New research shows impact of using shared language and building public trust in weather forecasts

New research shows impact of using shared language and building public trust in weather forecasts

Reno, Nev. (January 22, 2019): For meteorologists, effectively communicating weather forecasts and their related dangers is essential in maintaining the health, safety, and resilience of communities. A new study published by a team of researchers from the University of Nevada, Reno (UNR), the Desert Research Institute (DRI), and the National Weather Service (NWS) Reno suggests that effective communication isn’t only about sharing information on upcoming weather events—it’s about building trust and common ground between forecasters and the public.

A common focus of science communication research is the difficulty of communicating technical information about weather forecasts to the public, including the likelihood that the forecasted events will actually come to pass. However, personal risks and uncertainty about potential impacts also affect how people respond to and act upon information about subjects like weather forecasts.

In a study published in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, researchers sought to investigate the effect of personal uncertainties on people’s responses to weather forecasts by analyzing posts by the NWS Reno on Facebook. Researchers analyzed a total of 470 Facebook posts by the NWS Reno and 6,467 user comments on the posts about high impact weather events from January to May 2017. This range overlapped with the Reno area’s record wet period during from October 2016 to April 2017, a time when the region’s residents were impacted by several high impact weather events.

The team’s analysis showed that the public’s uncertainty about weather forecasts isn’t usually technical—more often, it’s personal.

“The NWS Reno’s Facebook community engages far less with the technical uncertainties of forecasts than with the personal risks implied in those forecasts,” said Kathryn Lambrecht, Ph.D., lead author on the study and Assistant Director of the Composition and Communication in the Disciplines program at UNR. “People in this community frequently use the NWS posts to share their own experiences with weather, express concern, and reach out to family and friends, not to calculate the technical likelihood of a forecast.”

What’s more, this study’s results showed that posts that used “commonplaces”—or expressions of common values or norms among a community—generated the strongest responses, many of which acknowledged a connection or understanding between the NWS Reno and its followers on Facebook.

Graphic from the NWS Reno Facebook page

Most of the population in the Reno area is located in valleys where it only snows occasionally. Feet of snow can fall in the higher elevations of the Sierra Nevada with the Reno area receiving little to no snow accumulation, so the public often asks “Is it really going to snow down here [in the valley]?” The commonplace “down here” was added to what became a widely shared and commented forecast graphic on the NWS Reno Facebook page.

“Commonplaces speak the language of the community,” explained Ben Hatchett, co-author on the study and assistant professor of atmospheric science at DRI. “We found that the posts using shared language in forecasts helped build a feeling of solidarity among the NWS Reno and followers. Perhaps more importantly, this encouraged sharing of forecasts between users through tagging and comments, broadening the distribution of the posts.”

Because high-impact weather events can severely impact life and property, it is imperative that the public trusts the information coming from the National Weather Service or emergency managers. Commonplaces, this study revealed, can be an effective way for forecasters to build trust with the community and encourage behavioral changes—like changing driving routes or stocking up on sandbags—that ultimately promote public safety.

From here, the team is considering applying for more funding in order to scale up their research and see if their results are consistent in other regions beyond the Reno area.

Researchers on this study included a meteorologist, an atmospheric scientist, a STEM education expert, and a pair of rhetoricians, scholars who study how communication forms communities—an unusual combination of disciplines.

“Past research has shown that science communication benefits from bringing together multiple types of expertise,” Hatchett said. “Our group came together organically, and the result was a highly transdisciplinary project. Personally, I think it is one of the most unique and collaborative projects I have been a part of, which made it even more fun.”

This project was supported by the Nevada NASA Space Grant Consortium and the Desert Research Institute.

The full study, titled “Improving Visual Communication of Weather Forecasts with Rhetoric” is available online from the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society: https://journals.ametsoc.org/doi/abs/10.1175/BAMS-D-18-0186.1

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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 is one of eight institutions in the Nevada System of Higher Education.

Nevada’s land-grant university founded in 1874, the University of Nevada, Renoranks in the top tier of best national universities by U.S. News and World Report and is steadily growing in enrollment, excellence and reputation. The University serves nearly 22,000 students. Part of the Nevada System of Higher Education, the University is home to the University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine, University of Nevada Cooperative Extension and Wolf Pack Athletics. 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.

Research team develops first lidar-based method for measuring snowpack in mountain forests

Research team develops first lidar-based method for measuring snowpack in mountain forests

Reno, Nev. (Jan. 22, 2018): Many Western communities rely on snow from mountain forests as a source of drinking water – but for scientists and water managers, accurately measuring mountain snowpack has long been problematic. Satellite imagery is useful for calculating snow cover across open meadows, but less effective in forested areas, where the tree canopy often obscures the view of conditions below.

Now, a new technique for measuring snow cover using a laser-based technology called lidar offers a solution, essentially allowing researchers to use lasers to “see through the trees” and accurately measure the snow that lies beneath the forest canopy. 

In a new study published in Remote Sensing of the Environment, an interdisciplinary team of researchers from Desert Research Institute (DRI), the University of Nevada, Reno (UNR), the California Institute of Technology’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and California State University  described the first successful use of lidar to measure snow cover under forested canopy in the Sierra Nevada.

“Lidar data is gathered by laser pulses shot from a plane, some of which are able to pass light through the tree canopy right down to the snow surface and create a highly accurate three-dimensional map of the terrain underneath,” explained lead author Tihomir Kostadinov, Ph.D., of California State University San Marcos, who completed the research while working as a postdoctoral researcher at DRI. “Passive optical satellite imaging techniques, which are essentially photographs taken from space, don’t allow you to see through the trees like this.  We are only starting to take full advantage of all the information in lidar.”

Researcher surveys snowpack at Sagehen Creek Field Station

Rowan Gaffney (UNR) surveying the amount of snow at Sagehen Creek Field Station during the NASA airborne campaigns in March 2016. Credit: A. Harpold.

In this study, researchers worked with NASA’s Airborne Snow Observatory to collect lidar data at the University of California, Berkeley’s Sagehen Creek Field Station in the Sierra Nevada by aircraft on three dates during spring of 2016 when snow was present. Additional lidar data and ground measurements facilities by the long-term operation of Sagehen Creek field station were critical to the success of the study.

Analysis of the datasets revealed that the lidar was in fact capable of detecting snow presence or absence both under canopy and in open areas, so long as areas with low branches were removed from the analysis. On-the-ground measurements used distributed temperature sensing with fiber optic cables laid out on the forest floor to verify these findings.

Tree canopies interact with the snowpack in complex ways, causing different accumulation and disappearance rates under canopies as compared to open areas. With the ability to use lidar data to measure snow levels beneath trees, snow cover estimates used by scientists and resource managers can be made more accurate. The importance of this advance could be far reaching, said team member Rina Schumer, Ph.D., Assistant Vice President of Academic and Faculty Affairs at DRI.

“In the Sierra Nevada, April 1st snow cover is what is used to estimate water supply for the year,” Schumer said. “Being able to more accurately assess snow cover is important for California and Nevada, but also all mountainous areas where snowpack is essential to year-round water supply.”

Snow cover estimates are also used by hydrologists for streamflow forecasts and reservoir management. Snow cover data is important to ecologists and biologists for understanding animal migration, wildlife habitat, and forest health, and it is useful to the tourism and recreation industry for informing activities related to winter snow sports.

Researcher surveys snow under forest canopy at Sagehen Creek Field Station.

Rose Petersky (UNR) surveying the amount of snow under the forest canopy at Sagehen Creek Field Station during the NASA airborne campaigns in April 2016. The photo clearly shows the reduced snow cover under the canopy that is difficult to measure with satellites. Credit: A. Harpold.

Although lidar data is currently collected via airplane and not easily accessible by all who might like to use it, the study team believes that information gleaned from this study could be used to correct data derived from satellite imagery, which is already widely available from NASA’s MODIS sensor and NASA/USGS’s Landsat satellites.

“This is proof of concept for the method that we think could really expand the extent that we measure snow at high resolution in forests,” said team member Adrian Harpold, Ph.D., Assistant Professor with the Department of Natural Resources at UNR. “I’m now working with a student to extend this approach across multiple sites to improve our understanding of the relationship between snow cover in the open versus under the tree canopy. Then, we hope to use that information to correct and improve satellite remote sensing in forested areas.”

This study was part of a larger NASA EPSCoR project titled Building Capacity in Interdisciplinary Snow Sciences for a Changing World, which aimed to develop new research, technology, and education capacity in Nevada for the interdisciplinary study of snowpack. Objectives included an educational goal of training the next generation of scientists.

“This project brought together people who look at snow from different scientific perspectives, and generated a conversation amongst us,” said Alison Murray, Ph.D., Research Professor at DRI and principal investigator of the NASA EPSCoR project. “In addition to bringing together expertise from three institutions in Nevada (DRI, UNR, and UNLV) in hydrology, remote sensing, geosciences, atmospheric chemistry and snow associated life, we developed strategic alliances with NASA’s airborne snow survey. Where the Nevada researchers might have been studying snow on our own, this interdisciplinary project allowed us to look at snow in an integrated fashion and make some important advances.”

The full study, titled Watershed-scale mapping of fractional snow cover under conifer forest canopy using lidar, is available online from Remote Sensing of the Environment: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0034425718305467

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. Learn more at www.dri.edu, and connect with us on social media on FacebookInstagram and Twitter. 

Northern Nevada Science Center
2215 Raggio Parkway
Reno, Nevada 89512
PHONE: 775-673-7300

Southern Nevada Science Center
755 East Flamingo Road
Las Vegas, Nevada 89119
PHONE: 702-862-5400

New study identifies atmospheric conditions that precede wildfires in the Southwest

New study identifies atmospheric conditions that precede wildfires in the Southwest

Reno, Nev. (January 3, 2018): To protect communities in arid landscapes from devastating wildfires, preparation is key. New research from the Desert Research Institute (DRI) in Reno may aid in the prevention of large fires by helping meteorologists and fire managers in the Southwestern U.S. to forecast periods of likely wildfire activity.

Each summer, from June through September, a weather pattern called the North American monsoon brings thunderstorms to the Southwestern U.S., with lightning that often sparks wildfires.

The new study, which published in the International Journal of Climatology, examined twenty common weather patterns that occur during the North American monsoon season, and identified relationships between certain weather patterns and times of increased fire activity.

One of the most problematic weather patterns, the team learned, was when dry and windy conditions gave way to lightning storms in May and June – a time when fuels tended to be at their driest and monsoon rains had not yet soaked the region with added moisture. When lightning storms were followed by another hot, dry, windy period, increased fire activity was even more likely.

“A lot of fire meteorologists know from experience that this is how things happen, but our study actually quantified it and showed how the patterns unfold,” said lead author Nick Nauslar, Ph.D., who completed this research while working as a graduate student at DRI under Tim Brown, Ph.D. “No one had ever really looked at large fire occurrence in the Southwest and how it related to atmospheric patterns.”

To identify problematic weather patterns, Nauslar and his team looked at monsoon season weather data collected from April through September over the 18-year period from 1995-2013. They then classified wildfire activity over the same period into days or events that were considered “busy” by fire managers in their study area, and used an analysis technique called Self-Organizing Maps to detect relationships between the two datasets.

In addition to identifying relationships between specific weather patterns and fire activity, their analysis also looked for patterns in wildfire occurrence and fire size throughout the season. Analysis of more than 84,000 wildfires showed that although July was the month that the most wildfires occurred, wildfires that occurred during the month of June (prior to the arrival of much monsoonal moisture) were more likely to develop into large fires. In July and August, when the heaviest monsoonal precipitation typically occurs, the percentage of fires that developed into large fires decreased.

“Our goal with this study was to provide fire weather meteorologists in the region with information to help inform fire forecasts, and I think we were able to identify some important patterns,” said Brown, Director of the Western Regional Climate Center at DRI.

Nauslar, who is now employed as a mesoscale assistant and fire weather forecaster for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Oklahoma, hopes that the findings of this study will help fire managers in the Southwest to proactively identify periods when wildfires are more likely to occur, and to allocate firefighting resources accordingly.

“I think a lot of what we learned confirms forecaster experience about the types of atmospheric patterns that are problematic with regard to wildfire occurrence in the Southwest,” Nauslar said. “I hope that people in operations can really use this information, and help refine it and build upon it.

Other DRI scientists who contributed to this research included Benjamin Hatchett, Ph.D., Michael Kaplan, Ph.D., and John Mejia, Ph.D. The full study, titled “Impact of the North American monsoon on wildfire activity in the southwest United States,” is available online from the International Journal of Climatology: https://rmets.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/joc.5899

 

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. Learn more at www.dri.edu, and connect with us on social media on FacebookInstagram and Twitter. 

Northern Nevada Science Center
2215 Raggio Parkway
Reno, Nevada 89512
PHONE: 775-673-7300

Southern Nevada Science Center
755 East Flamingo Road
Las Vegas, Nevada 89119
PHONE: 702-862-5400

Data from DRI ice core lab shows rapid melting of Greenland ice sheet

Data from DRI ice core lab shows rapid melting of Greenland ice sheet

Reno, Nev. (Dec. 5, 2018): The melting of the Greenland ice sheet has increased rapidly in response to Arctic warming, and is likely to continue to do so into the future, according to new research from an international team of scientists including Joe McConnell, Ph.D., of the Desert Research Institute in Reno. Among other findings, their research shows a 250 to 575 percent increase in melt intensity over the last 20 years.

This study team utilized ice cores to reconstruct past melting rates from the present day back to the 1600s, producing the first continuous, multi-century record of surface melt intensity and runoff from the Greenland ice sheet. Previous studies have utilized satellite observations, which only go back to 1978.

McConnell, who is a research professor of hydrology and head of the Ultra-Trace Ice Core Analytical Laboratory at DRI, first became involved in the study in 2003 when his research group drilled and analyzed the contents of a 150-meter (492-foot) ice core from west-central Greenland. This ice core, known as “D5”, was then used by Sarah Das, Ph.D. from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) to develop the record of surface melting rates used in this study.

In a subsequent 2016 collaboration with WHOI researchers, McConnell’s group also used DRI’s unique continuous ice-core analytical system to analyze a 115-meter (377-foot) ice core known as “NU”, which was collected in 2015 by the study’s lead author Luke Trusel and colleagues. The detailed DRI measurements of more than 20 elements and chemical species in both the D5 and NU ice cores enabled precise dating of the records that underpin the new findings.

Recovering an ice core from west Greenland. Credit: Sarah Has/Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

Recovering an ice core from west Greenland. Credit: Sarah Has/Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

The study, titled “Nonlinear Rise in Greenland Runoff in Response to Post-industrial Arctic Warming”, was published in the journal Nature in on December 5, 2018: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-018-0752-4. A detailed press release from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution is below.


 Greenland Ice Sheet Melt ‘Off the Charts’ Compared with Past Four Centuries

Surface melting across Greenland’s mile-thick ice sheet began increasing in the mid-19th century and then ramped up dramatically during the 20th and early 21st centuries, showing no signs of abating, according to new research published Dec. 5, 2018, in the journal Nature. The study provides new evidence of the impacts of climate change on Arctic melting and global sea level rise.

“Melting of the Greenland Ice Sheet has gone into overdrive. As a result, Greenland melt is adding to sea level more than any time during the last three and a half centuries, if not thousands of years,” said Luke Trusel, a glaciologist at Rowan University’s School of Earth & Environment and former post-doctoral scholar at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, and lead author of the study. “And increasing melt began around the same time as we started altering the atmosphere in the mid-1800s.”

“From a historical perspective, today’s melt rates are off the charts, and this study provides the evidence to prove this,” said Sarah Das, a glaciologist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) and co-author of the study. “We found a fifty percent increase in total ice sheet meltwater runoff versus the start of the industrial era, and a thirty percent increase since the 20th century alone.”

Meltwater lakes on the Greenland ice sheet. Credit: Sarah Das/Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

Meltwater lakes on the Greenland ice sheet. Credit: Sarah Das/Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

Ice loss from Greenland is one of the key drivers of global sea level rise. Icebergs calving into the ocean from the edge of glaciers represent one component of water re-entering the ocean and raising sea levels. But more than half of the ice-sheet water entering the ocean comes from runoff from melted snow and glacial ice atop the ice sheet. The study suggests that if Greenland ice sheet melting continues at “unprecedented rates”—which the researchers attribute to warmer summers—it could accelerate the already fast pace of sea level rise.

“Rather than increasing steadily as climate warms, Greenland will melt increasingly more and more for every degree of warming. The melting and sea level rise we’ve observed already will be dwarfed by what may be expected in the future as climate continues to warm,” said Trusel.

To determine how intensely Greenland ice has melted in past centuries, the research team used a drill the size of a traffic light pole to extract ice cores from the ice sheet itself and an adjacent coastal ice cap, at sites more than 6,000 feet above sea level.  The scientists drilled at these elevations to ensure the cores would contain records of past melt intensity, allowing them to extend their records back into the 17th century.

During warm summer days in Greenland, melting occurs across much of the ice sheet surface. At lower elevations, where melting is the most intense, meltwater runs off the ice sheet and contributes to sea level rise, but no record of the melt remains. At higher elevations, however, the summer meltwater quickly refreezes from contact with the below-freezing snowpack sitting underneath. This prevents it from escaping the ice sheet in the form of runoff. Instead, it forms distinct icy bands that stack up in layers of densely packed ice over time.

The core samples were brought back to ice core labs at the U.S. National Science Foundation Ice Core Facility in Denver, Colo., WHOI in Woods Hole, Mass., Wheaton College in Norton, Mass., and the Desert Research Institute in Reno, Nev. where the scientists measured physical and chemical properties along the cores to determine the thickness and age of the melt layers. Dark bands running horizontally across the cores, like ticks on a ruler, enabled the scientists to visually chronicle the strength of melting at the surface from year to year. Thicker melt layers represented years of higher melting, while thinner sections indicated years with less melting.

Iceberg in Disko Bay, west Greenland. Credit Luke Trusel/Rowan University.

Iceberg in Disko Bay, west Greenland. Credit Luke Trusel/Rowan University.

Combining results from multiple ice cores with observations of melting from satellites and sophisticated climate models, the scientists were able to show that the thickness of the annual melt layers they observed clearly tracked not only how much melting was occurring at the coring sites, but also much more broadly across Greenland.  This breakthrough allowed the team to reconstruct meltwater runoff at the lower-elevation edges of the ice sheet—the areas that contribute to sea level rise.

Ice core records provide critical historical context because satellite measurements—which scientists rely on today to understand melting rates in response to changing climate—have only been around since the late 1970s, said Matt Osman, a graduate student in the MIT-WHOI Joint Program and co-author of the study.

“We have had a sense that there’s been a great deal of melting in recent decades, but we previously had no basis for comparison with melt rates going further back in time,” he said. “By sampling ice, we were able to extend the satellite data by a factor of 10 and get a clearer picture of just how extremely unusual melting has been in recent decades compared to the past.”

Trusel said the new research provides evidence that the rapid melting observed in recent decades is highly unusual when put into a historical context.

“To be able to answer what might happen to Greenland next, we need to understand how Greenland has already responded to climate change,” he said. “What our ice cores show is that Greenland is now at a state where it’s much more sensitive to further increases in temperature than it was even 50 years ago.”

One noteworthy aspect of the findings, Das said, was how little additional warming it now takes to cause huge spikes in ice sheet melting.

“Even a very small change in temperature caused an exponential increase in melting in recent years,” she said. “So the ice sheet’s response to human-caused warming has been non-linear.”  Trusel concluded, “Warming means more today than it did in the past.”

Additional co-authors are: Matthew B. Osman, MIT/WHOI Joint Program in Oceanography; Matthew J. Evans, Wheaton College; Ben E. Smith, University of Washington; Xavier Fettweis, University of Leige; Joseph R. McConnell, Desert Research Institute; and Brice P. Y. Noël and and Michiel R. van den Broeke Utrecht University.

This research was funded by the US National Science Foundation, institutional support from Rowan University and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, the US Department of Defense, the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research, the Netherlands Earth System Science Center, and the Belgian National Fund for Scientific Research.

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Link to paper (on and after Dec. 5, 2018): https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-018-0752-4  

News media contacts:

WHOI Media Office- 508-289-3340, media@whoi.edu
Sarah Das, Ph.D., Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (508) 289-2464 (office), sdas@whoi.edu https://www2.whoi.edu/staff/sdas/
Stephen Levine, News Officer, University Relations, Rowan University(856) 256-5443 (office), (856) 889-0491 (cell), Levines@Rowan.edu
Luke Trusel, Ph.D., School of Earth & Environment, Rowan University (856) 256 5262 (office), (508) 981-3073 (cell), trusel@rowan.edu, https://cryospherelab.org 

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.  

DRI ice core data illustrates climate “teleconnection” between Earth’s poles during climate changes in the last Ice Age

DRI ice core data illustrates climate “teleconnection” between Earth’s poles during climate changes in the last Ice Age

Reno, Nev. (Nov. 28, 2018): This week, new research on historical climate changes in the Earth’s polar regions by an international team of scientists was published in the journal Nature. The study, titled “Abrupt Ice Age Shifts in Southern Westerlies and Antarctic Climate Forced from the North,” is underpinned by data provided by Joe McConnell, Ph.D., director of DRI’s Ultra-Trace Chemistry Laboratory in Reno, Nev.

The recently published study explains the interconnection between Arctic and Antarctic climates, tracing how strong currents in the North Atlantic during the Ice Age forced Southern Hemisphere climate on two different timescales: first, by rapidly warming Greenland and triggering immediate atmospheric changes in Antarctica due to shifting wind patterns, and second, by cooling the continent via colder ocean temperatures two centuries later. Researchers liken the atmospheric climate change in the North Atlantic to a “text message,” delivered immediately to the Southern Hemisphere, while the oceanic cooling is more like a “postcard,” not felt in Antarctica for another 200 years.

