences, Water Resources Program (NNX17AF53G), the U.S. Geological Survey Landsat Science Team (140G0118C0007), and USDA-NIFA project (2021-69012-35916).

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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 UC Merced

UC Merced opened in 2005 as the newest member of the University of California system and is the youngest university to earn a Carnegie research classification. The fastest-growing public university in the nation, UC Merced is on the cutting edge of sustainability in campus construction and design and supports high-achieving and dedicated students from the underserved San Joaquin Valley and throughout California. The Merced 2020 Project, a $1.3 billion public-private partnership that is unprecedented in higher education, nearly doubled the physical capacity of the campus with 11 buildings earning Platinum LEED certification. 

About Scripps Oceanography

Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego is one of the world’s most important centers for global earth science research and education. In its second century of discovery, Scripps scientists work to understand and protect the planet, and investigate our oceans, Earth, and atmosphere to find solutions to our greatest environmental challenges. Scripps offers unparalleled education and training for the next generation of scientific and environmental leaders through its undergraduate, master’s and doctoral programs. The institution also operates a fleet of four oceanographic research vessels, and is home to Birch Aquarium at Scripps, the public exploration center that welcomes 500,000 visitors each year. 

About UC San Diego

At the University of California San Diego, we embrace a culture of exploration and experimentation. Established in 1960, UC San Diego has been shaped by exceptional scholars who aren’t afraid to look deeper, challenge expectations and redefine conventional wisdom. As one of the top 15 research universities in the world, we are driving innovation and change to advance society, propel economic growth and make our world a better place. Learn more at ucsd.edu.

Benjamin Hatchett Receives Board of Regents 2022 Rising Researcher Award

Benjamin Hatchett Receives Board of Regents 2022 Rising Researcher Award

Reno, Nev. (April 4, 2022) – DRI scientist Benjamin Hatchett, Ph.D., has been honored with the 2022 Rising Researcher Award from the Nevada System of Higher Education (NSHE) Board of Regents, in recognition of his early-career accomplishments and potential for future advancement in Earth and environmental sciences.

Hatchett is an Assistant Research Professor in DRI’s Division of Atmospheric Sciences and specializes in hydrometeorology and hydroclimatology of dryland and alpine regions spanning the past, present, and future.

“I am honored to receive this award from the NSHE Board of Regents,” Hatchett said. “I look forward to continuing to shift my efforts towards scientific activities with tangible, actionable outcomes and appreciate this recognition of my accomplishments.”

During the past decade, Hatchett has worked on Great Basin paleoclimate and paleohydrologic reconstructions spanning the past 21,000 years; atmospheric modeling of downslope winds (such as Santa Anas) primarily in California but also globally; the observation, analysis, and prediction of western U.S. natural hazards including floods, heat waves, wildfire, drought, air pollution, landslides, and avalanches; strategies to improve communication of weather forecasts in the U.S.; impacts of environmental extremes on human mobility; and projections of 21st-century climate from urban to continental scales with a specific focus on mountain environments along the Pacific Cordillera.

Dr. Hatchett has published 38 articles in a wide variety of peer-reviewed journals and 24 additional peer-reviewed book chapters, non-reviewed articles, and technical reports. He has worked with numerous research teams, partners, and stakeholders to complete projects funded by agencies such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and the National Science Foundation. He is most proud of his projects that support decision-making and promote climate resilience.

“Dr. Hatchett has excelled not only in publishing his research in peer-reviewed journals, but also in making science accessible to decision-makers and the public via media interviews, public presentations, and STEM outreach,” said DRI Vice President for Research Vic Etyemezian, Ph.D.

In addition to his research, Hatchett is an active mentor and educator to students of Earth and environmental sciences. He co-teaches a course in air pollution at UNR and is an adjunct faculty member at the Lake Tahoe Community College. He has advised several undergraduate students, served on committees for graduate students in both the Atmospheric Sciences and Hydrologic Sciences programs, and is currently advising one Ph.D. student.

Hatchett holds a B.S. in geography with a minor in hydrogeology, an M.S. in atmospheric sciences, and a Ph.D. in geography, all from the University of Nevada, Reno. He joined DRI as a postdoctoral fellow in 2016 under the mentorship of Professors Michael Kaplan and Craig Smith and became an Assistant Research Professor in 2018.

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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.

New NV Energy Foundation Grant Will Support Wildfire Preparedness in Nevada

New NV Energy Foundation Grant Will Support Wildfire Preparedness in Nevada

burning wildfire

March 30, 2022
RENO, NEV.

Wildfire Preparedness
Weather-Fire-Smoke Model
Fire Mitigation

New NV Energy Foundation Grant Will Support Wildfire Preparedness in Nevada

Funding will boost development of DRI‘s advanced weather-fire-smoke model

Check Presentation NV Energy Foundation

Representatives from NV Energy and DRI gathered Wednesday, March 30, 2022 at the DRI campus to announce a new grant that will provide $150,000 to support the development of a Weather and Research Forecast advanced modeling tool. 

Credit: DRI. 

Reno, Nev. (March 30, 2022) – As the climate warms, wildfires in the Sierra Nevada are happening at unprecedented sizes and intensities, threatening communities and resources throughout Nevada and California. For fire managers trying to understand and predict fire behavior, access to accurate information for decision-making has never been more important.

A generous grant from the NV Energy Foundation will provide $150,000 to support DRI’s development of a Weather and Research Forecast advanced modeling tool that simulates weather, fire, and smoke for firefighting and prescribed fire operations. Forecasts and simulations produced by this model will be available to NV Energy’s fire mitigation team, and other professionals from the prescribed fire and air quality communities in Nevada and California through the work of the California and Nevada Smoke and Air Committee (CANSAC).

“We are committed to protecting our customers and the environment from the increasing risks of natural disasters, which include wildfires,” said Doug Cannon, NV Energy president and chief executive officer. “The NV Energy Foundation is proud to support DRI in the development of this technology that will help firefighters better assess fire risk and keep our communities safe.”

Funds from the new NV Energy Foundation grant will be used to expand the current high-performance computer system that is used by CANSAC. The system will provide an interface where users such as prescribed fire managers can conduct simulations of fire spread and smoke behavior.

Caldor Fire Simulation

Screenshot of a simulation of the Caldor Fire created with the weather-fire-smoke model. Green lines indicate wind direction, red and yellow area indicates fire perimeter, and gray cloud represents smoke.  

Credit: Adam Kochanski/San Jose State University and Tim Brown/DRI. 

The model will allow for risk assessment of specific locations by modeling different burn scenarios, help meteorologists identify small-scale wind flows that could have adverse effects on fire spread and behavior, and provide critical air quality forecasts for wildfires or burn day decisions. Simulations can be run for near future forecasting (a few days out) or longer-term scenario modeling for projects that might occur a year or more into the future.

“This tool will be useful to wildfire fighting operations as well as for prescribed fire planning, which is essential to getting some of our fire-adapted ecosystems back into balance,” said Tim Brown, Ph.D., director of DRI’s Western Regional Climate Center. “By supporting the development of this tool, the NV Energy Foundation is providing a great resource to fire managers in Nevada and California and helping to ensure the safety of firefighters and communities across these two states.”

