Inspiring solutions: DRI’s Community Environmental Monitoring Program tracks radioactivity in Nevada’s air and water

Inspiring solutions: DRI’s Community Environmental Monitoring Program tracks radioactivity in Nevada’s air and water

Inspiring solutions: DRI’s Community Environmental Monitoring Program tracks radioactivity in Nevada’s air and water
March 7, 2022
LAS VEGAS, NV
By Kelsey Fitzgerald
CEMP
Radiation Monitoring
Citizen Science

Above: Community Environmental Monitoring Program (CEMP) Station on DRI’s campus in Las Vegas.

Credit: Tommy Gugino.
“Inspiring Solutions” is a six-part series exploring DRI projects that put data to work in creative ways to solve the problems that matter. Our first post in this series features the work of DRI’s Community Environmental Monitoring Program (CEMP). The CEMP, which recently celebrated 40 years of radiation monitoring around the Nevada National Security Site, is one of the Institute’s longest-running programs – and its earliest citizen science success story.
Imagine this: You live in a Southern Nevada community located close to a historic nuclear testing site. You’ve heard stories from older relatives about watching mushroom clouds from atomic testing back in the 1950s and stories about “downwinders” in neighboring states who later developed cancer. Although nuclear testing stopped almost three decades ago, you can’t help but wonder about the unseen hazards that might be carried in the air on windy days. Or what might be slowly seeping into your drinking water.

For residents of communities surrounding the Nevada National Security Site (NNSS), these concerns are not imaginary — they are questions of everyday life. The NNSS, formerly the Nevada Test Site, was ground zero for more than 900 underground and atmospheric nuclear tests between 1951 and 1992. Today, the NNSS is used for a variety of missions related to national security rather than as a full-scale nuclear testing site, but public concern about exposure to harmful radiation lives on.

For more than 40 years, DRI’s Community Environmental Monitoring Program (CEMP) has worked to address fears about radiation exposure and provide answers to the concerned public in communities surrounding the NNSS through a simple but impactful solution: putting radioactivity data in the hands of the people.

Don Curry checks CEMP Station gages

Station Manager Don Curry checks the gages at the Community Environmental Monitoring Program Station on the DRI campus in Las Vegas. Curry has been part of the CEMP since 1991.

Credit: Tommy Gugino.
The CEMP: a brief history

Founded in 1981 as a collaborative effort involving DRI, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the Department of Energy (DOE), which funds the program through the National Nuclear Security Administration’s Nevada Field Office, the CEMP operates a network of 23 radiation and environmental monitoring stations spread throughout Southern Nevada, Utah, and California. Each station is staffed by pairs of local citizens who serve as points of contact for residents of their communities, and who are part of the official chain of custody for air filter samples they collect on a regular basis at the stations.

The program was born during a time when active nuclear testing was still going on at the NNSS. It was not long after the 1979 nuclear accident at Three Mile Island, and public distrust for the government was running high. In the aftermath of that accident, a group of local concerned citizens formed an independent monitoring network, which greatly improved public confidence in the monitoring process and results.  Scientists from the DOE and EPA who had been deployed to assist with the monitoring of the Three Mile Island accident brought the idea back to Nevada, and the CEMP was born. By providing communities surrounding the NNSS with the tools to monitor radioactivity themselves and trusted community members to help interpret the data, the CEMP proved a powerful way to address citizens’ fears and concerns.

“I’m a huge proponent of giving the public a hands-on role that goes way above and beyond what the regulations might require,” said CEMP Project Director Ted Hartwell of DRI. “All of these stations are placed with the idea that we want them to be very publicly visible. A lot of them are at schools. One is at the post office in Beatty and one is at the post office in Tecopa. We have one at Southern Utah University in Cedar City and one at the BLM offices in Ely. The whole idea is that they’re visible, they’ll attract attention, and they’re staffed by trusted neighbors.”

In 1999, full technical operation of the CEMP was turned over from the EPA to DRI, and Hartwell took the helm as project director. Stations were upgraded to include meteorological instrumentation, and DRI scientist Greg McCurdy developed a program website, which for the first time allowed members of the public to access radioactivity and weather data in near real-time.

Today, DRI continues to administer the program, which employs a network of 46 Community Environmental Monitors (two per station) and 10 DRI scientists, staff members, and student interns who assist with various aspects of the program, including performing regular station maintenance, sample processing, website administration, and public outreach activities.

radioactive plume smoke
Troops of the Battalion Combat Team, U.S. Army 11th Airborne Division, watch a plume of radioactive smoke rise after the Dog Test at at Yucca Flats on the NNSS, Nov 1, 1951.
Credit: Corporal Alexander McCaughey, U.S. Army Photographic Signal Corps. Public domain image. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Exercise_Desert_Rock_I_(Buster-Jangle_Dog)_001.jpg.
A dedicated volunteer base

Many program participants are new arrivals, but some have been with the CEMP for decades. The people of the CEMP, says Hartwell, are the true power behind the program. They are responsible for collecting data, and more importantly, they are the connecting force that relays the data back to their communities. About half of the program participants are science teachers, who are encouraged to include the information they learn from the program into their lessons.

Don Curry, age 83, is one of the program’s longest-serving participants – a CEMP station manager in Las Vegas for more than 30 years. He began with the program in 1991, not long after moving to Las Vegas to teach high school biology. For Curry, the CEMP provided an amazing opportunity to integrate real-world environmental data into the lessons that he did with his students.

