Raiders Foundation Supports Students with NFL Foundation Digital Divide Grant

Raiders Foundation Supports Students with NFL Foundation Digital Divide Grant

Raiders Foundation Supports Students with NFL Foundation Digital Divide Grant

May 25, 2022
LAS VEGAS

Digital Divide
Technology
Technology Careers

Above: High school students listen as a panel of technology leaders talk about their careers at Tech Tomorrow. 

Credit: PHOTO COURTESY OF THE LAS VEGAS RAIDERS.

Thirty junior and senior high school students surprised with new laptops

The Raiders Foundation has teamed up with DRI and Jobs 4 Nevada’s Graduates (J4NG) on “Tech Tomorrow” to help bridge the digital divide in Southern Nevada. Thirty junior and senior high school students selected by J4NG were treated to a special event at the Credit One Club in Allegiant Stadium, home of the Las Vegas Raiders. The students received an exclusive behind-the-scenes tour of Allegiant Stadium, showcasing how technology plays a role in nearly all aspects of a NFL game, and heard from an inspiring panel of technology leaders about careers in technology. At the end of the event, all 30 students were surprised with a brand-new laptop, wireless mouse, and backpack, all in an effort to bridge the digital divide.  

“The Raiders Foundation is excited to play a role in helping to bridge the digital divide in our community,” said Raiders Foundation Executive Director Alan Diskin. “This endeavor matches our mission tenet of youth development and reinforces our commitment to making the Silver State a better place for today’s youth, who will become tomorrow’s leaders.” 

“The ability to access computers and the internet plays a significant role in solving our world’s greatest challenges, and technology has become increasingly important for science exploration and research,” said DRI President Kumud Acharya. “We are very appreciative to the Raiders Foundation for selecting DRI as a partner to administer the NFL Foundation Digital Divide grant and produce ‘Tech Tomorrow.’”  

“Exposure to technology and jobs in Nevada allows our students to explore career opportunities they might not have otherwise known about,” said J4NG Executive Director Dr. Rene Cantu. “We want to thank the Raiders Foundation for funding this opportunity and partnering with DRI to administer the program. The technology career panel inspired our students about a future in a tech-based job. We are grateful to the Raiders Foundation for the NFL Digital Divide Grant, which provided our students with new laptops to help them further their career and college goals after graduation.”

The “Tech Tomorrow” event provided a foundation for these students to continue to learn and build technology into their future.  

tech tomorrow group picture

Thirty junior and senior high school students pose with leaders from the Las Vegas Raiders Foundation, DRI, and J4NG. After the photo, the students were surprised with a brand-new laptop, wireless mouse, and backpack. 

Credit: PHOTOS COURTESY OF THE LAS VEGAS RAIDERS.

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About DRI

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

About Jobs for Nevada’s Graduates 

Jobs for Nevada’s Graduates (J4NG), is a statewide nonprofit, part of the national organization, Jobs for America’s Graduates (JAG). J4NG empowers positive futures for Nevada’s youth by working with students to achieve graduation and find career pathways. J4NG helps Nevada students reach their potential using in-depth mentoring, instruction, data-driven strategies and long-term support. 60 schools across Nevada offer J4G programs through J4NG, serving more than 3,300 students. J4NG students receive over 120+ hours of career readiness instruction, guidance and support through graduation and the first 12 months after graduation. 

HELP of Southern Nevada and DRI Recognize the 2022 STEM Force Graduates

HELP of Southern Nevada and DRI Recognize the 2022 STEM Force Graduates

HELP of Southern Nevada and DRI Recognize the 2022 STEM Force Graduates

May 25, 2022
LAS VEGAS

STEM Careers
Career Development
Workforce Innvoation

Above: DRI President Kumud Acharya speaks to the graduates of the 2022 STEM Force program. 

Credit: Tommy Gugino/DRI.

HELP of Southern Nevada and DRI honored the graduates of its 2022 Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) STEM Force Program. Families and pupils gathered inside DRI’s Roger’s Auditorium to commemorate the student’s achievements in environmental research as they go on to pursue a potential STEM career. The ceremony kicked off with opening remarks from DRI President Kumud Acharya followed by a video montage of events throughout the program, and a reception filled with beverages and cake for all. Those in attendance included STEM Education Coordinator at DRI, Shawna Witt, STEM Force Program Director, Craig Rosen, HELP of Southern Nevada Chief Workforce Officer, Denise Gee, and Workforce Services Program Manager, Christina Sewell.    

“With a growing need for a workforce skilled in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), DRI is committed to helping students achieve long term outcomes both inside and outside of the classroom. Through the STEM Force Program, students are taught fundamentals and are exposed to scientific solutions so that they can pursue future STEM careers,” said Rosen. “We are delighted to once again partner with HELP of Southern Nevada to support their mission and ensure students are equipped with the background knowledge and tools to succeed in their future career.” 

The 10-week STEM Force Program provided WIOA program members with the opportunity to learn about STEM topics and careers through a series of presentations, field trips and hands-on projects. Students of the program were able to interact with highly skilled scientists, engage in experiments and work collaboratively with one another to develop work-readiness skills such as creativity, problem-solving, teamwork and determination.  

“We want to thank DRI for their incredible partnership and urgency to continue helping our clients help themselves,” said Sewell. “As we set our clients up for success, we believe it is important to build a foundation for their future through various workshops, support groups and networking.” 

STEM Force Graduates 2022

The 2022 STEM Force Graduates with DRI STEM Education Coordinator Shawna Witt and DRI Community Engagement and Professional Development Administrator Craig Rosen.

Credit: Tommy Gugino/DRI.

More Information:

For more information on HELP of Southern Nevada’s programs, please visit https://www.helpsonv.org/programs.php. 

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About DRI

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

About HELP of Southern Nevada 

HELP of Southern Nevada provides assistance to low-income families, homeless youth and other individuals, to help them reach self-sufficiency through direct services, trainings and referrals. HELP operates 10 departments, consists of 200 employees and serves tens of thousands of unduplicated clients each year. Programs available include Behavioral Health Services, Coordinated Entry Community Matchers, Homeless Response Teams, Family Housing Services, Framing Hope Warehouse, Holiday Assistance, Adult Housing Programs, Community Relations, Shannon West Homeless Youth Center, Weatherization and Workforce Services. For more information, call HELP of Southern Nevada at 702.369.4357 or visit www.helpsonv.org. Follow HELP of Southern Nevada on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

Meet Brianda Hernandez Rosales, Graduate Researcher

Meet Brianda Hernandez Rosales, Graduate Researcher

Meet Brianda Hernandez Rosales, Graduate Researcher

MAY 23, 2022
LAS VEGAS, NEV.

Hydrology
Hydrogeology
Rainwater

Above: Brianda fly fishing in Northern California where the Klamath River and the Pacific Ocean meet.

Credit: Mike Hernandez.

Brianda Hernandez Rosales is a graduate research assistant with the Division of Hydrologic Sciences at DRI in Reno. She recently earned her Master’s degree in hydrogeology from the Graduate Program of Hydrologic Sciences at the University of Nevada, Reno (UNR). Learn more about Brianda and her graduate research in this interview with DRI’s Behind the Science blog!

DRI: What brought you to DRI?

Hernandez: I first learned of DRI during my time at Mt. San Antonio College, during a research trip to Capitol Reef National Park. The chief scientist of the park was a hydrogeologist with a degree from the Graduate Program of Hydrologic Sciences at UNR and mentioned his affiliation with DRI. I decided to check out DRI when I had access to the web. I started following the research that was being conducted at DRI and knew that I wanted to somehow make my way to Northern Nevada once I was ready to tackle a graduate degree. Luckily, my research interests aligned with the work of Alexandra Lutz, Ph.D., allowing me to attend UNR and join DRI. It was the best decision I made way back in June 2017 during that hot afternoon overlooking the Capital Reef basin. 

DRI: What are you studying?

Hernandez: My focus of study is hydrology/hydrogeology. I am interested in water security issues in the West, particularly in underrepresented communities. Using science to help build climate resiliency among these communities is another interest and passion of mine, as well as science communication.

Brianda Hernandez Rosales headshot

Brianda Hernandez Rosales is a graduate research assistant with the Division of Hydrologic Sciences at DRI in Reno.

Credit: Mike Hernandez.

DRI: What research projects are you working on? And who at DRI are you working with?

Hernandez: My graduate research focuses on assessing the feasibility of rainwater harvesting for food production in Peach Springs, AZ on the Hualapai Indian Reservation. Rainwater harvesting is the concentration, collection, and storage of rainwater to be used at a later time. It has been practiced for centuries in arid and semi-arid environments around the world, however, this practice has been overlooked in the United States as a means to ensure water security in rural areas. Rainwater harvesting can be used to diversify water portfolios and attain food security in vulnerable communities.  

COVID-19 and supply-chain issues have exposed the need to assess food security in areas that are considered “food deserts” and rainwater harvesting can be a way to combat those issues, particularly in the Southwest, since monsoonal rains are available for capture during the growing season. This project has been inspirational for me because it can be scaled to any degree and applied to any rural community interested in harvesting rainwater to grow food. I’ve learned that this practice can be applied not only in rural communities but across the United States to reduce the strain on other water supplies. On this project, I work alongside Alexandra Lutz, Ph.D., Christine Albano, Ph.D., and Susie Rybarski at DRI.

In addition to my graduate research, I also worked alongside Maureen McCarthy, Ph.D., and Alexandra Lutz, Ph.D., during summer 2021 on providing content for the COVID-19 Toolkit website through Native Waters on Arid Lands (NWAL) project. I researched the impacts on water quality during drought in the West to help inform Tribal Extension agents, tribal ranchers, and farmers as well as tribal members about these looming issues.

Hualapai Community Garden

Brianda documenting the crops currently grown in the Hualapai Community Garden in Peach Springs, AZ with support from the Federally Recognized Tribal Extension Program (FRTEP) agent for the tribe, Elisabeth Alden.

Credit: Alexandra Lutz.

DRI: What are your short-term and long-term goals while at DRI?

Hernandez: My overall goal at DRI is to conduct good, reputable science that is accessible to everyone. I think having access to great science is important, now more than ever. My short-term goal is to finish my degree in May 2022. My long-term goal is to continue working with folks at DRI and the NWAL team to assist in the important work that is being done to ensure climate resiliency among the communities that need it most.

DRI: Tell us about yourself. What do you do for fun?

Hernandez: Like many people at DRI, I am a lover of the outdoors! You can find me climbing boulders in the Tahoe Basin, Bishop, California, or throughout the West. I also enjoy mountain biking on any dirt, fly fishing at any body of water, and simply just camping with friends in the mountains or the open desert. We live in such a beautiful area here in the West, it’s nice just to explore.