“With this generous grant, the NV Energy Foundation will play a key role in developing new technology that will be used to solve real-world problems in fire mitigation and fire safety,” said DRI President Kumud Acharya, Ph.D. “This project is an amazing example of how community organizations like NV Energy can partner with DRI scientists to develop solutions to the problems that face our society and environment.”

This project is supported by additional funds from the State of Nevada’s Capacity Building Program and DRI internal funding.

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About DRI

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

About the DRI Foundation

The DRI Foundation serves to cultivate private philanthropic giving in support of the mission and vision of the Desert Research Institute. Since 1982, DRI Foundation trustees have worked with DRI benefactors to support applied environmental research to maximize the Institute’s impact on improving people’s lives throughout Nevada, the nation, and the world. 

About the NV Energy Foundation

NV Energy maintains the NV Energy Foundation, a 501c3, to support its philanthropic efforts. Through direct grants, scholarships and employee grant programs, the NV Energy Foundation actively supports improvements in the quality of life in NV Energy’s service territories. Information about the NV Energy Foundation is available at nvenergy.com/foundation.

Agencies collaborate to launch wastewater surveillance dashboard

Agencies collaborate to launch wastewater surveillance dashboard

water waste sampling collection
March 23, 2022
LAS VEGAS
Wastewater
COVID-19
Wastewater Surveillance
Above: Waste water samples were collected at the Waste Water Treatment Plant in Pahrump, Nevada.
Credit: Ali Swallow.
Agencies collaborate to launch wastewater surveillance dashboard 
New dashboard will include COVID-19 concentration data, information about variant testing and more. 
Las Vegas, Nev. (March 23, 2022)The University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV), Southern Nevada Health District, Southern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA) and Desert Research Institute (DRI) are partnering to detect early increases of SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID) and emerging variants in Southern Nevada through wastewater surveillance. The data will be available on a new dashboard that will be updated weekly at http://empower.unlv.edu. 

The wastewater surveillance program monitors SARS-CoV-2 concentrations from people who contract COVID-19 (with or without symptoms) and shed genetic material in their stools. During the COVID-19 pandemic, wastewater surveillance has tracked, monitored and provided early awareness of increases in volume of the virus as well as changes to the types of variants of COVID-19. Because people who are infected with the virus that causes COVID-19 can take several days before showing symptoms, the information provided through this surveillance program can assist with informing public health strategy and ongoing planning efforts.  

In addition to being an early indicator that cases of COVID-19 may be increasing in a community, wastewater surveillance can also indicate when cases are decreasing, and the surveillance program is not dependent on people seeking testing or health care when they are sick.  

“As we move into the next stage of our response to COVID-19, wastewater surveillance is going to be a powerful tool for detecting potential surges in new cases or the presence of new variants in our community. We will be able to alert the public in a timelier manner and support public health mitigation measures that can help slow the spread of the virus,” said Cassius Lockett, Director of Disease Surveillance and Control for the Health District.  

Currently, the SARS-CoV-2 concentration in the wastewater of participating community water systems across Southern Nevada is tested as part of this program. Nevada was one of the first states to initiate testing, and this surveillance project represents one of the largest projects of its kind in the U.S. 

“The collaboration between our community partners has enabled the collection of one of the largest and most diverse wastewater datasets in the country,” said Edwin Oh, professor and director of the Neurogenetics and Precision Medicine Lab at UNLV. The daily and weekly analyses of these samples will help keep us one step ahead of emerging pathogens and variants.” 

Duane Moser wastewater samples
DRI Associate Research Professor Duane Moser collects water waste samples in Pahrump to detect possible increases of SARS-CoV-2 and emerging variants in Southern Nevada. 
Credit: Ali Swallow.
“DRI is contributing to this collaborative effort by organizing sampling from ten wastewater systems across rural Clark and Nye Counties, substantially expanding the geographic reach of the project and providing time-sensitive epidemiological data that would otherwise be lost,” said DRI Associate Research Professor of Microbiology Duane Moser.  The addition of these outlying sites has a great deal to teach us about how quickly and effectively viruses spread from population centers to outlying areas with lower population densities.” 

While wastewater surveillance can provide early awareness of increases in cases and potential outbreaks, the data provided cannot directly indicate the number of people who are currently infected with COVID-19. The data collected are not intended to be used as the sole method of measuring the prevalence of COVID-19 in the community. The information will be used along with other data by partner and responding agencies for planning purposes.  

More information about wastewater surveillance, and national wastewater surveillance data, is available on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website at www.cdc.gov/healthywater/surveillance/wastewater-surveillance/wastewater-surveillance.html 

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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 Southern Nevada Health District 

The Southern Nevada Health District serves as the local public health authority for Clark County, Boulder City, Henderson, Las Vegas, Mesquite and North Las Vegas. The agency safeguards the public health of the community’s residents and visitors through innovative programs, regulations, and initiatives focused on protecting and promoting their health and well-being. More information about the Health District, its programs, services, and the regulatory oversight it provides is available at www.SNHD.info. Follow the Health District on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. 

Childhood trauma and genetics linked to increased obesity risk

Childhood trauma and genetics linked to increased obesity risk

HPN Renown and DRI Logos

March 9, 2022
RENO, NV

Childhood Trauma
Genetics
Obesity

Above: The logos for the Healthy Nevada Project, DRI, and Renown Health.

Credit: DRI.

Childhood trauma and genetics linked to increased obesity risk 
New study from the Healthy Nevada Project® shows strong influence of genes and environment on human health 
Front page screenshot of Healthy Nevada Project study

The full text of the study, The Impact of ACEs on BMI: An Investigation of the Genotype-Environment Effects of BMI, is available from Frontiers in Genetics: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fgene.2022.816660/full

Reno, Nev. (March 9, 2022)New research from the Healthy Nevada Project® found associations between genetics, obesity, and childhood trauma, linking social health determinants, genetics, and disease. The study, which was published this week in Frontiers in Genetics, found that participants with specific genetic traits and who experience childhood traumas are more likely to suffer from adult obesity.  

In 2016, DRI and Renown Health launched the Healthy Nevada Project®, the nation’s first community-based, population health study, which now has more than 60,000 participants. The project is a collaboration with personal genomics company, Helix, and 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 new study focuses on Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), which are traumatic and unsafe events that children endure by the age of 18. Over 16,000 participants in the Healthy Nevada Project® answered a mental health survey, and more than 65 percent of these individuals self-reported at least one ACE occurrence. These 16,000 participants were cross-referenced with their genetic makeup, and clinical Body Mass Index (BMI) measures.  

According to the research team’s findings, study participants who had experienced one or more types of ACE were 1.5 times more likely to become obese adults. Participants who experienced four or more ACEs were more than twice as likely to become severely obese.    

“Our analysis showed a steady increase in BMI for each ACE a person experienced, which indicates a very strong and significant association between the number of adverse childhood experiences and adult obesity,” said lead author Karen Schlauch, Ph.D., of DRI. “More importantly, participants’ BMI reacted even more strongly to the occurrence of ACEs when paired with certain mutations in several genes, one of which is strongly associated with schizophrenia.” 