“My students would go to the CEMP station to check on it; some took it on as their own class research projects and started communicating with other station managers in Utah and Nevada,” Curry said. “I used it in my environmental science classes to teach kids about radiation and how it affects the environment. We also worked with the EPA to develop an international radon testing network, where we collected samples from all over the world, and kids learned how to do radon testing themselves.”

The long-term impact of the program on his students was significant, Curry said.

“Anything that shows kids what a professional scientist does is astounding to them; it gives them a foot in the door. For a kid to see that they can have a career and get paid for working in science, that’s very cool. Having kids exposed to that is very important.”

Curry retired from teaching in 2009 but remains active as an AP biology tutor and visits his CEMP station several times per week. For Curry, some of the best parts about being a CEMP station manager have been the opportunity to participate in things that are happening at DRI  and the tremendous amount he has learned about radiation issues.

Each summer, the CEMP organizes a workshop for program participants, in which prominent experts from the radiation research community are invited to speak on timely topics – for example, updates from Chernobyl or Fukushima. These are typically held in person, although the past two years’ workshops were held virtually due to COVID.

“The CEMP has been one of the highlights of my career because it has connected me to numerous things in many directions,” Curry said. “While I was teaching, it was one of the most important things I did all year. Now that I’m retired, I love having the CEMP as a small window into all of the things that are happening at the DRI campus.”

CEMP Station data collection

Station Manager Don Curry collects data at the Community Environmental Monitoring Program Station on the DRI campus in Las Vegas. Curry and a second CEMP team member visit the station three times per week.

Credit: Tommy Gugino.
Lessons learned

So, what has the CEMP learned over 40 years of radioactivity monitoring? For the most part, they’ve been able to show their communities that there’s nothing to be afraid of.

“This is a program that’s been around for a lot of years, but we’ve never seen anything that would be of concern to the general population,” said Don Newman, another long-time CEMP participant who began as a station manager in Cedar City, Utah in 1990.

CEMP data has helped dispel rumors and ease fears when accidents occur near the NNSS. Once, they were able to prove that a small test rocket that landed near Goldfield, Nevada was not nuclear-related. Another time, the data helped ease public concerns after an accident involving medical isotopes on the highway between Beatty and Goldfield.

The Fukushima nuclear accident in 2011 was a big moment for the program, Hartwell and Newman recall. The CEMP stations were the first to both detect and publicly report the detection of radionuclides from that accident in Japan here in Nevada.

“That was a pretty serious event, but it also really showed that our network was functioning as it should,” Hartwell said. “We were able to pick up these radionuclides of concern from a source several thousands of miles away, and yet we haven’t detected anything like that coming from the NNSS, which is just 75 or 100 miles up the road from Las Vegas, since full-scale testing ceased in 1992.

“Additionally, we were able to assist our local representatives in conveying accurate information to their communities to help them realize that, while we were certain that we were detecting radionuclides from an accident thousands of miles away, the exposure levels were thousands to millions of times less here in the United States than the ionizing radition we’re exposed to 24/7 from the natural environment,” Hartwell added.

As time passes, public concern has shifted from the risk of airborne radiation to concern about what is in the groundwater, says Hartwell. About ten years ago, contaminants were detected in the groundwater outside the boundaries of the NNSS, but still a long way from public water sources.

The CEMP has performed water testing in the communities that are downgradient from the NNSS for decades, and works closely with Nye County, which operates a separate community-based water monitoring program, to convey the results of these studies to participants. At present, they have not detected any traces of contamination in the water, but if they do, their communities can rest assured that the CEMP monitors will be the first to let them know about it.

“It’s one of those programs where it goes along quietly for a long time, then there’s some event that CEMP participates in that really brings home the importance of the program,” said Hartwell.

More information:

For more information on the CEMP, please visit: https://cemp.dri.edu/. CEMP personnel are  happy to provide presentations for classrooms, organizations or events. If you have a group interested in a presentation on the CEMP and the history of nuclear testing in Nevada, please contact Ted Hartwell (Ted.Hartwell@dri.edu) or place a presentation request through the project website: CEMP Presentation Request Form (dri.edu).

DRI faculty and staff who work on the CEMP program include: Ted Hartwell, Beverly Parker, Cheryl Collins, Greg McCurdy, Lynn Karr, John Goreham, Patriz Rivera, Pam Lacy, Rebekah Stevenson, and Sydney Wahls.

New USDA Grant to Support Climate Resilience Planning in Indian Country

New USDA Grant to Support Climate Resilience Planning in Indian Country

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

More information:

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

 

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About DRI

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

New DRI Internship Program Focuses on Mentorship for Inclusion in STEM

New DRI Internship Program Focuses on Mentorship for Inclusion in STEM

New DRI Internship Program Focuses on Mentorship for Inclusion in STEM

Oct 26, 2021
RENO, NEV.

By Kelsey Fitzgerald

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

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

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

Riccardo Panella and John Cooper in lab

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

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

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

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

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

Student intern Mary Andres
Riccardo Panella and Mary Andres

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

Credit: DRI.

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

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

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

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

Student Intern John Cooper

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

Credit: DRI.

More Information:

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

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

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About DRI

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

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

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

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

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

By: Mike Wolterbeek, University of Nevada Reno

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From COVID-19 to Drought: Collaborating on Emerging Challenges Across Indian Country

From COVID-19 to Drought: Collaborating on Emerging Challenges Across Indian Country

From COVID-19 to Drought:

Collaborating on Emerging Challenges Across Indian Country

July 27, 2021
RENO, NEV.

By Kelsey Fitzgerald

COVID-19
Drought
Emergency Response

Featured work by the Native Waters on Arid Lands project’s COVID-19 Working Group.