When I am not outside, I enjoy reading books about people who do things outside (e.g., adventure memoirs, anthropology books) or science books. I also enjoy listening to music, eating delicious food, and drinking wine while having great conversations with family and friends.

pebble wrestling

“Pebble wrestling” in Rocky Mountains National Park.

Credit: Mike Hernandez.

Additional Information:

For more information on graduate programs at DRI, please visit: https://www.dri.edu/education/graduate-programs/.

Nevada Receives National Science Foundation Research Award for $20 Million

Nevada Receives National Science Foundation Research Award for $20 Million

drone in wildfire

May 17, 2022
LAS VEGAS

Fire Science
Wildland Fire Research
Workforce Development 

Nevada Receives National Science Foundation Research Award for $20 Million

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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About NSHE

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

About the Nevada System Sponsored Programs and EPSCoR

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

About DRI

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

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

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

Graphic representation of the DNA sequence

April 27, 2022
RENO, Nev.

Genetics
Genetics Screening
Actionable Care Plans
Above: Graphic representation of the DNA sequence. In a recent study, Healthy Nevada Project scientists looked at the impact that notifying a patient of a positive finding for a CDC Tier 1 condition had on the care that the patient received in the months and years that followed.
Credit: Gio_tto, “Graphic representation of the DNA sequence”, https://www.istockphoto.com/photo/dna-sequence-gm498188318-79526609.

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

New research from the Healthy Nevada Project® finds that a confirmed diagnosis does not always result in changes to patient care
front page of Incomplete Penetrance of Population-Based Genetic Screening Results in Electronic Health Record

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Additional information:

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

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

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

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About DRI

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

About Renown Health 

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

About Helix 

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

Benjamin Hatchett Receives Board of Regents 2022 Rising Researcher Award

Benjamin Hatchett Receives Board of Regents 2022 Rising Researcher Award

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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About DRI

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

New NV Energy Foundation Grant Will Support Wildfire Preparedness in Nevada

New NV Energy Foundation Grant Will Support Wildfire Preparedness in Nevada

burning wildfire

March 30, 2022
RENO, NEV.

Wildfire Preparedness
Weather-Fire-Smoke Model
Fire Mitigation

New NV Energy Foundation Grant Will Support Wildfire Preparedness in Nevada

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

Check Presentation NV Energy Foundation

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

Credit: DRI. 

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

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

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

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

Caldor Fire Simulation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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About DRI

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

About the DRI Foundation

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

About the NV Energy Foundation

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

Agencies collaborate to launch wastewater surveillance dashboard

Agencies collaborate to launch wastewater surveillance dashboard

water waste sampling collection
March 23, 2022
LAS VEGAS
Wastewater
COVID-19
Wastewater Surveillance
Above: Waste water samples were collected at the Waste Water Treatment Plant in Pahrump, Nevada.
Credit: Ali Swallow.

Agencies collaborate to launch wastewater surveillance dashboard 

New dashboard will include COVID-19 concentration data, information about variant testing and more. 
Las Vegas, Nev. (March 23, 2022)The University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV), Southern Nevada Health District, Southern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA) and Desert Research Institute (DRI) are partnering to detect early increases of SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID) and emerging variants in Southern Nevada through wastewater surveillance. The data will be available on a new dashboard that will be updated weekly at http://empower.unlv.edu. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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About DRI

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

About Southern Nevada Health District 

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

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.

The DRI Foundation Welcomes New Trustees for 2022

The DRI Foundation Welcomes New Trustees for 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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*DRI Foundation Board Member photos available upon request.

 

About the DRI Foundation

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

About DRI

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

DRI scientist Rishi Parashar receives NSF Mid-Career Advancement Award

DRI scientist Rishi Parashar receives NSF Mid-Career Advancement Award

Meet Rishi Parashar, Ph.D. and learn about his research in this Q&A with “DRI’s Behind the Science” Blog. 

Rishi Parashar, Ph.D., is an Associate Research Professor of Hydrology with the Division of Hydrologic Sciences at DRI in Reno. He studies the movement of water, contaminants, and other substances through Earth’s subsurface. Originally from India, Rishi holds a B.S. in Civil Engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology in Roorkee, India, and Masters and Ph.D. degrees in Civil Engineering from Purdue University. He has been a member of the DRI community since 2008. In his free time, Rishi enjoys photography, listening to music, and spending time with his wife and three children.

DRI: What do you do at DRI?

Parashar: I study flow and contaminant transport through Earth’s subsurface, which consists of soil as well as rocks. Within rocks you can have fractures, so that is known as fractured media; within soils, there are tiny air or water-filled pores, so they are generally called porous media. My research is largely focused on understanding how water or anything that is mixed into the water – like contaminants, microbes, or heat – flow and disperse through fractured rocks and porous media.

DRI: Why is it important to understand these processes here in Nevada? Can you share an example from your work?

Parashar: When I began at DRI in 2008, I spent a large portion of my first eight or nine years working on problems at the Nevada Test Site, which is now known as the Nevada National Security Site (NNSS). During that time, my work was heavily based on trying to understand how radionuclides might move through fractured rocks. Radionuclides are unstable forms of elements that release radiation as they break down and can have harmful effects on living organisms. So, we were trying to determine how radionuclides that were released into the subsurface after atomic tests might move further by getting into fractured rocks. Understanding how contaminants or water or radionuclides in this case can potentially move through fractured rock is very important in places like the NNSS.

DRI: You recently received a Mid-Career Advancement (MCA) award from the National Science Foundation (NSF) that will allow you to expand your work in some exciting new directions. Can you tell us about your plans?

Parashar: This was the first year that the NSF has offered mid-career awards, which provide time and resources for scientists at the Associate Professor rank to diversify their knowledge by partnering and training with researchers working in complimentary fields. Until now, my research has been mainly focused on understanding flow and transport in fractured rocks and porous media – but one of the major challenges in my field right now is that most computational models are large, computationally heavy, and difficult to scale-up. To take science or modeling of these processes to the next level, I believe that we need to try to combine our work with some of the technological advances that we are seeing in the fields of computer science and applied mathematics.

Some high-fidelity fracture network models cannot be easily scaled up – they allow us to study problems at a small scale, but to apply our models for realistic world problems at a larger scale, we may benefit greatly from tapping into artificial intelligence (AI) or machine learning or quantum computing. With the MCA award, I will be partnering with three collaborators: two are applied mathematicians from the Los Alamos National Laboratory, and the third is a computer scientist from the University of Nevada, Reno with expertise in AI, graph representations of networks, and quantum computing. Together we will explore opportunities of convergence research and see if we can develop more robust computational approaches that would benefit many different areas within the field of hydrology.

DRI: What are some of the applications for your work?

Parashar: The type of modeling I’ve described can help us understand the movement of water, heat, and other quantities of interest through connected networks in the subsurface with applications to geothermal, carbon sequestration, and nuclear waste repositories among others. They can also be useful in studying the transport of viruses and bacteria through porous media, which is important in applications such as water recycling.  Here in Nevada, there is interest in treating and cleaning municipal water and reusing it for irrigation and other purposes. One way to clean it is to run it through the ground – but to ensure that the water is being properly cleaned it is important to understand how bacteria and viruses move through the system.

DRI: You are originally from India. How did you end up here at DRI?

Parashar: I came to DRI as a postdoc in 2008. The true story is that in all my life I have only written one job application. In 2008, when I was about to complete my Ph.D., my wife was already well established in the Reno area working for a consulting firm. I wanted to explore opportunities and knew about the good quality of work at DRI. So I approached John Warrick, who was the Division Director at that time, and he informed me about this new position that was about to open. I interviewed in Las Vegas and have stayed here at DRI’s Reno campus ever since.

More information:

https://www.dri.edu/directory/rishi-parashar/

NASA grant funds research for sunscreen on Mars

NASA grant funds research for sunscreen on Mars

NASA grant funds research for sunscreen on Mars

December 30, 2021
RENO, NEV.

By Michelle Werdann, UNR

NASA
Mars
Sunscreen

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

Credit: UNR

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

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

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

Serious sunscreen

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

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

Tanzil Mahmud with lichen sample

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

Credit: UNR

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

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

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

Harvesting compounds…then blasting them with radiation

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

 

Wolf lichen sample

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

Credit: UNR

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

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

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

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

 

Laser beam

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

Credit: UNR

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Credit: UNR

Spanning the disciplines

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meet Charlotte van der Nagel, Graduate Researcher

Meet Charlotte van der Nagel, Graduate Researcher

Meet Charlotte van der Nagel, Graduate Researcher

DECEMBER 6, 2021
LAS VEGAS, NEV.

Geoscience
Ecohydrology
Ecosystem Sciences

Above: Charlotte van der Nagel during sunrise at Reflection Canyon, Utah.

Credit: Charlotte van der Nagel.

Charlotte van der Nagel is a graduate research assistant with the Division of Earth and Ecosystems Sciences at DRI in Las Vegas and a Ph.D. student in the Geoscience program at University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Learn more about Charlotte and her graduate research in this interview with DRI’s Behind the Science blog!

DRI: What brought you to DRI?

van der Nagel: I am originally from the Netherlands. I worked with Dr. Henry Sun at DRI for half a year in 2020 as part of the research for my master’s thesis. This time allowed me to get to know DRI – and Nevada as a whole – and I sure liked it a lot! So, when a Ph.D. position became available that continued the research I had already started the year before, I didn’t doubt for a single second and applied for it, which brought me back to DRI and Las Vegas in August 2021.

DRI: What are you studying?

van der Nagel: The main focus of my study is ecohydrology. This discipline focuses on the interaction between water and ecology. I am particularly interested in how the desert ecosystem can support life with such limited water availability.

Van Der Nagel moapa

Charlotte van der Nagel in the field digging a hole to bury multiple TDR sensors to monitor soil moisture distribution over depth and time in Arrow Canyon near Moapa, NV.

Credit: Charlotte van der Nagel.

DRI: What research projects are you working on? And who at DRI are you working with?

van der Nagel: I work with my Ph.D. advisor Dr. Henry Sun. My main project is a study that focuses on the occurrence of barren circles of on average 13ft in diameter, surrounding a central ant nest. These circles are found throughout most of the western U.S. and are even visible from satellite images. Ants keep the circles barren by cutting down any seedling that wants to establish inside of the circle, yet ants depend on these plants for their food source. By keeping the circle barren, the ants take away their nearest food source, which does not make sense from a biological viewpoint. In this study, we will try to find the driving force for ants to display this disk clearing behavior.

Another project I recently started working on involves regional die-back of Screwbean Mesquite trees. As these trees are of high ecological significance, there is a lot of interest from different agencies to study the die-back and find possible causes to explain and possibly revert this die-back. For this study, I will be looking at soil moisture conditions, N15 and O18 isotopes of the trees, and sulfide concentrations and redox conditions in the groundwater.

van der nagel ant nests

Charlotte van der Nagel is working with her advisor, Dr. Henry Sun, to study ants nests found within barren circles in the Great Basin and other western ecosystems. Ants keep the circle barren by cutting down vegetation that grows inside the circle, but scientists do not yet understand the reason for this behavior.