To identify this climate “teleconnection” between Earth’s poles, researchers relied on detailed chemical analyses of more than 1.5 km of Antarctic ice core, including more than 400,000 individual measurements, made in the Ultra-Trace Chemistry Laboratory using a unique continuous flow system and inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry. Retrieved from the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS), this ice core sample, known as the WAIS Divide core, was collected by a team including DRI emeritus research professor Kendrick Taylor, Ph.D. Their original research into the connection between the Earth’s polar regions using the WAIS Divide core was first explained in Nature in 2015.

The full text of the study titled “Abrupt ice-age shifts in southern westerly winds and Antarctic climate forced from the north” is available in Naturehttps://www.nature.com/articles/s41586-018-0727-5. A full news release from Oregon State University is below.

(more…)

Southwest Climate Adaptation Science Center Receives $4.5M for Continued Research

Reno, Nev. (Nov. 15, 2018) – The Southwest Climate Adaptation Science Center (SW CASC), a collaborative partnership between regional research institutions and the United States Geological Survey (USGS), recently received a five-year, $4.5 million grant from the USGS to renew support for the center’s research on climate science and adaption throughout the region.

The SW CASC was established in 2011 to provide objective scientific information and tools that land, water, wildlife, and cultural resource managers and other interested parties could apply to anticipate, monitor, and adapt to climate change impacts in the southwestern United States. Based at the University of Arizona, the SW CASC is a consortium that also includes the Desert Research Institute; University of California, Davis; University of California, Los Angeles; Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego; Colorado State University; and Utah State University.

With its renewed funding, the SW CASC will build on its almost seven years of collaborative research and outreach. Over the next five years, SW CASC researchers are aiming to produce new scientific information alongside decision makers and managers to help make more informed planning decisions about the region’s highest priority issues, including the allocation of resources.

“We go beyond the routine of academic research, where the goal is to advance knowledge by publishing peer-reviewed papers,” said Stephen Jackson, USGS director of the SW CASC and adjunct professor of geosciences and natural resources and environment. “I like to call what we do ‘research plus,’ because we do that, plus create various products that are directly useful to managers.”

The Southwest is an ecologically varied region, with ecosystems including deserts, mountains, forests, and coasts, hosting some of the most iconic vegetation and wildlife in the U.S. Since it encompasses the hottest and driest region of the U.S., the Southwest faces a number of challenges associated with rising temperatures, including record low snowpack, increased flooding, and extreme wildfires. Land and resource managers at every level of government need up-to-date, accessible research on these topics to be prepared for changes and to anticipate future challenges.

“Through the SW CASC, we’re actively broadening the pool of scientists engaged in research related to climate adaptation in the Southwest in order to provide more information and resources to drive the decision-making process” said Tamara Wall, Ph.D., deputy director of the Western Regional Climate Center (WRCC) at DRI and a Principal Investigator for SW CASC.

SW CASC’s portfolio of scientific resources directly available to managers includes the SCENIC web application, developed by WRCC scientists. A searchable database of climate information about the Southwest dating back to 1980, the SCENIC app allows users to visualize and analyze historic data such as precipitation and temperature as well as climate projections.

According to Wall, DRI researchers will soon be launching a new and improved SCENIC 2.0 application that will feature an improved user interface, graphic outputs, and quicker information processing.

For more information on the SW CASC, please visit: https://www.swcsc.arizona.edu/.

Emily Litvack of the University of Arizona Research, Discovery, & Innovation Office contributed to this release.

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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.

In Memoriam – Dr. John Hallett

In Memoriam – Dr. John Hallett

Please join us for the Celebration of Life for Dr. John Hallett on Monday, December 17th from 3pm-5pm in the DRI Stout Conference Center, located at 2215 Raggio Parkway, Reno, NV 89512.  Please RSVP to Britt Chapman by Monday, December 10th at Britt.Chapman@dri.edu or by telephone (775) 673-7480. 

In lieu of flowers the family respectfully asks that donations be made to the DRI Foundation to support and foster graduate students and young scientists. Donations to support the Dr. John Hallett Memorial Fund can be made to the DRI Foundation online. [CLICK HERE] to donate and be sure to select the “John Hallett Memorial Fund” in the gift designation drop down menu.


Reno, Nev. (November 15, 2018): Dr. John Hallett, a research professor of atmospheric physics in DRI’s Division of Atmospheric Sciences passed away on Monday, November 5, 2018 at his home in Reno.

John began his career at DRI in 1966 when his research and acquaintance with Dr. Wendell Mordy first drew him to Nevada. As its longest-serving scientist, Dr. Hallett helped start the Desert Research Institute and establish DRI as a leader in atmospheric physics research. He also played a central role in the development of the University of Nevada, Reno’s atmospheric sciences graduate program, which he directed for over a decade.

“There are lots of things that we don’t understand out there. There are still major problems out there to be investigated that have great scientific and practical applications.”Dr. John Hallett, DRI 50th Anniversary Magazine, 2009.

Following his retirement in 2011 and until a few years ago when his health no longer permitted, Dr. Hallett would visit DRI’s research campus in Reno most every day to discuss science and current events with his colleagues, and to mentor graduate students.

Dr. Hallett was the only child of Stanley and Nellie (Veale) Hallett, and was born in Bristol, England on December 2, 1929.  As a child, he survived the Bristol Blitz during World War II, sleeping in his backyard bunker and scavenging for metal after the air raids to help in the war effort.  Always an astute student he dedicated himself to academics and began working as a lab tech at age 14.  Precise and technical in his approach, he built the first TV in his neighborhood from a kit.  Ironically, he never owned a TV as an adult. Inspired by a terrifying ice storm, he chose to study atmospheric physics in college. He earned his bachelor’s degree in physics from the University of Bristol, then a Ph.D. in meteorology at Imperial College, at the University of London. His research interests included cloud physics, cloud electrification, atmospheric chemistry, climate dynamics and physical meteorology.

At Imperial College he met and married Dr. Joan Terry (Collar) Hallett and together they pursued a life of science, exploration, and inquiry. Dr. John Hallett collaborated with numerous researchers throughout the United States and internationally and together Drs. Hallett traveled to many countries including Argentina, Japan, South Korea, France, Iceland, New Zealand, and Australia. They were first drawn to the U.S. in 1960 when they acquired teaching positions at the University of California, Los Angeles.

In 1966, Dr. Hallett was recruited to help start the Desert Research Institute (DRI), in Reno, Nevada. With their three daughters, they moved permanently to America where they had a fourth daughter. In addition to being a research scientist at DRI and the director of the DRI ice physics laboratory, Dr. Hallett also taught Physics at the University of Nevada, Reno.

DRI was the perfect environment where Dr. Hallett could do research on how ice forms in clouds and how ice behaves in the atmosphere. He actively worked with NASA, the National Science Foundation, the Department of Defense, and other agencies to help understand the earth’s atmosphere. Upon his retirement in 2011, Dr. John Hallett was the longest standing DRI scientist at 45 years.

Although he was a brilliant scientist, he may be best remembered for his mentoring of the younger generation of scientists. He challenged his students and peers. During his time at DRI, Dr. Hallett earned the Edgar J. Marston chair of Atmospheric Sciences, authored over 140 scientific articles and received numerous national and international awards including the DRI Dandini Medal of Science award, the Nevada Regents Researcher of the Year award, a lifetime achievement award from the American Institute for Aeronautics and Astronautics and he was elected to be a Fellow of the American Meteorological Society for his many years of outstanding contributions to atmospheric sciences.

In 1980, Dr. Hallett was deeply moved by the loss of his friends and colleagues when a B26 aircraft contracted by DRI crashed on an atmospheric research mission southwest of Lake Tahoe. After the crash, he dedicated his research to improving airplane safety in adverse atmospheric conditions and invented new instruments for measuring them.

He was an avid conservationist, outdoorsman, photographer, and critical observer of the natural world; all passions that he passed down to his daughters and grandchildren. Dr. Hallett was preceded in death by his wife, Joan Terry Hallett.  He will be thoughtfully remembered by his daughters, Jennifer (Chris), Joyce, Elaine, and Rosemary (Rafi), and grandchildren, Morgan, Gillian, Ceilidh, Colin, Alexander, Miles, Cora, Graham, Alison, and Liam.

First non-polar historical iodine record shows impact of fossil fuel emissions

First non-polar historical iodine record shows impact of fossil fuel emissions

Reno, Nev. (Nov. 13, 2018): A new ice core record from the French Alps shows impacts of fossil fuel emissions in the form of a steep increase in iodine levels during the second half of the 20th century, according to a study released this week by an international team of scientists from the Université Grenoble Alpes-CNRS of France, the Desert Research Institute (DRI) in Reno, Nev., and the University of York in England.

“Model and laboratory studies had suggested that atmospheric iodine should have increased during recent decades as a result of increasing fossil fuel emissions but few long-term records of iodine existed with which to test these model findings, and none in Western Europe where modeled iodine increases were especially pronounced,” said French researcher and lead author Michel Legrand, Ph.D.

Iodine is an important nutrient for human health, key in the formation of thyroid hormones. It is present in ocean waters, and is released into the atmosphere when Iodide (I-) reacts with ozone (03) at the water’s surface. From the atmosphere, iodine is deposited onto Earth’s land surfaces, and absorbed by humans in the foods that we eat.

The new study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, was initiated after scientists observed a three-fold increase in iodine between 1950 and the 1990s measured in an ice core from the Col du Dome region of France. The core was collected by French scientists and analyzed in 2017 in DRI’s Ultra Trace Ice Core Analysis Laboratory.

 

Researchers examine an ice core sample drilled from Mont Blanc.

Researchers examine an ice core sample drilled from Mont Blanc. Credit: B. Jourdain, L’Institut des Géosciences de l’Environnement.

Although previous modeling simulations had indicated a similar increase in global iodine emissions during the 20th century, this new record provides the first ice core iodine record from outside of the polar regions.

“Iodine has been measured previously in polar ice cores but changes there largely can be attributed to variations in sea ice,” said Joe McConnell, Ph.D., research professor of hydrology and head of DRI’s ice core laboratory. “These variations mask the larger scale trends linked to fossil fuel emissions and changes in ozone chemistry. Our new iodine record extends from 1890 to 2000 and is from the French Alps, a part of the world where there are no sea ice influences.”

As part of this study, more than 120 meters (nearly 400 feet) of ice core from the French Alps was analyzed for iodine and a broad range of chemical species by a group of DRI researchers that included McConnell, Monica Arienzo, Ph.D., Nathan Chellman, and Kelly Gleason, Ph.D., using DRI’s unique continuous analytical system.

The study team then analyzed the ice core record alongside modeling simulations to investigate past atmospheric iodine concentrations and changes in iodine deposition across Europe. According to their results, the observed tripling of iodine levels in the ice during the 1950s to 1990s were caused by increased iodine emissions from the ocean.

An ice core sample is processed in DRI’s Ultra-Trace Ice Core Laboratory in Reno, Nev.

An ice core sample is processed in DRI’s Ultra-Trace Ice Core Laboratory in Reno, Nev. Credit: Joe McConnell/DRI.

Ozone in the lower atmosphere acts as an air pollutant and greenhouse gas. Because iodine emissions from the ocean occur when iodine in the water reacts with ozone in the lower atmosphere, the study results indicate that increased ozone levels are increasing the availability of iodine in the atmosphere – and also that iodine is helping to destroy this “bad” ozone.

“Iodine’s role in human health has been recognized for some time – it is an essential part of our diets,” said Lucy Carpenter, Ph.D., Professor with University of York’s Department of Chemistry. “Its role in climate change and air pollution, however, has only been recognized recently and the impact of iodine in the atmosphere is not currently a feature of the climate or air quality models that predict future global environmental changes.”

According to the World Health Organization, iodine deficiency remains a significant health problem in parts of Europe, including France, Italy and certain regions of Spain – regions that now appear to have received a boost in iodine levels in recent years.

“The silver lining in the findings of this study is that the increase in human-caused pollution during the latter half of the 20th century may be leading to an increase in the availability of iodine as an essential nutrient,” Legrand said.

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To view the study, titled Alpine ice evidence of a three-fold increase in atmospheric iodine deposition since 1950 in Europe due to increasing oceanic emissions, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on 12 November 2018, please visit:  http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2018/11/07/1809867115

Samantha Martin from the University of York contributed to this release.

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. Learn more at dri.edu, and connect with us on social media on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter

DRI and Collaborators Awarded $6 Million Grant for Innovative Genetic Research

DRI and Collaborators Awarded $6 Million Grant for Innovative Genetic Research

Las Vegas, NV (November 1, 2018):  The Desert Research Institute, in partnership with the Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences and University of New Hampshire, announced receipt of a $6 million National Science Foundation grant today that will fund the development of new genetic research technologies and build economic capacity in Nevada, Maine, and New Hampshire.

The multifaceted effort, which the researchers will launch next week at the National Science Foundation in Washington, D.C., aims to unlock the genomic data of microscopic organisms that  help to degrade environmental contaminants and drive major biogeochemical cycles that shape global climate.

“There has been an explosion of genomics data over the last two decades, and the next step is connecting that data to what’s actually happening in the environment,” said Ramunas Stepanauskas, Ph.D., director of the Single Cell Genomics Center at Bigelow Laboratory and principal investigator on the project. “We need new infrastructure and approaches to harness the power of genomic technologies, which will help solve some of the great biological mysteries of our planet.”

Single-celled organisms make up the vast majority of biological diversity on our planet, but many are found in hard-to-access places such as the Earth’s subsurface or deep ocean environments, can’t be seen with the naked eye, and can’t yet be grown in lab cultures. As a result, much about these organisms – including their potential for production of natural products for bioenergy, pharmaceuticals, bioremediation, and water treatment – remains unknown.

Bigelow Laboratory scientist Ramunas Stepanauskas collects a water sample on the institute’s dock.

Bigelow Laboratory scientist Ramunas Stepanauskas collects a water sample on the institute’s dock. He is the principle investigator on a new $6 million project that will connect the genetic makeup of individual microbes to their environmental roles and build economic capacity in Maine, New Hampshire, and Nevada. Credit: Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences.

This four-year project will develop and apply new tools and techniques in genetic analysis to learn about links between the genomes (DNA, or genetic material) and phenomes (observable characteristics) expressed by single-celled organisms in diverse marine and continental environments. The main technical innovation of this project is that information is gained at the level of the individual cell sampled directly from the environment in near-real-time.

To achieve their objectives, the team will gather microbes from coastal ocean habitat in the Gulf of Maine, deep ocean and marine subsurface habitat along the Juan de Fuca Ridge of the northwestern Pacific Ocean, and terrestrial deep subsurface habitat in boreholes that intersect geological fault zones associated with Death Valley, Calif.

Duane Moser, Ph.D., head of DRI’s Environmental Microbiology and Astrobiology Labs in Las Vegas, will lead portions of the project related to the continental subsurface. Moser specializes in microbial and molecular ecology, and has studied microbes of deep underground environments in locations ranging from mines of South Africa, Canada, and the U.S., to caves, especially at Lava Beds National Monument of northern California, to deeply sourced springs from around the Great Basin.

DRI scientist Duane Moser collecting dissolved gas samples from the main project borehole near Death Valley, CA.

DRI scientist Duane Moser collecting dissolved gas samples from the main project borehole near Death Valley, CA. Credit: Duane Moser/DRI.

The deep subsurface appears to serve as a unique repository for microbial diversity, preserving an evolutionary legacy that may range back to the early stages of cellular evolution, says Moser.

“Evidence continues to mount that the deep subsurface can be regarded as its own distinct biome, yet we lack the tools to determine how rock-hosted life persists in isolation over geologic timescales,” Moser said. “This project promises to not only teach us about the identities of to-date mysterious groups of microorganisms, but literally allows us to eavesdrop on the activities of individual cells in mixed communities from deep underground. That is truly unprecedented.”

Moser is also leading a task aimed at adapting the new technologies for the applied science of environmental bioremediation, using polyacrylamide as a test case. Polyacrylamide is a ubiquitous substance found in consumer products and used for drinking water treatment, amendment for agricultural soils, well drilling and fracking, and as a sealant for unlined irrigation canals. While generally considered non-toxic, commercial polyacrylamide preparations contain residues of acrylamide monomer, which do possess toxic properties.

“Microorganisms have a role in the degradation of most manmade contaminants, yet our mechanistic understanding of these essential transformations is largely limited to laboratory studies of a handful of easily cultured bacteria,” Moser said. “These new tools will enable us, for the first time, to identify and track the activities of the real actors behind the environmental degradation of contaminants.”

Image taken from within a naturally flowing artesian borehole in Death Valley, Calif..

Image taken from within a naturally flowing artesian borehole in Death Valley, Calif., which will be utilized for the testing of experimental equipment prior to undersea deployment at the Juan de Fuca Ridge in the Pacific Ocean. Credit: Michael King, Hydrodynamics Group, LL.

The project funds come from the Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR), which aims to strengthen the research and technology capacity of states that have historically received low federal research funding. The project leverages Bigelow Laboratory’s state-of-the-art capacity in single cell genomics and flow cytometry, University of New Hampshire‘s expertise in polymer chemistry and synthesis of fluorescently labeled tracer molecules, and the Desert Research Institute’s experience and infrastructure for studying subsurface environments and contaminants of emerging concern.

“Combing single-cell genomics with measurements of microbial metabolism will help us better understand the role of microbes in cycling biologically important compounds,” said Kai Ziervogel, Ph.D., the microbial biogeochemist leading project efforts at University of New Hampshire. “I am excited that this project will provide undergraduate and graduate students opportunities to participate in interdisciplinary research that will contribute to environmental science in a unique way.”

In addition to creating new research infrastructure, the project will spur economic growth through skilled workforce training opportunities and several new jobs – including a new postdoctoral scientist at the Desert Research Institute, new senior research scientist and postdoctoral positions at Bigelow Laboratory, as well as a faculty member at University of New Hampshire. The research team will also provide professional development opportunities, including the training of graduate students and bioinformatics workshops in Maine, New Hampshire, and Nevada.

“As we improve our understanding of the critical functions of life, we can also improve our three collaborating states,” Stepanauskas said. “By enabling novel research, educational programs and workforce development, this work will have broad impact on the research community and beyond.”

Rachel Kaplan and Steven Profaizer from Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences contributed to this release.

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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. Learn more at dri.edu, and connect with us on social media on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter

Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences is an independent, nonprofit research institute on the coast of Maine. Its research ranges from the microscopic life at the bottom of marine food webs to large-scale ocean processes that affect the entire planet. Recognized as a leader in Maine’s emerging innovation economy, the Laboratory’s research, education, and technology transfer programs are contributing to significant economic growth. Learn more at bigelow.org, and join the conversation on Facebook,Instagram, and Twitter.

The University of New Hampshire (UNH) is a public research university in the University System of New Hampshire. With over 15,000 students between its Durham, Manchester, and Concord campuses, UNH is the largest university in the state. The School of Marine Science and Ocean Engineering, the heart of UNH’s oceanographic research, is the university’s first ‘interdisciplinary school’, designed to address today’s highly complex ocean and coastal challenges through integrated graduate education, research and engagement. As such, it serves as an interdisciplinary nexus for marine science and ocean engineering teaching and research across the University. Learn more at www.marine.unh.edu

Interdisciplinary research team to investigate impact of changing mountain snowpack on agriculture in western US

Reno, Nev. (Friday, Sept. 21) – Mountain snowpack and rainfall are the primary sources of water for the arid western United States, and water allocation rules determine how that water gets distributed among competing uses, including agriculture. Historically, agriculture in the West has benefited from predictable snowmelt, but under changing climate conditions, earlier melting of mountain snowpack is altering the timing of runoff, putting additional pressure on water storage and delivery infrastructure to meet the needs of agricultural water rights holders.

To explore solutions for these critical water problems, a research team led by the University of Nevada, Reno and including interdisciplinary experts from the Desert Research Institute, Colorado State University, Northern Arizona University, and Arizona State University has received $4.97 million from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture for a major research effort into snowpack and water resources in the West.

Over the next five years, the research team will investigate:

  • How changes in mountain snowpack affect available water,
  • Which basins in the arid West are most at risk,
  • The effectiveness of existing water allocation laws and regulation in managing these changes, in comparison with proposed modifications, and
  • How changes in available water, and laws and regulations, affect the economic well-being of various groups in society – including the sustainability of agricultural production in the arid West.

“The impacts of changing mountain snowmelt on water rights holders are profound,” said Kim Rollins, University of Nevada, Reno professor and project director for the grant. “Increased risk affects private decisions to sell irrigation water rights, potentially causing permanent losses in the capacity for food production in the arid West. Decision-making can be improved with a better understanding of how changes in water flows influence agriculture producer decision-making and how laws and regulations can exacerbate or relieve constraints imposed by these changes.”

DRI’s Seshadri Rajagopal, Ph.D., assistant research professor of hydrometeorology, and Greg Pohll, Ph.D., research professor of hydrogeology, will be contributing their expertise in hydrologic modeling to the project. Specifically, Rajagopal and Pohll will be studying three significant watersheds throughout the arid West: the Walker in Nevada, the Verde in Arizona, and the South Platte in Colorado.

“We’ll be utilizing the national water model, a hydrologic model that simulates observed and forecasted streamflow over the entire continental United States, and adapting it for the study area to represent physical processes such as snowmelt, infiltration, and soil water storage,” explained Rajagopal. “This data will allow economists and policy makers to understand how water supply in these watersheds changes and to study its impact on water allocation and institutions.”