On a recent Friday, Maureen McCarthy, Ph.D., of the Desert Research Institute (DRI) and Vicki Hebb of the University of Nevada, Reno (UNR) did the same thing they’ve done each Friday since the COVID-19 pandemic began, nearly 70 Fridays ago: they kicked off a weekly Zoom call with the Native Waters on Arid Lands (NWAL) project’s COVID-19 Working Group, an ever-expanding network of Tribal Extension Agents, agricultural producers, educators, and federal agency leaders from U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and other agencies across the U.S. that are working together to solve problems and share information across Indian Country.

On the call were many regulars and a few new faces, whom McCarthy and Hebb greeted warmly, chatting about recent hot weather in South Dakota, Montana, and elsewhere around the U.S. before getting into the day’s agenda. First, weekly updates from program leaders of the USDA Office of Tribal Relations, USDA-National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), FEMA, and the Intertribal Agriculture Council (IAC) on new programs, grant opportunities, and upcoming events. Then, a presentation on the week’s featured topic – an update on wildfire projections for the coming summer from Nick Nauslar, Bureau of Land Management fire meteorologist with the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise.

“Basically, we’re just problem solving and information sharing,” said McCarthy, program director for NWAL. “We have people each week who give regular updates from their agencies, and then we have a featured topic that’s related to the ongoing challenges or interests of the group – which could be anything from food security to COVID vaccine education to drought briefings. We’ve created a platform that didn’t exist before in Indian Country for people to share information among themselves.”

NWAL Team member Kyle Bocinsky presents to the COVID19 Working Group in April 2021.

NWAL Team member Kyle Bocinsky presents information on drought to the COVID-19 Working Group during a Zoom call in April 2021.

Credit: DRI.

New problems, new platform

The COVID-19 pandemic produced unexpected challenges for people in all parts of the world, but hit particularly hard in many reservation communities across the U.S. due to factors such as lack of access to clean water, overcrowded homes, intergenerational families, high rates of disease, lack of access to health care, and economic challenges. In mid-March of 2020, several members of the NWAL team reported to McCarthy that tribes in their regions were facing a number of dire pandemic-related problems; in response, McCarthy, Hebb, Trent Teegerstrom (tribal extension director for the University of Arizona), and Staci Emm (tribal extension coordinator for UNR) began organizing weekly Zoom calls with USDA program leaders and NWAL tribal partners from across Indian Country to facilitate direct communication about urgent on-the-ground issues.

“There were loads of problems,” McCarthy said. “People were confused about what COVID was. They didn’t know what was going on. Hopi and Navajo didn’t have wood, they didn’t have water, they didn’t have PPE (personal protective equipment), they were running out of food. They were running out of hay for their livestock.”

The first several calls provided a platform for tribal members and tribal extension agents from various reservations to communicate their most urgent challenges and needs. They also featured briefings from medical professionals about what COVID-19 was, how it was spreading, and what actions could be taken by tribal communities and educators. From there, connections were made, and the group slowly expanded in size and scope.

“When we started, we thought we would do these calls for a few weeks or a few months,” Hebb said. “It grew from our immediate group – the Native Waters on Arid Lands team – to now having representatives from tribes all over the country, including Alaska, as well as key tribal agricultural organizations and federal agency partners. Now we’re more than a year into it, with close to 200 people on the weekly invite list.”

Linked image: Click to continue to NWAL's "COVID19 in Indian Country" StoryMap

The NWAL team’s ArcGIS StoryMap, “COVID-19 in Indian Country,” tracked impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic shared on the weekly Zoom calls, as well as the group’s COVID-19 response projects. Click the photo above to view the StoryMap

Projects and accomplishments

One of the group’s earliest accomplishments was to develop a list of urgent issues and actionable items for federal agency partners. Requests included reimbursements for farmers who had to keep animals alive during livestock trading shutdowns, loan relief to cover grazing leases, funding for local food production programs, and improved access to medical supplies and COVID-19 test kits.

Certain problems voiced on the calls were solved just by putting the right people in touch with each other. For example, on a call in May 2020, representatives from the Hopi Tribe and Navajo Nation spoke to the desperate need for firewood to heat their homes. A Forest Service representative offered up a supply of wood from a nearby forest thinning project and others from the Working Group joined forces to locate a trucking company and make it happen, resulting in the delivery of more than 100 cords of wood to Hopi and Navajo communities.

As other challenges surfaced, the Working Group mobilized to assist. When hay was in short supply on the Hopi Reservation last June, the group coordinated a donation of 350 bales to feed hungry livestock. When water quality became a concern in tribal buildings that were left vacant during COVID-19 closures, the group partnered with a water testing and purification company, Nephros, to analyze water samples. When a representative from an Alaskan Native community spoke to the need for essential non-food items in villages hit hard by COVID-19 last December, the group organized a successful donation drive for items such as cleaning supplies, hand sanitizer, and winter clothing for children. And in February 2021, when call participants voiced concerns about rumors and misinformation around the COVID-19 vaccines, the Working Group created a new website called “Facts Not Fear” to supply accurate information and educational resources to individuals in Indian Country.

“I think this group has just done an enormous amount – we’ve changed a lot of people’s lives, in little ways that were really, really important, especially during COVID,” said Erin Riley, national program leader for USDA-NIFA. “A lot of people really needed assistance, and we were able to provide that. I also think that one thing that we did that was special was we were really able to work together between the government, project directors, non-government organizations, and communities in a way that is a model for how things are supposed to work under our particular political structure.”