Credit: Charlotte van der Nagel.

DRI: What are your short-term and long-term goals while at DRI?

van der Nagel: As I just started my Ph.D. program a couple of months ago, my short-term goal would be to get both my projects up and running, so that I will start getting results in. In the meantime, I am planning on learning as much as I can about the various topics my research includes.

In the long-term, I want to engage in more cross-disciplinary research. Often, a research problem is not easily classified as one field of work. For example, my ant circle study requires not only knowledge of hydrology, but also of ecology and biology. If you exclusively look at one of those disciplinaries, you will inevitably miss a lot of potentially important findings in the other fields. I therefore want to extend my area of focus and I feel like DRI would be a great place for this.

DRI: Tell us about yourself. What do you do for fun?

van der Nagel: Coming from a country that is flat and very densely populated, I love spending all my free time out of the city, enjoying the vastness of the desert. You can find me every weekend out hiking, climbing, camping, kayaking or off-roading – the more remote, the better.  I really like that Las Vegas is close to so many great national parks and try to make every weekend into an adventure. One of the most amazing things I have done so far was driving 2 hours on a rough off-road, then hiking 10 miles with a heavy backpack to camp on the edge of Reflection Canyon, Utah. The most rewarding hike I have ever done!

Van Der Nagel in Zion

Charlotte van der Nagel hiking Angels Landing in Zion National Park, Utah.

Credit: Charlotte van der Nagel.

Additional Information:

For more information on graduate programs at DRI, please visit: https://www.dri.edu/education/graduate-programs/.

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

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

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

December 1, 2021
RENO, NEV.

By Kelsey Fitzgerald

Antarctic Sea Squirt
Melanoma
Health

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

Credit: Alison E. Murray, DRI

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

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

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

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

Synoicum adareanum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Credit: Bill Dent, University of South Florida.

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

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

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

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

Diver in the Antarctic Peninsula

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

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

More information:

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

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

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

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About DRI

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

About The University of South Florida

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

About Los Alamos National Laboratory

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Evidence on High

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meet Anne Heggli, Graduate Researcher

Meet Anne Heggli, Graduate Researcher

Meet Anne Heggli, Graduate Researcher

OCTOBER 27, 2021
RENO, NEV.
Atmospheric Science
Weather
Snowpack

Above: DRI graduate research assistant Anne Heggli works at the Virginia Lakes SNOTEL station to collect no-snow data for the cosmic ray detector for snow water content observations.

Credit: M. Heggli.
Anne Heggli is a graduate research assistant with the Division of Atmospheric Science at DRI in Reno. She is a Ph.D. student studying atmospheric science at the University of Nevada, Reno. Learn more about Anne and her graduate research in this interview with DRI’s Behind the Science blog!
Anne Heggli at Snow Laboratory

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

Credit: M. Heggli.

DRI: What brought you to DRI?

Heggli: The applied and operational approach towards research.

DRI: What are you studying?

Heggli: I am studying the role that present weather and snowpack conditions have on the timing of rain-on-snow induced runoff by looking into hourly data from existing snow monitoring stations. I am curious to find out if we can use these existing snow monitoring networks to recognize patterns and learn more about how different snowpack conditions contribute to runoff as a means to improve reservoir operations and aid in flood management.

DRI: What research projects are you working on? And who at DRI are you working with?

Heggli: I am working on the development of a Snowpack Runoff Advisory aimed at identifying high risk weather and snowpack conditions that can be synthesized into a decision support tool for reservoir operators and flood managers. Dr. Ben Hatchett is my advisor and the principal investigator on this.

 

Anne Heggli at Sagehen Creek Field Station

DRI graduate research assistant Anne Heggli connects a prototype snow water content sensor that measures the attenuation of passive cosmic rays at Sagehen Creek Field Station.

Credit: M. Heggli.

DRI: What are your short-term and long-term goals while at DRI?

Heggli: In the short term, I am looking forward to growing my skills around quantifying risk and how to best communicate those results in a meaningful way. I also hope to develop multi-use data products through the Western Regional Climate Center that are ready for analysis to engage with other researchers that could allow me to acquire interdisciplinary knowledge and skills while I am working at DRI.

DRI: Tell us about yourself. What do you do for fun?

Heggli: In the summer you can find me playing sand volleyball at Zephyr Cove in Tahoe, on my paddle board, or swimming and exploring the American River watershed. I am a beginner at mountain biking and cross-country skiing. I of course love observing the weather and clouds. I also volunteer with Protect American River Canyons and help to engage the community with the stewardship of the recreational area.

Anne Heggli with Hydropower agency in Panama

DRI graduate research assistant Anne Heggli works with a hydropower agency in Panama to help them upgrade their hydrometeorological monitoring network.

Credit: M. Heggli.
Additional Information:

For more information on graduate programs at DRI, please visit: https://www.dri.edu/education/graduate-programs/

 

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.

Meet Graduate Researcher Nicholas Kimutis

Meet Graduate Researcher Nicholas Kimutis

Meet Nicholas Kimutis, Graduate Researcher

SEPTEMBER 29, 2021
RENO, NEV.

Public Health
Climate
Epidemiology

Nicholas Kimutis is a graduate research assistant with the Division of Atmospheric Sciences at DRI in Reno. He is a master’s student studying public health with a specialization in epidemiology at the University of Nevada, Reno. Learn more about Nick and his graduate research in this interview with DRI’s Behind the Science Blog!

Nick-net

Graduate research assistant Nick Kimutis prepares to capture Speyeria nokomis (butterflies) at Round Mountain in the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest.

Credit: Lauren Redosh.

DRI: What brought you to DRI?

Kimutis: I was originally brought into DRI by Meghan Collins, who hired me as an undergraduate intern with the Stories in the Snow citizen science program back in 2017. At that time, I was interested in ice crystal formation as well as communicating science and engaging with the public in an accessible way. After Stories in the Snow, Tamara Wall brought me into the Western Regional Climate Center where I have worked since. What keeps me at DRI is two-fold: First, the amazing and talented people that work here. Second, the translational research, co-productions and community engagement that we conduct in the climate center. I truly believe that the research questions DRI addresses leave the world a better place.

DRI: What are you studying?

Kimutis: During my undergraduate program, I studied microbiology and immunology. As a graduate student, I am studying epidemiology. To borrow Friss and Sellers 2012 definition, “Epidemiology is concerned with the distribution and determinants of health, diseases, morbidity, injuries, disability, and mortality in populations.” Specifically, I am interested in the intersection of climate and public health. I believe humanity’s biggest public health crisis is climate change.

DRI: What research projects are you working on? And who at DRI are you working with?

Kimutis: First and foremost, my job as a graduate research assistant is climate services. Climate Services involves connecting government, academics, media and the public with historical climate data. Tamara Wall serves as my primary mentor at DRI and Lyndsey Darrow serves as my advisor at UNR. I also work with Tim Brown, Greg McCurdy, Dan McEvoy and Pam Lacy.

In addition to climate services, I am working on two projects that involve health. The first is an extreme heat project located in San Diego County. This work is being done with Kristin VanderMolen and Ben Hatchett. This project aims to make a series of recommendations, based on focus group discussions with vulnerable populations, to the San Diego County Health and Human Services Agency on extreme heat messaging.

Secondly, I am assisting on an EPA Project that will test and install air quality monitoring sensors in rural Nevada. This project will also generate recommendations for Emergency Managers on air quality messaging. This project includes Kristin VanderMolen, Meghan Collins, Yeongkwon Son, Greg McCurdy, Pam Lacy, Tamara Wall and collaborators at the Nevada Division of Environmental Protection.

DRI: What are your short-term and long-term goals while at DRI?

Kimutis: My biggest goal at DRI is to do meaningful work that ultimately helps people. At the same time,  I want to grow and refine my skills as a researcher. I am committed to an inclusive, diverse, equitable, and accessible environment and serve on DRI’s IDEA Committee to help foster and grow that culture.

DRI: Tell us about yourself. What do you do for fun?

For fun, I enjoy all things outdoors including camping, hiking, rock climbing, swimming, biking and paddle boarding. I also have a Rottweiler, named Simon, who occupies quite a bit of my time.

Nick-and-dog-Simon

Nick Kimutis and his dog Simon enjoy camping, hiking, and other outdoor adventures around Reno.

Credit: Ryan Wong

Additional Information:

For more information on graduate programs at DRI, please visit: https://www.dri.edu/education/graduate-programs/

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reposted news release from the office of Senator Cortez Masto.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The bill text can be found here.

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

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

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

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

July 15, 2021
RENO, NEV.

By Kelsey Fitzgerald

Wildfire Smoke
COVID-19
Health

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

smoke coming from a burning forest

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

Credit: DRI.

Thumbnail image of paper by Kiser et al.

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

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

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

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

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

More information:

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

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

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About DRI

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

About Renown Health

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

About Washoe County Health District Air Quality Management Division –

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

Media Contact:

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

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

 

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

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

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

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.

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

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

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

May 25, 2021
RENO, NEV.

By Kelsey Fitzgerald

Soil Science
Wildfires
Hydrology

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

Credit: Kelsey Fitzgerald/DRI.

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

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

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

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

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

Credit: Vera Samburova/DRI.

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

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

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

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

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

Credit: Vera Samburova/DRI.

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

Credit: Vera Samburova/DRI.

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

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

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

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

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

Credit: Kelsey Fitzgerald/DRI.

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

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

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

Additional Information:

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

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

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

Meet Graduate Researcher Natasha Sushenko

Meet Graduate Researcher Natasha Sushenko

Meet Natasha Sushenko, Graduate Researcher

May 11, 2021
LAS VEGAS, NEV.

By Kaylynn Perez

Environmental Microbiology
Pathogenic Bacteria
Space

Natasha Sushenko is a graduate research assistant with the Division of Hydrologic Sciences at the Desert Research Institute (DRI) in Las Vegas. She is a Master’s student in Biological Sciences in the School of Life Sciences at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV), and is co-mentored by Duane Moser, Ph.D., of DRI and Brian Hedlund, Ph.D., of UNLV. Funding for Natasha’s position is provided by the NASA EPSCOR Rapid Response Research Program. Learn more about Natasha and her graduate research in this interview with DRI’s Behind the Science Blog!

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

Natasha Sushenko processes samples using a biosafety cabinet in the Environmental Microbiology Lab at the Desert Research Institute in December of 2020 during a SARS-CoV-2 wastewater monitoring study. Sushenko is a graduate research assistant with the Division of Hydrologic Sciences at DRI in Las Vegas.

