Researchers debriefed global participants on microplastics in the environment, a new online snow tracker tool for water resource management, and the role of dogs in body recovery.
Link to Event Video Presentation Available at – https://www.dri.edu/conversations-with-dri-innovators/.
Las Vegas, Nev. (Friday, Nov. 13, 2020) – Nevada-based scientists from the Desert Research Institute (DRI) shared their most recent findings and potential solutions to environmental and climate change questions with a global audience this week during the first “Conversations with DRI Innovators” virtual event.
Tuesday’s 60-minute presentation featured research on microplastics in Lake Tahoe and the Las Vegas wash using a state-of-the-art instrument, a look at how dogs can help recover drowned victims in the deep waters of Lake Tahoe, and also as criminal trial evidence, the development of a real-time snow tracker online tool, and the chemistry of snowfall in the Sierras for water resource management and public safety.
“These findings have far-reaching impact beyond Nevada and our country as the work of DRI researchers can be found around the world,” said Tina Quigley, DRI Foundation Chair. “While this research was centered throughout Nevada, DRI scientists are working on finding real-life solutions to these real-world questions that will benefit all of us, our families, our earth.”
The DRI Foundation’s Innovation Research Program (IRP) awarded seed grants to kick-start the highlighted research and talented scientists. This early support has been leveraged into other awards such as from the National Science Foundation and National Weather Service to continue expanding their developing research.
“This is donor-driven research funding at its best, and I am proud to be part of the group cheering on some of the greatest minds of the scientific community from right here in Nevada,” added Quigley.
A video recording of the fast-paced, hour-long presentation from IRP grant recipients and DRI faculty along with additional information may be found online at – https://www.dri.edu/conversations-with-dri-innovators/.
The four speakers and the topics covered, in order of presentation along with approximate start times for each, are as follows:
:04 – DRI, IRP overview, and speaker introductions. – Tina Quigley, Moderator, Former CEO of the Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada
Each presentation runs approximately 10 minutes.
7:33 – Types of microplastics found at Lake Tahoe and Las Vegas Wash and how an easy to install mesh currently being tested on clothes dryer vents may be part of the solution. – Dr. Monica Arienzo, Assistant Research Professor, DRI Division of Hydrologic Sciences and National Science Foundation Grant Recipient.
22:11 – A new online tool just developed will help track snow droughts in a warmer climate in order to help understand the need for changing water resource management strategies. – Dr. Daniel McEvoy, Assistant Research Professor of Climatology, DRI Division of Atmospheric Sciences, Researcher with the Western Regional Climate Center and National Weather Service Grant Recipient.
34:23 – Using the chemistry of atmospheric river snowfall to improve water resource management in the Western U.S. – Dr. Nathan Chellman, Postdoctoral Fellow, DRI Division of Hydrologic Sciences.
46:59 – Advancing the science of canine odor detection – from criminal trials to accidental drownings and how dogs and plants may help detect cadavers. – Dr. Mary E. Cablk, Associate Research Professor of Biology, DRI Division of Earth and Ecosystem Sciences, University of Nevada, Reno Adjunct Professor in Forensic Anthropology and Auxiliary Deputy with several county Sheriff Offices in the State of Nevada.
About the DRI Foundation Innovation Research Program (IRP): The DRI Foundation’s IRP provides the start-up funding DRI scientists need to test new ideas and produce initial data, which will help them build the scientific case for future research projects. The 2020 Innovation Research Project winners were selected through a competitive selection process. The selected projects demonstrate creative, innovative research or technological development that advances DRI’s mission. For more information on this and other upcoming events please visit: https://www.dri.edu/support-dri/dri-foundation/
About the Desert Research Institute (DRI): The DRI is a recognized world leader in basic and applied interdisciplinary research. Committed to scientific excellence and integrity, DRI faculty, students, and staff have developed scientific knowledge and innovative technologies in research projects around the globe. Since 1959, DRI’s research has advanced scientific knowledge, supported Nevada’s diversifying economy, provided science-based educational opportunities, and informed policy makers, business leaders, and community members. With campuses in Reno and Las Vegas, DRI serves as the non-profit research arm of the Nevada System of Higher Education. For more information, please visit www.dri.edu.
Communications Manager, Desert Research Institute
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.”
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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