Linked image: Pam Lalo, Hopi Veterinarian Technician, unloads hay bales after a hay delivery on June 27, 2020. Link will take you to the full story.

Pam Lalo, Hopi Veterinarian Technician, unloads hay bales after a hay delivery to the Hopi Nation on June 27, 2020. Credit: Robinson Honani, Hopi Department of Natural Resources. Click photo above to read full story.

Linked image: Dump truck delivers wood to the Hopi and Navajo reservations during spring 2020. Link will take you to the full story.

In May 2020, the COVID-19 Working Group arranged for the delivery of more than 100 cords of wood to the Hopi Tribe and Navajo Nation. Click the photo above to read the full story.

Linked image: Donations sent to Alaska by the COVID19 working group and colleagues. Link will take you to the full story.

When a representative from an Alaskan Native community spoke to the need for essential non-food items, the COVID-19 Working Group organized a successful donation drive. Click photo above to read the full story

Linked image: Click to continue to the Facts Not Fear website

In response to concerns about rumors and misinformation around COVID-19 vaccines, the Working Group created a website called “Facts Not Fear.” Click the image above to visit the site. 

Looking forward: From the challenges of COVID-19 to ongoing impacts of extreme drought

Over time, it has become clear that the weekly calls are meeting a need. Although the problems may change from week to week, the benefits of connecting with like-minded partners and tackling big problems together won’t be going away any time soon.

As certain pandemic-related challenges have begun to fade, new challenges are emerging. The southwestern U.S. is now experiencing extreme to exceptional levels of drought, and the Working Group continues to meet weekly via Zoom for a presentation on a timely issue and collaboration on what the group can do to assist. Recent call topics have included drought projections, COVID-19 vaccine information, mental health and farm stress, drought impacts on pollinators and invasive species, and wildfire forecasts.

“I think the most important thing that’s come out of our weekly calls is that there’s a trusted place to exchange information and that we are able to get reliable information out to people on the ground really fast,” Hebb said. “This is really helping tribal producers make decisions that improve their livelihoods.”

More information:

The Native Waters on Arid Lands Project: https://nativewaters-aridlands.com

The NWAL COVID-19 Working Group StoryMap- https://nativewaters-aridlands.com/covid19

Facts Not Fear: https://factsnotfearcovid.com

 

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About DRI

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

About Native Waters on Arid Lands

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Media Resources: photos

Media Contacts:

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

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

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

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

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

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

FEB. 22, 2021
RENO, NEV.

Weather Forecasting
Climate
Citizen Science

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Additional Information:

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

   

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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About the Desert Research Institute

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

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

About the League to Save Lake Tahoe

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

Media Contact:
Chris Joseph, Communications Manager
League to Save Lake Tahoe
805.722.5646
cjoseph@keeptahoeblue.org

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

People-powered research: Citizen science makes microplastics discovery at Lake Tahoe possible

People-powered research: Citizen science makes microplastics discovery at Lake Tahoe possible

Take a moment to picture a scientist who has made a groundbreaking discovery. What does that person look like?

Perhaps it’s a person in a white coat standing in a lab with microscopes and test tubes, or a distinguished professor accepting an award on stage.

What if we told you that you could have pictured yourself?

In citizen science projects, community members like you utilize their curiosity, enthusiasm, and talents alongside professional scientists in real-world research projects. They act as the eyes, ears, or an extra set of hands for scientists, helping to extend the spatial reach of a study or adding important perspectives that scientists cannot provide themselves.

That’s precisely what Lake Tahoe locals did this summer to help DRI scientists identify microplastic pollution in the Lake for the first time ever.

DRI microplastics researchers sample water from the shore of Lake Tahoe in spring 2019.

DRI microplastics researchers sample water from the shore of Lake Tahoe in spring 2019.

 

Why citizen science?
In fall of 2018, Desert Research Institute scientists Monica Arienzo, Zoe Harrold, and Meghan Collins were formulating a project to search for microplastic pollution in the surface waters of Lake Tahoe and in stormwater runoff into the lake. But the team was not satisfied in seeking to identify the presence of microplastic alone—they also wanted to make connections with community members in Tahoe.

“By involving citizen scientists in understanding the problem of microplastics,” explained Arienzo, “we can naturally connect the community to evidence-based solutions to reduce the microplastic problem.”

To recruit citizen scientists, DRI partnered with the League to Save Lake Tahoe, which runs the Pipe Keepers program. Pipe Keepers volunteers throughout the Tahoe Basin collect water samples from stormwater outfalls into Lake Tahoe and monitor for stormwater pollution.

These outfalls, which drain water from roadways, parking lots and neighborhoods into the lake, are a significant source of fine sediment pollution in Lake Tahoe, which threatens the clarity of Tahoe’s famous blue waters. They’re also a potential culprit of microplastic pollution since plastic litter, tires, and other sources can break down into smaller pieces and be swept away with the stormwater.

“Our citizen science programs are a great way to get locals and visitors directly engaged in protecting the Lake,” said Emily Frey, the League’s Citizen Science Program Coordinator. “We’re really excited to contribute to this groundbreaking research.”

Over the course of the 2019 field season, volunteer Pipe Keepers collected 24 liters of water from six sampling sites. Arienzo, Harrold, and Collins also pumped water samples from several places along the Lake’s shoreline surface waters for the study.

In both the stormwater samples and the surface water samples, a large portion of the microplastics found were small fibers, which can come from the breakdown of synthetic clothing. The stormwater represents a point-source of this microplastic pollution, which, in theory, could be mitigated in the future.