“We know that genetics affect disease in the Healthy Nevada Project® [https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31888951/], and now we are recognizing that ACEs also affect disease,” said Healthy Nevada Project® Principal Investigator Joseph Grzymski, Ph.D., of DRI and Renown Health. “Our new study shows that the combination of genes and environmental factors like ACEs, as well as many social determinants of health, can lead to more serious health outcomes than either variable alone. More broadly, this new work emphasizes how important it is for population genetic studies to consider the impact of social determinants on health outcomes.” 

The study team believes that it is important for clinical caregivers to understand the strong impact that negative childhood experiences such as ACEs can have on both child and adult health. The researchers hope the information from this study will encourage doctors and nurses to conduct simple screenings for ACEs and consider a patient’s social environment and history in combination with genetics when developing treatment plans for better patient health. 

According to the 2019 Youth Behavior Risk Survey (YRBS), 25.6 percent of Washoe County teenagers are overweight or obese. Obesity is a serious health concern for children and adolescents. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, obese children and adolescents are more likely to become obese as adults.   

“Obese and overweight children and adolescents are at risk for multiple health problems during their youth, which are likely to be more severe as adults,” said Max J. Coppes, MD, PhD, MBA, FAAP, Nell J Redfield Chair of Pediatrics at the University of Nevada Reno School of Medicine, Physician in Chief of Renown Children’s Hospital. “Obese and overweight youth are more likely to have risk factors associated with cardiovascular diseases, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and type 2 diabetes. Losing weight, in addition to a healthy diet, helps to prevent and control multiple chronic diseases and improves quality of life for a lifetime.”  

“We’d like to thank all of the Healthy Nevada Project® participants who provided information to make our work possible,” said Robert Read, M.S., of DRI. “Our research illustrates that it’s not just genetics that cause disease, but that our environment and life experiences interact with our genes to impact our health in ways that we are only beginning to understand.” 

Many thanks to Renown Health, the Stacie Mathewson Behavioral Health and Addiction Institute, and the Center for Genomic Medicine at DRI for supporting this significant work. 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. 

More information: 

The full text of the study, The Impact of ACEs on BMI: An Investigation of the Genotype-Environment Effects of BMI, is available from Frontiers in Genetics: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fgene.2022.816660/full 

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

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

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About DRI

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

About Renown 

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

Media contacts: 

Kelsey Fitzgerald, DRI
Senior Communications Official
775-741-0496
Kelsey.fitzgerald@dri.edu 

Renown Public Relations
775-691-7308
news@renown.org 

The DRI Foundation Welcomes New Trustees for 2022

The DRI Foundation Welcomes New Trustees for 2022

Reno, Nev. (Feb. 17, 2022) – The DRI Foundation is pleased to welcome the following new members to its Board of Trustees, each serving a four-year term beginning January 1, 2022:

  • Lisa Gallagher, Chief Financial Officer and Cofounder, Praedicat, Inc.
  • Fafie Moore, Executive Vice President, Southern Nevada, ERA Brokers Consolidated
  • Bob Gagosian, President Emeritus, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute
  • Bob McCart, Owner, RKM Management
  • Jim King, CFO, R&R Partners and Chairman, R&R Foundation
  • Karen Wayland, Principle, kW Energy Strategies
  • Terry Shirey, President and Chief Executive Officer, Nevada State Bank

These board members have been formally approved by the Nevada System of Higher Education Board of Regents, and will serve alongside existing DRI Foundation board members Mike Benjamin (Chair), Nora James (Vice Chair), Richard Ditton, John Entsminger, Mark Foree, Steve Hill, Stephanie Kruse, Starla Lacy, Janet Lowe, Kristin McMillan Porter, and Ronald Smith.

The members of the Board of Trustees also elected new trustee Bob McCart to serve as Treasurer of the DRI Foundation, for a two-year term beginning January 1, 2022. McCart owns a successful business consulting firm and has significant experience in the for-profit education industry.

“We welcome these new trustees to the DRI Foundation Board and extend our deepest thanks and appreciation to our outstanding current trustees,” said DRI President Dr. Kumud Acharya. “The expertise and philanthropy of DRI Foundation Board Members plays an essential role in funding and promoting DRI research to people and environments in Nevada and around the world.”

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

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*DRI Foundation Board Member photos available upon request.

 

About the DRI Foundation

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

About DRI

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

NSF-funded Study Finds Eolian Dust Systems in Texas and New Mexico to be Current and Future Potent Dust Sources that Impact Cardio-Pulmonary Health

NSF-funded Study Finds Eolian Dust Systems in Texas and New Mexico to be Current and Future Potent Dust Sources that Impact Cardio-Pulmonary Health

Baylor University paleoclimatologist analyzed gypsum- and quartz-dominated dune systems for possible fine, breathable dust fluxes detrimental to human health

Above: Mark Sweeney and Eric McDonald set up measurements of PI-SWERL at White Sands National Park. Credit: Baylor University. 

Reportsed from Baylor University: https://www.baylor.edu/mediacommunications/news.php?action=story&story=226267

WACO, Texas – A recent National Science Foundation funded study that included Baylor University paleoclimatologist Steven L. Forman, Ph.D., professor of geosciences, evaluates current and future dust sources in central North America with consideration for climate change. These fine dust fluxes are detrimental to asthmatic and general cardio-pulmonary health for populations downwind, particularly areas of west Texas and New Mexico that have large areas of significant dust sources with dry and drought conditions in the past decade.

The study, published in Geology, seeks to characterize dust emission potential from landforms in two end-member eolian systems, where wind is the primary source of sediment transport: the White Sands dune field in New Mexico and the Monahans dune field in west Texas. The study’s lead author is Mark Sweeney, Ph.D., University of South Dakota. Eric McDonald, Desert Research Institute, joined Sweeney and Forman on the research team.

The White Sands dune field is composed of gypsum and a hot spot for dust emissions because the dunes and adjacent playa yield high dust fluxes. However, the active Monahans dune field is composed of quartz and produce low dust fluxes. Adjacent to Monahans, stabilized sand sheets and dunes that contain silt and clay could produce high dust fluxes if reactivated by climate change or anthropogenic disturbance.

“We chose these sites because the gypsum dunes and playa lake environments should be hot spots for dust emission, and the Monahans composed of mostly pure quartz grains should be a low dust emission system. We were wrong about the Monahans,” Forman said.

Field- and model-based estimates of dust emissions from dune systems are difficult to characterize. By considering whole eolian systems — active and stabilized dunes, interdunes, sand sheets and playas — dust emissions can be more accurately estimated for estimating current and future atmospheric dust loading. Atmospheric dust has impacts on radiative forcing, biogeochemical cycles, extreme climate variability and human health.

The researchers utilized a Portable In Situ Wind Erosion Laboratory (PI-SWERL) to measure the dust emission potential in the field. The PI-SWERL, which was developed by a team from DRI, is a circular wind-erosion device, measures concentrations of inhalant particulate matter at different friction velocities from soil surfaces.

“The PI-SWERL is wind tunnel wrapped into a circle which makes this novel technology portable,” Forman said. “Thus, we can quantify the winds speeds and forces necessary to loft small, breathable particle sizes that at certain elevated concentrations induce an asthmatic response and heightened risk of pulmonary mortality and morbidity.”