This project is one of seven total projects supported by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) $34 million in grants for research through the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) Water for Food Production Systems Challenge Area, which is authorized by the 2014 Farm Bill.

The research team:

  • Kimberly Rollins, professor, University of Nevada, Reno, College of Business, Department of Economics and Nevada Agricultural Experiment Station, College of Agriculture, Biotechnology and Natural Resources
  • Loretta Singletary, interdisciplinary outreach liaison, University of Nevada Cooperative Extension and professor, University of Nevada, Reno, College of Business, Department of Economics
  • Adrian Harpold, assistant professor in Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences, and Nevada Agricultural Experiment Station at the University of Nevada, Reno, College of Agriculture, Biotechnology and Natural Resources; Global Water Center
  • Michael Taylor, assistant professor, University of Nevada, Reno, College of Business, Department of Economics and state specialist in agricultural and resource, University of Nevada Cooperative Extension
  • Gi-Eu Lee, postdoctoral fellow, University of Nevada, Reno, College of Business, Department of Economics
  • Seshadri Rajagopal, assistant research professor, Desert Research Institute, Division of Hydrologic Sciences
  • Greg Pohll, professor, Desert Research Institute, Division of Hydrologic Sciences
  • Dale Manning, assistant professor, Colorado State University, College of Agricultural Sciences, Agricultural and Resource Economics Department
  • Christopher Goemans, associate professor, Colorado State University, College of Agricultural Sciences, Agricultural and Resource Economics Department
  • Abigail York, associate professor, Arizona State University, School of Human Evolution and Social Change
  • Benjamin Ruddell, associate professor, Northern Arizona University, School of Informatics, Computing and Cyber Systems
  • Bryan Leonard, assistant professor, Arizona State University, School of Sustainability

To learn more about the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture grant recipients, please visit: https://nifa.usda.gov/announcement/nifa-invests-research-solve-critical-water-problems. Nicole Shearer of the University of Nevada, Reno and Aaron Pugh of Arizona State University contributed to this release. 

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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.

DRI ice core data provides insight into how dust and precipitation reach Earth’s poles

DRI ice core data provides insight into how dust and precipitation reach Earth’s poles

Above: A lone researcher is silhouetted by the summer sun, low in the Antarctic sky. Credit: Bradley Markle, UCSB.


Reno, Nev. (Sept. 20, 2018) – In September, new research by a team from the University of California, Santa Barbara, the University of Washington, Columbia University, and the Desert Research Institute (DRI) was published in the journal Nature Geoscience. The study, titled Concomitant variability in high-latitude aerosols, water isotopes and the hydrologic cycle, utilized data provided by Joe McConnell, Ph.D., director of DRI’s Ultra-Trace Chemistry Laboratory in Reno, Nev.

The study explains an observed connection between concentrations of aerosols (small atmospheric particles such as mineral dust and sea-salt) and the ratios of different isotopes of water (variant forms of H20 in which the atoms carry extra neutrons) found in Antarctic ice cores.

Aerosol measurements for this study, which consisted of more than 500,000 measurements of calcium and sodium in 2.1 kilometers (1.3 miles) of Antarctic ice, were made in the Ultra-Trace Chemistry Laboratory using a unique continuous flow system and inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry. Parts of these aerosol records have been published previously, but they are published in full in the new study. The full news release from U.C. Santa Barbara is below.


Researcher on ice in Antarctica.

These shallow cores help us with the interpretation of the deep one,” explained UC Santa Barbara’s Bradley Markle. Credit: Bradley Markle, UCSB.

Dust, Rain and the Poles

Warmer climates will likely decrease the amount of airborne sediments reaching the poles

By Harrison Tasoff, University of California, Santa Barbara

Every year, the global climate transports billions of tons of dust around the world. These aerosols play a key role in many of Earth’s geological and biological cycles.

For instance, wind blows millions of tons of dust from the Sahara Desert across the Atlantic Ocean, where it fertilizes the Amazon Rainforest. The collective action of billions of trees pumping water from the ground then generates its own weather pattern, affecting the whole of South America.

When climate scientist Bradley Markle, at UC Santa Barbara’s Earth Research Institute, spotted a correlation between the ratios of heavy molecules and the concentration of particulate matter in the Antarctic ice cores he was studying, he immediately set out to uncover the deeper connection. His findings appear in the journal Nature Geoscience.

For decades scientists have been puzzled by the relationship between aerosol concentrations and the ratios of different molecules of water in ice cores, and Markle appears to have finally found the connection. His research increases our understanding of the processes at work in Earth’s atmosphere and could help to improve our climate models.

Markle focuses on understanding how climactic processes concentrate atoms of different weights in certain areas. Consider oxygen, for example. Every oxygen atom has eight positively charged protons. That’s what makes it oxygen. However, the number of neutrally charged neutrons it contains can vary from eight to 10. And the greater the number of neutrons, the heavier the isotope.

Water has one oxygen atom bonded to two hydrogen atoms, so water containing lighter isotopes, like 16O — which has eight neutrons — weighs less than water with heavier ones, like 18O — which has 10. Certain processes affect heavier molecules more than their lighter counterparts, leading to varying distributions of different weights across the globe. So even though 99.7 percent of oxygen on Earth is 16O, slight differences in the ratio between 16O and 18O provide scientists with valuable clues about the planet’s climate. In fact, measurements of these ratios in ice cores underlie our most detailed long records of Earth’s temperature history, Markle explained. They span hundreds of thousands of years before humans started measuring temperature directly.

Researchers examine the ice cores, which are backlit by the sun. Credit: Bradley Markle, UCSB.

Researchers examine the ice cores, which are backlit by the sun. Credit: Bradley Markle, UCSB.

Scientists noticed that ice layers with higher ratios of heavy isotopes also contained a greater concentration of trapped aerosols. “And it’s a very unique relationship, too,” Markle said. “It’s very clearly logarithmic … so it seems like it needs a strong, logarithmic process to account for it.

“The correlation between the thing that records the climate (the water isotope ratios) and these aerosols is extremely good,” he continued. “Better than you get in almost anything else in this field.”

Precipitation has the most influence on the percentage of heavy isotopes that make it to high latitudes, since heavier water molecules condense more readily compared to light ones, Markle explained. Warm air holds more moisture than cold air, so as it cools on its way toward the poles, the moisture condenses and preferentially loses the heavier molecules. If the poles become warmer, the air will not cool as much, so a greater number of heavy molecules will make it to higher latitudes. As a result, scientists associate low ratios of heavy isotopes with colder periods in Earth’s history.

Scientists suspected that these climatic conditions impacted the locations these aerosols came from, somehow effecting greater emissions during cooled periods than warm ones. However, years of research had yet to produce a model that fit the data. In addition, source variability is challenging to investigate because it requires looking at myriad factors in many different places. “People have investigated it, and they can’t get the sources to have such large changes in aerosol emissions,” Markle said.

Markle compared aerosol data from the Antarctic ice cores with similarly aged seafloor sediment from the oceans just below South America, which is the dominant source of the airborne dust found in Antarctica. He discovered that aerosol levels in the ocean sediment increased three- to six-fold during the last glacial maximum. However, concentrations in the ice cores soared to levels 20 to 100 times baseline rates. Clearly most of the change seen in the ice cores must be due to factors far from the source of the aerosols.

Then Markle recognized a similarity between the isotope ratios and the aerosol concentrations: The physics of moisture in the atmosphere is driving both of them.

A view of the Antarctic coast from the Southern Ocean. Credit: Bradley Markle, UCSB.

A view of the Antarctic coast from the Southern Ocean. Credit: Bradley Markle, UCSB.

Without aerosols, the world would have no rain. Water vapor needs a surface to condense, or form droplets. This could be a steamy shower window or a fleck of dust floating high in the clouds. In this way, precipitation washes the sky of aerosols. More precipitation between the source of the aerosols and the poles means lower concentrations of aerosols make it to the glaciers, and thus into the ice cores. And more precipitation also leads to lower ratios of heavy isotopes. Markle had discovered the connection.

What’s more, the scouring effect precipitation has on aerosols is exponential, meaning its influence increases the longer, and farther, the aerosols travel from their source. Precisely the sort of relationship Markle needed to match the data.

“This rainout theory ends up solving a whole bunch of things at once,” Markle said. It clarifies the correlation between aerosol concentrations and water isotopes, as well as the greater variability in aerosol levels at the poles than in locations closer to the source of the debris. The effect also explains why dust levels vary more than sea salt levels in the aerosol record: The ocean is closer to Antarctica than the source of dust, so precipitation has less impact on the amount of sea salt that makes it to the West Antarctic ice-sheet.

Markle is cautious about making predictions for our current climate change. “The effect that we saw in the ice cores was a really big effect, but it’s a big effect on multicentury, multimillennium time scales,” Markle said. Other sources of variability may be more prominent over shorter timeframes, he explained.

Nonetheless, warming temperatures would forecast decreasing concentrations of aerosols reaching the Arctic and Antarctic. Since aerosols reflect heat and sunlight, this could exacerbate warming trends over long periods of time. Changes in aerosol distribution could also affect the ocean, since they also contain nutrients and minerals vital to ocean’s food web.

Markle plans to leverage his newfound understanding of these relationships to investigate changes not only in the strength of hydrologic cycle but also in its spatial pattern. “Because the hydrologic cycle is tied to Earth’s temperature gradients, I think we can use these records to understand changes in polar amplification,” he explained. This is the phenomenon where the poles warm more than lower latitudes during climate change.

“This is a big deal in modern climate change,” he added, “and understanding how it has happened in the past would be extremely useful.”

This news release was originally published by the University of California, Santa Barbara. To view the original story, please visit:  http://www.news.ucsb.edu/2018/019185/dust-rain-and-poles

To view the study titled Concomitant variability in high-latitude aerosols, water isotopes and the hydrologic cycle, published in Nature Geoscience on 10 September 2018, please visit: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41561-018-0210-9

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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.

Updated California Climate Tracker tool provides more than 120 years of climate data

Updated California Climate Tracker tool provides more than 120 years of climate data

Reno, NV (Sept 10, 2018) – Scientists from the Western Regional Climate Center (WRCC) at the Desert Research Institute (DRI) in Reno, NV are pleased to announce the release of a long-awaited update to a climate mapping tool called the California Climate Tracker (https://wrcc.dri.edu/Climate/Tracker/CA/).

Originally launched in 2009, the California Climate Tracker was designed to support climate monitoring in California and allows users to generate maps and graphs of temperature and precipitation by region. The 2018 upgrade incorporates substantial improvements including a more user-friendly web interface, improved accuracy of information based on PRISM data, and access to climate maps and data that go back more than 120 years, to 1895.

Map of California created with California Climate Tracker tool.

The map above, created using California Climate Tracker, shows mean temperature percentile rankings for different climatological regions in California during June – August 2018. Credit: Dan McEvoy, DRI.

“One really significant change between the old and new versions of the California Climate Tracker is that in the previous version, you weren’t able to look at archived maps,” said Daniel McEvoy, Ph.D., Assistant Research Professor of Climatology at DRI and member of the Climate Tracker project team. “Now you can say for example, ‘I want to see what the 1934 drought looked like,’ and go back and get the actual maps and data from 1934. You can also look at graphs of the data and see trends in temperature and precipitation over time.”

In addition to providing historical and modern data for regions across California, this easy-to-use web-based tool can be used to produce publication-quality graphics for reports, articles, presentations or other needs. It can be accessed for free by anyone with a standard web browser and an internet connection.

“The California Climate Tracker was initially designed and developed for use by the California Department of Water Resources, but we hope it is also useful to a much broader community of water managers, climatologists, meteorologists and researchers in California,” McEvoy said.

Map of California created with California Climate Tracker tool

The map above, created using California Climate Tracker, shows precipitation percentile rankings for various climatological regions in California during October 2017 – August 2018. Credit: Dan McEvoy, DRI

The recent upgrade to this tool was the work of Nina Oakley, Ph.D., Justin Chambers, and McEvoy, all of whom are part of the Western Regional Climate Center at DRI. The original version of the California Climate Tracker tool was developed at DRI and designed by John Abatzoglou, Ph.D., now of the University of Idaho, based on a system for identifying regional patterns of climate variability within the state of California that he developed with Laura Edwards, M.S, now State Climatologist and Climate Field Specialist for the South Dakota State Climate Office, and the late Kelly Redmond, Ph.D., former regional climatologist for WRCC and DRI.

The California Climate Tracker was built with support from and in collaboration with the California Department of Water Resources. The team is currently in the process of building a similar tool for Nevada and are seeking funding partners to sponsor that work.

To access the California Climate Tracker tool, please visit: https://wrcc.dri.edu/Climate/Tracker/CA/

For more information on the Western Regional Climate Center at DRI, please visit: https://wrcc.dri.edu

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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.

Low-severity wildfires impact soils more than previously believed

Low-severity wildfires impact soils more than previously believed

Above: In semi-arid ecosystems such as the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest near Las Vegas, which burned as part of the Carpenter 1 fire during July and August 2013, fuel is limited and fires tend to be short lived and low in peak temperature. New research shows that these fires are more harmful to soils than they initially appear. This photo was taken on January 6, 2015 – approximately 18 months after the wildfire. Credit: Teamrat Ghezzehei, UCM.


New research shows negative effects of fire on soil structure and organic matter

Las Vegas, NV (August 28, 2018): Low-severity wildland fires and prescribed burns have long been presumed by scientists and resource managers to be harmless to soils, but this may not be the case, new research shows.

According to two new studies by a team from the University of California, Merced (UCM) and the Desert Research Institute (DRI), low-severity burns – in which fire moves quickly and soil temperature does not exceed 250oC (482oF) – cause damage to soil structure and organic matter in ways that are not immediately apparent after a fire.

“When you have a high-severity fire, you burn off the organic matter from the soil and the impact is immediate,” said Teamrat Ghezzehei, Ph.D., principal investigator of the two studies and Associate Professor of Environmental Soil Physics at UCM. “In a low-severity fire, the organic matter doesn’t burn off, and there is no visible destruction right away. But the burning weakens the soil structure, and unless you come back at a later time and carefully look at the soil, you wouldn’t notice the damage.”

DRI researcher Markus Berli, Ph.D., Associate Research Professor of Environmental Science, became interested in studying this phenomenon while visiting a burned area near Ely, Nev. in 2009, where he made the unexpected observation that a prescribed, low-severity fire had resulted in soil structure damage in the burned area. He and several colleagues from DRI conducted a follow-up study on another controlled burn in the area, and found that soil structure that appeared to be fine immediately after a fire but deteriorated over the weeks and months that followed. Berli then teamed up with Ghezzehei and a team from UCM that included graduate student Mathew Jian, and Associate Professor Asmeret Asefaw Berhe, Ph.D., to further investigate.

Researcher examines soils in a burned area near Las Vegas.

Researcher Markus Berli from the Desert Research Institute examines the soils at a burned area in the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest near Las Vegas on January 6, 2015, approximately 18 months after the area burned in the Carpenter 1 fire of 2013. Credit: Teamrat Ghezzehei, UCM.

Soil consists of large and small mineral particles (gravel, sand, silt, and clay) which are bound together by organic matter, water and other materials to form aggregates. When soil aggregates are exposed to severe fires, the organic matter burns, altering the physical structure of the soil and increasing the risk of erosion in burned areas. In low-severity burn areas where organic matter doesn’t experience significant losses, the team wondered if the soil structure was being degraded by another process, such as by the boiling of water held within soil aggregates?

In a study published in AGU Geophysical Research Letters in May 2018, the UCM-DRI team investigated this question, using soil samples from an unburned forest area in Mariposa County, Calif. and from unburned shrubland in Clark County, Nev. to analyze the impacts of low-severity fires on soil structure. They heated soil aggregates to temperatures that simulated the conditions of a low-severity fire (175oC/347oF) over a 15-minute period, then looked for changes in the soil’s internal pore pressure and tensile strength (the force required to pull the aggregate apart).

During the experiment, they observed that pore pressure within the soil aggregates rose to a peak as water boiled and vaporized, then dropped as the bonds in the soil aggregates broke and vapor escaped. Tensile strength measurements showed that the wetter soil aggregates had been weakened more than drier soil samples during this process.

“Our results show that the heat produced by low-severity fires is actually enough to do damage to soil structure, and that the damage is worse if the soils are wet,” Berli explained. “This is important information for resource managers because it implies that prescribed burns and other fires that occur during wetter times of year may be more harmful to soils than fires that occur during dry times.”Next, the research team wondered what the impact of this structural degradation was on the organic matter that the soil structure normally protects. Soil organic matter consists primarily of microbes and decomposing plant tissue, and contributes to the overall stability and water-holding capacity of soils.

In a second study that was published in Frontiers in Environmental Science in late July, the UCM-DRI research team conducted simulated burn experiments to weaken the structure of the soil aggregates, and tested the soils for changes in quality and quantity of several types of organic matter over a 70-day period.

They found that heating of soils led to the release of organic carbon into the atmosphere as CO2 during the weeks and months after the fire, and again found that the highest levels of degradation occurred in soils that were moist. This loss of organic carbon is important for several reasons, Ghezzehei explained.

“The loss of organic matter from soil to the atmosphere directly contributes to climate change, because that carbon is released as CO2,” Ghezzehei said. “Organic matter that is lost due to fires is also the most important reserve of nutrients for soil micro-organisms, and it is the glue that holds soil aggregates together. Once you lose the structure, there are a lot of other things that happen. For example, infiltration becomes slower, you get more runoff, you have erosion.”

Researcher collects soil samples in burned area near Las Vegas.

Researcher Rose Shillito from DRI collects soil samples in a burned area in the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest near Las Vegas on January 6, 2015, approximately 18 months after the area burned in the Carpenter 1 fire of 2013. Credit: Teamrat Ghezzehei, UCM.

Although the research team’s findings showed several detrimental effects of fire on soils, low-severity wildfires and prescribed burns are known to benefit ecosystems in other ways — recycling nutrients back into the soil and getting rid of overgrown vegetation, for example. It is not yet clear whether the negative impacts on soil associated with these low-severity fires outweigh the positives, Berli says, but the team hopes that their research results will help to inform land managers as they manage wildfires and plan prescribed burns.

“There is very little fuel in arid and semi-arid areas, and thus fires tend to be short lived and relatively low in peak temperature,” Ghezzehei said. “In contrast to the hot fires and that burn for days and weeks that we see in the news, these seem to be benign and we usually treat them as such. Our work shows that low-severity fires are not as harmless as they may appear.”

The study, “Soil Structural Degradation During Low‐Severity Burns,” was published on May 31, 2018 in the journal AGU Geophysical Research Letters and is available here: https://agupubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1029/2018GL078053.

The study, “Vulnerability of Physically Protected Soil Organic Carbon to Loss Under Low Severity Fires,” was published July 19, 2018 in the journal Frontiers in Environmental Science, and is available here: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fenvs.2018.00066/full.

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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.

Significant amount of cancer-causing chemicals stays in lungs during e-cigarette use, Nevada-based researchers find

Significant amount of cancer-causing chemicals stays in lungs during e-cigarette use, Nevada-based researchers find

Above: Dr. Vera Samburova works in the organic analytical lab at Desert Research Institute, in Reno, Nev., on Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2018.
Photo by Cathleen Allison/Nevada Momentum

Reno, NV (August 15, 2018) – E-cigarettes have become increasingly popular as a smoke-free alternative to conventional tobacco cigarettes, but the health effects of “vaping” on humans have been debated in the scientific and tobacco manufacturing communities. While aldehydes—chemicals like formaldehyde that are known to cause cancer in humans—have been identified in e-cigarette emissions by numerous studies, there has been little agreement about whether such toxins exist in large enough quantities to be harmful to users.

Now, a recently published pilot study by a team of researchers from the Desert Research Institute (DRI) and the University of Nevada, Reno shows that significant amounts of cancer-causing chemicals such as formaldehyde are absorbed by the respiratory tract during a typical vaping session, underscoring the potential health risks posed by vaping.

“Until now, the only research on the respiratory uptake of aldehydes during smoking has been done on conventional cigarette users,” said Vera Samburova, Ph.D., associate research professor in DRI’s Division of Atmospheric Sciences and lead author of the study. “Little is known about this process for e-cigarette use, and understanding the unique risks vaping poses to users is critical in determining toxicological significance.”

Samburova and fellow DRI research professor Andrey Khlystov, Ph.D., have been investigating the health risks associated with e-cigarettes for several years. In 2016, they published findings confirming that dangerous levels of aldehydes are formed during the chemical breakdown of flavored liquids in e-cigarettes and emitted in e-cigarette vapors.

In this study, Samburova and her team estimated e-cigarette users’ exposure to these hazardous chemicals by analyzing the breath of twelve users before and after vaping sessions using a method she and Khlystov have developed over the course of their work together. Through this process, they determined how much the concentration of aldehydes in the breath increased. Researchers then subtracted the concentration of chemicals in exhaled breath from the amount found in the vapors that come directly from the e-cigarette.

The difference, Samburova explains, is absorbed into the user’s lungs.

E-cigarettes in the Organic Analytical Lab

E-cigarettes in the Organic Analytical Lab at DRI.

“We found that the average concentration of aldehydes in the breath after vaping sessions was about ten and a half times higher than before vaping,” Samburova said. “Beyond that, we saw that the concentration of chemicals like formaldehyde in the breath after vaping was hundreds of times lower than what is found in the direct e-cigarette vapors, which suggests that a significant amount is being retained in the user’s respiratory tract.”