Credit: Ali Swallow/DRI.

DRI: What brought you to DRI?

Sushenko: Dr. Duane Moser spoke in my undergraduate Microbial Ecology class at UNLV, and I was really interested in how his lab studies the deep biosphere, the zone of life that exists far below Earth’s surface. His lab does fascinating research on “microbial dark matter,” yet-to-be-classified microorganisms that live under extreme conditions within the deep biosphere and are difficult to culture in the lab. We kept in touch, and even though I considered leaving Las Vegas to do my graduate studies, the opportunities that he and DRI offered were too good to pass up.

What research projects are you working on? And who at DRI are you working with?

Sushenko: I work in Dr. Moser’s Environmental Microbiology Lab here at DRI. We completed a COVID-19 wastewater monitoring study this winter, but my main research project is a NASA collaboration with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). They sent our lab strains of a pathogen (disease-causing bacterium) called Klebsiella pneumoniae that were isolated from the International Space Station (ISS). This microbe is a common cause of hospital-borne pneumonia and other infections, but in this case, it was found living on surfaces on the ISS, including on their space toilet. This pathogen is of particular concern to NASA because it has appeared in multiple samples across several years of microbiome monitoring, and it is growing more prevalent over time. While no astronauts on the space station have gotten sick, future human spaceflight to Mars and beyond may require astronauts to go on trips lasting years before returning to Earth. Because of this, NASA wants to know how pathogens like K. pneumoniae respond and adapt to living in space.

Our goal is to study how this pathogen’s virulence, or ability to cause severe illness, and its resistance to antimicrobial drugs and cleaners changes when exposed to the stresses of microgravity. Microgravity is the condition in space where people or objects appear to be weightless. This is something we can study here on Earth, at DRI, with a machine that simulates microgravity.

Above, left: Natasha Sushenko processes samples using a biosafety cabinet in the Environmental Microbiology Lab at the Desert Research Institute in December of 2020 during a SARS-CoV-2 wastewater monitoring study.

Credit: Ali Swallow/DRI.

Above, right: Natasha Sushenko performs field chemistries on deep borehole samples in the Funeral Mountains near Death Valley on 28-April, 2021. Here Natasha is using a Hach Colorimeter to measure dissolved oxygen, iron, sulfate, and sulfide to test whether increased rates of pumping from a deep well facilitated collection of deeper samples from a geologic fracture zone. Natasha contributed to the DRI-led portion of an NSF-funded collaboration with Bigelow Lab in ME and others focused on applying cutting-edge genomic approaches to the oceans, marine crustal fluids, and the continental subsurface.

Credit: Detra Page/DRI.

DRI: What are your short-term and long-term goals while at DRI?

Sushenko: Right now, I’m on the master’s degree plan, but I’m considering changing to Ph.D. track to continue working on my project to completion and beyond. The issue of the microbiome of the built environment in closed systems like spacecraft will only become more important as agencies and companies explore travel to the moon and Mars. You don’t get opportunities to work with NASA at every institution, and I’m excited that DRI gives me this opportunity.

DRI: Tell us about yourself. What do you do for fun?

The pandemic has cramped a lot of my favorite hobbies, but usually, I love to travel to visit friends, go camping, hike, and just being outside with others. This past year I’ve instead spent more time hanging out with my dog, gardening (indoors and outdoors), and baking.

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

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

Credit: Natasha Sushenko

Additional Information:

For more information on DRI’s Environmental Microbiology Laboratory, please visit: https://www.dri.edu/labs/environmental-microbiology/

For more information on graduate programs at DRI, please visit: https://www.dri.edu/education/graduate-programs/

 

Meet Graduate Researcher Dylan Person

Meet Graduate Researcher Dylan Person

Meet Dylan Person, Graduate Researcher

APRIL 19, 2021
LAS VEGAS, NEV.

By Kaylynn Perez

Archaeology
Cultural Resource Management
Antrhopology

Dylan Person is a graduate research assistant with the Division of Earth and Ecosystem Sciences at the Desert Research Institute (DRI) in Las Vegas. He is a Ph.D. student in Anthropology, Archaeology subfield, at the University of Nevada Las Vegas. Learn more about Dylan and his graduate research in this interview with DRI’s Behind the Science Blog!

Dylan Person is a graduate research assistant with the Desert Research Institute in Las Vegas.

Dylan Person is a graduate research assistant with the Division of Earth and Ecosystems Sciences at DRI in Las Vegas. 

Credit: Greg Haynes.

DRI: What brought you to DRI?

Person: I was introduced to DRI through the UNLV Department of Anthropology. I became interested in coming to DRI as a graduate assistant when I learned that a position at DRI gave students the opportunity to perform fieldwork as well as write reports and plan projects for cultural resource management archaeology. In addition to this great opportunity for learning new aspects of this area of archaeology, I jumped at the chance to learn more about Native American archaeology in the Great Basin since my research focus at UNLV is primarily based in New Mexico. I also got really excited when I learned that I’d be working with historic nuclear testing resources since that’s such a major part of America’s scientific history.

DRI: What are you studying?

Person: I study stone tool technology and how it interrelated with cultural and social life at sites in the Mimbres Mogollon region of southwestern New Mexico. The time period I study was around AD 550-1130 and during this time these people changed from highly mobile foragers to living in settled agricultural villages. This resulted in changes in their social organization that I think also impacted the way they made and used stone tools. Though this is not directly related to DRI’s work, experience with similar artifacts in the Great Basin has added a new dimension to my own work.

Archaeology in the Great Basin is very focused on mobile groups and studying here and working with these archaeological sites at DRI has taught me a lot about how mobile people moved around and interacted with their environment. This knowledge has really deepened my understanding of how groups of people in my study area acted when practicing this lifeway and expanded the range of my research.

Above, left: Dylan Person and his boxer, Wiggles, hike along the McCullough Hills Trail in the Sloan Canyon National Conservation Area of Nevada. Above, right: One of Dylan’s fieldwork sites in San Bernardino, California. 

Credit: Lizzie Person (left photo); Jared Miles (right photo).

DRI: What research projects are you working on? And who at DRI are you working with?

Person: I work with the Cultural Resource Management Program team. They’re a great group of archaeologists and historians who have a variety of interesting projects in addition to their cultural resource work. My supervisor is Maureen King, who has been very supportive of my academic progress and has helped me a lot in my professional development. Though I work with a combination of United States history and earlier Native American history, Maureen is great about involving me with program projects that align with my research interests here in Nevada, which I’ll talk a little more about below.

Currently, I am working on my dissertation research which involves the stone tool study that I mentioned previously. At DRI I have mostly been focusing on working with historic nuclear testing activities for cultural resource management. Informally at DRI, I have been looking at how groups moved throughout southern and central Nevada and adjacent regions. I’m interested in how these travel routes map on to environmental features such as water sources like springs, rivers, and wetlands as well as other resource-rich areas. Since these resources included plants, animals, rocks for tools, and culturally significant areas I have a lot to work with when it comes to investigating the how and why of people’s interaction with these areas over a long period of time.

Additionally, our program at DRI has a long history of working closely with Native American groups who live in the region. Being exposed to Native perspectives on the land and environment is a really valuable addition, since they have inherited a cultural understanding of this area that only comes from lived experience and long tradition. Though I don’t presume to fully understand how previous generations of Native Americans of the Mojave and Great Basin thought about their environment and lives, being around these perspectives has really opened up my mind to ideas and viewpoints that I wouldn’t have developed on my own. I’m really grateful for that!

DRI: What are your short-term and long-term goals while at DRI?

Person: In the short term, I hope to continue making contributions to our program and its support of projects through cultural resource management.

In the long term, I want to learn everything I can during my time in our program so that I am well-situated for both academic and non-academic archaeological work. I also want to formalize some of my research interests into a developed research plan, one that ideally would contain public science-focused elements. I’m really interested in public science and supporting science education in general.

Above, left: Dylan Person at the office on DRI’s Las Vegas campus. Above, right: One of Dylan’s field sites in San Bernardino County, California.

Credit: Dylan Person/DRI (left photo), Jared Miles (right photo).

DRI: Tell us about yourself. What do you do for fun?

Person: I like to get out in nature. So hiking, camping, bouldering, and other types of outdoor activities are always a good time. I’m a sort of amateur geologist, so I also like checking out interesting rock formations and the overall geology of a place. Nevada is a really great place for all that so I have a lot of options!

When I’m not running around outside, I play music. I play a few instruments but I’m best at the guitar and I play just about any style that a guitar can do, so rock/blues, country, bluegrass, jazz and even classical music. I also like cooking and especially grilling, backyard hangouts, and spending time with my wife Lizzie and our Boxer dog Wiggles, who are my companions in all these things I do for fun. One of these days I’ll have the space to get a project car so I can finally finish learning auto mechanics without worrying about messing up my daily driver!

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

In his free time, Dylan enjoys spending time with his wife Lizzie and their boxer, Wiggles. 

Credit: Lizzie Person.

Additional Information:

For more information on DRI’s Cultural Resource Management Program, please visit: https://www.dri.edu/crm/

For more information on graduate programs at DRI, please visit: https://www.dri.edu/education/graduate-programs/

 

Drought Conditions Intensify Across California and Nevada

Drought Conditions Intensify Across California and Nevada

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Additional information:

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

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

 

Daniel McEvoy Receives Board of Regents 2021 Rising Researcher Award

Daniel McEvoy Receives Board of Regents 2021 Rising Researcher Award

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New DRI projects for 2021 include microplastics, microfossils, snowmelt risk, and solute transport

New DRI projects for 2021 include microplastics, microfossils, snowmelt risk, and solute transport

New DRI projects for 2021 include microplastics, microfossils, snowmelt risk, and solute transport

FEB 26, 2021
RENO & LAS VEGAS, NEV.

Introducing the winners of DRI’s 2021 Institute Project Assignment (IPA) competition.

Each year, the Desert Research Institute awards funding to several new faculty and staff projects each year through its Institute Project Assignment (IPA) competition. Winners of the IPA competition receive a research grant from DRI to pursue a topic that interests them and develop ideas that can ultimately be turned into externally funded research projects. This year, winners of the IPA competition are DRI scientists Erick Bandala, Monica Arienzo, Sandra Bruegger, Benjamin Hatchett, and Lazaro Perez. Details about each project are below.

Erick Bandala and Monica Arienzo: Assessing environmental aging of microplastics

Microplastics, defined as plastic fragments smaller than 5mm, were first discovered in the natural environment in the early 2000s. Two decades later, much is still unknown about these pollutants – including how microplastic particles degrade or break down as they age. A new project led by Erick Bandala, Ph.D., and Monica Arienzo, Ph.D., will assess the environmental aging of microplastic particles through accelerated aging tests, using UV-A radiation to imitate the effects of unfiltered sunlight over different time spans on microplastics of different types, shapes, and sizes. Their results will provide new insight into the fate of microplastics after their release into the environment.