Meghan Collins in the Microplastics Lab at DRI's Reno campus, holding a sample collected by a Pipe Keeper. Credit: Cat Allison/Nevada Momentum.

Meghan Collins in the Microplastics Lab at DRI’s Reno campus, holding a sample collected by a Pipe Keeper. Credit: Cat Allison/Nevada Momentum.

Broad benefits
Beyond providing important data for research projects, citizen science also has the power to engage communities in scientific inquiry and inspire care for the places where we live and play.

Laura Schlim has been a volunteer with the Pipe Keepers program for three years, and she worked with the DRI team to collect samples for the microplastics project. The best thing about citizen science for her? It’s fun!

“I’m naturally interested in why things work a certain way,” explained Schlim, a certified California naturalist. “It’s fun to be part of something where I can contribute to the greater body of knowledge while also enjoying the natural world.”

Vesper Rodriguez, a Pipe Keeper since 2018, echoed this sentiment.

“I volunteer because I like to be outside and I have a lot of fun with the projects. Volunteering for the League’s Stewardship Days and their Pipe Keepers program in particular, which allows volunteers to monitor stormwater infrastructure, is really fulfilling,” Rodriguez said. “It’s a rewarding feeling to contribute to the community and the land that I live on.”

Since community members have been vested in the research from the start, the DRI team is optimistic that the findings of their work will be able to go far beyond the lab and begin to solve the microplastic pollution problem in Lake Tahoe.

“A core mission of the DRI team is to generate evidence-based solutions to microplastics in our water, by identifying sources that could be mitigated or finding techniques to better prevent microplastic generation in the first place,” said Collins. “Building a community of citizen scientists creates a strong network of engaged individuals who care and can implement these solutions as they are developed.”

DRI microplastics researchers (beginning top row, from center) Zoe Harrold, Meghan Collins, and Monica Arienzo pose with the Pipe Keeper volunteers on the project. Credit: League to Save Lake Tahoe.

DRI microplastics researchers (beginning top row, from center) Zoe Harrold, Meghan Collins, and Monica Arienzo pose with the Pipe Keeper volunteers on the project. Credit: League to Save Lake Tahoe.

The study on microplastics is one of many active citizen science projects led by DRI and the League to Save Lake Tahoe. DRI also leads Stories in the Snow and Tahoe: Rain or Snow?, projects related to weather and climate in the Sierra Nevada. In addition to the Pipe Keepers program, the League also runs Eyes on the Lake, which helps monitor and prevent the spread of aquatic invasive plants.

Interested in joining the team of citizen scientists in the Sierra Nevada and around Lake Tahoe? Download the Citizen Science Tahoe app to get started.

In addition to volunteering your time to this project, you can also financially support this research effort at the team’s crowdfunding page.

Science of Place: DRI researchers and teachers develop localized science lessons for Native American classrooms

Science of Place: DRI researchers and teachers develop localized science lessons for Native American classrooms

Climate change, in the abstract, can be a difficult phenomenon to comprehend – but on the ground, youth from Native American reservations in Arizona are already experiencing everyday impacts in the form of droughts and warming temperatures.

To help Arizona teachers develop science lesson plans that relate to the cultures and life experiences of indigenous students, researchers from the Desert Research Institute (DRI) recently held a two-day workshop on place-based education at northern Arizona’s STAR School, as part of the Native Waters on Arid Lands (NWAL) project.

“Place-based education utilizes elements of the familiar, such as local landscapes, resources, and experiences, as a foundation for the study of more complex topics,” explained Meghan Collins, M.S., Assistant Research Scientist at DRI and NWAL’s Education Lead. “In this case, we worked with teachers to draw meaningful connections to some of our main project themes of water for agriculture and people, drought and climate connections, and solar energy.”

NWAL teacher workshop

Workshop participants engage in a hands-on demonstration related to solar power at NWAL’s teacher workshop in Arizona. September 14, 2019.

Fourteen teachers attended the September workshop, including K-12 and GED adult educators from the Hopi, Navajo, and Tohono O’odham communities of Arizona. The workshop began with a day of seminars, discussions, and hands-on demonstrations led by researchers from DRI and the University of Arizona (UA). Activities were aimed at helping teachers gain a thorough understanding of the subject matter, and incorporated data and information relevant to reservations of Arizona.

Ed Franklin, Ph.D., (UA) led a professional development seminar on solar energy, using locally-appropriate methods and hands-on examples to demonstrate how solar panels can be used to generate energy and pump water. NWAL team member Alex Lutz, Ph.D., (DRI) led the group through a lesson in water quality, with a focus on salinity and total dissolved solids, using maps of water contamination from the Hopi and Navajo reservations and a hands-on exercise with salinity-meters. NWAL team member Kyle Bocinsky, Ph.D., (DRI/Crow Canyon Archaeological Center) led a seminar on climate and weather patterns, comparing modern-day climate conditions with paleo data from the last 1000 years, through an examination of the local tree ring record.

NWAL teacher workshop

Workshop facilitators and participants counted tree rings as part of Kyle Bocinsky’s dendrochronology demonstration at NWAL’s teacher workshop. Sept 14, 2019.

On the second day of the workshop, NWAL team member Meghan Collins facilitated the group to use a template for developing place-based lesson plans. Teachers and scientists then worked together to create place-based lesson plans that incorporated the requirements of Arizona State Science Standards.