The research team took care to ensure that the test conditions of the study mirrored real-life vaping sessions as much as possible. Most participants used their own e-cigarette devices during the study, used e-liquid flavors that were familiar to them, and inhaled for the amount of time that they ordinarily would, which allowed the research team to understand how e-cigarettes are typically used by regular users. Because they tested “normal” vaping experiences, researchers confirmed that the high concentrations of aldehydes found in other studies aren’t limited to laboratory conditions.

“Our new pilot study underlines the potential health risk associated with the aldehydes generated by e-cigarettes,” said Samburova. “In the future, e-cigarette aldehyde exposure absolutely needs to be studied with a larger set of participants.”

The study, “Aldehydes in Exhaled Breath during E-Cigarette Vaping: Pilot Study Results,” was published on August 7th in the journal Toxics and is available here: https://www.mdpi.com/2305-6304/6/3/46/htm#app1-toxics-06-00046. DOI: 10.3390/toxics6030046

This research was independently funded by DRI and conducted in DRI’s Organic Analytical Laboratory located in Reno, Nevada. For more information about the Organic Analytical Lab, visit: https://www.dri.edu/oal-lab.

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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.

Governor Sandoval, President Averyt meet with Ghanaian President Akufo-Addo during Trade Mission

ACCRA, GHANA (July 30, 2018) – Highlighted by a meeting with President Nana Akufo-Addo, the successful first leg of Governor Brian Sandoval’s trade mission to Africa wrapped up in Ghana on Sunday. Coordinated by the Governor’s Office of Economic Development (GOED), the trade mission features higher education, mining and trade contingents as well as selected Nevada state officials. On Thursday, the delegation joined the Ghana business community for a meeting hosted by the American Chamber of Commerce-Ghana, Newmont Mining, and U.S. Ambassador to Ghana Robert P. Jackson.

“The friendship between Ghana and Nevada is a special one and it is wonderful to see the real impact partnerships, such as the nearly 27-year relationship between the Desert Research Institute and Ghana, has on the lives of people here,” said Governor Brian Sandoval. “There is a solid foundation in Ghana for a growing relationship based on innovation and trade to the mutual benefit of Ghanaians and Nevadans and I am pleased to have played a part in helping continue discussions.”

On Friday, the delegation heard from Dr. Kristen Averyt of the Desert Research Institute (DRI) about the Institute’s work in Ghana. Since 1991, DRI has provided technical training and research to water project staff in West Africa in the latest exploration and management techniques. DRI also has a memorandum of understanding with the University for Development Studies (UDS) in Northern Ghana to establish a first-in-the-region Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) Center at UDS.

In January 2018, DRI and UDS cohosted the first international conference through the WASH Center. DRI and UDS also partnered with Catholic Relief Services (CRS) to support the ongoing Integrated Sanitation, Hygiene, and Nutrition for Education (I-SHINE) project in 138 communities in Northern Ghana.

“The partnership with CRS on this critical work arose from the Nevada Governor’s trade mission to the Vatican,” GOED Director Paul Anderson said. “The focus of this project is to address the drop off in school attendance by girls reaching adolescence as a result of inadequate WASH services. Our meeting on Friday was a wonderful way to hear from various organizations about the philanthropic work being done in Ghana, as well as the opportunities for both Nevadan and Ghanaian businesses.”

After departing Ghana, the Nevada trade mission has moved on to South Africa, with stops over the next week in Cape Town and Durban.

This release was originally published by the Governor’s Office of Economic Development (GOED). To learn more about GOED, visit www.diversifynevada.com.

To learn more about DRI’s Center for International Water and Sustainability, visit: https://www.dri.edu/center-for-international-water-and-sustainability.

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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.

Gault site research pushes back date of earliest North Americans

Gault site research pushes back date of earliest North Americans

Stone tool assemblage recovered from the Gault Site. Credit: Produced by N Velchoff, The Gault School of Archaeological Research.

Luminescence dating confirms human presence in North America prior to 16 thousand years ago, earlier than previously thought

July 20, 2018 (Reno, NV) – For decades, researchers believed the Western Hemisphere was settled by humans roughly 13,500 years ago, a theory based largely upon the widespread distribution of Clovis artifacts dated to that time. Clovis artifacts are distinctive prehistoric stone tools so named because they were initially found near Clovis, New Mexico, in the 1920s but have since been identified throughout North and South America.

In recent years, though, archaeological evidence has increasingly called into question the idea of “Clovis First.”Now, a study published by a teamincluding DRI’s Kathleen Rodrigues, Ph.D. student, and Amanda Keen-Zebert, Ph.D., associate research professorhas dated a significant assemblage of stone artifacts to 16-20,000 years of age, pushing back the timeline of the first human inhabitants of North America before Clovisby at least 2,500 years.

Significantly, this research identifies a previously unknown, early projectile point technology unrelated to Clovis, which suggests that Clovis technology spread across an already well-established, indigenous population.

These projectile points are unique. We haven’t found anything else like them,” said Tom Williams, Ph.D., Postdoctoral Research Associate in the Department of Anthropology at Texas State University and lead author of the study. “Combine that with the ages and the fact that it underlies a Clovis component, and the Gault site provides a fantastic opportunity to study the earliest human occupants in the Americas.”

The research team identified the artifacts at the Gault Site in Central Texas, an extensive archaeological site with evidence of continuous human occupationThe presence of Clovis technology at the site is well-documented, but excavations below the deposits containing Clovis artifacts revealed well-stratified sediments containing artifacts distinctly different from Clovis.

Diagram of soil layers identified at the Gault Site.

To determine the ages of these artifacts, Rodrigues, Keen-Zebert, and colleagues used a process called optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) dating on the sediments surrounding them. In OSL, researchers expose minerals that have long been buried under sediment layers to light or heat, which causes the minerals to release trapped potassium, uranium, and thorium electrons that have accumulated over time due to exposure to ambient, naturally occurring radiation.When the trapped electrons are released, they emit photons of light which can be measured to determine the amount of time that has elapsed since the materials were last exposed to heat or sunlight.

“The fluvial nature of the sediments deposited at the Gault Site have created a poor environment for preservation of organic materials, so radiocarbon dating has not been a useful technique to apply in this region,” said Kathleen Rodrigues, graduate research assistant in DRI’s Division of Earth and Ecosystem Sciences. “This made luminescence dating a natural choice for dating the archaeological materials here.  We are really pleased with the quality of the results that we have achieved.” 

The study was published on July 11th in the journal Science Advances and is available here: https://advances.sciencemag.org/content/4/7/eaar5954.

For more information on DRI’s optically stimulated luminescence dating capabilities, visit https://www.dri.edu/luminescence-lab

Jayme Blaschke of the Texas State University Office of Media Relations contributed to this release.

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The Desert Research Institute (DRI) is a recognized world leader in investigating the effects of natural and human-induced environmental change and advancing technologies aimed at assessing a changing planet. For more than 50 years DRI research faculty, students, and staff have applied scientific understanding to support the effective management of natural resources while meeting Nevada’s needs for economic diversification and science-based educational opportunities. With campuses in Reno and Las Vegas, DRI serves as the non-profit environmental research arm of the Nevada System of Higher Education. For more information, please visit www.dri.edu.

Tesla selects DRI’s Science Alive program to develop statewide teacher training infrastructure focused on robotics and STEM

Reno, NV (July 19, 2018): The Desert Research Institute is proud to announce that the DRI Science Alive K-12 Outreach Program has been selected as one of several recipients of the first round of funding through Tesla’s new Nevada K-12 Education Investment Fund. This funding is an initial disbursement, part of a multi-year proposed plan Tesla has developed in partnership with DRI to invest in Nevada’s education system.

Because of the proven success and expertise of DRI’s Science Alive K-12 Outreach Program in engaging students in STEM and training Nevada educators, Tesla has looked to DRI to help develop and implement a statewide professional development infrastructure for educators that will give Nevada students the chance to get excited about STEM early on in their education and give them the skills needed to success in a STEM career.

“On behalf of everyone at the Desert Research Institute, we are honored to be a part of this important moment for Nevada students and we are tremendously proud that Tesla has looked to DRI to help develop and implement Nevada’s teacher training infrastructure,” said DRI President Kristen Averyt, Ph.D.

With an initial investment from Tesla of $263,924, the DRI Science Alive program staff will develop a statewide teacher professional development curriculum and onboarding process for new robotics programs in partnership with FIRST, the REC Foundation (VEX), Solar Roller, and the University of Nevada, Reno and the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

In addition to coordinating teacher trainings, DRI will also be evaluating the effectiveness of robotics programs in student achievement and attitudes toward STEM.

“Our hope is that after implementing and evaluating this model of encouraging STEM engagement through robotics, we can improve upon current methods and ultimately develop best practices for all schools,” said Amelia Gulling, DRI’s K-12 STEM Education Manager. “If we find that this model is successful in Nevada, where we have some of the worst education rankings in the country, then it’s the model that we need to use across the country.”


Official Nevada Department of Education release:
TESLA ANNOUNCES INITIAL $1.5M IN K-12 EDUCATION GRANTS

CARSON CITY, Nev. – As part of its commitment to contribute $37.5 million over five years to K-12 education in Nevada, Tesla announced an initial $1.5 million in funding grants at today’s Nevada Board of Education meeting. The goal of the investment is to encourage students of all backgrounds to consider a career in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) or sustainability, and to develop the next generation of engineers in Nevada.

“An integral part of our vision for the new Nevada economy is developing an educated workforce that meets the demands of the industries coming into our state,” said Gov. Brian Sandoval. “With this initial investment, even more students in Nevada will be exposed to STEM education and we are grateful to Tesla for their commitment to education in Nevada.”

Tesla announced the following education grants today:

  • $315,550 to FIRST Nevada and $127,100 to Robotics Education and Competition Foundation (VEX) as part of a multi-year investment for the establishment of a quality robotics program at every school in Nevada.
  • $263,924 to the Desert Research Institute for the initial development of a statewide teacher training infrastructure focusing on robotics and STEM, with future collaboration in partnership with the University of Nevada, Reno and the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
  • $262,700 to The Envirolution, Inc. for the Project ReCharge initiative, a STEM-based program which collaborates with community partners, school districts, teachers and students, to deliver hands-on education related to energy, sustainability, and project-based learning opportunities that empower students to make local schools and businesses more energy efficient.
  • $200,000 to Jobs for Nevada’s Graduates (JAG Nevada) to deliver mentoring, employability skills development, career association, job development, and job placement services to students across the state.  JAG Nevada will be developing a new Education to Employment pathway across Nevada industries, and expanding access to 20 percent more students with this first investment.
  • $154,083 to Sierra Nevada Journeys (SNJ) to foster students’ STEM passion and achievement at an early age.  SNJ will provide 250 scholarships for students in underserved communities to attend the Overnight Outdoor Learning program at Grizzly Creek Ranch, increase access to SNJ STEM programs to 900 additional students, and kickstart a new Girls in Engineering camp in partnership with Tesla team members.
  • $76,643 to Energetics Education, Inc. to pilot the Solar Rollers program in Washoe County. This initiative challenges high school teams to design, build, test and race sophisticated solar-powered radio-controlled cars while learning the fundamental concepts of a complete energy system.
  • $50,000 each to the Clark County and Washoe County School Districts as part of the establishment of multi-year special assignment roles in career technical education (CTE) offices to train and implement programming from within, while also supporting neighboring districts.

“The demand for STEM jobs in Nevada will continue to grow dramatically over the next few years,” said JB Straubel, Tesla’s Chief Technology Officer. “That is why we’re investing in initiatives that inspire students to choose a career in STEM and sustainability and give them a foundation for success.”

Tesla selected these entities in collaboration with an advisory group comprised of Nevada education leaders, business leaders, non-profits and government officials.

“Tesla’s commitment supports our vision of becoming the fastest improving state in the nation in education,” said Steve Canavero, Ph.D., Superintendent of Public Instruction. “Lofty goals such as these don’t materialize in a vacuum. In addition to the partners we have in our school districts and charter schools, we have also sought out partners in industry.  Tesla has been incredibly collaborative and thoughtful in providing us data and evidence based material that will help inform our decisions and their investment in the new Nevada economy.”

Tesla will be making continuing investments in existing initiatives, and regularly announcing new entities receiving funding on a quarterly basis, pending investment reviews. In addition to this K-12 investment, Tesla currently has a high school graduate apprenticeship, the Manufacturing Development Program, encouraging Nevadans to learn about manufacturing fundamentals in partnership with the Governor’s Office of Economic Development, and regularly hosts students and teachers at Gigafactory 1 near Sparks, Nev. Tesla’s mission is to accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy. Tesla builds not only all-electric vehicles but also infinitely scalable clean energy generation and storage products. Entities interested in learning more about this investment and opportunities to partner with Tesla can reach out to educationprograms@tesla.com.

Lead pollution in Greenland ice shows rise and fall of ancient European civilizations

Lead pollution in Greenland ice shows rise and fall of ancient European civilizations

Dr. Monica Arienzo inspects an ice core sample in the ice core lab at the Desert Research Institute in Reno, Nev. Photo credit: DRI.

Reno, NV (May 14, 2018): To learn about the rise and fall of ancient European civilizations, researchers sometimes find clues in unlikely places: deep inside of the Greenland ice sheet, for example.

Thousands of years ago, during the height of the ancient Greek and Roman empires, lead emissions from sources such as the mining and smelting of lead-silver ores in Europe drifted with the winds over the ocean to Greenland – a distance of more than 2800 miles (4600 km) – and settled onto the ice. Year after year, as fallen snow added layers to the ice sheet, lead emissions were captured along with dust and other airborne particles and became part of the ice-core record that scientists use today to learn about conditions of the past.

In a new study published in PNAS, a team of scientists, archaeologists and economists from the Desert Research Institute (DRI), the University of Oxford, NILU – Norwegian Institute for Air Research and the University of Copenhagen used ice samples from the North Greenland Ice Core Project (NGRIP) to measure, date and analyze European lead emissions that were captured in Greenland ice between 1100 BC and AD 800. Their results provide new insight for historians about how European civilizations and their economies fared over time.

“Our record of sub-annually resolved, accurately dated measurements in the ice core starts in 1100 BC during the late Iron Age and extends through antiquity and late antiquity to the early Middle Ages in Europe – a period that included the rise and fall of the Greek and Roman civilizations,” said the study’s lead author Joe McConnell, Ph.D., Research Professor of Hydrology at DRI. “We found that lead pollution in Greenland very closely tracked known plagues, wars, social unrest and imperial expansions during European antiquity.”

Map showing location of NGRIP ice core.

Map showing location of NGRIP ice core in relation to Roman lead/silver mines. Credit: DRI.

A previous study from the mid-1990s examined lead levels in Greenland ice using only 18 measurements between 1100 BC and AD 800; the new study provides a much more complete record that included more than 21,000 precise lead and other chemical measurements to develop an accurately dated, continuous record for the same 1900-year period.

To determine the magnitude of European emissions from the lead pollution levels measured in the Greenland ice, the team used state-of-the-art atmospheric transport model simulations.

“We believe this is the first time such detailed modeling has been used to interpret an ice-core record of human-made pollution and identify the most likely source region of the pollution,” said co-author Andreas Stohl, Ph.D., Senior Scientist at NILU.

Most of the lead emissions from this time period are believed to have been linked to the production of silver, which was a key component of currency.

“Because most of the emissions during these periods resulted from mining and smelting of lead-silver ores, lead emissions can be seen as a proxy or indicator of overall economic activity,” McConnell explained.

Using their detailed ice-core chronology, the research team looked for linkages between lead emissions and significant historical events. Their results show that lead pollution emissions began to rise as early as 900 BC, as Phoenicians expanded their trading routes into the western Mediterranean. Lead emissions accelerated during a period of increased mining activity by the Carthaginians and Romans primarily in the Iberian Peninsula and reached a maximum under the Roman Empire.

Graph of European lead emissions.

Chronology of European lead emissions that were captured in Greenland ice between 1100 BC and AD 800 in relation to major historic events. Credit: DRI.

The team’s extensive measurements provide a different picture of ancient economic activity than previous research had provided. Some historians, for example, had argued that the sparse Greenland lead record provided evidence of better economic performance during the Roman Republic than during the Roman Empire.

According to the findings of this study, the highest sustained levels of lead pollution emissions coincided with the height of the Roman Empire during the 1st and 2nd centuries AD, a period of economic prosperity known as the Pax Romana. The record also shows that lead emissions were very low during the last 80 years of the Roman Republic, a period known as the Crisis of the Roman Republic.

“The nearly four-fold higher lead emissions during the first two centuries of the Roman Empire compared to the last decades of the Roman Republic indicate substantial economic growth under Imperial rule,” said coauthor Andrew Wilson, Professor of the Archaeology of the Roman Empire at Oxford.

The team also found that lead emissions rose and fell along with wars and political instability, particularly during the Roman Republic, and took sharp dives when two major plagues struck the Roman Empire in the 2nd and 3rd centuries. The first, called the Antonine Plague, was probably smallpox. The second, called the Plague of Cyprian, struck during a period of political instability called the third-century crisis.

“The great Antonine Plague struck the Roman Empire in AD 165 and lasted at least 15 years. The high lead emissions of the Pax Romana ended exactly at that time and didn’t recover until the early Middle Ages more than 500 years later,” Wilson explained.

The research team for this study included ice-core specialists, atmospheric scientists, archaeologists, and economic historians – an unusual combination of expertise.

“Working with such a diverse team was a unique experience in my career as a scientist,” McConnell said. “I think that our results show that there can be great value in collaborating across disciplines.”

Analysis and interpretation of archived NGRIP2 ice-core samples were supported by the John Fell Oxford University Press Research Fund and All Souls College, Oxford, as well as the Desert Research Institute.

Photo of the project team.

The project team included an interdisciplinary team of researchers, including (left to right) Dr. Audrey Yau, ice core specialist and former DRI post-doc; Dr. Monica Arienzo, ice core specialist, DRI; Elisabeth Thompson, doctoral student, Oxford University; Professor Andrew Wilson, historian, Oxford University; and Professor Joe McConnell, ice core specialist, DRI.

 

DRI launches cybersecurity internship program in collaboration with SANS Institute

DRI launches cybersecurity internship program in collaboration with SANS Institute

Program now accepting applications for 2018

Reno, NV (Tuesday, April 24, 2018): From malware infections to attacks on critical infrastructure like electricity grids, cybercrime is a growing concern across all industries and sectors of our world – and the prevention of cyber attacks of the future requires the training of a new generation of internet security specialists, today.

To provide cybersecurity skills and experience for interested individuals, the Desert Research Institute (DRI) in Reno, NV is seeking applicants for the 2018 DRI cybersecurity internship program. This program has been launched in partnership with the SANS Institute (Sans.org), a world-renowned internet security research and education organization.

The internship, which will run from August through December 2018, is open to residents of northern Nevada, including high school graduates, college students, and/or people interested in making a career change. Applicants will compete to earn one of several positions in the program, which includes a scholarship for the SANS CyberStart Essentials course, the CyberStart Essentials certification exam, and a 120-hour, hands-on cybersecurity internship at DRI.

During the semester-long internship, participants will work under DRI’s Chief Information Security Officer, Brandon Peterson, to gain hands-on experience building cyberinfrastructure using best practices from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). The internship will prepare students to install, configure, and harden operating systems; validate operating systems against NIST standards; and cover penetration and testing. Students will learn about treating malware infections, defending against real-time denial of service attacks, and providing security awareness training to end-users. Students will also train in DRI’s new cyber range to practice state-of-the-art hacking tools in our advanced facilities.

“Cybersecurity is incredibly essential to many aspects of our lives and careers, as well as too much of the infrastructure that we rely on in our communities, whether we realize it or not,” said Meghan Collins, Cybersecurity Internship Program Manager for DRI. “This internship will provide a fantastic opportunity for interested individuals to gain hands-on experience and marketable job skills related to cybersecurity, as well as professional certifications that we hope will help participants find employment if they choose to continue down this career path.”

To apply for the cybersecurity internship program, candidates must complete an online application by May 31,2018, and take part in a five-day SANS CyberStart Game held on the DRI campus in Reno on June 18 – 22. The game will help gauge the applicant’s skills in solving puzzles, cracking codes, and creating new software tools to find security flaws.

Successful applicants will be notified of their selection for the internship program by mid-July, and take the five-day Cyberstart Essentials Course in August. The 120-hour internship at DRI will continue from August to December 2018 (interns will work 8-hours per week, on Fridays), and culminate in the completion of the CyberStart Essentials Certification exam. The internship is unpaid, however, can be completed for college credit (the student is responsible for the cost of credits at their respective institutions).No previous cybersecurity training or experience is necessary to apply.

Funding for this new program was provided by a STEM Workforce Challenge Grant from the Nevada Governor’s Office of Science, Innovation and Technology. STEM Workforce Challenge Grants seek to create lasting partnerships between Nevada’s STEM industries and workforce training providers focusing on certificate and degree programs of two years or less.

More details about this program, including the application form, are available on DRI’s website: https://www.dri.edu/cybersecurity

For more information about the SANS Institute, visit www.sans.org.

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The Desert Research Institute (DRI) is a recognized world leader in investigating the effects of natural and human-induced environmental change and advancing technologies aimed at assessing a changing planet. For more than 50 years DRI research faculty, students, and staff have applied scientific understanding to support the effective management of natural resources while meeting Nevada’s needs for economic diversification and science-based educational opportunities. With campuses in Reno and Las Vegas, DRI serves as the non-profit environmental research arm of the Nevada System of Higher Education. For more information, please visit www.dri.edu.

Ancient ‘quids’ reveal genetic information, clues into migration patterns of early Great Basin inhabitants

Ancient ‘quids’ reveal genetic information, clues into migration patterns of early Great Basin inhabitants

Above: Cave opening at the Mule Springs Rockshelter in southern Nevada’s Spring Mountain Range. Credit: Jeffrey Wedding, DRI.