Closeup of microplastic fibers

A close-up image of microplastic fibers. Credit: DRI.

Benjamin Hatchett and Anne Heggli: Towards improved decision support for snow-covered watersheds: A snowmelt risk advisory

Rain-on-snow events (in which a warm winter storm rains onto existing snowpack under windy and humid conditions) are linked to many of the largest floods in Nevada and other parts of the United States. These types of events are projected to increase in frequency and magnitude as the climate warms. This change creates new challenges for water managers, who are tasked with deciding when water should be stored in reservoirs for economic and ecological benefits, and when water should be released downstream for flood control and public safety. To help water managers make decisions using the best available data, Division of Atmospheric Sciences graduate student Anne Heggli, advised by Benjamin Hatchett, Ph.D., will design and develop a tool called a Snowmelt Risk Advisory (SRA). This framework will combine risk matrices with weather datasets to create a tool that will help inform reservoir operations in snow-dominated watersheds.

A ski lift at Kirkwood ski resort during a warm storm

A rain-on-snow event at Kirkwood Ski Area. Credit: Ben Hatchett/DRI.

Sandra Brugger: Microfossils in Greenland Ice – Establishing a new method at DRI

Greenland’s ice sheets hold important records of pollen grains and other microfossils that can provide researchers with insight into long-term environmental change in the Arctic, however, these resources have not yet been studied extensively. Recently, Sandra Brugger, Ph.D., developed a new method for extracting microfossils from Greenland ice cores and created the first reliable record of microfossils from well-dated Greenland ice, with a second record currently under development. With IPA funding, Bruegger will hold a workshop to train additional scientists in her methodology, and develop a microfossil record from east-central Greenland ice spanning the past 8000 years. She will also give a talk to the local community at the Alta Skilled Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Reno, sharing her research with an audience that has been isolated for months during the pandemic.

DRI scientist Sandra Brugger inspects samples under a microscope. Credit: Manu Friederich

DRI scientist Sandra Brugger inspects samples under a microscope. Credit: Manu Friederich.

Lazaro Perez: Tortuosity Characterization via Machine Learning to Quantify Solute Transport in Berea Sandstone

Understanding and predicting the fate of solutes (dissolved substances) as they pass through various types of rocks and soils in a groundwater system is crucial for several environmental and industrial applications, but modeling this process is complex. Building on work completed as part of an IPA-funded project in 2020, Lazaro J. Perez, Ph.D., will use training data for the development of a machine-learning algorithm to predict solute transport through material containing pores of different sizes, such as sandstone. Dr. Perez’s work, focused on solute transport simulations on pore-scale images of two types of sandstones, will help scientists better understand processes as diverse as contaminant transport in groundwater flow and protein diffusion in living cells.

DRI scientist Lazaro Perez

DRI scientist Lazaro Perez.

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/.

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

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

What happens when rain falls on desert soils?

DEC. 14, 2020
LAS VEGAS, NEV.

Soils
Hydrology
Deserts

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photograph by Ali Swallow/DRI.

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

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

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

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

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

Photographs by Ali Swallow/DRI.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photograph by Ali Swallow/DRI.

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

Additional Information:

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

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

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

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

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

DRI scientists Markus Berli and Yuan Luo. November 2020.

Photograph by Ali Swallow/DRI.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Credit: Dan McEvoy/DRI.

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

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

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

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

Graph showing increase in extreme fire danger days in 2020.

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

Credit: Dan McEvoy/DRI.

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

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

 

Additional Information:

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

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

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

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

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

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


 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Local Scientists Discuss Research During First “Conversations with DRI Innovators” Event

Local Scientists Discuss Research During First “Conversations with DRI Innovators” Event

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Each presentation runs approximately 10 minutes.

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

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

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

Media Contact

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

What’s in the plume? Researchers compare health impacts of smoke from wildfires versus prescribed burns

What’s in the plume? Researchers compare health impacts of smoke from wildfires versus prescribed burns

What’s in the plume?

Scientists compare health impacts of smoke from wildfires versus prescribed burns.
Reno, Nev.
October 26, 2020

Plumes
Human health
Wildfire smoke

Featured research by DRI’s Andrey Khlystov, Dante Staten, Jim Metcalf, Adam Watts, Vera Samburova, Siying Lu, and Hans Moosmuller.

When the air over Reno and other western communities turns hazy-brown with wildfire smoke, many can’t help but wonder – what is in the smoke, and can it make us sick? Desert Research Institute (DRI) scientists Andrey Khlystov, Ph.D., Dante Staten, M.S., and a team of colleagues from DRI and the University of Nevada, Reno (UNR) are currently working to find out, as part of a five-year project funded by the National Institutes of Health.

The project, which began in 2019, will compare the impacts on human health of two different types of fire smoke – smoke from wildfires versus that from prescribed burns. Although each can generate large plumes of smoke, wildfires often burn hotter and their plumes may include chemicals released by burning houses or other structures.

“Prescribed fires do still generate smoke, but they are usually lower intensity fires, so they generate different amounts of pollutants and different kinds of particles to some extent,” Khlystov said. “So, our study is asking, what is the relative benefit to health of managing land with prescribed fires? Or, is prescribed fire and wildfire smoke about the same?”

DRI researchers collect data from air quality monitoring station on DRI rooftop

DRI scientists Dante Staten (left) and Andrey Khlystov (right) collect air quality data from sensors located on the roof of the Desert Research Institute in Reno. October 19, 2020.

Credit: DRI.

In 2019, Khlystov, Staten and their colleagues began collecting and analyzing air samples at Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) monitoring sites in Reno and Sparks, as well as on the DRI rooftop. They have continued to collect air quality samples during summer and fall of 2020.

“Last year our air was pretty clean – unlucky for the project, but lucky for everyone else,” Khlystov said. “But this year, from about mid-August to mid-September, we had almost non-stop smoky days.”

Staten, a graduate research assistant and Ph.D. student with UNR’s environmental science program, has been heavily involved in sample collection during his time at DRI. With more than 150 air quality samples now in hand, he is beginning to process and analyze them in DRI’s Organic Analytical Lab.

air quality monitoring equipment
researchers at air quality monitoring station on DRI roof

Above: Using air quality monitoring equipment located at sites in Reno and Sparks, DRI researchers have collected more than 150 air quality samples during the 2020 season. The photos above were taken from the DRI rooftop in 2019 and 2020.

Credit: DRI.
Next, Khlystov and his team plan to conduct laboratory experiments in DRI’s combustion chamber in order to learn more about the specific air quality impacts of burning different fuel types collected from around Reno and other parts of the Sierra Nevada and California, and to learn about how the chemical composition of smoke changes over time. They will use this data and information to create a model of the pollutants present in smoke plumes.  

Working in collaboration with epidemiologist Matt Strickland, Ph.D., of UNR, the researchers will then compare information from the air quality model with a database of health records provided by Renown Health. This will allow the team to investigate impacts of smoke on human health in terms of number of hospital visits that occurred during wildfire or prescribed fire smoke events.  

“Renown has millions of health records, all anonymized so that there are no privacy issues, but we can use them to see how many people have health complaints after an episode of wildfire or prescribed fire smoke,” Khlystov explained. “This will allow epidemiologists to figure out how bad an impact was – for example, if we have an increase in smoke particle concentration by a factor of two, does that mean 100 more people coming to the hospital, or 1,000, or 10,000?” 

Researchers analyze air quality samples in DRI's organic analytical laboratory.

Researchers Dante Staten (left) and Andrey Khlystov (right) analyze air quality samples in DRI’s Organic Analytical Laboratory. October 19, 2020.

Credit: DRI.

As climate change continues to alter natural fire regimes, Khlystov, Staten and their colleagues hope that their study findings will provide needed information to help everyone from land managers to the medical community and individual citizens better manage risk during the fire season.

“The incidence of wildfires here in the west and around the world is increasing, it’s very difficult not to notice,” Khlystov said. “People know that the particles are not good for you and are causing all sorts of health effects, but there are still a lot of unknowns.”

Additional information

For more information on this study, read the project summary: Associations of smoke from wildfires and prescribed burns with cardiorespiratory health outcomes in Reno, NV 

To view realtime air quality data from the rooftop of Desert Research Institute’s Reno campus, visit the Purple Air Network’s air quality map: https://www.purpleair.com/map?opt=1/mAQI/a10/cC0#10.94/39.5768/-119.8067

DRI Video – Wildfire Smoke, Air Quality, & Public Health  

Tiffany Pereira works at Tule Springs
During August and September of 2020, smoke drifted into Nevada from numerous California wildfires. This satellite image shows extremely smoky conditions on September 14, 2020
Credit: NASA Worldview.

Making Sense of Remote Sensing: A Q&A with Matt Bromley

Making Sense of Remote Sensing: A Q&A with Matt Bromley

Making Sense of Remote Sensing

SEPT 28, 2020
RENO, NEV.

Remote Sensing
Evapotranspiration
Hydrologic Sciences

A Q&A with Matt Bromley on remote sensing and the OpenET project

Matt Bromley, M.S., is an Assistant Research Scientist with the Division of Hydrologic Sciences at the Desert Research Institute (DRI) in Reno, and specializes in GIS and remote sensing. He holds a B.S. in Environmental Science and a M.S. in Geography from the University of Nevada, Reno. He is a native Nevadan, an Army veteran, and has been a member of the DRI community for ten years. 

Matt is currently working alongside a team of scientists and web developers from DRI, NASA, Google and Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) to develop a new web application called OpenET (https://openetdata.org/), which will make satellite-based data on evapotranspiration widely accessible to farmers, landowners, and water managers. We recently sat down with Matt to learn the basics of remote sensing and how it is used in the OpenET project.

Matt Bromley

Matt Bromley, M.S. is a an Assistant Research Scientist with the Division of Hydrologic Sciences at DRI in Reno.

DRI: You specialize in remote sensing. Can you tell us a little bit about this field of study?

Bromley: Technically, remote sensing means “the acquisition of data from a distance.” In the context of the work that I do, it means studying the earth’s surface with satellites. These satellites are often sensitive to same portions of the light-spectrum that our human eyes can see, as well as portions of the light spectrum that we can’t see, such as infrared (thermal).  The images and data that Earth-focused satellites provide are a great way to learn about the Earth from a distance. There are also other types of remote sensing data, such as aerial images from planes, Radar, and LIDAR, where you use laser light to determine distance which can allow you to measure terrain and geographic features.

DRI: What is OpenET, and what is your role in the project?