The PI-SWERL measurements showed considerable differences in the dust emission potential across both systems. Active dunes, sand sheets and interdunes at White Sands generated similarly high dust fluxes. Comparatively, the playa had the widest range of fluxes with the lowest fluxes on moist or hard surfaces and the highest where loose sand and aggregates were at the surface.

In contrast, the Monahans active quartz dunes generated low dust fluxes. However, dry crusted interdunes with loose sand at the surface had much higher fluxes. Dust emissions increase exponentially with rising wind friction velocities for both systems, often associated with common winds 10 to 15 mph.

The results revealed intra- and extra-landform variability in dust fluxes from eolian systems, mostly due to the degree of surface crusting or soil moisture. More dust occurs on surfaces with loose sand or aggregates where saltation bombardment, when wind lifts particles and causes them to hit along the surface with increased velocity, could erode playas or interdunes and aggregates could break apart to create more dust.

Surprisingly, White Sands showed high magnitudes of dust emission from the abrasion of dune sand and erosion of playa sediments, indicating both landforms are particulate sources during dust storms. The Monahans system produced low dust emissions due to low rates of abrasion in active dunes and vegetative cover, which protects the surface from wind erosion. However, the most common landforms — sand sheets that surround the dune fields for miles — are rich sources for fine breathable particles, at the same magnitude as White Sands.

“The most surprising results was variability in dust emissivity for White Sands landforms and the very high dust flux from the flat sand sheet area that covers most surfaces in west Texas. There is a hidden dust source in these deposits and soils, which were unrecognized,” Forman said.

Dust emission assessments are important to current and future climate modeling. Wind-dominated and drought-sensitive systems could see stabilized dunes and sand sheets become reactivated, or adjacent playas may increase emissions. Potential atmospheric dust loading can occur from diverse landforms in active and presently stabilized eolian systems.

“Atmospheric dust concentrations are important for the global heat-balance and locally can lead to a thermal-blanking effect raising local temperatures. Recent studies associate ozone degradation with elevated dust concentrations high in the atmosphere,” Forman said. “As our planet warms from increasing greenhouse gases many deserts will expand, and grassland areas like on the Southern High Plains will diminish, revealing a limitless supply of dust that will worsen aridity and is detrimental to human health. Understanding the land surface response to climate warming is critical for future sustainability.”

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About Baylor University

Baylor University is a private Christian University and a nationally ranked Research 1 institution. The University provides a vibrant campus community for more than 20,000 students by blending interdisciplinary research with an international reputation for educational excellence and a faculty commitment to teaching and scholarship. Chartered in 1845 by the Republic of Texas through the efforts of Baptist pioneers, Baylor is the oldest continually operating University in Texas. Located in Waco, Baylor welcomes students from all 50 states and more than 90 countries to study a broad range of degrees among its 12 nationally recognized academic divisions.

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.

New USDA Grant to Support Climate Resilience Planning in Indian Country

New USDA Grant to Support Climate Resilience Planning in Indian Country

“Native Climate” project will build relationships and narrow the climate justice gap in Native American communities of the Intermountain West

Above: The new Native Climate project will work to support climate resilience planning in Indian Country. Greenhouses at Salish Kootenai College (upper left), Grey Farrell near Tuba City on the Navajo Reservation (upper right), Pyramid Lake (lower right), a schoolbus on the Navajo Reservation near Tuba City (lower left). Credit: Maureen McCarthy/DRI

Reno, Nev. (Jan 13, 2022) – A collaborative team of researchers led by Maureen McCarthy, Ph.D. of DRI has received a $1.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (USDA-NIFA) to support and strengthen the role of USDA Climate Hubs in Indian Country.

The USDA Climate Hubs work across ten regions of the U.S. to support agricultural producers and professionals by providing science-based, region-specific information about climate change and climate adaptation strategies. The new DRI-led project, titled “Native Climate: Strengthening the role of Climate Hubs in Indian Country,” will support the Climate Hubs by expanding the reach of their services and outreach to Tribal Extension agents, agricultural producers, and youth educators in the Southwest and Northern Plains regions.

“From heatwaves to extreme winds, droughts, wildfires, and floods, the climate crisis poses huge adaptation challenges to Native American communities in the Intermountain West – and there are huge inequities across the U.S. in providing climate services and resources to Tribes,” said McCarthy, Native Climate program director from DRI. “Many of these communities are incredibly resilient and forward-thinking in terms of finding ways to adapt to this rapidly warming world, and their knowledge of the landscape pre-dates modern science. This project is an amazing opportunity to build connections and sustainable, trusted relationships that support information sharing between Tribal communities, Climate Hubs, Tribal Extension partners, researchers, and educators.”

Native Climate will address long-standing issues related to climate injustice in Indian Country through culturally-appropriate information sharing and by increasing the representation of Native American Tribal members in climate-related research and outreach positions. The project team includes researchers, Tribal Extension educators, and Climate Hub leaders from DRI, the University of Nevada, Reno Extension, University of Arizona, University of Montana (UM), and the Southwest and Northern Plains Climate Hubs.

The project supports the hiring of several Native Climate Fellows, who will work directly with the Southwest and Northern Plains Climate Hubs in coordinating climate data needs, extending outreach to agricultural producers, and sharing youth climate education materials. One Native Climate Data Fellow will be stationed in the Montana Climate Office (MCO) at UM. A second Native Climate Agricultural Producer Fellow will work through UNR-Extension, and a third Native Climate Youth Education Fellow will be hired by DRI.

DRI’s Native Climate Youth Education Fellow will work with mentor Meghan Collins, M.S., to continue growing an existing Teaching Native Waters Community of Practice, which fosters communication between educators, FRTEP agents, and scientists. This Fellow will also work with the Climate Hubs and other NIFA project teams to adapt climate education resources to be place-based and culturally relevant.

“Educators, scientists, decision-makers, and leaders all have important knowledge to bring to the table,” said Collins, assistant research scientist at DRI. “This community of practice creates spaces for us to listen, respond, and innovate. Together, we are seeking solutions that engage youth in closing the gap in climate justice.”

The project will also create a new student internship program for Native Climate Reporters at DRI, which will support three or more Native students a year studying communications, journalism, agriculture or STEM. The interns will report on stories about climate impacts and adaptation by tribes in their regions, and gain experience developing and producing multi-media communications, with mentorship from Native Climate Communications Coordinator Kelsey Fitzgerald, M.A.

“Only a very small percentage of journalists at U.S. news organizations are Native people, which has a huge impact on the news coverage we see or don’t see about climate change and other challenges being addressed by Tribal communities,” said Fitzgerald, senior communications official at DRI. “We are so excited to be able to provide this opportunity for Native students interested in climate reporting to develop their communications experience and skills, so that they can play an active role in providing more accurate news coverage and telling the stories that are important to their regions.”

Other components of the project include a “Native Climate Toolkit” – a web-based interactive resource clearinghouse, and impact reporting and alert tools. A Native Climate Advisory Group will help the team engage tribes in the region, leverage resources from partner organizations, and conduct culturally-respectful project evaluation.

Native Climate builds on partnerships established under previous USDA-funded projects Native Waters on Arid Lands (nativewaters-aridlands.com), the COVID CARE Toolkit Project, All Climate is Local virtual conference, and Teaching Native Waters. Native Climate will begin in March 2022 and run through March 2027.