 

Las Vegas, NV (April 24, 2018): If you want to know about your ancestors today, you can send a little saliva to a company where – for a fee – they will analyze your DNA and tell you where you come from. For scientists trying to find out about ancient peoples, however, the challenge is more complex.

Research published in the journal PLOS ONE by a team of archaeologists and microbiologists from Nevada’s Desert Research Institute (DRI) and Southern Illinois University Carbondale (SIU) showcases the use of modern research methods to uncover clues about the genetic ancestry of Native Americans who inhabited the Desert Southwest during the last thousand years.

“We were surprised by the consistency with which we were able to recover intact human DNA from a common type of plant-based artifact,” explained co-principal investigator Duane Moser, Ph.D., an associate research professor of microbiology at DRI and director of DRI’s Environmental Microbiology Laboratory.

During the Late Holocene Epoch, which began 12,000 to 11,500 years ago and continues through the present, occupants of the Mule Spring Rockshelter in the foothills of the Spring Mountains of southern Nevada commonly gathered agave and yucca plants for food. The artichoke-like hearts and inner leaves of the plants were roasted then chewed to consume the sweet fleshy pulp. This left wads of stringy fibers called ‘quids,’ which were spit out and left behind.

In the late 1960s, researchers from DRI and the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) led by Richard Brooks, recovered thousands of quids at the rockshelter. Put into storage for half a century without any consideration for DNA preservation, a DRI-led research team decided to re-examine the quid specimens as possible repositories for ancient DNA.

“The quid’s coarse texture is excellent for capturing skin cells from the mouth, making them the equivalent of the modern-day cheek swab,” explained Susan Edwards, an associate research archaeologist at DRI and co-principal investigator who first thought of applying DNA extraction techniques to the quid samples.

A wad of stringy agave plant fibers commonly called ‘quids’.

A wad of stringy agave plant fibers commonly called ‘quids’. Credit: DRI

The research team used laboratory and computational resources at DRI’s Southern Nevada Science Center in Las Vegas, and later at SIU, to identify changes in the mitochondrial DNA sequences that are maintained in ancestrally related populations called haplogroups. These haplogroups can then be compared to Native American tribes and other ancient DNA lineages.

The study showed that the Mule Spring Rockshelter quid specimens ranged in age from about 350 to 980 years old. Because Mule Spring Rockshelter sits at a crossroads between the southern Great Basin, the Mojave Desert, and the Southwest Puebloan cultures, these results may provide a better timeline for an important but contentiously debated event in human history known as the Numic Spread.

Today’s Numic people contend they have always been here, a position some scientists readily support. However, some evidence suggests that Numic-speaking ancestors of contemporary native peoples spread from southern California throughout the Great Basin about 500 to 700 years ago; a date range which overlaps with the current study. Other studies suggest a much earlier arrival.

This research marks only the second time that scientists have been able to sequence human DNA from plant-based artifacts, expanding upon an approach utilized by Steven LeBlanc of Harvard University.

“Since these materials were also radiocarbon dated, in essence they provide a time-resolved hotel registry for this unique site over a period of hundreds of years,” added Moser.

As an added benefit of utilizing DNA from quid samples (rather than from more traditional sources such as bones or teeth), the research team found that they were able to obtain the information they needed while being respectful of cultural sensitivities.

“The distinct advantage of this genetic technique, is that it does not require the sampling of human remains” said Scott Hamilton-Brehm, lead author on the study and assistant professor of microbiology at SIU who completed his postdoctoral research at DRI.

In the future, the team hopes to continue this work by targeting additional quids from the Mule Spring Rockshelter collection, with the possibility of corroborating evidence of older dates for habitation of the site suggested by prior studies of more traditional cultural artifacts. Plans are in the works to perform similar studies on quids from other Great Basin sites to glean additional information about the movements of ancient peoples and utilize more powerful analytical approaches to obtain greater DNA sequence coverage than was obtained by this pilot study.

“We look forward to learning more about Native American presence in the Great Basin and Southwest area, and how the data compares over time,” added Lidia Hristova, a graduate of the UNLV Anthropology Program who conducted much of the hands-on DNA extraction from the samples while working as an undergraduate research assistant at DRI and studying at UNLV.

The full study, “Ancient human mitochondrial DNA and radiocarbon analysis of archived quids from the Mule Spring Rockshelter, Nevada, USA,” is available online from  PLOS ONE: http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0194223 

Mule Spring Rockshelter is a protected cultural resource located on BLM-managed lands. DRI access to the Mule Spring collection was granted under permit and loan agreement. 

Tim Crosby, Communications and Marketing Strategist at SIU Carbondale contributed to this press release. 

Additional photos available upon request.  

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The Desert Research Institute (DRI) is a recognized world leader in investigating the effects of natural and human-induced environmental change and advancing technologies aimed at assessing a changing planet. For more than 50 years DRI research faculty, students, and staff have applied scientific understanding to support the effective management of natural resources while meeting Nevada’s needs for economic diversification and science-based educational opportunities. With campuses in Reno and Las Vegas, DRI serves as the non-profit environmental research arm of the Nevada System of Higher Education. For more information, please visit  www.dri.edu.

New research improves prospects for imperiled Devils Hole Pupfish in captivity

New research improves prospects for imperiled Devils Hole Pupfish in captivity

Above: Researchers Joshua Sackett (left) and Duane Moser (right) of DRI help National Park Service officials move scaffolding infrastructure during a routine sampling visit to Devils Hole on December 13, 2014. Credit: Jonathan Eisen.


DRI study finds key differences between artificial habitat and the real Devils Hole

Las Vegas, NV (Tuesday, March 20, 2018): In a first-of-its kind study of comparing the microbiology of Devils Hole with that of a constructed scale replica at the Ash Meadows Fish Conservation Facility (AMFCF), a team of scientists from the Desert Research Institute (DRI) in Las Vegas discovered key differences in nutrient levels and species composition that may be impacting the ability of the highly endangered Devils Hole Pupfish (Cyprinodon diabolis) to survive in captivity.

“We were interested in taking a closer look at the chemical and biological factors that control productivity at both sites,” said Duane Moser, Ph.D., an associate research professor of microbiology at DRI who has been involved with research at Devils Hole since 2008. “In studying both, we could gain some insights into how well the artificial refuge actually replicates Devils Hole, and in turn, offer recommendations for ways to make the refuge a better habitat for the pupfish.”

Devils Hole Pupfish (population 115 in autumn 2017) are an iridescent blue, one-inch-long pupfish. They are native only to Devils Hole, an isolated water-filled cavern of unknown depth located in a detached unit of Death Valley National Park within the Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge in Amargosa Valley, Nevada. Devils Hole is an extreme environment, with water temperatures and dissolved oxygen concentrations near their lethal limits for most fishes.

Since 2013, scientists have been trying to establish a backup population of these endangered fish in a constructed tank at the AMFCF, which is located a short distance west of Devils Hole. Although the facility was designed to match the climate, water chemistry and physical dimensions of an area of shallow shelf habitat in Devils Hole, the pupfish have had only limited success reproducing and surviving in this artificial environment.

In 2015, Moser and a team of researchers from DRI set out to learn if there were other factors that might be impacting the success of these fish. Their new study, published in the March edition of PLOS One, characterizes and compares water chemistry and microbial communities between Devils Hole and the AMFCF.

Although water temperature and dissolved oxygen at the AMFCF are intentionally maintained at values that are slightly lower and higher, respectively, from those of Devils Hole, this work shows that the nutrient balance between the two sites is also very different, with AMFCF being strongly nitrogen limited – about five times lower than that of Devils Hole.

In the microbial communities, which contribute to the distribution and availability of dissolved nutrients in the water and are also a food source for the pupfish, the research team discovered more than 2,000 microbial species from 44 distinct phyla present in the water at Devils Hole. They detected similar levels of species diversity at AMFCF, but found that different bacterial phyla were dominant at each site. These differences may relate to the observed differences in nitrogen concentrations.

“Nitrogen levels have an effect on the types of organisms that you’ll find, and the types of metabolisms that they have,” said Joshua Sackett, a graduate research assistant with the Desert Research Institute and doctoral student in the School of Life Sciences at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. “We found a lot fewer of at least one major category of primary producers – the cyanobacteria – in the AMFCF compared to Devils Hole, and we think that’s due to differences in nutrient concentration.”

One of the strengths of the comparative power of this study is that the data from each site were gathered on the same day. This study highlights the potential importance of considering water chemistry and microbiology when constructing artificial fish habitats – and the team hopes that the information will provide a valuable contribution to the continued survival of the Devils Hole Pupfish in captivity.

“This work revealed very different microbial populations, which we infer might correspond to large differences in nutrient dynamics between the sites – especially in terms of nitrogen,” Moser said. “Consequently, some relatively modest tweaks in how the refuge is operated could potentially improve the prospects for continued survival of one of Earth’s most imperiled fishes.”

The full version of the study – A comparative study of prokaryotic diversity and physicochemical characteristics of Devils Hole and the Ash Meadows Fish Conservation Facility, a constructed analog – is available online: http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0194404

For more information about DRI, visit www.dri.edu

Photo caption: Researchers Joshua Sackett (left) and Duane Moser (right) of DRI help National Park Service officials move scaffolding infrastructure during a routine sampling visit to Devils Hole on December 13, 2014. Credit: Jonathan Eisen.

Additional photos are available upon request.

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The Desert Research Institute (DRI) is a recognized world leader in investigating the effects of natural and human-induced environmental change and advancing technologies aimed at assessing a changing planet. For more than 50 years DRI research faculty, students, and staff have applied scientific understanding to support the effective management of natural resources while meeting Nevada’s needs for economic diversification and science-based educational opportunities. With campuses in Reno and Las Vegas, DRI serves as the non-profit environmental research arm of the Nevada System of Higher Education. For more information, please visit www.dri.edu.

Healthy Nevada Project announces pilot study insights and phase two enrollment

Reno, Nev. (March 15, 2018) – Eighteen months ago, northern Nevada made history welcoming a first-of-its-kind, community-based population health study combining clinical, genetic and environmental data with the goal of providing personalized, precision medicine for individuals while improving health statewide.

The Healthy Nevada Project is making history again with the opening of phase two genomic sequencing to an additional 40,000 northern Nevadans, bringing the study’s total participation to 50,000 residents and making it one of the largest population health studies in the country. Project leaders are also sharing insights from the 10,000-person pilot study and announcing lessons learned, which are now being integrated directly into patient care.

When healthcare network Renown Health and the world leader in environmental sciences, the Desert Research Institute (DRI), partnered to launch this landmark project in September 2016, the response was unprecedented with 10,000 community members signing up in just 48 hours and DNA sample collection completed in 69 working days.

Today, research teams with Renown Institute for Health Innovation (Renown IHI) – a collaboration between Renown and DRI – announced the first findings from that 10,000-person pilot. Study researchers explained how care providers and scientists will begin working on a number of clinical programs and scientific studies focused specifically on Washoe County’s high age-adjusted death rates for heart disease, cancer and chronic lower respiratory disease. Collectively, these conditions among local residents stand at 33 percent above the national rate.

In the coming months, Renown IHI will begin providing advanced calcium score screenings to pilot phase participants at higher risk for cardiovascular disease. This will allow researchers to examine the link between genetics and calcium buildup in the heart. Additionally, based on pilot phase data, researchers have seen increased use of regional healthcare correlated with fluctuations in air quality and so-called “bad air events” such as wildfires and atmospheric inversions. In phase two, Renown IHI will evaluate possible links between genetics and increased susceptibility to respiratory ailments.

“From the start, this project has been focused on improving health statewide. We are now not only seeing those results, but also acting on them,” said Anthony Slonim, M.D., DrPH, FACHE, president and CEO of Renown Health and president of Renown IHI. “Healthcare organizations around the country are moving from solely providing care inside hospital walls to improving health outcomes across communities. It starts with health literacy, and this is the largest health literacy project in the country. We are helping people understand their risks and getting involved at the clinical level to help them live healthier lives.”

Leveraging Renown’s forward-thinking approach to community healthcare and DRI’s data and environmental expertise, Renown IHI has evolved and grown its capabilities to lead a larger, more complex research study of significance that will analyze and model public health risks in the Silver State and serve as a model for future population health studies across the country.

“Nevada is leading the country in growth and innovation. But sadly, we continue to rank among the worst in regards to health at 47th in the nation,” said Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval, the pilot study’s first participant. “Through the Healthy Nevada Project, we now have the gift of insight to make needed changes not just for ourselves and our loved ones, but for Nevada.”

For the second phase of this monumental project, research teams will have greater depth and quality of DNA data thanks to a partnership with Helix, a personal genomics company that uses Next Generation Sequencing (NGS) technology instead of genotyping and operates one of the world’s largest CAP- and CLIA-accredited exome sequencing labs. The Helix.com marketplace model will also enable the Healthy Nevada Project to work with other research groups and industry-leading companies at the forefront of using genetics to drive better health outcomes.

“Taken individually, environmental, genetic and clinical data are each powerful tools for advancing health. But a comprehensive picture of these data can be even more powerful – finding new risk factors within populations and further improving community health,” said James Lu, M.D., Ph.D., co-founder and senior vice president of Applied Genomics at Helix. “Each person who chooses to participate in the Healthy Nevada Project will be contributing their genetics to better scientific understanding and ultimately, helping everyone live longer, healthier lives.”

In phase two, an additional 40,000 Nevadans are invited to test using Helix’s proprietary NGS pipeline. Helix’s Exome+ assay testing reads all 20,000 protein-coding genes and other regions in the body important to providing genetic insights which allows for 100 times more data.

Study volunteers will take Helix’s DNA saliva test and automatically receive access to the popular Helix-powered ancestry app, Geno 2.0 by National Geographic, and a Helix.com account that lets them explore additional DNA-powered products on the Helix App store. If study participants choose to complete a follow-up survey from the Healthy Nevada Project, they will have the chance to pick an additional health and wellness app specific to their individual genetic results.

Renown IHI is opening 10,000 testing slots to any northern Nevadan interested in taking part. Once those 10,000 slots are filled, researchers will focus on matching the demographics that comprise northern Nevada. This means study participants will be eligible based on specific demographic variables including: gender, age group, ethnicity and rural versus urban residents.

“Fitting these criteria will ensure this landmark population health study mirrors the people of northern Nevada,” said Joseph Grzymski, Ph.D., senior director of the DRI Applied Innovation Center; co-director of Renown IHI; and principal investigator of the Healthy Nevada Project. “Thanks to years of research, we know gender, age and ethnicity all play key roles in a person’s health risks. By accurately representing our region, we will be able to better understand the health issues we’re seeing communitywide and how to address them.”

In the years ahead, Renown IHI aspires to offer genetic testing through the Healthy Nevada Project to every Nevadan interested in learning more about their health and genetic profile, and ultimately, drive positive health outcomes statewide. Simultaneously, the Healthy Nevada Project will expand the state’s access to leading-edge clinical trials and foster new connections with biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies.

To see if you are eligible to participate in the study, to sign up for study updates and for full details on the Healthy Nevada Project, please visit HealthyNV.org.

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

Helix is a personal genomics company with a simple but powerful mission: to empower every person to improve their life through DNA. We’ve created the first marketplace for DNA-powered products where people can explore diverse and uniquely personalized products developed by high-quality partners. Helix handles sample collection, DNA sequencing, and secure data storage so that our partners can integrate DNA insights into products across a range of categories, including ancestry, entertainment, family, fitness, health and nutrition. Helix is headquartered in the San Francisco Bay Area and operates a CLIA-and-CAP-accredited Next Generation Sequencing lab in San Diego, powered by Illumina (NASDAQ:ILMN) NGS technology. Helix was founded in 2015 with support from Illumina, its largest shareholder. Learn more at www.helix.com.

DRI Stories in the Snow Project collects over 400 images from local citizen scientists

DRI Stories in the Snow Project collects over 400 images from local citizen scientists

Above: Meghan Collins, Assistant Research Scientist of Environmental Science at DRI, demonstrates the use of a Stories in the Snow data collection kit. Credit DRI.


Detailed photographs help local scientists understand regional storms, collect weather data

Reno, NV (Wednesday, March 14, 2018): No two snow crystals are alike, an old saying goes – and this winter, students, and adults from across the Reno-Tahoe region are helping researchers from the Desert Research Institute (DRI) discover exactly what the unique shape of each freshly-fallen snowflake means for Nevada’s changing climate.

As part of a new citizen science project called “Stories in the Snow” (storiesinthesnow.org), DRI researchers are enlisting help from a quickly-growing network of students and volunteers in the Reno-Tahoe region to collect photographs of snow crystals each time it snows.

To date, the project has collected more than 400 photographs and data points from around the region, including more than 40 images from a recent storm that hit Reno-Tahoe in early March. In April, the research team will begin analysis of the data that has been collected this winter.

“To participate, all you need is a smartphone, a magnifying lens, and a flake of freshly fallen snow,” said Meghan Collins, education lead for the Stories in the Snow program and Assistant Research Scientist of Environmental Science at DRI. “We have partnered with 15 classes from schools in the local area and several educational non-profits. We are really excited to get students and community members involved in studying our snow and learning about climate science in our region.”

Project participants use a smartphone and data collection kit (available through the Stories in the Snow crowdfunding site) to capture up-close photographs of snowflakes, then submit the photos along with weather data on time, temperature and location to a DRI research team through the Citizen Science Lake Tahoe mobile app. The app, which was developed in partnership with the U.C. Davis Tahoe Environmental Research Center (TERC), is available for iPhone and Andriod operating systems. Following the Tom’s Shoes philanthropic model, each snowflake picture kit purchased through the project’s crowdfunding site provides a one-to-one matching donation of Stories in the Snow kits and training for local students.

By combining the photographs with common weather information on the time and location from which each snow crystal image was captured, DRI atmospheric research teams are learning about the temperature and water content of winter storm clouds. They are using the pictures and the weather data to better understand how snow storms in our region form and how warmer winters are impacting cloud physics and snow levels.

“We want to unravel what goes on in the clouds as a storm moves over the Sierra Crest and through our region,” said Frank McDonough, research lead for the Stories in the Snow project and associate research professor of atmospheric science at DRI. “The ice crystals tell us a lot about what happened during each snowflake’s journey – from how it first formed in the cloud all the way to how early it might melt and where it could land.”

From star-shaped “dendrites” too pointy “needles” and hexagonal “plates,” the shape and condition of each flake tells a unique story, McDonough explained. And if a flake appears covered in tiny, frozen droplets called “rime”, that is especially interesting to the research team – with possible implications for the aviation industry including research into airplane wing icing.

“If you see a snowflake with rime, you know that cloud had sub-freezing liquid water drops in it,” McDonough said. “Under those conditions, if an airplane flies through, the water droplets freeze on the airplane just like they freeze on the ice crystals. In extreme cases, the airplane can’t fly. Our main goal is to just understand clouds that exist below freezing, and what goes on in them when the water is present or absent.”

DRI initially piloted the Stories in the Snow program in several area schools during the winter of 2016-17 and launched a successful crowdfunding campaign to continue the project in October 2017. Now halfway through the 2017-18 season, Stories in the Snow is working in cooperation with teachers at ten local schools and three educational non-profits from the Reno-Tahoe region to enlist participation from students. They have also distributed more than 75 kits to other interested members of the public.

Data collected by the Stories in the Snow program is being used to support numerous projects, including improvements to climate and weather prediction models, validation of radar and satellite precipitation data, and data and insight for highway snow removal crews, avalanche forecasters, and water use planning groups. The research team also plans to make the data available to the public, so that any student or science-minded citizen can conduct their own investigations.

“If an amateur scientist wants to do a study on snowflakes, to see if they look different in March than in January, for example, we are excited to have them do that,” McDonough said. “We want the community to have access to the data. That’s the whole point with citizen science – giving people the opportunity to use these crystal images for their own projects, or just their own enjoyment.”

Stories in the Snow is supported during the 2017-2018 winter season by the Truckee-Tahoe Community Foundation and Nevada Space Grant.  For more information about the Stories in the Snow program, please visit http://storiesinthesnow.org, or follow along on Facebook (@storiesinthesnow) or Instagram (@storiesinthesnow). 

Additional photos available on Flickr: https://flic.kr/s/aHsmfQxuZL

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The Desert Research Institute (DRI) is a recognized world leader in investigating the effects of natural and human-induced environmental change and advancing technologies aimed at assessing a changing planet. For more than 50 years DRI research faculty, students, and staff have applied scientific understanding to support the effective management of natural resources while meeting Nevada’s needs for economic diversification and science-based educational opportunities. With campuses in Reno and Las Vegas, DRI serves as the non-profit environmental research arm of the Nevada System of Higher Education. For more information, please visit www.dri.edu.

Significant amount of cancer-causing chemicals stays in lungs during e-cigarette use, Nevada-based researchers find

Board of Regents award DRI air pollution expert 2018 Rising Researcher Award

Dr. Vera Samburova works in the organic analytical lab at Desert Research Institute, in Reno, Nev., on Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2018. Photo by Cathleen Allison/Nevada Momentum.


 

Reno, Nev.  (Thursday, March 1, 2018) – The Nevada System of Higher Education (NSHE) Board of Regents this week awarded Vera Samburova, Ph.D., an assistant research professor of atmospheric chemistry and air pollution at DRI, with its annual Rising Researcher Award.

She was recognized for her early-career accomplishments and leading a new and exciting area of research at DRI looking at inhalation and indoor air quality related health effects. The honor is given annually to one NSHE faculty member from DRI, UNR, and UNLV.