The lesson plans connected elements of each school’s local landscapes and resources with the science lessons from the NWAL/UA researchers. One teacher, who came from a community that will soon be constructing a new school, developed a lesson plan that asked students to calculate whether their new school’s energy needs could be met by solar energy. Another teacher developed a lesson plan for students to collect water quality samples from around their community and have them tested for arsenic, which is present in certain areas of the Hopi Reservation.

“One of the most important parts of this workshop was that the teachers had face-to-face contact with the researchers, so they could develop an understanding of the science that was presented and turn that into something they could teach,” said NWAL Program Director Maureen McCarthy, Ph.D., (DRI/University of Nevada, Reno). “This workshop was a clear demonstration of our team being able to translate research into tangible outcomes that our tribal partners can use.”

NWAL teacher workshop

Workshop participants gather outside of the STAR school for a demonstration on solar power by Ed Franklin of University of Arizona. Sept. 14, 2019.

The idea for the teacher training was sparked during a climate-agriculture resiliency workshop that NWAL held for members of the Hopi and Navajo tribes during March 2019, which centered around the idea of making climate data useful for farmers and ranchers in native communities. Several teachers were in attendance, and wanted to know how to bring local climate science data into their classrooms for the benefit of young and future generations.

The NWAL team planned the September teacher’s workshop and recruited participants, with help from Trent Teegerstrom (UA Tribal Extension Program), Ed Franklin (UA), and Susan Sekaquaptewa (University of Arizona Hopi FRTEP Agent). The STAR school provided a venue, and the director and teachers from the school participated in the workshop and provided a tour of their impressive facility.

“This workshop was an experiment, but it worked extremely well, so we’re going to build on this to do additional workshops this year or next,” McCarthy said.

NWAL teacher workshop

Facilitators and participants from NWAL’s teacher workshop on place-based education. STAR School, September 14-15, 2019.


The Native Waters on Arid Lands project partners researchers and extension experts with tribal communities in the Great Basin and American Southwest to collaboratively understand the impacts of climate change, and to evaluate adaptation options for sustaining water resources and agriculture. Partners in the project include the Desert Research Institute; the University of Nevada, Reno; the University of Arizona; First Americans Land-Grant Consortium; Utah State University; Ohio University; United States Geological Survey; and the Federally Recognized Tribal Extension Program in Nevada and Arizona. This project is funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture. To learn more, please visit: http://nativewaters-aridlands.com.

Problem Plastic: Investigating Microplastic Pollution in Nevada’s Waterways

Problem Plastic: Investigating Microplastic Pollution in Nevada’s Waterways

Photo: A collection of marine debris including microplastics. Credit: NOAA Marine Debris Program/Flickr.


 

Microplastics research at DRI

Even the tiniest pieces of plastic are a big pollution problem.

Microplastics are plastic pieces ranging in size from 5mm to microscopic particles, in other words, the size of a pencil’s eraser or smaller. They come from a variety of sources, including the breakdown of larger products like single-use plastic bottles and from the microbeads in products like facewash and toothpaste.

The extent of microplastic pollution is only just beginning to be understood, with researchers discovering the tiny plastic pieces everywhere from the air we breathe to the deep ocean. Because microplastics are durable, insoluble, and potentially toxic, they could pose threat to natural ecosystems and human health. But to determine the impact of microplastic pollution, researchers must first understand just how much tiny plastic is out there and where it’s coming from.

 

 

DRI’s Monica Arienzo, Zoe Harrold, Meghan Collins, Xuelian Bai, and University of Nevada, Reno undergraduate Julia Davidson are exploring these questions in two bodies of freshwater in Nevada: Lake Tahoe and the Las Vegas Wash.

“There has been a lot of work done to understand how much microplastic is in marine environments, but there have been far fewer studies in freshwater, and far fewer even in alpine lakes,” explained Collins, Education Program Manager at DRI. “This study is really well placed to identify what microplastics may be in the water, their sources, and their characteristics.”

The research team is collecting samples from four different sites in Las Vegas—one in Lake Mead and three in the Las Vegas Wash—and six sites in Lake Tahoe. Sites were selected to include areas both high and low human activity, like the Tahoe Keys with significant boat traffic and Emerald Bay State Park where human impact is low. Additional sampling was also conducted at three stormwater outfalls into Lake Tahoe in collaboration with the League to Save Lake Tahoe’s Pipe Keepers citizen science program.

Research team sets up equipment at Lake Tahoe.

The research team sets up the pump and filter system at Lake Tahoe’s Emerald Bay State Park in May 2019.

 

“The sampling methods we’re using are unique,” said Arienzo, assistant research professor and project lead. “Past studies collected samples by trailing a large net from a boat or standing with it in a moving stream. Our approach is to sample and filter water in the field for microplastics using a pump, which allows us to filter upwards of 15 gallons of water in locations with still water and in places where boat access is limited.”

“Plus, we don’t have to haul netting around or carry the samples back to the lab—everything we need fits into a backpack, which makes sampling in remote and hard to access locations more feasible,” Arienzo added.

To make this novel method work, researchers place a stake with a funnel clipped to it about 20 feet from the water’s edge. The funnel, positioned on the surface of the water, is connected to tubing that runs back to the pump on shore, which draws water through the tubing and over a series of filters which can capture particles of different sizes.

Filter used to capture microplastic particles.

Tubing runs into the column of filters, which capture particles at three different sizes as water flows through.

 

Tubing runs into the column of filters, which capture particles at three different sizes as water flows through.

Sampling in all locations took place throughout the spring, and now the team is set to process and analyze the samples over the summer.