 

More information:

To view the full award announcement from USDA, please visit: https://www.usda.gov/media/press-releases/2022/01/12/usda-invests-9m-expand-reach-and-increase-adoption-climate-smart

 

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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.

NASA grant funds research for sunscreen on Mars

NASA grant funds research for sunscreen on Mars

NASA grant funds research for sunscreen on Mars

December 30, 2021
RENO, NEV.

By Michelle Werdann, UNR

NASA
Mars
Sunscreen

Above: Vulpinic acid sits on a lab bench next to several lichen species.

Credit: UNR

High radiation on Mars is one of the many reasons the Red Planet seems inhospitable. Two chemistry professors from the University are using solutions from early Earth to solve that problem on Mars.

Reposted from University of Nevada, Reno – https://www.unr.edu/nevada-today/news/2021/sunscreen-for-mars

What do a fungus, a bacterium and an astronaut all have in common? They all need protection from ultraviolet radiation, especially if they’re living on Mars. Researchers at the University of Nevada, Reno in collaboration with Henry Sun of the Desert Research Institute and Christopher McKay of the NASA Ames Research Center received a NASA Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR) seed grant to study how they can mimic biology to make some powerful sunscreen.

Serious sunscreen

Lichens are the colorful green moss-like growths found on rocks and trees throughout the Sierras (in fact, Tanzil Mahmud, a graduate student working on this project, went on a hike in Oregon and collected some lichen for the lab). While they appear to be a single organism, lichens are the result of a symbiotic relationship between bacteria and fungi forming a composite organism. Ultraviolet radiation can be harmful to plants if it’s too energetic, so these uniquely bonded organisms evolved a “sunscreen” to protect themselves.

The “sunscreen” is a pigment that is produced by either the bacteria or the fungi. Different species evolved the pigment on their own, suggesting that they were vital to survival in early Earth’s atmosphere. The researchers hypothesize that the absorbed radiation is dissipated in the pigment and transferred into vibrational energy, which dissipates to the environment as heat.

Tanzil Mahmud with lichen sample

Tanzil Mahmud is a graduate student in Christopher Jeffrey’s lab. He is shown holding a lichen he collected for the lab on a hiking trip in Oregon. 

Credit: UNR

Billions of years ago, when Earth’s atmosphere wasn’t as protective as it is now, cyanobacteria had to protect themselves from intense ultraviolet radiation—the same radiation astronauts would be exposed to on Mars. The bacteria evolved pigments that absorbed that harsh radiation and protected the cells. It is believed that these bacteria also photosynthesized and produced oxygen, thus building the ozone layer, which now protects us from the sun’s harsh radiation.

The idea of microbial sunscreens came from Sun. Sun is a molecular microbiologist and an expert on life found in extremely harsh conditions. He noticed the lichen in places like Florida or the Amazon have very green coloration, but that lichens in the desert have different colors. This led Sun to wonder what the pigments did for the lichen.

“The pigment is only in the outer layer. I came to the realization that the pigment has nothing to do with photosynthesis. It must be related to shielding the UV,” Sun said. That’s when he reached out to Matthew Tucker, an associate professor in the Department of Chemistry. Tucker suggested he and Sun meet with associate professor Christopher Jeffrey, also from the Department of Chemistry, and Sun’s curiosity about the pigment spread quickly. The researchers started to design an experiment to determine if and how the pigments evolved to shield the lichen from the sun’s radiation.

Harvesting compounds…then blasting them with radiation

Jeffrey studies the diversity of secondary metabolites, which can perform many different functions in an organism and are often very specific to a species. And as Jeffrey emphasizes, they’re not secondary because they’re unimportant. Using synthetic chemistry and analytical tools, Jeffrey studies secondary metabolites, such as the pigments, with the goal of understanding their relationship to other molecules and to the organism itself.

 

Wolf lichen sample

Jeffrey holds a vial of vulpinic acid isolated from lupus litharium, or Wolf lichen. Wolf lichen is found in Nevada, and the sample they isolated the vulpinic acid from was collected on a camping trip at Yuba Pass. The yield for the pigment is relatively high because five percent of the lichen’s mass is composed of the pigment.

Credit: UNR

Jeffrey’s research will focus on isolating the pigments from the lichen and using synthetic chemistry techniques to produce larger quantities of the pigments, because harvesting them from the lichen doesn’t necessarily produce a high yield of pigment. Then comes the matter of making sure the pigments will hold up to intense energy. That’s where Tucker’s lab comes in.

Tucker’s lab specializes in femtosecond laser spectrometry. A femtosecond is a millionth of a billionth of a second, and ultra-fast lasers can work like cameras with a shutter speed that can catch molecular movement and energy flow at that tiny time scale.

“I’m interested in understanding structural dynamics and the relationships to biological systems using laser spectroscopy,” said Tucker. He studies how energy can flow in an environment, or in this case, within the pigments and their environment.

Once in Tucker’s lab, the pigments will be placed in the path of a laser that is guided by a series of mirrors that will allow the researchers to determine exactly when the laser hits the pigment, which happens at the speed of light. The equipment in Tucker’s lab is precise enough to account for the time difference generated by the mirrors. The laser beam will strike the pigment, but instead of letting the light through, the pigment will dissipate that energy.

 

Laser beam

The laser beam in Tucker’s lab is powerful enough to burn your finger.

Credit: UNR

The evolution of the pigments to work as they do is impressive. The pigments prevent unfavorable chemical reactions from happening inside the cells that result from the absorption of ultraviolet light. Instead, the pigments dissipate the energy quickly and a most safe and effective way.

Utilizing their findings, researchers hope to develop a supplement that can be consumed by astronauts that will give them the same protective effects that the lichens have, like a sunscreen that protects you from the inside.

“And now, once you have this protection sorted out, you can engineer plant life in that way, now you can start to grow plant life on Mars. You can generate some ozone possibilities and ultimately you don’t need all that UV protection,” Tucker said.

Sun said the bacteria have moved a lethal problem (the radiation) to a manageable chemical problem (oxidation), but that because the bacteria have to deal with the oxidation, they may contain useful antioxidants that can be synthesized in labs like Jeffrey’s.

Other applications of these pigments might be more commercial, such as a deck paint that withstands sun exposure for longer periods of time.

Researchers also hope to understand the structure of the sheath that contains the pigments. Typically, these carbohydrate sheaths are water-soluble, but the pigments don’t wash away when it rains on the lichen. Sun says this indicates the sheath is a “chemically perfect scaffold” for the pigment.

Early Earth organisms like cyanobacteria are useful analogs for organisms surviving in harsh environments. Different organisms have solved the radiation problem in the same way.

“There may not be life on Mars, but it’s not because of the radiation,” Sun said. “If other conditions are conducive to life, the radiation would be an easy problem to solve.”

Credit: UNR

Spanning the disciplines

As these symbiotic lichens demonstrate, working together can lead to a beautiful thing, and Tucker is no stranger to that idea. He is currently a co-principal investigator working with other faculty on two large Department of Energy projects for $2.5 million and $2.6 million.

“These collaborations are essential for the project’s success and show how unselfish cooperativity amongst the sciences benefits everyone,” Associate Dean of the College of Science Vince Catalano said.