As a member of the DRI’s Organic Analysis Laboratory, Samburova’s research focuses on the collection and analysis of atmospheric organic species, characterization and quantification of organic emissions from various sources like biomass burning and fossil fuels.

She recently initiated an internally funded research project investigating the emissions from e- cigarettes. Her research team found that the aerosols (commonly called vapors) produced by flavored e-cigarettes liquids contain dangerous levels of hazardous chemicals known to cause cancer in humans. Their research was published in Environmental Science & Technology (ES&T), a journal of the American Chemical Society.

“The health impacts of e-cigarettes are still widely unknown and not researched,” said Samburova. “I am incredibly honored to be recognized for this important work and everything that our team at DRI has done to advance this important and emerging field of research.”

Samburova has authored a total of 35 peer reviewed publications, 20 since joining DRI, and seven of which she was the first author. She has served as a principal investigator, and co-principal investigator, and a key personnel/scientist for 15 projects that have received over $2 million in external research funding.

She is also actively involved in the Atmospheric Sciences Graduate Program at the University of Nevada, Reno where she has taught classes every year starting in 2008 and has been the Deputy Director of that program for the last five years.

Samburova received her Ph.D. in Environmental Organic Chemistry from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Zurich in 2007, after which she was recruited at Desert Research Institute as a Post Doc and subsequently transitioned to an Assistant Research Professor.

The Desert Research Institute (DRI) is a recognized world leader in investigating the effects of natural and human-induced environmental change and advancing technologies aimed at assessing a changing planet. For more than 50 years DRI research faculty, students, and staff have applied scientific understanding to support the effective management of natural resources while meeting Nevada’s needs for economic diversification and science-based educational opportunities. With campuses in Reno and Las Vegas, DRI serves as the non-profit environmental research arm of the Nevada System of Higher Education. For more information, please visit www.dri.edu.

Saving the Desert’s Upper Crust

To a casual observer, desert lands may appear a barren vista of sand and soil, sparsely dotted with shrubbery and cacti but, in reality, they are lush with microscopic plants: lichens, mosses, and cyanobacteria. There isn’t an inch of soil that is without these organisms.

“These organisms are a critical component of the desert ecosystem: they stabilize soils against erosion and provide essential nutrients to plants,” says NEXUS scientist Dr. Henry Sun, a research microbiologist at the Desert Research Institute (DRI).

These coverings-known as cryptogamic crusts-while providing essential ecosystem services, are also very fragile. Both the installation of solar farms and regular maintenance activities can disturb and remove this biological layer. “Such activities can destroy the crusts and result in increased dust emission,” Sun says. “And, once destroyed, they take decades to recover.”

Consequently, Sun and his graduate student, Lynda Burns, are trying to understand the impacts that large scale solar farms will have on this component of desert ecosystems and how to develop mitigation strategies to help prevent, or remediate any damage. “The goal of our research is to know the vulnerabilities of the organisms that build these protective crusts and to use the information to guide future restoration mitigation efforts in the context of solar plant impacts,” Sun says.

Banking Biology

The presence of these non-flowering plants is a key indicator of a healthy desert ecosystem. As well as forming a protective soil crust, and a barrier to erosion, they also provide nutrients to plants, mediate the transfer of water and provide a base for seed germination and plant growth.  In addition, the cyanobacteria can convert the nitrogen in the atmosphere into compounds that act as fertilizers for other plants, via a process called nitrogen fixation. “So you fix nitrogen using solar energy into a form that is available to plants,” Sun says.

Recognizing the importance of these crusts, and also their vulnerabilities, scientists have been investigating how to protect them. One suggested approach has been to harvest the crusts prior to a disturbance such as the installation of a solar farm, and save them. Once the construction is complete, the researchers’ suggestion is then to use the preserved crusts to inoculate the soil and aid in restoring the new crust.

The desert can prove a harsh environment for plants with temperatures and rainfall fluctuating between extremes. Also, a process called photochemical oxidation, facilitated by the sun’s ultraviolet rays can result in reactive oxygen species that are extremely damaging to life. “For this strategy to be effective, we need to know if the organisms lose vitality during storage, how long they would survive, and how to help them survive and thrive once they’ve been re-introduced to the desert habitat,” Sun says.

The scientific community does not yet know the answers to such questions and it was a knowledge gap that the NEXUS team set out to close. They began by collecting and saving the organisms in the soil crust and set about trying to understand how long those samples could survive and whether they could be successfully reintroduced to the desert environment. “There were two questions we’re trying to answer,” Sun says. “One, whether you can store the organisms and, two, when you reintroduce them what can we do to help them re-establish?”

Putting Crusts to the Test

In the lab, the scientists started their investigations by storing lichen samples from the Mojave Desert for different periods of time. In their natural habitat the lichens in the crusts alternate between drying out and hydration. During the desiccation process, they suffer from cellular damage but once they are hydrated repair and growth is possible. In their experiments, the researchers watered the stored samples and then monitored their recovery. “Healthy specimens become active within a minute of watering and compromised lichens go through a period of repair before they become productive,” Sun says. The researchers assumed that those lichens that showed no activity after 8 hours were dead.

Using this methodology, the scientists found that lichens can be stored dry at room temperature in ambient air for up to a year without any significant decline in vitality.  One-year old samples showed similar behavior to fresh samples: once they were given water they were ready to use light energy and photosynthesize.  Three and even ten-year-old samples were weaker and it would take them between 25 and 200 minutes to restore photosynthesis after the addition of water.

The scientists then attempted to determine how ultraviolet (UV) rays would impact the lichens when they were reintroduced back into the desert. The crust lichens protect themselves from UV light by synthesizing compounds that create a screen that blocks the harsh rays.  Even when the researchers put intense UV source as close as 25 centimeters away for one week the lichens suffered only minor damage. “It was well within their ability to repair,” Sun says. “This level of ionizing radiation resistance is unparalleled in the microbial world.”

The scientists did find, however, that the lichens were vulnerable to high concentrations of ozone. Fumigation in ozone for long periods caused photochemical oxidation, killing Collema, a cyanobacterial lichen, and severely damaging Placidium, a green algal lichen. Previous studies on the stress tolerance of crust-forming organisms considered only the impacts of UV radiation and desiccation. “Our work showed that photochemical oxidation presents a more severe stress than UV and desiccation,” Sun says. “And this has implications for crust storage and restoration.”

Given the evidence that the crust lichens are primarily vulnerable to oxidation, Sun recommends that the samples be stored in a non-oxidizing gas, such as nitrogen, instead of ambient atmosphere, to minimize oxidative stress.  In the field, amending the soil with antioxidants could protect the newly restored “seed” organisms from oxidation and thereby help them grow faster.  Both the ability of the organisms to be stored and their ability to survive typical desert conditions bodes well for the future, Sun says. “The research suggests that crust restoration is feasible and should be considered by land managers and solar companies,” Sun says.


This story was written by Jane Palmer and was originally published by the Solar-Energy-Water-Environment Nexus Project. For more information about the Nexus Project, visit: https://solarnexus.epscorspo.nevada.edu/

The Desert Research Institute (DRI) is a recognized world leader in investigating the effects of natural and human-induced environmental change and advancing technologies aimed at assessing a changing planet. For more than 50 years DRI research faculty, students, and staff have applied scientific understanding to support the effective management of natural resources while meeting Nevada’s needs for economic diversification and science-based educational opportunities. With campuses in Reno and Las Vegas, DRI serves as the non-profit environmental research arm of the Nevada System of Higher Education. For more information, visit www.dri.edu.

Helix to help expand Healthy Nevada Project

Reno, Nev. and San Carlos, Calif. (Tuesday, January 9, 2018) – Fifteen months after launching the state’s landmark Healthy Nevada Project, Renown Institute for Health Innovation (Renown IHI) is taking steps toward significantly expanding public enrollment in its community-based population health initiative. Today, executives and research team members proudly announce they have partnered with personal genomics company, Helix, for the next phase of this study.

Utilizing Helix’s proprietary Next Generation Sequencing (NGS) technology and uniquely personalized suite of DNA-powered products, research teams at Renown Health and the Desert Research Institute (DRI) plan to offer an additional 40,000 Nevadans the opportunity to have their DNA sequenced and participate in phase two of the Renown IHI study expected to open for enrollment in spring 2018.

“From the beginning, our focus with the Healthy Nevada Project has been on delivering personalized health data to our communities that will ultimately drive positive change for our state,” said Anthony Slonim, M.D., DrPH, president and CEO of Renown Health, and president Renown IHI. “We are very excited about the opportunities the next phase of this groundbreaking study will offer. Community participants will be able to gain deeper, actionable insights into their DNA data, while our research teams gain unprecedented access to the largest clinical DNA sequencing facility in the world.”

Unlike other companies that use microarray technology, Helix uses NGS to sequence a proprietary assay called Exome+ that provides 100 times more data than was previously available. Exome+ includes all 22,000 protein-coding genes as well as additional regions known to be of interest. Helix sequences each participant’s DNA sample once, and then securely stores that information so the user can choose to explore many DNA-powered applications throughout their lifetime. All samples are processed in Helix’s CLIA- and CAP-accredited sequencing lab powered by Illumina (NASDAQ:ILMN) NGS technology, using the Exome+ assay.

“Our mission is to empower every person to improve their life through DNA. We invested heavily in our Exome+ assay, partner infrastructure, and CLIA- and CAP-accredited laboratory – which is now the largest clinical exome sequencing facility in the world – with the vision of empowering individuals with access to data about themselves and the DNA-powered products that enable them to take a more active role in their health,” said Robin Thurston, CEO of Helix. “Helix is proud to support this important project which will empower people to make better health choices and will contribute to novel genomics discoveries.”

The Healthy Nevada Project offers community members the opportunity to receive a product through Helix.com, at no cost, by volunteering for research. The Healthy Nevada Project will offer study participants a DNA kit from Helix that provides information on personal traits or ancestry, and a Helix.com account which will enable them to explore additional DNA-powered products through the Helix App store if they choose.

Researchers and data scientists leading the Healthy Nevada Project are combining genetic data with health and population data, as well as information from environmental databases to create a large health determinants data set. This health determinants platform is being used to identify and model public health risks ranging from disease and illness to the effects of environmental factors such as air quality on the health of Nevadans. The pilot phase of the study enrolled 10,000 participants in less than 48 hours and then completed subsequent DNA sample collection from each participant in just 60 working days. Participants in the pilot phase of the study range from ages 18-90 years old from 135 zip codes in northern Nevada. Socioeconomic survey information was also collected during the pilot phase using an advanced, confidential online survey tool.

Northern Nevada’s diverse healthcare catchment spans 100,000 square miles, an area the same size as New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania combined; and serves almost 1 million community members. These unique elements – the population, the comprehensive provider network offered by Renown Health, generational healthcare data and innovative combination of new research tools – make the region an ideal location for advanced health science.

“Our pilot phase used genotyping, which was a great start, but moving to exome sequencing and inviting an additional 40,000 people to participate will dramatically accelerate what we can learn about the human genome and has the potential to greatly improve preventative health and create incredible potential for new scientific discoveries,” said Joseph Grzymski, Ph.D., an associate research professor at DRI, co-director of Renown IHI, and principal investigator of the Healthy Nevada Project.

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

Helix is a personal genomics company with a simple but powerful mission: to empower every person to improve their life through DNA. We’ve created the first marketplace for DNA-powered products where people can explore diverse and uniquely personalized products developed by high-quality partners. Helix handles sample collection, DNA sequencing, and secure data storage so that our partners can integrate DNA insights into products across a range of categories, including ancestry, entertainment, family, fitness, health and nutrition. From profound insights to just-for-fun discoveries, Helix is here to help people live a fuller life. Helix is headquartered in the San Francisco Bay Area, and has a CLIA- and CAP-accredited Next Generation Sequencing lab in San Diego powered by Illumina (NASDAQ:ILMN) NGS technology. Helix was created in 2015 with founding support from Illumina, its largest shareholder. Learn more at www.helix.com.

Scientists investigate northern Sierra Nevada snow droughts

Scientists investigate northern Sierra Nevada snow droughts

Above: From the east side of Washoe Lake, the view of Slide Mountain and Mount Rose on January 7, 2018, showed the effects of the ongoing snow drought. Warm wet and dry periods in November and a dry period in December created snow drought conditions throughout the region. Credit Benjamin Hatchett, DRI.


 

Reno, NV (Wednesday, January 17, 2018): The Lake Tahoe Basin and northern Sierra Nevada are currently experiencing a condition known as snow drought, according to new research and data from scientists at the Desert Research Institute (DRI). Snow droughts, or periods of below-normal snowpack, occur when abnormally warm storms or abnormally dry climate conditions prevent mountain snowpack from accumulating.

“As of early January, the snowpack in the Lake Tahoe Basin was only 28 percent of normal,” said Benjamin Hatchett, Ph.D., a postdoctoral researcher with DRI’s Division of Atmospheric Sciences. “We experienced warm wet and dry periods in November and a dry period in December that has created snow drought conditions throughout the region, followed by warm, rainy weather so far in January that has caused snowpack levels to decline further, especially at low elevation sites.”

Snow droughts have become increasingly common in the Sierra Nevada and Cascade mountains in recent years, as warming temperatures push snow lines higher up mountainsides and cause more precipitation to fall as rain.

Hatchett, an avid backcountry skier, began to notice the trend several years ago and recently published research outlining an approximately 1,200-foot rise in the winter snow levels over the last ten years across the northern Sierra Nevada.

Looking deeper into the rising snow levels and a general continued lack of snow in their local region, Hatchett and fellow DRI climate researcher Daniel McEvoy, Ph.D., an assistant research professor of climatology and regional climatologist at DRI’s Western Regional Climate Center (WRCC), sought to expand upon the little that is currently known about snow droughts and their impacts to local watersheds and economies.

In a new study recently published in the journal Earth Interactions, Hatchett and McEvoy explored the root causes of snow droughts in the northern Sierra Nevada, and investigate how snow droughts evolve throughout a winter season. To do this, they used hourly, daily and monthly data to analyze the progression of eight historic snow droughts that occurred in the northern Sierra Nevada between 1951 and 2017.

“We were interested in looking at the different pathways that can lead to a snow drought, and the different implications that each pathway has for mountain systems,” McEvoy explained.

Graph of the snow drought of 2017/2018.

The snow drought of 2017/2018 as observed at Fallen Leaf Lake, Calif. and the Central Sierra Snow Lab in Soda Springs, Calif. Map created by ClimateEngine.org – Powered by Google Earth Engine. Credit Benjamin Hatchett, DRI.

Previous research has used April 1st (the date that snowpack levels, measured as snow water equivalent or SWE, in the Sierra Nevada typically reach a maximum) as the primary date for calculating snow drought, and classified each snow drought as one of two types, warm or dry. “Warm snow drought” years were characterized by above-average levels of precipitation and below-average snow accumulation (SWE); “Dry snow drought” years were characterized by below-average levels of precipitation and below-average snow accumulation (SWE).

Hatchett and McEvoy’s work expanded upon these concepts by examining the progression of snow droughts throughout the entire winter season.

Their results illustrate that each snow drought originates and develops along a different timeline, with some beginning early in the season and some not appearing until later. Snow droughts often occurred as a result of frequent rain-on-snow events, low precipitation years, and persistent dry periods with warmer than normal temperatures. The severity of each snow drought changed throughout the season, and effects were different at different elevations.

“We learned that if you just look at snow levels on April 1st, you miss out on a lot of important information,” McEvoy said. “For example, if you are in a snow drought all winter long and come out of it right at the end due to a few big storms, there are probably implications to that.”

Sometimes, McEvoy explained, snow droughts were found to occur in years with above-average precipitation. For example, in 1997, a powerful atmospheric river storm event led to record-breaking flooding throughout the region – but much of the moisture arrived as rain rather than snow, with detrimental effects on the snowpack.

Climate change is likely to make snow drought an even more common phenomenon in the future, said Hatchett, as temperatures in the northern Sierra Nevada are expected to continue warming.

“There has always been an occasional snow drought year in the mountains, but that was typically the ‘dry’ type of snow drought caused by lack of precipitation,” Hatchett said. “As the climate grows warmer and more precipitation falls as rain instead of snow, we are seeing that we can have an average or above-average precipitation year and still have a well below-average snowpack.”

The implications of snow drought have not yet been studied extensively, but may include impacts to water resources, snowmelt runoff, flooding, soil moisture, tree mortality, ecological system health, fuel moisture levels that drive fire danger, human recreation, and much more. In regions such as the Lake Tahoe Basin, where mountain snowpack sustains wildlife, ecosystems, local economies, and provides crucial water resources to downstream communities throughout the year, the impacts of snow droughts could be enormous.

The last four winters, Hatchett and McEvoy noted, have all exhibited some degree of snow drought in the northern Sierra Nevada. Even the recent huge winter of 2016/17, which ended with far above-average snowpack levels (205% of the long-term median on April 1, 2017 in the Lake Tahoe Basin), began with a period of early-season snow drought during a dry November. This winter has been no exception, with snow drought taking hold over low elevation areas in November, and moving to higher elevation sites in December.

Only time will tell how the 2017/2018 winter season will end, but in the meantime, snow drought is affecting the region in ways that have not yet been fully quantified.

Hatchet and McEvoy hope that their research will prompt further investigations into the potentially devastating impacts of snow drought, and will help to inform regional climate adaptation planning efforts.

“We spend a lot of time going out and skiing, climbing, and hiking in the mountains, which is what inspired us to study these things,” Hatchett said. “We’re seeing and experiencing snow drought first-hand, and we have to quantify it and understand it because these are changing patterns on the landscape that will have massive implications for the mountain environments that we experience each day and the mountain communities that we live in.”

The full version of the study—“Exploring the Origins of snow drought in the northern Sierra Nevada, California”—is available online at –http://journals.ametsoc.org/doi/10.1175/EI-D-17-0027.1

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The Desert Research Institute (DRI) is a recognized world leader in investigating the effects of natural and human-induced environmental change and advancing technologies aimed at assessing a changing planet. For more than 50 years DRI research faculty, students, and staff have applied scientific understanding to support the effective management of natural resources while meeting Nevada’s needs for economic diversification and science-based educational opportunities. With campuses in Reno and Las Vegas, DRI serves as the non-profit environmental research arm of the Nevada System of Higher Education. For more information, please visit www.dri.edu.

Climate Engine offers unprecedented access to Earth image datasets

Climate Engine offers unprecedented access to Earth image datasets

Reno, NV (Thursday, December 7, 2017): Working with large environmental datasets is a complex and time-consuming endeavor, often requiring huge amounts of data storage, specialized high-performance computers and technical knowledge. Climate Engine (ClimateEngine.org), a new, free web-based application created by a team of scientists at the Desert Research Institute (DRI), University of Idaho, and Google is aiming to change all of that.

New research published and featured on the cover of the November issue of the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society (BAMS) outlines how Climate Engine improves the accessibility of climate and weather data by allowing users to create on-demand maps or graphs of various earth observation datasets using a standard web browser. Datasets are stored and processed in the cloud on the Google Earth Engine platform, eliminating the need for users to download, store and process large data files on their computers.

Climate Engine provides access to a variety of geospatial datasets that track vegetation, snow and water across the planet, as well as climate datasets that track temperature, precipitation and winds.

One of the web application’s greatest strengths, according to Dr. Justin Huntington, co-principal investigator of the Climate Engine project and associate research professor of hydrology at DRI, lies in the application’s ability to quickly and easily pair satellite imagery with different climate variables.

“We can process field-scale Landsat satellite imagery like we’ve never been able to before,” Huntington said. “For example, we can look at over 30 years of vegetation changes in a certain area and then pair those changes with the same historical record of climate, all within one platform, in a matter of seconds.”

In the paper Climate Engine: Cloud Computing and Visualization of Climate and Remote Sensing Data for Advanced Natural Resource Monitoring and Process Understanding, the authors describe the development, design and potential uses for this tool. The paper highlights various case studies related to drought, wildfire and agriculture, which each provide examples of how Climate Engine can be used to generate on-demand maps and time-series analyses of different conditions and extreme events.

The authors outline the capability of this cutting-edge tool to analyze temperature change in the Arctic, evaluate vegetation stress during a historic drought in the Great Plains, map fire danger and burned acreage in Idaho, monitor groundwater-dependent ecosystems in Nevada, and support famine early-warning efforts in Ethiopia.

Because Climate Engine is free and requires no specialized software to use, Huntington and his colleagues hope that it will be useful to researchers and decision-makers around the world.

“Our work allows decision makers unprecedented access to analyzing big data related to environmental monitoring on their desktops and tablets without needing a supercomputer by using cloud computing resources provided by Google,” said John Abatzoglou, co-principle investigator of Climate Engine and associate professor of geography at the University of Idaho. “The ability to analyze such data in real time will help fill an information void and improve our ability to sustain our environmental resources including water.”

After using the web application to create a map or graph, results can be downloaded or shared in common file formats, saving users hours of time that was once spent downloading and processing large data archives.

“That’s the beauty of Climate Engine,” Huntington said. “Instead of downloading archives to get to the answer, you can just download the answer.”

Climate Engine was originally unveiled at the White House Water Summit in 2016. In the time since the product launched, the web application has been used by more than 8,000 unique visitors across the globe.

Recently, Climate Engine team members Huntington and Dr. Katherine Hegewisch of the University of Idaho presented a talk at the Famine Early Warning System (FEWS) science meeting in Washington D.C., and Hegewisch hosted a workshop for African FEWS field scientists.

Climate Engine will also be on display at the upcoming American Geophysical Union Annual Fall Meeting in New Orleans. The event is the largest and preeminent Earth and space science meeting in the world.