Bromley: To understand the importance of OpenET you have to first understand evapotranspiration (ET). ET is the process by which water is transferred from land to the atmosphere – through evaporation from soil and transpiration from plant leaves – which is approximately the amount of water used by crops to grow our food and other resources. OpenET is a new web application that will provide ET data to water managers, land owners, and farmers in 17 western states. We started building this tool in 2018 and it’s scheduled to launch in 2021.

My role is pretty varied within the project. I have a foot in the technical side of it, in that I’m working on some of the data used in the ET models as well as contributing to the analysis. I also have an outward facing role in that I engage with people and organizations who are the preliminary users of the data. I provide some analysis, answer questions, and act as the bridge between the teams developing the evapotranspiration data and the people using it.

OpenET data showing evapotranspiration graph

OpenET is a new web application that will provide evapotranspiration data to water managers, land owners and farmers across 17 western states.

Credit: OpenET.

screenshot of OpenET website

To learn more about OpenET project, visit their website at openetdata.org.

DRI: How do you use remote sensing data in the OpenET project?

Bromley: The team that I work with uses remote sensing to measure water use from irrigation. We use both optical and thermal data to get information from the land surface. Among other things, the optical data shows how green and healthy the vegetation is, and with the thermal data we can actually detect the cooling effect that’s produced when water evaporates.

When I started at DRI, remote sensing data was generally processed on individual computers. You had to download all the data yourself and then process it with specialized software. About ten years ago, Google started hosting climate and remote sensing data in the cloud. So, rather than having to download all the data to do your analysis on a desktop computer, you can instead send your analysis to the cloud (lots of computers), allowing you to get some of your answers much, much faster. OpenET makes use of that platform, processing remote sensing data through five different models. Through OpenET we’re able to produce not only individual model ET estimates, but also an ensemble estimate using all of those models.

DRI: What type of remote sensing data do you use to calculate evapotranspiration (ET)?

Bromley: All of it right now is from the Landsat series of satellites, which gives us the optical and thermal data that we need to calculate ET. Landsat is a series of earth-observations satellites which are operated as a joint program between NASA and the USGS. The modern series of Landsat satellites started in the early 1980s, so with this collection of data we can actually look back in time and see how water use has changed over the decades. The duration and consistency of the Landsat program really sets it apart from other sources of remote sensing data.

OpenET data showing evapotranspiration graph

OpenET is being built by scientists and web developers from DRI, NASA, Google and Environmental Defense Fund (EDF). The web application is scheduled to launch in 2021.

Credit: OpenET.

DRI: How did you become interested in working in this field?

Bromley: Being a native Nevadan, you grow up being  aware of how special water is. As a kid my family would go on road trips through the Great Basin and as much as I loved seeing the sagebrush and mountains, it felt like we were discovering an oasis whenever we’d drive past a river or lake. In working to understand water use, I’m providing information to the people who manage that precious resource, as well as to the farmers and ranchers who grow our food.  It feels like I’m helping not just my community but the state and the region.

The work that we’re doing at DRI and with OpenET is especially important, because detailed information on water use at a large scale has typically been hard to access and very expensive.  OpenET is working to change that and make this data widely accessible to spark improvements an innovation in water management across the West.

“In working to understand water use, I’m providing information to the people who manage that precious resource, as well as to the farmers and ranchers who grow our food.”

Additional information

Other DRI scientists that work on the OpenET project include Justin Huntington, Charles Morton, Britta Daudert and Jody Hansen.

To learn more about the OpenET project, please visit: https://openetdata.org/

To read a recent (September 2020) press release on the OpenET project, please visit: https://www.dri.edu/openet-2020-announcement/ 

To learn more about Matt Bromley and his research, please visit: https://www.dri.edu/directory/matthew-bromley/

Wildfire smoke more dangerous than other air pollutants for asthma patients

Wildfire smoke more dangerous than other air pollutants for asthma patients

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

 

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

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

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

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

 


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


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

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

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

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

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

Additional Information:

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

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

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About the Desert Research Institute

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

Dr. Kumud Acharya Appointed Permanent President of DRI

Dr. Kumud Acharya Appointed Permanent President of DRI

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

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

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

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

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

ABOUT Dr. Kumud Acharya

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

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

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

The Nevada System of Higher Education, comprised of two doctoral-granting universities, a state college, four comprehensive community colleges, and one environmental research institute, serves the educational and job training needs of Nevada. NSHE provides educational opportunities to more than 100,000 students and is governed by the Board of Regents.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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About the Desert Research Institute

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

About Native Waters on Arid Lands

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

   

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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About the Desert Research Institute

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

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

About the League to Save Lake Tahoe

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

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

Camp Fire tragedy leads to new wildfire research

Camp Fire tragedy leads to new wildfire research

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

UCLA

Ertugrul Taciroglu

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

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

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

University at Buffalo

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

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

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

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

National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder (NCAR)

Branko Kosovic

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

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

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

Desert Research Institute (DRI)

Adam Watts

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

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

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

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

Amir Talaei-Khoei

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

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

Neil Lareau

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

Hamed Ebrahimian

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

Community Engagement

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

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

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

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

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

 

Tu Biomics, Agriculture Biotechnology Company Spins Out Of DRI

Tu Biomics, Agriculture Biotechnology Company Spins Out Of DRI

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DRI’s Frits Went Laboratory

DRI’s Frits Went Laboratory includes four very unique controlled environment chambers. This advanced research facility in Reno, Nevada served as the foundation for DRI researchers to help Tu Biomics develop its lab-to-field trials targeting harmful pathogens in garlic, leafy greens, and strawberry crops.

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About the Governor’s Office of Economic Development
Created during the 2011 session of the Nevada Legislature, the Governor’s Office of Economic Development is the result of a collaborative effort between the Nevada Legislature and the Governor’s Office to restructure economic development in the state. GOED’s role is to promote a robust, diversified and prosperous economy in Nevada, to stimulate business expansion and retention, encourage entrepreneurial enterprise, attract new businesses and facilitate community development. More information on the Governor’s Office of Economic Development can be viewed at diversifynevada.com.

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

Meet Gai Elhanan, M.D.

Meet Gai Elhanan, M.D.

Gai Elhanan, M.D., is a health data scientist with the Division of Earth and Ecosystems Sciences at the Desert Research Institute in Reno. He specializes in health care informatics, and is a physician with more than 12 years of experience in internal medicine and infectious diseases. Gai received his M.D from Tel Aviv University and his M.A in Medical Informatics from Columbia University. He also completed a NIH post-doctoral fellowship at the Medical Informatics Department, New York Presbyterian Medical Center/Columbia University. In his free time, Gai enjoys listening to jazz and classical music, flying radio-controlled airplanes, and doing woodwork.


What do you do here at DRI?

I came to DRI in 2017 to work with the Healthy Nevada Project. I am a physician by training, so, I am the guy within the Healthy Nevada Project that gives the clinical perspective on the data and questions. I provide the viewpoint of a health professional, whereas the other people on the team are geneticists, data scientists, or have backgrounds in other scientific fields. We sometimes collaborate with the physicians at Renown, cardiologists or other specialists, but they are very busy taking care of their many patients; we can’t really utilize them to the extent we would like. So, that is exactly where I come in. It might not be that I am the most up-to-date in every field of medicine, but I bring the clinical perspectives and medical knowledge to the team.

One of your specialties is in health care informatics. Can you tell us a little bit about this field of study?

Yes, I’ve been involved with health informatics for 20-something years now. Basically, it’s a very broad field that investigates how data can be used to improve health care. In health care, we have vast amounts of data, and we don’t use it optimally. When you visit a doctor, everything is coded – your diagnosis, procedures, medical services. These codes are mostly used for billing purposes, but we can also extract clinical information for research. For example, We can utilize the genomic information we collect from the HNP participants and correlate it to clinical findings and diagnoses in the electronic medical records to try and predict risk and factors that are associated with outcomes of certain conditions.

In health care informatics, we look at how data should be presented for research or patients or clinicians, and how to draw conclusions from the data. By improving the utilization of the data within the electronic health record, we improve the quality and efficiency of the care provided, we improve the ability to do research on the data and, overall we improve the health of the population. How to get the right data, how to organize it, and how to present it optimally for each task are all very important things.

What are you working on right now with the Healthy Nevada Project?

Right now, with the Healthy Nevada Project, we’re trying to improve participation for specific groups of individuals. Originally the Healthy Nevada Project was testing whoever walked in, they were encouraged to provide their saliva and join the project. But now, for several reasons, we’re also trying to improve targeted recruiting in order to better represent the actual population of the region. So, we’re trying to identify who might be good potential participant for the project, and work with Renown’s research coordinators and ambassadors for the project to reach out to people who we would like to have participate.

I am also working on a project with Gilead, the pharmaceutical company, concerning a condition called NASH (non-alcoholic steatohepatitis). NASH affects a significant portion of the population here in Northern Nevada, and can result in life threatening outcomes. This is a strategic collaboration to collect and analyze genetic and electronic health data that can enhance the understanding of NASH and potentially inform development of treatment options for the disease.

How did you end up here at DRI?

I did my medical training in Israel, and also did my residency there. We ended up in the U.S. because my wife is originally from the States. She is a physician as well, a pediatrician and an adolescent medicine specialist. I decided that I didn’t want to practice medicine in the U.S., I wanted to do something else. So, in 1995, I got a NIH grant to do a postdoc fellowship at Columbia University in New York. I got a master’s degree there in medical informatics. We came to Reno a few years ago when my wife was offered a position at Renown, and that’s when I started at DRI with the Healthy Nevada Project. Her position didn’t work out and she went back to New York, but I like the potential in the Healthy Nevada Project and the group of people I’m working with so I stayed with the DRI team to keep doing my work.  The team here is a really nice group of people.


To learn more about the Healthy Nevada Project, please visit: https://www.dri.edu/project/healthy-nevada-project/

To learn more about Gai’s work with the Renown Institute of Health Innovation (Renown IHI), please visit: https://www.dri.edu/renown-ihi/ 

 

New donor-powered research underway to address climate adaptation, water resources, and more

New donor-powered research underway to address climate adaptation, water resources, and more

The DRI Foundation has just awarded the next round of seed grants to six teams of researchers through the Innovation Research Program (IRP). The 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 chosen through a competitive selection process and reviewed by a committee comprised of previous IRP recipients and DRI’s Vice President for Research. The selected projects demonstrate creative, innovative research or technological development that advances DRI’s mission.


Dr. Mary Cablk’s cadaver dog Inca sniffing in the field.

Dr. Mary Cablk’s cadaver dog Inca sniffing in the field.

Advancing the science behind canine odor detection evidence in criminal trials
Mary Cablk, Yeongkwon Son, Andrey Khlystov

Cadaver dogs are often called on to detect the odors of human remains at a crime scene, and the evidence they find—the odor left behind from a body on a killer’s clothing, for example—is treated as hard scientific fact in criminal trials. However, there are currently no physical or chemical forensic methods to verify this kind of evidence. In a first-of-its-kind study, Dr. Mary Cablk and her team are employing a scientific approach to compare the detection of residual odors by dogs and laboratory instrumentation. This research will bolster the scientific foundation for canine evidence used in homicide cases and position DRI to secure future funding for projects investigating a wider span of canine evidence, such as contraband.