“To isolate the plastic pieces, we first have to get rid of all the organics, and we’re going to do that by oxidizing them,” explained Harrold, assistant research scientist in DRI’s Division of Earth and Ecosystem Sciences. “It’s a delicate balance between getting rid of the bugs and twigs and whatever else has ended up in there and not dissolving your plastics.”

Once the team oxidizes the organic particles left behind on the filters, they’ll separate the plastics from any remaining sediment using a high-density liquid separation method which will cause the sediments will settle to the bottom while plastics will float to the top.

From there, the team will begin identifying the different kinds of plastic pieces they find. The type of plastic, its size and shape, and the location where it was collected all provide clues about where it may have come from—for example, a nylon fiber may have come from the breakdown of synthetic clothing, and a piece of Styrofoam could have come from a single-use cup.

filter used to sample microplastics

Harrold removes a filter from the sampling instrument to bring it back to the lab for analysis.

 

However, making determinations about where individual pieces of microplastic originate is far from straightforward.

“We’re only discovering more sources of microplastics,” explained Harrold. “Recent studies have shown that microplastics can be transported through the atmosphere, so though some of what we find might be coming from local sources, the pollution could also be coming from a factory manufacturing plastic on the other side of the world. We just don’t know.”

While it’s daunting that there’s so much still unknown about this increasingly problematic pollutant, the research team also finds it exciting.

“This is the second study ever to be done on microplastics in Lake Tahoe,” said Arienzo. “It’s amazing to be a part of advancing the science in this new area of study.”

The team hopes that this work will contribute to a foundation of scientific information about the extent of microplastics pollution in Nevada freshwater so that scientists will be able to better identify the sources of microplastic, potential harmful effects to plant and animal life, and ways to remove it from the environment.

DRI's microplastics research team at Lake Tahoe

From left: Harrold, Arienzo, Collins, Davidson, and Bai after sampling at Emerald Bay in May 2019.

 

Funding for this project came from the DRI Foundation’s Innovation Research Program (IRP), which is designed to support DRI faculty and staff as they pursue their very best ideas. The IRP is funded by individual contributions from science enthusiasts like you—if you’d like to donate to the IRP and help make projects like this one possible, please visit: https://www.dri.edu/foundation/innovation-research-program.

Free citizen-science app lets users assist in research, report findings, and help Keep Tahoe Blue

South Lake Tahoe, CA (May 20, 2019) – With apps like iNaturalist and Instagram hashtags like #trashtag trending, there are increasingly more ways for budding citizen-scientists to contribute data, report concerns and get involved in ongoing research. Now, thanks to a newly updated “Citizen Science Tahoe” app created by the University of California, Davis’ Tahoe Environmental Research Center (TERC) in collaboration with the Desert Research Institute and the League to Save Lake Tahoe, locals and visitors alike can be involved in Lake Tahoe science and protection efforts.

Today, the coalition of science-based organizations unveiled an updated and more user-friendly version of the “Citizen Science Tahoe” app designed and developed by Joinify Visitor Guides.

“Locals and visitors can join Tahoe’s largest community-powered science project,” said Heather Segale, Education and Outreach Director of UC Davis’ TERC. “Be a part of our citizen scientist community and help us understand conditions around the lake by sharing what you observe. It’s free, fun, and you can help Lake Tahoe.”

The app, originally developed by UC Davis in 2016, now allows users to report on Lake Tahoe beach conditions like algae, water quality, trash, and stormwater pollution. Users of the original app will need to create a new account with email and password or choose to report anonymously.

“Science is something that everyone can be a part of,” said Zack Bradford, natural resource manager at the League to Save Lake Tahoe. “Download the app and within minutes become part of a network of citizens working together to collect data and report significant findings that help us better understand and protect Lake Tahoe.”

In the spring and summer, users can participate in the League’s Eyes on the Lake program and report sightings of aquatic invasive weeds like Eurasian milfoil or curlyleaf pondweed. This data feeds directly to the League’s team of experts who monitor and identify problem areas in the Lake and work to find innovative solutions to stop the spread of these invaders.

In the winter, users can submit photos of snow crystals to “Stories in the Snow.” The photos help Desert Research Institute scientists better identify where moisture will fall and when during winter storms.

“The remarkable thing about these citizen science programs is that people can do real science with little more than the technology in their own pockets. The more community and visitor involvement we can get, the better. The Citizen Science Tahoe app is a way to broaden involvement in local science while inspiring curiosity for the world around us” said Meghan Collins, Education Program Manager at DRI.

The new “Tahoe Citizen Science” app is available for download on the Apple App store, on Google Play and can be found at citizensciencetahoe.org.

“The Citizen Science Tahoe 3 update offers significant improvements from previous versions – we’ve made it even easier to participate in citizen science,” said Zach Lyon, creator of Joinify Visitor Guides.

Media Contact:
Joanna McWilliams
Communications Manager
League to Save Lake Tahoe
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.”>joanna@keeptahoeblue.org
(530) 541-5388

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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.

The League to Save Lake Tahoe, also known by the slogan “Keep Tahoe Blue,” is Tahoe’s oldest and largest nonprofit environmental advocacy organization. The League is dedicated to community engagement and education, and collaborating to find solutions to Tahoe’s environmental challenges. The League’s main campaigns include combating pollution, promoting restoration, tackling invasive species and protecting Tahoe’s shoreline. keeptahoeblue.org 

The UC Davis Tahoe Environmental Research Center is a global leader in research, education, and public outreach on lakes and forested ecosystems providing critical scientific information to help understand, restore, and sustain the Lake Tahoe Basin and other systems worldwide. For more information, visit https://tahoe.ucdavis.edu and follow us on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

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.