In the future, the Climate Engine team plans to continue adding new datasets such as sea surface temperature and European satellite data. They are also planning to add agency-specific spatial averaging domains, such as agency management boundaries and crop zones, and also hope to continue expanding their education and outreach efforts.

The idea behind Climate Engine, says Huntington, is to make large datasets available to researchers, decision-makers, journalists, farmers, or anyone else who might benefit from the information – and in an easy-to-use, approachable and simple format.

Climate Engine was primarily funded by Google and federal programs of the National Integrated Drought Information System, Famine Early Warning System Network, U.S. Geological Survey’s Landsat Science Team, and Bureau of Land Management’s Nevada State Office.

For more information and use the Climate Engine web application visit – ClimateEngine.org

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The Desert Research Institute (DRI) is a recognized world leader in investigating the effects of natural and human-induced environmental change and advancing technologies aimed at assessing a changing planet. For more than 50 years DRI research faculty, students, and staff have applied scientific understanding to support the effective management of natural resources while meeting Nevada’s needs for economic diversification and science-based educational opportunities. With campuses in Reno and Las Vegas, DRI serves as the non-profit environmental research arm of the Nevada System of Higher Education. For more information, please visit www.dri.edu.

The University of Idaho, home of the Vandals, is Idaho’s land-grant, national research university. From its residential campus in Moscow, UI serves the state of Idaho through educational centers in Boise, Coeur d’Alene and Idaho Falls, a research and Extension center in Twin Falls, plus Extension offices in 42 counties. Home to more than 11,000 students statewide, UI is a leader in student-centered learning and excels at interdisciplinary research, service to businesses and communities, and in advancing diversity, citizenship and global outreach. UI competes in the Big Sky Conference and Sun Belt Conference. Learn more at www.uidaho.edu.

DRI and Scripps Oceanography receive $3 million NOAA grant to help decision makers prepare for extreme events

Reno, NV (Friday, November 17, 2017): A climate research program led by scientists at the Desert Research Institute (DRI) and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego has received funding from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to improve the ability of decision makers in California and Nevada to prepare and plan for extreme weather and climate events such as drought, wildfire, heatwaves, and sea level rise.

NOAA’s Regional Integrated Sciences and Assessments (RISA) Program granted a total of $7.5 million in competitive research awards to four institutions in Arizona, New Mexico, California, and Nevada.

The California-Nevada Applications Program (CNAP), a DRI and Scripps collaboration that has spent more than 15 years understanding climate risks and providing cutting-edge climate science to stakeholders in the region, will receive $3 million over the next five years. CNAP has been part of the RISA program since 1999.

“We (CNAP) do both research and work as a boundary organization,” explains Tamara Wall, Ph.D., co-director of CNAP and deputy director of the Western Regional Climate Center at DRI. “We work with the people who produce climate information and the people who use it on a daily basis. Our online data tools, observational data, and publications make the climate information pipeline both wider and shorter, thereby making the climate data critical to on-the-ground decisions more accessible and easier to understand.”

With the new grant, the CNAP program will focus on climate-driven impacts related to water resources, natural resources, and coastal resources. This includes wildfire warnings and health impacts, sea-level rise and flooding, precipitation events in the Great Basin, climate information for underserved farmers, communication and coordination of the California/Nevada Drought Early Warning System, and research projects related to extreme precipitation, seasonal to sub-seasonal forecasting, and incorporation of new evaporative demand data into water management in Southern Nevada.

“The RISA program helps bridge the gap by partnering scientists and key decision makers,” said Dan Cayan, research meteorologist at Scripps and co-director of CNAP. “The goal is to have informed stakeholders who can use the latest research to anticipate, prepare for, and respond to climate impacts, and for our researchers to be able to directly support on-the-ground decisions to improve climate resiliency and inform policy.”

The new RISA funding will allow CNAP staff to work closely with communities, resource managers, land planners, public agencies, nongovernmental organizations, and the private sector to advance new research on how weather and climate will impact the environment, economy, and society. These teams will also develop innovative ways to integrate climate information into decision-making.

For more than 20 years, the RISA Program has produced actionable weather and climate research, helping to reduce economic damages that Americans face due to droughts, floods, forest fires, vector-borne diseases, and a host of other extreme weather impacts. A network of 11 RISA teams across the country works hand-in-hand with stakeholders and decision makers across the United States to ensure that research and information is responsive and able to effectively support responses to extreme events. The interagency National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS) co-funds drought components of these awards.

CNAP draws together climate and hydrologic expertise at Scripps with physical and social scientists from DRI, as well as other research institutions in California and Nevada. CNAP research teams have developed collaborations with key decision makers across both states. CNAP has worked closely with Washoe County Emergency Management office, California Energy Commission and has taken a leading role in the three completed and now fourth ongoing, California Climate Assessments. In addition, the team has collaborated with California Department of Water Resources on several of their climate focused efforts and plays a key role in supporting the California Nevada Drought Early Warning System (CA/NV DEWS).

CNAP teams also work closely with fire agencies throughout the West to help officials better understand relationships between climate and fire, build institutional knowledge of fire fighters, and provide tools and information to help inform fire agency decisions.

In Nevada, CNAP teams work with Great Basin tribes to understand barriers to climate data and has helped develop a resilience plan with Washoe County. Most recently CNAP is working with Southern Nevada Water Authority, Science Climate Alliance – South Coast, and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) on climate related projects. RISA is a program in the Climate Program Office, within NOAA’s Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research.

More information about the RISA program and teams is available at http://cpo.noaa.gov/Meet-the-Divisions/Climate-and-Societal-Interactions/RISA/RISA-Teams.

Learn more about CNPA at – https://scripps.ucsd.edu/programs/cnap/cnap-program/

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The Desert Research Institute (DRI) is a recognized world leader in investigating the effects of natural and human-induced environmental change and advancing technologies aimed at assessing a changing planet. For more than 50 years DRI research faculty, students, and staff have applied scientific understanding to support the effective management of natural resources while meeting Nevada’s needs for economic diversification and science-based educational opportunities. With campuses in Reno and Las Vegas, DRI serves as the non-profit environmental research arm of the Nevada System of Higher Education. For more information, please visit www.dri.edu.

Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego, is one of the oldest, largest, and most important centers for global science research and education in the world. Now in its second century of discovery, the scientific scope of the institution has grown to include biological, physical, chemical, geological, geophysical, and atmospheric studies of the earth as a system. Hundreds of research programs covering a wide range of scientific areas are under way today on every continent and in every ocean. The institution has a staff of more than 1,400 and annual expenditures of approximately $195 million from federal, state, and private sources. Scripps operates oceanographic research vessels recognized worldwide for their outstanding capabilities. Equipped with innovative instruments for ocean exploration, these ships constitute mobile laboratories and observatories that serve students and researchers from institutions throughout the world. Birch Aquarium at Scripps serves as the interpretive center of the institution and showcases Scripps research and a diverse array of marine life through exhibits and programming for more than 430,000 visitors each year. Learn more at www.scripps.ucsd.edu and follow us at Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

At the University of California San Diego, we constantly push boundaries and challenge expectations. Established in 1960, UC San Diego has been shaped by exceptional scholars who aren’t afraid to take risks and redefine conventional wisdom. Today, 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 www.ucsd.edu.

NOAA’s Climate Program Office helps improve understanding of climate variability and change in order to enhance society’s ability to plan and respond. NOAA provides science, data, and information that Americans want and need to understand how climate conditions are changing. Without NOAA’s long-term climate observing, monitoring, research, and modeling capabilities we couldn’t quantify where and how climate conditions have changed, nor could we predict where and how they’re likely to change.

DRI Science Alive included in Nevada’s newest list of recommended STEM programs

Reno, NV (Weds, Nov. 8, 2017): The Desert Research Institute (DRI) is proud to announce that Science Alive, the Institute’s K-12 outreach program and home of the Green Box initiative, has been selected for inclusion on the Nevada STEM Advisory Council’s new list of recommended STEM programs.

DRI Science Alive provides inquiry-based STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) curriculum, classroom supplies, and professional trainings to any teacher in Nevada that is interested, free of charge.

The DRI Science Alive program is the only Nevada System of Higher Education (NSHE) program and one of only two non-profit programs (out of 16 total) to earn this commendation.

“This endorsement corroborates DRI’s reputation as a STEM education leader in our state,” said Dr. Kristen Averyt, President of DRI. “We are truly honored to be included in this group.”

The Governor’s Office of Science, Innovation and Technology (OSIT) and the Nevada STEM Advisory Council (Council) announced 16 STEM programs approved for inclusion on the Council’s list of recommended STEM programs in October 2017. Each program’s application was thoroughly evaluated by a group of trained, Nevada-based reviewers according to a Nevada-specific rubric and questions.

“Educators across the State have a mission to provide the best education possible to their students. This list will help teachers, principals, and school districts select the best STEM resources available to meet the needs of their students,” said Kelly Barber, Co-Chair of the Nevada STEM Advisory Council and STEM Coordinator for the Washoe County School District.

In its State Strategic Plan for STEM, the Nevada STEM Advisory Council established priorities and goals to ensure that all of Nevada’s students have the opportunity to gain a high-quality STEM education. The Strategic Plan recommends that Nevada identify and fund evidence-based, high-quality formal and informal STEM practices and programs. In order to determine which STEM programs meet this evidence-based, high-quality standard, OSIT and the STEM Advisory Council partnered with Change the Equation and WestEd to develop review criteria and vet STEM programs for inclusion on a list of recommended programs for funding. Programs that met the eligibility criteria for the national STEMworks database were eligible for consideration to be included on Nevada’s list.

“I am very impressed with the programs that made the Council’s list. This list of recommended STEM pro-grams will be a great resource for both the State and for our schools to guide funding decisions toward pro-grams that have demonstrated rigor in content, evaluation, replicability, and sustainability,” said Brian Mitchell, Director of OSIT. “I want to thank the evaluators from across Nevada for lending their time and expertise to review the applications.”

Inclusion on STEM Advisory Council’s list does not guarantee funding. In Nevada, schools and school districts make curricular, professional development, and other funding decisions. However, school districts in Nevada may apply for future STEM education funding from the Nevada Department of Education or from OSIT’s K-5 STEM Grant to fund STEM programs on the Nevada STEM Advisory Council’s list. Additionally, the Nevada Legislature, local school districts, and private philanthropy in Nevada may also use the Nevada STEM Advisory Council’s list to guide their own STEM education investments. The list is meant as a resource to school leadership; the list is not exhaustive of all good STEM programs and use of the list is not mandatory.

“Our mission with Science Alive is to extend the amazing science and innovation that happens every day at DRI into Nevada’s classrooms,” said Amelia Gulling, DRI Science Alive program administrator. “This incredible honor will not only allow DRI faculty and staff to enhance their collaborations with local teachers, schools and school districts, but also expand our fundraising efforts and community partnerships.”

Since its inception in 2000, DRI’s Science Alive program has reached over 60,000 students, in more than 400 schools, across every county in Nevada.

Learn more about DRI’s Science Alive program at – https://sciencealive.dri.edu/

Read the official OSIT announcement here – http://osit.nv.gov/uploadedFiles/ositnvgov/Content/News/STEMworks%20Announcement%20Press%20Release%20Final(2).pdf

The Desert Research Institute (DRI) is a recognized world leader in investigating the effects of natural and human-induced environmental change and advancing technologies aimed at assessing a changing planet. For more than 50 years DRI research faculty, students, and staff have applied scientific understanding to support the effective management of natural resources while meeting Nevada’s needs for economic diversification and science-based educational opportunities. With campuses in Reno and Las Vegas, DRI serves as the non-profit environmental research arm of the Nevada System of Higher Education. For more information, please visit www.dri.edu.

The Nevada STEM Advisory Council: The mission of the Nevada STEM Advisory Council is to increase student interest and achievement in the fields of science, engineering, technology, and mathematics, leading students to rewarding careers in the New Nevada economy. The STEM Advisory Council is charged with identifying and awarding recognition to students and schools throughout Nevada that excel in STEM.

The Governor’s Office of Science, Innovation and Technology (OSIT): The mission of OSIT is to coordinate, support, and align efforts by K-12 and higher education, workforce development and employers to improve science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education and STEM workforce development so that Nevada’s workforce can meet the demands of its growing economy.

Massive Antarctic Volcanic Eruptions Linked to Abrupt Southern Hemisphere Climate Changes Near the End of the Last Ice Age

Massive Antarctic Volcanic Eruptions Linked to Abrupt Southern Hemisphere Climate Changes Near the End of the Last Ice Age

Above: A 15-meter pan-sharpened Landsat 8 image of the Mount Takahe volcano rising more than 2,000 meters (1.2 miles) above the surrounding West Antarctic ice sheet in Marie Byrd Land, West Antarctica. Credit: Landsat Image Mosaic of Antarctica (LIMA). USGS and NASA, LIMA Viewer, https://lima.gsfc.nasa.gov/. Image Date: March 4, 2015


New findings explain synchronous deglaciation that occurred 17,700 Years Ago

Reno, NV (Sept. 5, 2017) – New findings published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS) by Desert Research Institute (DRI) Professor Joseph R. McConnell, Ph.D., and colleagues document a 192-year series of volcanic eruptions in Antarctica that coincided with accelerated deglaciation about 17,700 years ago.

“Detailed chemical measurements in Antarctic ice cores show that massive, halogen-rich eruptions from the West Antarctic Mt. Takahe volcano coincided exactly with the onset of the most rapid, widespread climate change in the Southern Hemisphere during the end of the last ice age and the start of increasing global greenhouse gas concentrations,” according to McConnell, who leads DRI’s ultra-trace chemical ice core analytical laboratory.

Climate changes that began ~17,700 years ago included a sudden poleward shift in westerly winds encircling Antarctica with corresponding changes in sea ice extent, ocean circulation, and ventilation of the deep ocean. Evidence of these changes is found in many parts of the Southern Hemisphere and in different paleoclimate archives, but what prompted these changes has remained largely unexplained.

“We know that rapid climate change at this time was primed by changes in solar insolation and the Northern Hemisphere ice sheets,” explained McConnell. “Glacial and interglacial cycles are driven by the sun and Earth orbital parameters that impact solar insolation (intensity of the sun’s rays) as well as by changes in the continental ice sheets and greenhouse gas concentrations.”

“We postulate that these halogen-rich eruptions created a stratospheric ozone hole over Antarctica that, analogous to the modern ozone hole, led to large-scale changes in atmospheric circulation and hydroclimate throughout the Southern Hemisphere,” he added. “Although the climate system already was primed for the switch, we argue that these changes initiated the shift from a largely glacial to a largely interglacial climate state. The probability that this was just a coincidence is negligible.”

Furthermore, the fallout from these eruptions – containing elevated levels of hydrofluoric acid and toxic heavy metals – extended at least 2,800 kilometers from Mt. Takahe and likely reached southern South America.

Monica Arienzo works with an ice core sample at DRI.

Monica Arienzo, Ph.D., an assistant research professor of hydrology at DRI, loads an 18,000-year-old sample of the WAIS Divide ice core for continuous chemical analysis using DRI’s ultra-trace ice core analytical system in Reno, Nevada. Credit: DRI Professor Joseph R. McConnell, Ph.D.

How Were These Massive Antarctic Volcanic Eruptions Discovered and Verified?

McConnell’s ice core laboratory enables high-resolution measurements of ice cores extracted from remote regions of the Earth, such as Greenland and Antarctica. One such ice core, known as the West Antarctic Ice Sheet Divide (WAIS Divide) core was drilled to a depth of more than two miles (3,405 meters), and much of it was analyzed in the DRI Ultra-Trace Laboratory for more than 30 different elements and chemical species.

Additional analyses and modeling studies critical to support the authors’ findings were made by collaborating institutions around the U.S. and world.

“These precise, high-resolution records illustrate that the chemical anomaly observed in the WAIS Divide ice core was the result of a series of eruptions of Mt. Takahe located 350 kilometers to the north,” explained Monica Arienzo, Ph.D., an assistant research professor of hydrology at DRI who runs the mass spectrometers that enable measurement of these elements to as low as parts per quadrillion (the equivalent of 1 gram in 1,000,000,000,000,000 grams).

“No other such long-lasting record was found in the 68,000-year WAIS Divide record,” notes Michael Sigl, Ph.D., who first observed the anomaly during chemical analysis of the core. “Imagine the environmental, societal, and economic impacts if a series of modern explosive eruptions persisted for four or five generations in the lower latitudes or in the Northern Hemisphere where most of us live!”

Discovery of this unique event in the WAIS Divide record was not the first indication of a chemical anomaly occurring ~17,700 years ago.

“The anomaly was detected in much more limited measurements of the Byrd ice core in the 1990s,” notes McConnell, “but exactly what it was or what created it wasn’t clear. Most previous Antarctic ice core records have not included many of the elements and chemical species that we study, such as heavy metals and rare earth elements, that characterize the anomaly – so in many ways these other studies were blind to the Mt. Takahe event.”

DRI’s initial findings were confirmed by analysis of replicate samples from WAIS Divide, producing nearly identical results.

“We also found the chemical anomaly in ice from two other Antarctic ice cores including archived samples from the Byrd Core available from the University of Copenhagen and ice from Taylor Glacier in the Antarctic Dry Valleys,” said Nathan Chellman, a graduate student working in McConnell’s laboratory.

Extraction of the WAIS-Divide ice core and analysis in DRI’s laboratory were funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF).

“The WAIS Divide ice core allows us to identify each of the past 30,000 years of snowfall in individual layers of ice, thus enabling detailed examination of conditions during deglaciation,” said Paul Cutler, NSF Polar Programs’ glaciology program manager. “The value of the WAIS Divide core as a high-resolution climate record is clear in these latest results and is another reward for the eight-year effort to obtain it.”

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The Desert Research Institute (DRI) is a recognized world leader in investigating the effects of natural and human-induced environmental change and advancing technologies aimed at assessing a changing planet. For more than 50 years DRI research faculty, students, and staff have applied scientific understanding to support the effective management of natural resources while meeting Nevada’s needs for economic diversification and science-based educational opportunities. With campuses in Reno and Las Vegas, DRI serves as the non-profit environmental research arm of the Nevada System of Higher Education. For more information, please visit www.dri.edu.  

Black Carbon Emissions from Ancient Wildfires Linked to Historical Climate Conditions

Black Carbon Emissions from Ancient Wildfires Linked to Historical Climate Conditions

Monica Arienzo, PhD, assistant research professor of hydrology at DRI, demonstrates part of the black carbon analysis process in the clean room of DRI’s Ice Core Laboratory. Credit DRI.


DRI-led research team publishes longest ice core black carbon record to date

Reno, NV (Aug. 10, 2017): Smoky skies and burnt landscapes are the easily recognizable, local and immediate impacts of large wildfires. Long after these fires are gone, their emissions are cataloged and stored forever in ice covering the Earth’s polar regions.

New research, led by a team at the Desert Research Institute (DRI) in Reno, Nevada, has revealed that Earth’s ancient climate conditions affected large regional scale wildfires.

The new study identifies a link between the concentration of wildfire black carbon (BC) emissions —a type of biomass-burning aerosol particle commonly known as soot—found in Antarctic ice cores and climate conditions in the Southern Hemisphere during the mid-Holocene, about 6,000 years ago.

Led by Monica Arienzo, PhD, an assistant research professor of hydrology at DRI, a team of international researchers used DRI’s unique ultra-trace ice core analytical laboratory to measure BC concentrations in two Antarctic ice cores, ice that contains traces of compounds present in the atmosphere at the time the snow fell. This method allowed researchers to make comparisons to other records, such as lake and marine sediment cores, and develop a high-resolution record of biomass-burning emissions in the Southern Hemisphere from 14 to 2.5 thousand years before present day.

“This is the longest ice core black carbon record published to date,” Arienzo said, “and it tells us a fascinating story about wildfire.”

The new ice core record illustrates that, during the mid-Holocene, decreases in precipitation and soil moisture coupled with increases in temperature and fire season length in regions of South America were mirrored by increased concentrations of BC in Antarctic ice.

“Our analysis gives us a sense of what climate-fire relationships were like before significant human-caused changes to the climate,” explained Joe McConnell, PhD, a study co-author and research professor of hydrology at DRI. “Knowing what climate-fire relationships were like in the past will help scientists make more accurate climate models because they can account for BC contributions from wildfires in addition to those from human sources.”

BC acts as an agent of climate forcing, a process which occurs in the atmosphere when the amount of incoming energy is greater than the amount of outgoing energy, “forcing” the planet to adjust by releasing energy as heat and warming up. This is a natural process, catalyzed by events such as large volcanic eruptions and changes in the sun’s energy output; however, human-caused climate forcing in the form of BC emissions, has increased dramatically since the Industrial Revolution and now is a significant climate forcing agent, second only to carbon dioxide (CO2).

BC also impacts ice sheet albedo, the reflectivity of a surface. Ice and snow have a high albedo because they are very white and reflect much of the sun’s energy. This reflectivity keeps the snow and ice cold and delays melting. Conversely, snow and ice with BC deposits have a lower albedo, causing increased absorption of energy into the snow and ice and more rapid melting.

“Recent precipitation models indicate vast regional changes in rainfall in the Southern Hemisphere in the future,” Arienzo added. “Our findings indicate that such rainfall changes may be accompanied by changes in Southern Hemisphere wildfires. Given that BC emissions from human sources are predicted to increase, our findings are an important factor for climate predictions involving BC impacts.”

The full version of the study—“Holocene black carbon in Antarctica paralleled Southern Hemisphere climate”—is available online at – http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/2017JD026599/full

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The Desert Research Institute (DRI) is a recognized world leader in investigating the effects of natural and human-induced environmental change and advancing technologies aimed at assessing a changing planet. For more than 50 years DRI research faculty, students, and staff have applied scientific understanding to support the effective management of natural resources while meeting Nevada’s needs for economic diversification and science-based educational opportunities. With campuses in Reno and Las Vegas, DRI serves as the non-profit environmental research arm of the Nevada System of Higher Education. For more information, please visit www.dri.edu.