Workers in Pajaro Valley, Watsonville, CA. Credit: Lance Cheung/USDA.

Workers in Pajaro Valley, Watsonville, CA. Credit: Lance Cheung/USDA.

Supporting climate adaptation for specialty crop farmers
Kristin VanderMolen 

Climate change impacts like flooding and drought threaten the production of specialty crops like fruits, nuts, and vegetables in California, a state that grows more than half of these crops nationwide. DRI’s Kristin VanderMolen, PhD, and partners at the Climate Science Alliance at Scripps Institution of Oceanography are investigating how farmers are adapting to these challenges in order to identify how climate research can best support them. This research lays the groundwork for field studies to test and verify the effectiveness of farmers’ adaptation strategies and the development of climate information products to support farmers into the future. Additionally, this project builds relationships between DRI and critical partners, like the Climate Science Alliance and University of California Cooperative Extension.

A section of Smoke Creek Road in rural Northwestern Nevada. Credit: Bob Wick/BLM.

A section of Smoke Creek Road in rural Northwestern Nevada. Credit: Bob Wick/BLM.

Enhancing soil moisture data to improve hydrologic modeling
Ming Liu

Soil moisture is a critical variable when it comes to understanding processes like evapotranspiration, the transfer of water from land surfaces and plants into the atmosphere. Most hydrologic models rely on soil moisture data from satellite remote sensing, but this data lacks ground truthing, especially in remote arid places. In collaboration with Myriota, an Internet of Things (IoT) nanosatellite startup, DRI’s Ming Liu, PhD, is developing sensor stations by integrating Myriota’s nanosatellite transceiver with custom-made universal dataloggers. The sensor stations will be deployed across Nevada to collect soil moisture readings from the field. This project aims to improve the data used in hydrologic models and build the foundation for broader sensor deployment for environmental research in arid lands.

Researchers sample snow

Researchers sample snow for a previous research project. Credit: Nathan Chellman/DRI.

Tracing the history of atmospheric river events to improve water resource management in the Western U.S.
Joe McConnell, Nathan Chellman, Christine Albano

Atmospheric rivers carry significant amounts of water vapor from the tropics to the Western United States, providing 30-40% of the total precipitation during a typical winter season. However, these rivers in the sky can also result in extreme weather like flooding and wind storms, which pose risks to infrastructure and human safety. Despite the significant impacts of atmospheric rivers, little is known about how their frequency and intensity has changed over the past several centuries. Using chemical analysis in DRI’s state-of-the-art Ice Core Laboratory, Joe McConnell, PhD, and his team are working to identify isotopic signatures that differentiate snow produced by atmospheric rivers from that produced by other storms. If successful, researchers will be able to leverage this work in future projects to develop a history of atmospheric rivers over the last several hundred years. Such a record will be valuable for informing water resource management and hazard mitigation, especially as the climate continues to warm and change.

A cannabis growing facility

A cannabis growing facility, part of a previous DRI air quality study. Credit: Vera Samburova/DRI.

Evaluating health risks from cannabis smoking and vaping
David Campbell

The legalization of cannabis products for both medical and recreational use in many states, including Nevada, has resulted in widespread commercial production of non-tobacco smoking and vaping products. However, this growth hasn’t been accompanied by research into the health effects from use of those products—in fact, there has been virtually no analysis of the many chemical compounds that are inhaled by users when smoking or vaping cannabis, due in part to federal research restrictions. Dr. David Campbell is developing a portable sampling system to collect the smoke or vapor for laboratory analysis, and it will be tested with cigarettes made from legal hemp, which is identical to marijuana except for the lower THC content. This research will bolster what we know about the health risks associated with cannabis use and develop intellectual property DRI researchers can leverage in future projects.

The Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area (SVRA) on the Central California Coast,

The Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area (SVRA) on the Central California Coast, where Gillies and colleagues have previously conducted research on dust and wind erosion.

Modeling and Analysis of Fluid Flow Interactions with Porous/Permeable 3-Dimensional Forms
Jack Gillies, Eden Furtak-Cole

Dust emissions, particularly from arid regions, directly impact air quality, human health, agricultural production, and the planet’s climate. Windy conditions drive the formation of dust through erosion, and while vegetation and structures like fencing are known to mitigate wind erosion and dust emissions, researchers have been unable to quantify their actual impact in large scale models. Dr. Jack Gillies and his team are working to incorporate the erosion mitigation impact of vegetation and engineered control structures into wind erosion models. These models will provide a cost-effective, efficient way to develop dust control strategies and improve air quality. This work will also position DRI as a leader in the ability to evaluate dust emissions and lay the foundation for future projects, particularly as problems like drought and desertification become more pronounced under a warming climate.

Meet Tiffany Pereira, M.S.

Meet Tiffany Pereira, M.S.

Meet Tiffany Pereira, M.S.

7

MAY, 2020

Botany
Research
Scientific Illustration

Meet DRI scientist Tiffany Pereira and learn about her work in botany and scientific illustration in this interview with DRI’s Behind the Science blog.

Tiffany Pereira, M.S., is an assistant research scientist with the Division of Earth and Ecosystem Sciences at the Desert Research Institute in Las Vegas. She has been a member of the DRI community since July of 2019, and specializes in field biology, range ecology, and scientific illustration. Tiffany is originally from southern California, and holds a bachelor’s degree in environmental studies from University of Southern California and a Master’s degree in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV). In her free time, she enjoys doing artwork, singing in a community choir, hiking, and taking care of a small army of pets – ten species of frogs, geckos, a salamander, a caecilian (a legless amphibian), and three snakes.

Tiffany Pereira works at Tule Springs

DRI scientist Tiffany Pereira collects a sample of Merriams Bearpoppy (Arctomecon merriami), a sensitive species, at Tule Springs Fossil Beds National Monument in April, 2020.  

Photograph by Ali Swallow/DRI.

DRI: What do you do here at DRI?

Pereira: I specialize in the flora and fauna – so, plants and animals – of the desert southwest, and the ecological processes going on in the region. In my work, I try to provide land managers and resource managers with sound advice and sound research to back up issues that they might have when it comes to protecting and conserving our natural resources. I’m also a scientific illustrator, so I try whenever I can to incorporate artwork into what I do.

I started here at DRI in July of 2019 after graduating with my masters from UNLV, so I haven’t been here quite a year yet – but so far, one of my main tasks has been to provide resource management planning out at the Nevada Test and Training Range. I’m also working on a new project to do a botanical inventory out at Tule Springs Fossil Beds National Monument.

Las Vegas Bearpoppy (Arctomecon california), another sensitive species found at Tule Springs Fossil Beds National Monument. April 2020.

Photograph by Ali Swallow/DRI.

DRI: Where is Tule Springs Fossil Beds National Monument, and what do you hope to learn there?

Pereira: Tule Springs is a new park that was formed by the National Park Service in 2014 on land that was formerly managed by the BLM. It is a vast landscape, and it’s located on the north edge of Las Vegas with housing developments that back right up to the border, so it is what you would consider an urban park. The park is known for the presence of Ice Age fossils – including some really cool ancient mammals like mammoths, lions, bison, ground sloths, and camels – but there is also a diverse array of modern-day Mojave Desert flora and fauna on the site that hasn’t really been studied yet.

The park managers at Tule Springs are facing some unique challenges, because people used to have basically unlimited access to do whatever they wanted on the land. Now, the park is trying to manage the land and resources in a more sustainable way, but they don’t have much baseline data to support what they are trying to accomplish. It’s hard to manage rare plants and invasive species if you don’t really know what’s out there, or where those populations are occurring. So, that’s where this botanical inventory comes in.

Above: Tiffany Pereira collects samples of Merriams Bearpoppy (Arctomecon merriami; the white flower) and Las Vegas Bearpoppy (Arctomecon californica; the yellow flower) at Tule Springs Fossil Beds National Monument in April, 2020. Both are sensitive species, says Tiffany, and it is special to have them both in the park. 

Photographs by Ali Swallow/DRI.

How do you do a botanical inventory?

Well, the monument itself is 22,605 acres. It’s a really large area to cover, so we can’t aim for 100 percent coverage, but we will go out to randomly located sample sites to get a feel for the vegetation, the cover, and what the dominant species are. Then we’ll move to different spots and get different plants from different areas – for example, if we spend some time in a creosote shrub community, then we’ll move down into a sand dune community, or down into the washes. We will also go out at different times of year in order to capture peak flowering periods of each major group of plants. Our job to collect specimens that will be stored in an herbarium at the Nevada State Museum as a permanent record of the plants found at this monument, and also to create a species list for the park, like a checklist. That’s where scientific illustration might come in – I might try to illustrate some of the more prolific species, or rare or special status species found on the monument.

Tiffany Pereira works at Tule Fossil Beds National Monument in April, 2020.

Photograph by Ali Swallow/DRI.

Why do you like to use scientific illustration in your work? What do you see as the benefit of an illustration, over, say, a photograph?

Oftentimes, especially with certain medical, botanical, or wildlife illustrations, illustrations are done in black and white. That’s because you can actually get a lot more detail and texture to come across in an illustration than in a normal photograph. It also is better for people who are colorblind, or who have trouble discerning the subtleties of color.

 With an illustration of a plant, you can look at multiple examples and sort of illustrate the average to get the best possible representation of that particular species or specimen, rather than just choosing one and saying “all right, this is the one I’m going to take a picture of.” You can also show multiple life stages at once, or show a specimen from different angles.

Scientific illustration is actually something that has been around forever. All of the graphics in our textbooks, those are scientific illustrations. Early researchers like Darwin and Audubon, they had to rely on illustration to convey their findings and to progress their fields. So, it does have a very deep thread winding through the course of scientific discovery. And in the age of trying to think more about science communication, and getting our work out there in an accessible and sharable way, a picture is still worth a thousand words. Why read an abstract that is confusing and painstaking, when you can look at a visual abstract that graphically depicts the findings of a paper?

In addition to the more traditional approaches to scientific illustration, there are also some more modern scientific illustration techniques that are accepted as part of this growing field. The use of stacking software is one, where you take photos through a microscope and focus them at different levels, then use software to compress and combine ten or twenty images into one beautiful photo that is focused all the way through.

“In the age of trying to think more about science communication, and getting our work out there in an accessible and sharable way, a picture is still worth a thousand words.”

How did you become interested in scientific illustration?