This research is an intersection of biology, chemistry and physics, which is right up Jeffrey’s alley. As a researcher in the Hitchcock Center for Chemical Ecology, Jeffrey knows how important it can be to reach across the discipline divide. The Hitchcock Center for Chemical Ecology is a program at the University funded by Mick Hitchcock, who developed a groundbreaking treatment for HIV. The program is rooted in interdisciplinary research, particularly between biology, ecology and chemistry. Sun also emphasized the importance of working across fields.

“I’m not a chemist,” Sun said. “So, like the lichen this partnership is mutually beneficial.”

“NASA relies heavily on outside scientists to define the science goal of missions and to analyze the data and put the results in the broad scientific context,” said McKay. “Because missions are interdisciplinary (they usually involve several instruments and several science objectives) the interdisciplinary projects are very important to this process.”

The purpose of the NASA ESPSCoR grant is to bring a wider range of fields into aerospace research activities and apply those fields. Jeffrey has partnered with faculty at Nevada State College (NSC) to develop an interdisciplinary STEM internship program that will bring NSC students to the University campus. This summer internship program will allow those students to gain real research experience in chemistry, biology and physics.

“With the undergraduate interns they get exposure to how the sciences work together, which is important for job and workforce development,” Jeffrey said.

The research team is also focused on producing a short documentary.

“The goal of the documentary is to engage the public that way, because they might see the outcome of science, or the outcome of sending something to the Moon, but often they don’t see how it really takes a huge multi-disciplinary group to not only have their expertise in their sciences, but see the pathway that unites all of those together, and figure out how to work with each other to deliver an outcome,” Tucker said.

“We want to train students to think broadly,” Sun said. “We’re led to a narrow path of thinking. That’s the reason, I think, this interdisciplinary idea has merit.”

Within an Antarctic Sea Squirt, Scientists Discover a Bacterial Species With Promising Anti-Melanoma Properties

Within an Antarctic Sea Squirt, Scientists Discover a Bacterial Species With Promising Anti-Melanoma Properties

Within an Antarctic Sea Squirt, Scientists Discover a Bacterial Species With Promising Anti-Melanoma Properties

December 1, 2021
RENO, NEV.

By Kelsey Fitzgerald

Antarctic Sea Squirt
Melanoma
Health

Above: Late spring at Arthur Harbor. The waters surrounding Anvers Island, Antarctica, are home to a species of sea squirt called Synoicum adareanum. New research has traced the production of palmerolide A, a key compound with anti-melanoma properties, to a member of this sea squirt’s microbiome.

Credit: Alison E. Murray, DRI

New study brings important advances for Antarctic science and natural products chemistry

There are few places farther from your medicine cabinet than the tissues of an ascidian, or “sea squirt,” on the icy Antarctic sea floor – but this is precisely where scientists are looking to find a new treatment for melanoma, one of the most dangerous types of skin cancer.

In a new paper that was published today in mSphere, a research team from DRI, Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), and the University of South Florida (USF) made strides toward their goal, successfully tracing a naturally-produced melanoma-fighting compound called “palmerolide A” to its source: a microbe that resides within Synoicum adareanum, a species of ascidian common to the waters of Antarctica’s Anvers Island archipelago.

“We have long suspected that palmerolide A was produced by one of the many types of bacteria that live within this ascidian host species, S. adareanum,” explained lead author Alison Murray, Ph.D., research professor of biology at DRI. “Now, we have actually been able to identify the specific microbe that produces this compound, which is a huge step forward toward developing a naturally-derived treatment for melanoma.”

Synoicum adareanum

Synoicum adareanum in 80 feet of water at Bonaparte Point, Antarctica. New research has traced the production of palmerolide A, a key compound with anti-melanoma properties, to a suite of genes coded in the genome by a member of this sea squirt’s microbiome.

Credit: Bill J. Baker, University of South Florida.
Discovery of an Antarctic ascidian-associated uncultivated Verrucomicrobia with antimelanoma palmerolide biosynthetic potential

The full study, Discovery of an Antarctic ascidian-associated uncultivated Verrucomicrobia with anti-melanoma palmerolide biosynthetic potential, is available from mSphere: https://doi.org/10.1128/msphere.00759-21.

The bacterium that the team identified is a member of a new and previously unstudied genus, Candidatus Synoicihabitans palmerolidicus. This advance in knowledge builds on what Murray and her colleagues have learned across more than a decade of research on palmerolide A and its association with the microbiome (collective suite of microbes and their genomes) of the host ascidian, S. adareanum.

In 2008, Murray worked with Bill Baker, Ph.D., professor of chemistry at USF and Christian Riesenfeld, Ph.D., postdoctoral researcher at DRI to publish a study on the microbial diversity of a single S. adareanum organism. In 2020, the team expanded to include additional researchers from LANL, USF, and the Université de Nantes, and published new work identifying the “core microbiome” of S. adareanum – a common suite of 21 bacterial species that were present across 63 different samples of S. adareanum collected from around the Anvers Island archipelago.

In the team’s latest research, they looked more closely at the core microbiome members identified in their 2020 paper to determine which of the 21 types of bacteria were responsible for the production of palmerolide A. They conducted several rounds of environmental genome sequencing, followed by automated and manual assembly, gene mining, and phylogenomic analyses, which resulted in the identification of the biosynthetic gene cluster and palmerolide A-producing organism.

“This is the first time that we’ve matched an Antarctic natural product to the genetic machinery that is responsible for its biosynthesis,” Murray said. “As an anti-cancer therapeutic, we can’t just go to Antarctica and harvest these sea squirts en masse, but now that we understand the underlying genetic machinery, it opens the door for us to find a biotechnological solution to produce this compound.”

“Knowing the producer of palmerolide A enables cultivation, which will finally provide sufficient quantity of the compound for needed studies of its pharmacological properties,” added Baker.

 

A diver collects samples of Synoicum adareanum in support of a microbiome and biosynthetic gene cluster study. Palmer Station Antarctica, March 2011.

Credit: Bill Dent, University of South Florida.

Many additional questions remain, such as how S. adareanum and its palmerolide-producing symbiont are distributed across the landscape in Antarctic Oceans, or what role palmerolide A plays in the ecology of this species of ascidian.  Likewise, a detailed investigation into how the genes code for the enzymes that make palmerolide A is the subject of a new report soon to be published.

To survive in the harsh and unusual environment of the Antarctic sea floor, ascidians and other invertebrates such as sponges and corals have developed symbiotic relationships with diverse microbes that play a role in the production of features such as photoprotective pigments, bioluminescence, and chemical defense agents. The compounds produced by these microbes may have medicinal and biotechnological applications useful to humans in science, health and industry. Palmerolide A is one of many examples yet to be discovered.

“Throughout the course of disentangling the many genomic fragments of the various species in the microbiome, we discovered that this novel microbe’s genome appears to harbor multiple copies of the genes responsible for palmerolide production,” said Patrick Chain, Ph.D., senior scientist and Laboratory Fellow with LANL. “However the role of each copy, and regulation, for example, are unknown. This suggests palmerolide is likely quite important to the bacterium or the host, though we have yet to understand it’s biological or ecological role within this Antarctic setting.”