Native Waters on Arid Lands project holds DRI Youth Day and Tribal Summit

Native Waters on Arid Lands project holds DRI Youth Day and Tribal Summit

On a Monday morning in mid-October, several small groups of students from Pyramid Lake Junior/Senior High School gathered around tables inside of a conference room at the Desert Research Institute in Reno, sketching ideas, visions, and plans of what they want life on Earth to look like for future generations.

Schuyler Chew, a University of Arizona graduate student who is currently studying climate change resilience and vulnerability with the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe, encouraged the students to incorporate indigenous language, words, drawings, maps, poems, and stories into their drawings.

“Enlightenment. Growth. Water is life,” one group of students wrote on their poster paper, with key words and themes surrounding a drawing of Pyramid Lake. Another group sketched native wildlife and buildings outfitted with solar panels.

A Youth Day participant sketches his vision for Earth's future. October 2018. Credit: NWAL/DRI.

A Youth Day participant sketches his vision for Earth’s future. October 2018. Credit: NWAL/DRI.

A team of Native Waters on Arid Lands Youth Day facilitators adds their visions for the future. October 2018. Credit: NWAL/DRI.

A team of Native Waters on Arid Lands Youth Day facilitators adds their visions for the future. October 2018. Credit: NWAL/DRI.

The activity, part of a day-long event called Youth Day, was one of many hands-on activities, presentations, and discussions designed to engage the students in thinking about how to embrace the challenges of the future with regard to climate, water, and food.

The event was held as part of the Native Waters on Arid Lands project (NWAL), which partners scientists from research institutions such as DRI and the University of Nevada Reno with extension experts and members of tribal communities from across the Great Basin and American Southwest to explore the potential impacts of climate change and evaluate adaptation options for sustaining water resources and agriculture.

“The young people here today are incredibly gifted and creative, and our communities will rely on them to employ those gifts in facing the challenges of water, food, and climate in the future,” said Meghan Collins, youth engagement coordinator for the Native Waters on Arid Lands project and Assistant Research Scientist in environmental science at DRI.

Although the NWAL project did not initially place an emphasis on youth engagement, early feedback from project participants from various tribes was that they did not want to be talking about issues of climate without including younger voices in the conversation. In response, the NWAL team has held a series of events for tribal youth and college students at locations such as Salish Kootenai College in Montana, Navajo Technical University in New Mexico, and DRI in 2017 and 2018.

Youth Day organizer Meghan Collins of DRI instructs students in the use of Stories in the Snow kits. October 2018. Credit: NWAL/DRI.

Youth Day organizer Meghan Collins of DRI instructs students in the use of Stories in the Snow kits. October 2018. Credit: NWAL/DRI.

During the course of their day at DRI, the group heard from Chris Caldwell from the College of Menominee Nation in Wisconsin, who discussed the work that he does with the school’s Sustainable Development Institute. Schuyler Chew, the graduate student from Arizona State University, described his research on climate change resilience and vulnerability with the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe. Steven Chischilly, Associate Professor at Navajo Technical University, described some of the educational opportunities available at his school in New Mexico.

Collins, the event organizer, led the students through an outdoor activity using Stories in the Snow macro-photography kits to explore the environment on the DRI campus and get a taste for scientific inquiry. DRI’s Science Alive Americorps volunteers Brooke Stathis and Chelsea Ontiveros concluded the event with an activity on the salinity and water quality of western rivers.

“The lively and reflective conversations that I heard today were inspiring,” Collins said. “Students brought their best, and we had a lot of intergenerational dialogue that meant everyone in the room walked away with new perspectives on these issues related to the environment.”

DRI Science Alive team members Brooke Stathis and Chelsea Ontiveros lead an activity at DRI Youth Day. October 2018. Credit: NWAL/DRI.

DRI Science Alive team members Brooke Stathis and Chelsea Ontiveros lead an activity at DRI Youth Day. October 2018. Credit: NWAL/DRI.

Later in the week, the Native Waters on Arid Lands project hosted their fourth annual Tribal Summit at the Atlantis Casino Resort in Reno. This event featured two days of presentations and interactive discussions related to climate change, water resources, agriculture, traditional knowledge, livestock and ranching, conservation practices, and other topics. More than 90 people attended the 2018 Tribal Summit, travelling from communities and reservations located across Nevada, North Dakota, New Mexico, Montana, Arizona, Idaho, Utah, Wisconsin, California, Ohio, and Hawaii.

Native Waters on Arid Lands is funded by a five-year, $4.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture. Partners in the project include the Desert Research Institute, the University of Nevada, Reno, the University of Arizona, the First Americans Land-Grant Consortium, Utah State University, Ohio University, United States Geological Survey, and the Federally Recognized Tribal Extension Program in Nevada and Arizona.

DRI faculty involved in this project include Maureen McCarthy, Ph.D. (program director), Christine Albano, Kyle Bocinsky, Ph.D., Meghan Collins, Richard Jasoni, Ph.D., Alex Lutz, Ph.D., Anna Palmer, Beverly Ramsey, Ph.D., and Kelsey Fitzgerald.

The Native Waters on Arid Lands team at DRI in October, 2017. Credit: NWAL/DRI.

The Native Waters on Arid Lands team at DRI in October, 2017. Credit: NWAL/DRI.

For more information on Native Waters on Arid Lands, please visit https://nativewaters-aridlands.com or follow the project on Facebook and Twitter.

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.

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.