When I was younger, I wanted to be a Disney animator because I loved illustration, I loved artwork. As I got older, my love for science kind of chipped in on that – but I always had a mentality of “why not both”? As an undergrad, I combined the two as much as I could – I was a science major, but I also minored in fine arts. And then, I was pleasantly surprised to come across the whole field of scientific illustration, and realize that it really is its own thing.

Once I learned that scientific illustration was a field in its own right, I thought, never again will I try to separate the two aspects of my being. There really is a field that combines science and art, and that’s exactly how I am as a person. So, I incorporated it as part of my undergrad, I had a whole chapter of my master’s thesis dedicated to it, and I’m pleased and grateful to DRI for allowing that to be a part of my career now.

Tiffany Pereira works at Tule Springs

DRI scientist Tiffany Pereira works at Tule Springs Fossil Beds National Monument in April, 2020.

Photograph by Ali Swallow/DRI.

Meet Steve Bacon, M.S.

Meet Steve Bacon, M.S.

Steve Bacon, M.S., P.G., C.E.G. is an associate research scientist of geomorphology with the Division of Earth and Ecosystem Sciences at the Desert Research Institute in Reno and a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Nevada, Reno. Steve specializes in geology, paleoclimate, and landscape evolution, and has been a member of the DRI community since 2005. He is a licensed geologist and certified engineering geologist in California. He is also originally from southern California, and holds a bachelor’s degree in geology and a master’s degree in environmental systems – geology from Humboldt State University. In his free time, Steve enjoys skiing and camping with his family.


DRI: What do you do here at DRI?

Bacon: I work in engineering geology, geomorphology, and geologic hazards, which are fields focused on understanding  why landforms and landscapes look the way that they do and how they can potentially pose a hazard. I’m currently finishing up my pursuit for a Ph.D. in hydrology, focusing on paleoclimate modeling of Owens Lake in central California. Outside of my Ph.D. research, I work on U.S. Navy projects at China Lake through DRI’s Naval Earth Science Engineering Program (NESEP) , doing engineering geology and geomorphology. I also commonly work on Department of Energy (DOE) projects to assess the hazards related to surface erosion for DOE facilities in the western US, as well as on a National Institute of Health (NIH) project characterizing the spatial distribution of naturally occurring mineral fibers across northern Nevada.

Steve Bacon samples sediments along the bank of the Snake River in Idaho.

DRI: Can you tell us about your research at Owens Lake?

Bacon: Yes, I’ve been working to identify past precipitation changes in the Owens River watershed, in the southern Sierra Nevada mountains – so looking at how wet and how dry the environment in that area has been over many thousands of years. I’ve developed a lake-level record of Owens Lake going back 50,000 years. To do that, I’ve been dating shoreline deposits using radiocarbon and luminescence age dating techniques, and integrating lake sediment core records to produce a continuous lake-level record.

All of the precipitation and snowmelt from the watershed ultimately goes to the lake, so when the lake fills up, that’s a function of how much precipitation has occurred. So, using the continuous lake-level record, I’m doing watershed and lake hydrologic modeling to learn about changes in prehistoric precipitation levels that occurred over the last 12,000 years.

DRI: How will this information be used?

Bacon: Ultimately, it can be used to understand past atmospheric circulation patterns, like, where the jet stream was at different periods of time. For example, if it was dry in the southern Sierras, chances are the jet stream was further to the north. And when there were periods where it was relatively wet, the jet stream was further south. Atmospheric modelers can use that information to refine their models of the past.

This information can also help us to understand the future, to better understand climate change. To understand what potentially can happen in the future, we rely on the past; that’s one main reason why you study the past.

View from Steve Bacon’s field camp during a research expedition in the southern Owens Valley. Owens Lake and the Sierra Nevada mountains are in the distance.

DRI: How did you become interested in this particular research question?

Bacon: I love the east side of the Sierra Nevada. I always have, ever since I was a kid and we’d drive up to Mammoth or go camping out in Death Valley and Panamint Valley. I had an opportunity as a grad student to investigate the Owens Valley fault, which last ruptured in 1872 and produced the third largest earthquake in California. We trenched that fault to characterize the earthquake history, but to understand the earthquake history, we had to characterize the lake-level history, because the fault broke up the shoreline deposits left by the lake. So that’s when I started putting together the lake-level history of Owens Lake, as part of my master’s thesis at Humboldt State University. I’ve been working on this problem for 21 years.

DRI: What do you like about studying the ancient history of places like Owens Lake?

Bacon: It’s like a scavenger hunt. You’re looking around for clues to solve a puzzle. It’s a big geologic puzzle. We go four-wheel-drive around in the desert, or hike with a shovel, digging, cleaning off geologic exposures on different landforms, such as riverbanks and alluvial fans, just finding clues. Geologic clues. It’s fun. I like it. That’s why I do it, I guess.

Steve Bacon samples sediments along the bank of the Snake River in Idaho.

For more information on Steve Bacon and his work, please visit his directory page.

DRI Hydrologist Mark Hausner Receives 2020 Rising Researcher Award

DRI Hydrologist Mark Hausner Receives 2020 Rising Researcher Award

Reno, Nev. (March 5, 2020) – Today, the Nevada System of Higher Education (NSHE) Board of Regents awarded the 2020 Rising Researcher Award to Mark Hausner, Ph.D., of the Desert Research Institute (DRI) in Reno. This honor is given annually to researchers from DRI, the University of Nevada, Reno (UNR) and the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) based on early-career accomplishments and potential for future advancement and recognition in research.

Hausner is an assistant research professor with DRI’s Division of Hydrologic Sciences, and specializes in ecohydrology, the study of interactions between water and ecological systems. His research has increased our understanding of how heat and water move through the environment, how climate change and disturbance affect those processes, and how to assess the resultant impacts to various aspects of the hydrologic setting and the ecosystem.

“I am honored to be recognized by the Board of Regents for my work in the field of hydrology,” Hausner said. “I look forward to continuing to explore new questions about how water and ecosystems affect one another throughout my career.”

Mark Hausner (right) installs temperature sensors in Devils Hole with researchers from the US National Park Service and US Fish and Wildlife Service. 2010.

Much of Hausner’s recent work focuses on the use of satellite imagery to fill in information gaps about the impacts of human activity on riparian landscapes in the Western US. He has worked extensively on Devils Hole in southern Nevada, a unique geologic formation that provides the only naturally occurring habitat for the endangered Devils Hole Pupfish. Hausner’s other notable projects include studies of groundwater-surface water interactions, as well as applied science support for the US military, US Department of Energy, and resource managers such as the South Tahoe Public Utility District and Tahoe Regional Planning Agency.

Since beginning his career at DRI in 2014, Hausner has given over 60 presentations at national scientific conferences and workshops and published 18 peer reviewed publications to high quality journals such as Groundwater and Water Resources Research. He has successfully developed and funded more than 15 grants and contracts from diverse sources such as the Department of Energy, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, NASA, and the Death Valley Conservancy, a total of more than $938,000 in funded projects.

Hausner holds a B.S. in civil and environmental engineering from Cornell University, and M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in hydrologic sciences and hydrogeology form the University of Nevada, Reno. He joined DRI in 2014 as a postdoctoral fellow, and transitioned to an assistant research professor in 2016.

For more information about Hausner and his work, please visit his directory page.

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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 Gold Mines donates $100,000 to DRI’s Nevada Robotics State-wide Teaching Training Program

Nevada Gold Mines donates $100,000 to DRI’s Nevada Robotics State-wide Teaching Training Program

Reno, Nev. (Feb. 27, 2020) – Robotics clubs and competitions have become popular in many Nevada middle and high schools in recent years, but opportunities for participation at the elementary school level have so far been limited. This is set to change, thanks to a new grant from Nevada Gold Mines to the Nevada Robotics program, led by the Desert Research Institute (DRI).

The $100,000 grant will support elementary school teacher participation in two upcoming sessions of the 2020 Summer Robotics Academy of Nevada, an annual 4-day training that is co-sponsored by Tesla.

“We’re thrilled to be able to expand our robotics programming to Nevada’s elementary school teachers this year, with this support from Nevada Gold Mines,” said A.J. Long, head of the Nevada Robotics program at DRI. “Introducing students to the fun and challenge of robotics at an early age will help us immensely in strengthening the STEM workforce pipeline across the state.”

The Nevada Robotics program, launched in 2019, introduces Nevada teachers to the engineering and robotics concepts needed to build and operate automated and remote-controlled robots with groups of students. Last summer, with support from Tesla’s K-12 Education Investment Fund, DRI partnered with the University of Nevada, Reno (UNR) and University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) to offer free training courses in robotics to more than 200 middle and high school teachers from across the state. Four additional trainings in the fall brought the total number of trained teachers to just over 400.

teachers operate robots at 2019 Robotics Academy of Nevada

The Nevada Robotics program introduces Nevada teachers to the engineering and robotics concepts needed to build and operate automated and remote-controlled robots.

Following the robotics workshops, teachers are prepared to develop competitive robotics teams at their schools. In the past year, with support from Tesla and Nevada Gold Mines, the number of competitive robotics teams in Nevada has increased by 43 percent, now totaling 672 teams and reaching more than 6,000 students. This spring, for the first time, Vex IQ robotics teams from five schools in Las Vegas, Henderson, and Ely have qualified for the VEX IQ Challenge Robotics World Championship in Louisville, Kentucky.

“Robotics is an amazing way to spark a lifelong interest in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), teamwork, and creative problem solving for students of all ages,” said Long. “Since launching last year, we’ve seen a huge amount of interest in robotics from teachers, students, and schools across the state.”

The 2020 Summer Robotics Academy of Nevada, open to elementary, middle and high school teachers, will be held in Las Vegas on May 26-29, 2020  at Cimarron-Memorial High School, and in Reno on June 16-19, 2020 at Damonte Ranch High School. The first three days of each training are designed for teachers who are new to robotics; the fourth day will be open to participants of all coaching and teaching levels.

Nevada teachers can attend the Summer Robotics Academy at no cost. Rookie coaches are eligible for travel and accommodation stipends as well as and continuing education credits. Following completion of the training, teachers who agree to start a new robotics team at their school are eligible for a free robotics kit, thanks to program sponsors, Tesla and Nevada Gold Mines.

With this grant, Nevada Gold Mines joins Tesla as a founding partner in Nevada Robotics. Melissa Schultz from Nevada Gold Mines will serve on the program’s advisory council, along with representatives from UNR, the Economic Development Authority of Western Nevada (EDAWN), the REC Foundation, PBS Reno, Clark County Schools, UNLV, Washoe County School District, FIRST Nevada, and Tesla.

For more information about the Nevada Robotics program, please visit: http://nvrobotics.dri.edu/

For teachers who are interested in attending the summer Robotics Academy of Nevada Teacher Trainings, please visit: https://forms.gle/CcsRqHpGd6dDW11Z9. Registration opens March 2nd, 2020.

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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.