“This is a beautiful example of how nature is the best chemist out there,” Murray added. “The fact that microbes can make these bioactive and sometimes toxic compounds that can help the hosts to facilitate their survival is exemplary of the evolutionary intricacies found between hosts and their microbial partners and the chemical handshakes that are going on under our feet on all corners of the planet.”

Diver in the Antarctic Peninsula

Andrew Schilling (University of South Florida) dives in 100 feet of water at Cormorant Wall, Antarctica. Samples for microbiome characterization were collected by SCUBA divers working in the chilly subzero seas off Anvers Island, in the Antarctic Peninsula.

Credit: Bill J. Baker, University of South Florida. 

More information:

The full study, Discovery of an Antarctic ascidian-associated uncultivated Verrucomicrobia with antimelanoma palmerolide biosynthetic potential, is available from mSphere: https://doi.org/10.1128/msphere.00759-21.

Study authors included Alison Murray (DRI), Chein-Chi Lo (LANL), Hajnalka E. Daligault (LANL), Nicole E. Avalon (USF), Robert W. Read (DRI), Karen W. Davenport (LANL), Mary L. Higham (DRI), Yuliya Kunde (LANL), Armand E.K. Dichosa (LANL), Bill J. Baker (USF), and Patrick S.G. Chain (LANL).

This study was made possible with funding from the National Institutes of Health (CA205932), the National Science Foundation (OPP-0442857, ANT-0838776, and PLR-1341339), and DRI (Institute Project Assignment).

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About DRI

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

About The University of South Florida

The University of South Florida is a high-impact global research university dedicated to student success. Over the past 10 years, no other public university in the country has risen faster in U.S. News and World Report’s national university rankings than USF. Serving more than 50,000 students on campuses in Tampa, St. Petersburg and Sarasota-Manatee, USF is designated as a Preeminent State Research University by the Florida Board of Governors, placing it in the most elite category among the state’s 12 public universities. USF has earned widespread national recognition for its success graduating under-represented minority and limited-income students at rates equal to or higher than white and higher income students. USF is a member of the American Athletic Conference. Learn more at www.usf.edu.

About Los Alamos National Laboratory

Los Alamos National Laboratory, a multidisciplinary research institution engaged in strategic science on behalf of national security, is managed by Triad, a public service oriented, national security science organization equally owned by its three founding members: Battelle Memorial Institute (Battelle), the Texas A&M University System (TAMUS), and the Regents of the University of California (UC) for the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration. Los Alamos enhances national security by ensuring the safety and reliability of the U.S. nuclear stockpile, developing technologies to reduce threats from weapons of mass destruction, and solving problems related to energy, environment, infrastructure, health, and global security concerns.

 

“Mountain Rain or Snow” Seeks Citizen Scientists and Winter Storm Reports

“Mountain Rain or Snow” Seeks Citizen Scientists and Winter Storm Reports

Reposted from Lynker – https://www.lynker.com/mountain-rain-or-snow-seeks-citizen-scientists-and-winter-storm-reports/

RENO, Nev. –During the winter, a few degrees can make all the difference between digging your car out of a snowbank and rushing rivers overtopping their banks. Why? Winter storms at near-freezing
temperatures have notoriously fickle precipitation, with mixes of rain and snow. While the air temperature difference between the two may be slight, the real-world consequences can be huge.

What’s more, the computer models we use to predict weather and streamflow often struggle to predict whether rain or snow will fall when temperatures are right around 32°F. Satellites don’t do much better. What this means is that scientists need your help!

With NASA funding, a team from Lynker, the Desert Research Institute, and the University of Nevada, Reno are launching a citizen science project where volunteers like you can submit observations of rain, snow, and mixed precipitation via your smartphone, laptop, desktop, tablet, or any other device with a browser. We call it Mountain Rain or Snow and you can report from your backcountry adventures, winter drives (as long as you’re the passenger!), and even the comfort of your own home. Every observation is valuable!

As we grow the community of Mountain Rain or Snow volunteers, we will be better able to analyze patterns of rain and snow to improve satellite monitoring and model predictions. This info can then bring about better weather forecasts, more detailed knowledge of skiing conditions, improved avalanche risk assessments, and more robust understanding of the water stored in mountain snowpacks.

This winter we’re focusing our efforts on the following mountain regions. If you’re in one of these areas, text the region-specific keyword to the number provided. You’ll then get a link to the Mountain Rain or Snow web app and you’ll receive notifications of incoming winter storms in your area. You can opt out at any time.

 The Appalachians and Adirondacks of New England and New York – Text NorEaster to 855-909-0798
 The Cascades, Coast Range, and Klamath Mountains of Oregon – Text OregonRainOrSnow to 855-909-0798
 The Sierra Nevada of California and Nevada – Text WINTER to 855-909-0798
 The Rocky Mountains of Colorado – Text CORainSnow to 855-909-0798

If you don’t happen to find yourself in one of the above areas, don’t fret! We welcome observations from wherever you are. Anyone can submit an observation at any time via https://rainorsnow.app/ and you can check out our website for more information. For Mountain Rain or Snow questions, you can contact the project lead, Dr. Keith Jennings, at rainorsnow@lynker.com.

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Lynker 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/.

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.

1,000 years of glacial ice reveal ‘prosperity and peril’ in Europe

1,000 years of glacial ice reveal ‘prosperity and peril’ in Europe

Above: Researchers’ ice core drilling camp on Colle Gnifetti in 2015. Two ice cores extracted from this area preserved a continuous one-thousand-year record of European climate and vegetation. Credit: Margit Schwikowski.

Evidence preserved in glaciers provides continuous climate and vegetation records during major historical events

Reposted from AGU – https://news.agu.org/press-release/1000-years-of-glacial-ice-reveal-prosperity-and-peril-in-europe/

RENO, Nev. – Europe’s past prosperity and failure, driven by climate changes, has been revealed using thousand-year-old pollen, spores and charcoal particles fossilized in glacial ice. This first analysis of microfossils preserved in European glaciers unveils earlier-than-expected evidence of air pollution and the roots of modern invasive species problems.

A new study analyzed pollen, spores, charcoal and other pollutants frozen in the Colle Gnifetti glacier on the Swiss and Italian border. The research found changes in the composition of these microfossils corresponded closely with known major events in climate, such as the Little Ice Age and well-established volcanic eruptions.

The work was published in Geophysical Research Letters, which publishes high-impact, short-format reports with immediate implications spanning all Earth and space sciences.

The industrialization of European society also appeared clearly in the microfossil record and, in some cases, showed up sooner than expected. Pollen from the introduction of non-native crops was found to go back at least 100 years ago and pollution from the burning of fossil fuels shows up in the 18th century, about 100 years earlier than expected.

Existing historical sources such as church records or diaries record conditions during major events like droughts or famines. However, studying data from the glaciers contributes to the understanding of climate and land use surrounding such events, providing non-stop context for them with evidence from a large land area. Precisely identifying the timing of these events can help scientists better understand current climate change.

“The historical sources that were available before, I don’t think [the sources] got the full picture of the environmental context,” said Sandra Brugger, a paleoecologist at the Desert Research Institute in Nevada and lead researcher on the study. “But also, with the ice core, we couldn’t get the full picture until we started collaborating with historians on this. It needs those two sides of the coin.”