Source of Arctic Mercury Pollution Identified in New Study

Source of Arctic Mercury Pollution Identified in New Study

Researchers monitored mercury levels at Toolik Field Station, northern Alaska, in part, with this meteorological tower (foreground). Credit: Daniel Oberist, DRI.


DRI research team part of international effort to understand global impact

Reno, Nev. (July 14, 2017): Vast amounts of toxic mercury are accumulating in the Arctic tundra, threatening the health and well-being of people, wildlife and waterways, according to a new study published this month by an international team of scientists investigating the source of the pollution.

Led by Prof. Daniel Obrist, chairman of UMass Lowell’s Department of Environmental, Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, an atmospheric chemist and former lead of the Desert Research Institute’s (DRI) Mercury Analytical Lab, the study found that airborne mercury is gathering in the Arctic tundra, where it gets deposited in the soil and ultimately runs off into waters. Scientists have long reported high levels of mercury pollution in the Arctic.

The new research identifies gaseous mercury as its major source and sheds light on how the element gets there.

“Now we understand how such a remote site is so exposed to mercury,” Obrist said. Although the study did not examine the potential impact of global warming, if climate change continues unchecked, it could destabilize these mercury deposits in tundra soils and allow large amounts of the element to find its way into Arctic waters, he added.

Obrist and his colleagues – including students and researchers from DRI – recently completed two years of field research in the tundra, tracking the origin and path of mercury pollution. Working from an observation site in Alaska north of Brooks Range, he and an international group of scientists identified that gaseous mercury in the atmosphere is the source of 70 percent of the pollutant that finds its way into the tundra soil. In contrast, airborne mercury that is deposited on the ground through rain or snow – a more frequent focus of other studies – accounts for just 2 percent of the mercury deposits in the region, Obrist’s team found.

The new research is the most comprehensive investigation on how mercury is deposited in the Arctic. The full results of the study, which was supported by the National Science Foundation, appear in the July 13 edition of the prestigious academic journal Nature.

Mercury is a harmful pollutant, threatening fish, birds and mammals across the globe. The dominant source of mercury pollution in the atmosphere is hundreds of tons of the element that are emitted each year through the burning of coal, mining and other industrial processes across the globe.

This gaseous mercury is lofted to the Arctic, where it is absorbed by plants in a process similar to how they take up carbon dioxide. Then, the mercury is deposited in the soil when the plants shed leaves or die. As a result, the tundra is a significant repository for atmospheric mercury being emitted by industrialized regions of the world.

“This mercury from the tundra soil explains half to two-thirds of the total mercury input into the Arctic Ocean,” Obrist said, adding that scientists had previously estimated mercury runoff from tundra soil supplies 50 to 85 tons of the heavy metal to Arctic waters each year.

Exposure to high levels of mercury over long periods can lead to neurological and cardiovascular problems. The results are being felt by Arctic people and wildlife.

“Mercury has high exposure levels in northern wildlife, such as beluga whales, polar bears, seals, fish, eagles and other birds,” Obrist said. “It also affects human populations, particularly the Inuit, who rely on traditional hunting and fishing.”

Obrist will present the team’s research at the International Conference on Mercury as a Global Pollutant, which will be held Sunday, July 16 through Friday, July 21 in Providence, R.I. The event is the largest scientific conference on mercury pollution, involving nearly 1,000 participants from research institutions, governments and other agencies.

Obrist hopes to continue to investigate whether gaseous mercury is also a dominant source of pollution in other remote lands. Scientists, regulators and policymakers need a better understanding of how the uptake of gaseous mercury in plants and soils is affecting the environment, including the world’s forests, he said.

The research findings underscore the importance of the Minamata Convention on Mercury, the first global treaty that aims to protect human health and the environment from the element’s adverse effects, Obrist said. Signed by the United States and more than 120 other countries, the pact will take effect next month, with the goal of reducing mercury emissions caused by industrialization and other human activities.

Other contributors to the study include scientists from the University of Colorado; Gas Technology Institute in Des Plaines, Ill.; Desert Research Institute in Reno, Nev.; Sorbonne University in Paris, France; and University of Toulouse in Toulouse, France. Additional support for the research was provided by the U.S. Department of Energy, a Marie Sklodowska-Curie grant and funding from the European Research Council and the French National Centre for Scientific Research.

Contributors to this news release included Nancy Cicco, associate director of media relations; and Edwin l. Aguirre, senior science and technology writer/editor, University of Massachusetts Lowell.

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UMass Lowell is a national research university located on a high-energy campus in the heart of a global community. The university offers its more than 17,750 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, vigorous hands-on learning and personal attention from leading faculty and staff, all of which prepare graduates to be ready for work, for life and for all the world offers. http://www.uml.edu

The Desert Research Institute (DRI) is a recognized world leader in investigating the effects of natural and human-induced environmental change and advancing technologies aimed at assessing a changing planet. For more than 50 years DRI research faculty, students, and staff have applied scientific understanding to support the effective management of natural resources while meeting Nevada’s needs for economic diversification and science-based educational opportunities. With campuses in Reno and Las Vegas, DRI serves as the non-profit environmental research arm of the Nevada System of Higher Education. For more information, please visit www.dri.edu

DRI Researchers Identify Connection Between Atmospheric River Events and Avalanche Fatalities in Western United States

RENO, Nev. (July 14, 2017) – Recently published research led by atmospheric scientists at the Desert Research Institute (DRI) demonstrates a connection between the occurrence of atmospheric river (AR) events and avalanche fatalities in the West.

Published in the May issue of the Journal of Hydrometeorology, the pilot study assessed avalanche reports, weather station data, and a catalog of AR data from a previous study to determine that AR conditions were present for 105 unique avalanches between 1998 and 2014, resulting in 123 fatalities (31 percent of all western avalanche fatalities during this time frame).

Atmospheric Rivers, as described by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), are “relatively long, narrow regions in the atmosphere – like rivers in the sky – that transport most of the water vapor outside of the tropics.”

When ARs make landfall on the West Coast of the US they release water vapor as rain or snow, supplying 30 to 50 percent of annual precipitation in the West and contributing to cool season (November to April) extreme weather events and flooding.

Researchers conclude that the intense precipitation associated with AR events is paralleled by an increase in avalanche fatalities. Coastal regions experience the highest percentage of avalanche fatalities during AR conditions; however, the ratio of avalanche deaths during AR conditions to the total number of AR days is actually higher further inland, in states like Colorado and Utah.

“Although ARs are less frequent in inland locations, they have relatively more important roles in intermountain and continental regions where snowpacks are characteristically weaker and less capable of supporting heavy rain or snowfall,” explained Benjamin Hatchett, a postdoctoral fellow of meteorology at DRI and lead author on the study.

“This means that avalanche forecasters, ski resort employees, backcountry skiers, and emergency managers who have an increased awareness of forecasted AR conditions can potentially reduce exposure to resultant avalanche hazards, particularly if snowpack conditions already indicate weakness,” he added.

The study also reports that shallow snowpacks weakened by persistent cold and dry weather can produce deadly and widespread avalanche cycles when combined with AR conditions. Climate projections indicate that this combination is likely to become more frequent in the mid- to late- 21st century, which could create significant avalanche risk to winter backcountry enthusiasts in the West.

“With increasing numbers of recreational backcountry users and changing mountain snowpack conditions, we might expect the future to be characterized by enhanced exposure to avalanche hazard throughout the western United States,” Hatchett said. “Our results provide motivation to further increase public awareness about avalanche threats during AR events.”

Including integrated vapor transport (IVT) forecasting tools in analyses of avalanche danger, researchers suggest, could potentially allow experts to increase the accuracy of avalanche forecasts when AR conditions are present. These tools can identify structure and movement of ARs when they make landfall, and also model how ARs move inland through gaps in mountainous terrain and cause heavy precipitation further inland.

“Our study provides motivation for additional examinations of avalanche data and meteorological conditions,” Hatchett said. “Our team recommends that following all, but especially fatal, avalanches, as much detailed information should be recorded as possible so that the field can continue to learn about the relationship between atmospheric river events and avalanches.”

The full version of the study – “Avalanche Fatalities during Atmospheric River Events in the Western United States” – is available online at the link below. http://journals.ametsoc.org/doi/full/10.1175/JHM-D-16-0219.1

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The Desert Research Institute (DRI) is a recognized world leader in investigating the effects of natural and human-induced environmental change and advancing technologies aimed at assessing a changing planet. For more than 50 years DRI research faculty, students, and staff have applied scientific understanding to support the effective management of natural resources while meeting Nevada’s needs for economic diversification and science-based educational opportunities. With campuses in Reno and Las Vegas, DRI serves as the non-profit environmental research arm of the Nevada System of Higher Education. For more information, please visit www.dri.edu.

DRI secures $47 million to continue work for U.S. Department of Energy

LAS VEGAS, Nev. (May 18, 2017): Building on more than 40 years of service to the U.S. Department of Energy, the Desert Research Institute (DRI) announced today it has been awarded a long-term research contract to support the national security mission of the Nevada National Security Site (NNSS).

The new Technical Research, Engineering, and Development Services contract has a value of up to $47.7 million and extends for up to five years. DRI faculty and staff will provide scientific and engineering services to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), National Nuclear Security Administration/Nevada Field Office in support of nuclear stockpile stewardship, nonproliferation and counterterrorism, emergency response to radiological and nuclear events, remediation and restoration of legacy environmental issues, cultural resources compliance, and sustainable land stewardship.

“This is the largest multi-disciplinary research program at DRI,” said Dr. Robert Gagosian, DRI Acting President. “We have a superb team of people from across the Institute – on both our Las Vegas and Reno campuses – who are dedicated to serving DOE in this very important effort in support of our nation’s security.”

DRI contributes to nearly all of the DOE Nevada Field Office’s major programs.

DRI faculty and staff apply their expertise to environmental restoration and waste management for activities such as groundwater modeling and sampling, and evaluation of soil stability. Experienced faculty serve as advisors for the stockpile stewardship program ensuring national defense readiness, and contribute to research teams developing new tools for detecting nuclear tests in support of treaty verification and nuclear nonproliferation. Historic and cultural resources scientists support DOE in conducting operations in compliance with regulations and facilitating involvement with affected Tribal groups. DRI scientists also work in Nevada communities around the NNSS to operate a citizen-based environmental monitoring program.

“New research will include seismic hammer experiments to improve detection of foreign underground nuclear tests, and flood hazard assessments for site facilities,” explained Jenny Chapman, Program Manager for DRI’s DOE contract, and a research hydrogeologist. “As well, DRI’s archaeologists will continue their cultural resources evaluations of prehistoric and historic structures and artifacts on the NNSS, including documentation of the significant role the NNSS played in the Cold War.”

Continuing research will include investigating the way groundwater and contaminants move through fractures in rock at the Pahute Mesa underground nuclear test area; and identifying the impact of wildfire on soil erosion to support long-term stewardship of lands with residual surface contamination and ensure the protection of wildland firefighters.

The contract also renews support for the operation of the Community Environmental Monitoring Program in both urban and rural locations throughout Southern Nevada, Utah, and California, with radiation and weather data collection by local community representatives.

Steven J. Lawrence, National Nuclear Security Administration, Nevada Field Office Manager said, “The Nevada National Security Site (NNSS) looks forward to its continued association with the Nevada System of Higher Education. Through the Desert Research Institute and it’s cadre of internationally known scientists and research efforts, the NNSS will continue to benefit from the wealth of expertise they bring to the table.”

Although much of DRI’s work for the U.S. Department of Energy is directed to the NNSS, DRI also conducts research on other sites through its contract where the DOE Nevada Field Office has responsibilities. DRI performs research for DOE in collaboration with other organizations including Los Alamos, Livermore, and Sandia National Laboratories; with the U.S. Geological Survey; and with private sector companies including NSTec and Navarro.

For more information about DRI visit www.dri.edu

For more information about the NNSS visit http://www.nnss.gov/

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The Desert Research Institute (DRI) is a recognized world leader in investigating the effects of natural and human-induced environmental change and advancing technologies aimed at assessing a changing planet. For more than 50 years DRI research faculty, students, and staff have applied scientific understanding to support the effective management of natural resources while meeting Nevada’s needs for economic diversification and science-based educational opportunities. With campuses in Reno and Las Vegas, DRI serves as the non-profit environmental research arm of the Nevada System of Higher Education. For more information, please visit www.dri.edu.

New Technology Company Comes to Nevada to Focus on Water Quality

LAS VEGAS, Nev. (Apr. 19, 2017) — With support from WaterStart, Australia-based water technology company STAR Water Solutions announced plans to pilot a new project with researchers from the Desert Research Institute (DRI).

The project will utilize the company’s state of the art water treatment and reuse technologies that deliver proven, cost effective and efficient water filtration for urban stormwater, industrial mining and agricultural runoff and industrial waste water systems.

The partnership is the result of a connection made by the Governor’s Office of Economic Development during a trade mission to the Queensland Government in 2016.

With assistance from DRI scientists, STAR Water Solutions staff will work to characterize locally available materials in Nevada, identify filtration material performance efficacy and establish manufacturing distribution channels within the state for the development of recycled and sustainably procured bio-filters.

“We are really looking forward to showcasing our unique technologies in Nevada and furthering water innovation for the state,” said Chris Rochfort, CEO of STAR Water Solutions. “This is an opportunity for STAR Water to target large scale projects, with the help of DRI, that will focus on improving water quality in the state.”

The collaboration hopes to create new analytical practices, manufacturing opportunities, new beneficial uses for recycled materials, and advance water filtration system performance outcomes with significant environmental, social and economic results.

“Developing and testing innovative water quality management practices is a priority for researchers at DRI and the state of Nevada, and we welcome this opportunity to develop a new partnership with STAR Water Solutions,” said Alan Heyvaert, Ph.D, a limnologist and leading water quality expert at DRI. “Their advanced water filtration technology and global experience linked with our research capabilities demonstrates how science-driven technological innovation is growing new industries in Nevada.”

With operations across Australia, Singapore, Canada and the U.S., STAR Water Solutions has built a global network in which it provides systems and solutions that address major infrastructure challenges related to water and the environment.

“We are thrilled to welcome STAR Water to Nevada as part of this strategic partnership with DRI,” said Nate Allen, Executive Director of WaterStart. “Their innovative technology will contribute to local business growth and addressing water quality challenges in both Nevada and the U.S.”


International leaders in advanced bio-filtration and bio retention systems resulting from extensive, long term research & development, STAR Water Solutions provide “state of the art” treatment and reuse technologies that deliver proven, cost effective and efficient performance for urban stormwater, industrial, mining and agricultural runoff and industrial waste water systems. STAR Water holds an exclusive worldwide license for Reactive Filter Media™ technology. For more information, visit www.starwater.com.au.

Desert Research Institute (DRI), the nonprofit research arm of the Nevada System of Higher Education, is a world leader in environmental sciences through the application of knowledge and technologies to improve people’s lives throughout Nevada and the world. For more information about DRI please visit www.dri.edu.

WaterStart operates in a region of proven first adopters, sitting at the nexus of technology, research and economic development. WaterStart provides channels for innovation for various stakeholders and water resource managers; including: technology companies, management agencies and policy makers and provides services ranging from commercialization funding to business development. As it continues to bring together strategic resources and expertise, its core mission will create quality job growth and help diversify the economy of the region. For more information, visit www.waterstart.com

Celebrating over 15 years of science in the classroom

DRI Science Alive Program launches new brand, new tools for Nevada’s teachers

RENO, Nev. (Apr. 13, 2017) – Building on nearly two decades of science education and outreach across Nevada, the Desert Research Institute today announced a new brand and renewed focus for its preK-12 outreach program.

DRI’s Science Alive program – formerly known as Green Power – has expanded its reach to provide Nevada’s preK-12 educators with a comprehensive set of modern tools and resources focused on science-based, environmental education.

“Our mission with Science Alive is to extend the amazing science and innovation that happens every day at DRI into the classroom,” said Amelia Gulling, DRI Science Alive program administrator.

Science Alive provides inquiry-based STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) curriculum, classroom supplies, and professional trainings to any teacher in Nevada that is interested.

Green Boxes
Through its Green Boxes, self-contained teaching kits, Science Alive offers educators from any grade level a unit of lesson plans and all of the classroom and field supplies necessary to engage students in hands-on projects that foster critical thinking and problem solving skills.

Science Alive offers more than 100 Green Boxes with Next Generation Science Standards based lessons designed to enhance student literacy in various STEM subject areas – from the water cycle and soil science to the life cycle of garbage and harnessing the sun’s energy.

“Thanks to the generous support from our long-time program sponsors, such as NV Energy, we are able to offer Green Boxes as a completely free resource to any formal or informal educator in Nevada,” explained Gulling.

Since their inception in 2000, Green Boxes have reached over 65,000 students, in more than 400 schools, across every county in the state.

DRI Science Alive Program launches new brand, new tools for Nevada’s teachers

Reno, Nev. – Building on nearly two decades of science education and outreach across Nevada, the Desert Research Institute today announced a new brand and renewed focus for its preK-12 outreach program.

DRI’s Science Alive program – formerly known as Green Power – has expanded its reach to provide Nevada’s preK-12 educators with a comprehensive set of modern tools and resources focused on science-based, environmental education.

“Our mission with Science Alive is to extend the amazing science and innovation that happens every day at DRI into the classroom,” said Amelia Gulling, DRI Science Alive program administrator.

Science Alive provides inquiry-based STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) curriculum, classroom supplies, and professional trainings to any teacher in Nevada that is interested.

Green Boxes

Through its Green Boxes, self-contained teaching kits, Science Alive offers educators from any grade level a unit of lesson plans and all of the classroom and field supplies necessary to engage students in hands-on projects that foster critical thinking and problem solving skills.

Science Alive offers more than 100 Green Boxes with Next Generation Science Standards based lessons designed to enhance student literacy in various STEM subject areas – from the water cycle and soil science to the life cycle of garbage and harnessing the sun’s energy.

“Thanks to the generous support from our long-time program sponsors, such as NV Energy, we are able to offer Green Boxes as a completely free resource to any formal or informal educator in Nevada,” explained Gulling.

Since their inception in 2000, Green Boxes have reached over 65,000 students, in more than 400 schools, across every county in the state.

Teacher Trainings
Science Alive also offers a multitude of teacher trainings, professional development workshops, and field sessions centered on science and innovation.

As part of the STEM Stream at DRI – a career-long and lifelong continuum for STEM research, education, and application – Science Alive teacher trainings are designed to expand educators’ possibilities, promote professional networking, and often count toward educators’ continuing education credits and serve as in-service credit days from the Nevada Department of Education.

In early March, Science Alive partnered with Nevada State College and welcomed more than 30 teachers to explore Unmanned Air Systems (UAS) as a fun and engaging way to incorporate STEM into the classroom. Educators who attend this free training developed UAS curriculum that will be turned into a UAS Green Box for state-wide use next school year.

Community Partnerships
Originally developed to promote renewable energy technologies in Nevada’s schools, Science Alive has since secured a depth of community partners and program funding sponsors from across nearly off of Nevada’s key industries and business sectors.

“We are extremely proud to have helped DRI grow this tremendous community resource into the robust program it is today,” Mary Simmons, Vice President of Business Development and Community Strategy for NV Energy. “NV Energy has a strong tradition of community involvement and is committed to improving education at all levels in the communities where we live and work.”

Together, NV Energy customer donations and grants from the NV Energy Foundation have provided more than $1 million in resources to help Science Alive promote renewable energy preK-12 education and conscious living practices since 2000.
Science Alive will continue its advocacy of renewable energy and conservation through its EnergySmart Education Series – which will provide teacher trainings, Green Boxes, school support, field trips, and a speaker series for preK-12 educators with an emphasis on energy, energy efficiency, and related topics.

For more information on DRI’s Science Alive program visit sciencealive.dri.edu

Science Alive also offers a multitude of teacher trainings, professional development workshops, and field sessions centered on science and innovation.

As part of the STEM Stream at DRI – a career-long and lifelong continuum for STEM research, education, and application – Science Alive teacher trainings are designed to expand educators’ possibilities, promote professional networking, and often count toward educators’ continuing education credits and serve as in-service credit days from the Nevada Department of Education.

In early March, Science Alive partnered with Nevada State College and welcomed more than 30 teachers to explore Unmanned Air Systems (UAS) as a fun and engaging way to incorporate STEM into the classroom. Educators who attend this free training developed UAS curriculum that will be turned into a UAS Green Box for state-wide use next school year.

Community Partnerships
Originally developed to promote renewable energy technologies in Nevada’s schools, Science Alive has since secured a depth of community partners and program funding sponsors from across nearly off of Nevada’s key industries and business sectors.

“We are extremely proud to have helped DRI grow this tremendous community resource into the robust program it is today,” Mary Simmons, Vice President of Business Development and Community Strategy for NV Energy. “NV Energy has a strong tradition of community involvement and is committed to improving education at all levels in the communities where we live and work.”

Together, NV Energy customer donations and grants from the NV Energy Foundation have provided more than $1 million in resources to help Science Alive promote renewable energy preK-12 education and conscious living practices since 2000.

Science Alive will continue its advocacy of renewable energy and conservation through its EnergySmart Education Series – which will provide teacher trainings, Green Boxes, school support, field trips, and a speaker series for preK-12 educators with an emphasis on energy, energy efficiency, and related topics.

For more information on DRI’s Science Alive program visit sciencealive.dri.edu