Evidence on High

The new study analyzed microfossils frozen in two 82- and 75-meter-long ice cores pulled from the Colle Gnifetti glacier, which are the first two ice cores from the continent of Europe studied for microfossils. Similar studies have sampled ice cores in South America, Central Asia and Greenland, but those regions lack the breadth of written historical records that can be directly correlated with the continuous microfossil data in ice cores.

Over the centuries, wind, rain and snow carried microfossils from European lowlands, the United Kingdom and North Africa to the exposed glacier. Ice in this glacier site dates back tens of thousands of years, and the altitude of Colle Gnifetti — 4,450 meters above sea level — means the ice was likely never subjected to melting, which would mix the layers of samples and create uncertainty in the chronology of the record.

“They can actually pinpoint and identify the relationships between what’s happening on the continent with climatic records inherent in the ice,” said John Birks, a paleoecologist at the University of Bergen who was not associated with the study. “They can develop, in a stronger way, this link between human civilization and change and climate, particularly in the last thousand years or so where conventional pollen analysis is rather weak.”

Evidence of pollution due to fossil fuel combustion also appeared earlier in the chronological record than expected. The researchers found evidence of the early burning of coal in the United Kingdom around 1780, much earlier than the expected onset of industrialization around 1850, which could have implications for global climate change modeling.

The records also showed evidence of pollen from non-native European plants from 100 years ago, showing a long legacy of the existing ecological problems created by invasive species transported across continents through trade.

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AGU (www.agu.org) supports 130,000 enthusiasts to experts worldwide in Earth and space sciences. Through broad and inclusive partnerships, we advance discovery and solution science that accelerate knowledge and create solutions that are ethical, unbiased and respectful of communities and their values. Our programs include serving as a scholarly publisher, convening virtual and in-person events and providing career support. We live our values in everything we do, such as our net zero energy renovated building in Washington, D.C. and our Ethics and Equity Center, which fosters a diverse and inclusive geoscience community to ensure responsible conduct.

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 DRI Internship Program Focuses on Mentorship for Inclusion in STEM

New DRI Internship Program Focuses on Mentorship for Inclusion in STEM

New DRI Internship Program Focuses on Mentorship for Inclusion in STEM

Oct 26, 2021
RENO, NEV.

By Kelsey Fitzgerald

Internships
Career Development
STEM
Above: DRI Research Internship Immersion Program students Mary Andres (left) and John Cooper (right) work with faculty mentor Dr. Riccardo Panella in his laboratory on DRI’s Reno campus.
Credit: DRI.
Research immersion internships provide career-building opportunities for students from Nevada’s two-year colleges
From wildflower blooms to microplastics pollution, fourteen students from Nevada’s two-year colleges are spending this fall building career skills in exciting new directions.  The students are conducting hands-on research alongside DRI scientists in Reno and Las Vegas through DRI’s new Research Immersion Internship Program.

Although professional internship opportunities are fairly common in the sciences, many positions are aimed at students who are enrolled in four-year science degree programs. DRI’s new internship program takes a more inclusive approach, creating an opportunity specifically aimed at students from two-year colleges and welcoming those majoring in fields from outside of traditional scientific disciplines.

“Science and innovation thrive when people of diverse skillsets work together, because real-world problems are often very interdisciplinary,” said Internship Program Director Meghan Collins, M.S. “In addition to traditional scientific fields, drawing in students with interests in communications, business, public health, computing, and many other areas can bring new perspectives and new solutions to the table.”

Riccardo Panella and John Cooper in lab

DRI faculty mentor Riccardo Panella, Ph.D., (left) and student intern John Cooper (right) review calculations as part of an ongoing research project that tests a new therapeutic approach to treating metabolic disorders. Panella is an assistant research professor of cancer and genetics with the Center for Genomic Medicine at DRI; Cooper is a student at Truckee Meadows Community College. 

Credit: DRI.
DRI’s internship program began in September and runs for 16 weeks. Students have been placed in teams of two to four people, and are working under the direction of DRI faculty mentors from the Institute’s Reno and Las Vegas campuses on a variety of project themes.

One team of interns is working with Erick Bandala, Ph.D., assistant research professor of environmental science from DRI’s Las Vegas campus, to investigate water security in Native American communities of the Southwestern U.S. His team consists of three students from Nevada State College – two environmental studies majors and one math major.

“Many people in Native American communities lack access to running water in their homes and experience problems with water quality as well,” Bandala said. “We are exploring data that was collected by Tribes and water treatment facilities to learn about the scale of the problem and how it can be improved. I love the challenge and hope that my team will come out with helpful information. Water security is a very complicated issue, but the students that I am working with are very enthusiastic, and I am happy to be interacting with them.”

Other project themes for the program’s inaugural semester include documentation and analysis of wildflower superblooms (above-average bursts of blooming wildflowers) in the Western U.S., an investigation into the effects of wildfire on water repellency of soils, a study on how microplastic particles can be transported through the air, and a study investigating the effects of obesity on health challenges in mice.

Student intern Mary Andres
Riccardo Panella and Mary Andres

Above, left: Student intern Mary Andres from Truckee Meadows Community College prepares reagents needed to analyze lipid profiles and hepatic enzymes in a study being conducted by DRI’s Center for Genomic Medicine. The results of these experiments will pave the way for a new generation of RNA-based therapies to treat metabolic disorders and prevent cancer progression.

Credit: DRI.

Above, right: DRI faculty mentor Riccardo Panella, Ph.D., (left) of the Center for Genomic Medicine and Truckee Meadows Community College student Mary Andres (right) use a bright light to view a sample in Panella’s laboratory in Reno. 

Credit: DRI.
This year’s cohort includes students from Nevada State College, Truckee Meadows Community College, Great Basin College, and the University of Nevada, Reno. Because many of the students are early in their college journeys, or come from fields outside of the sciences, the internship program provides stepping-stones to help them build the fundamental skills they need to succeed, including a month-long period of training prior to implementing their projects.

At the end of the semester, the student teams will deliver their project results and receive feedback from their faculty mentors. The end goal is to help foster the next generation of diverse scientists through mentorship, inclusion, and skill building.

“There are a lot of independent internships available to science majors, but not many  programs that prepare students to be successful working in the sciences in the real world – especially for students who are coming from two-year college programs or from outside of scientific disciplines,” Collins said. “This program aligns with some of DRI’s larger goals of improving diversity and inclusion at DRI and in the sciences as a whole, while also providing important stepping-stones for students to learn to navigate the culture of science.”

Student Intern John Cooper

Student Intern John Cooper from Truckee Meadows Community College prepares reagents in Riccardo Panella’s laboratory at DRI in Reno, as part of DRI’s new Research Internship Immersion Program.

Credit: DRI.

More Information:

For more information on DRI’s Research Immersion Internship Program, please visit: https://www.dri.edu/immersion/.

DRI faculty mentors for the Research Immersion Internship Program include Erick Bandala, Riccardo Panella, Eden Furtak-Cole, Markus Berli, Christine Albano, and Meghan Collins.

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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.

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
Earth’s Atmosphere
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 earth’s 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

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

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 Tahoe’s environment. 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 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 in Tahoe’s environment, 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
Fire Activity
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 Repellent: 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 repellent 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 repellent 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

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 (International Women and Girls in Science 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.