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.

Meet Ken McGwire, Ph.D.

Meet Ken McGwire, Ph.D.

Ken McGwire, Ph.D., is an associate research professor of geography with the Division of Earth and Ecosystem Sciences at the Desert Research Institute in Reno. He specializes in environmental mapping, monitoring and modeling using satellite imagery and geographic information systems (GIS)software for viewing and analyzing geographical data. Ken came to DRI in 1994 from the University of California Santa Barbara, where he earned bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees in geography. In his free time, he enjoys skiing and backpacking in the Sierra Nevada. 

 

DRI: What do you do here at DRI? 

Ken McGwire: I study how things vary in space and across time in the environment, using satellite image analysis, computer mapping, and general database and programming skills. I came to DRI 25 years ago from U.C. Santa Barbara with degrees in physical geography, and what I’ve worked on here at DRI has been all over the place. There are so many cool interdisciplinary connections you can make here; I’ve found a lot of opportunities to apply the sorts of ways I look at the world to other disciplines.  

I’ve worked on everything from 3-D imaging projects with paleontologists, to scanning images of ice cores, to working with virologists from the University of Nevada, Reno on epidemiology studies. I was a member of the science team for a NASA satellite mission called “Earth Observing 1,” looking at the ability to map invasive species with a type of technology called hyperspectral imaging. Lately, I’ve been doing a lot of work with some of the older, well-used satellite systems – making use of the long archive of historical observations to look at how the environment has varied and may be changing over time. 

 

DRI: We understand that you’ve recently completed a detailed statewide map of all of Nevada’s wetland areas. Can you tell us about that project? 

McGwire: Yes, about two years ago, I was awarded a grant from the US Environmental Protection Agency through the Nevada Natural Heritage Program, in collaboration with the Nature Conservancy, the Spring Stewardship Institute, and the Nevada Division of Wildlife, to develop a better understanding of the distribution of where wetlands are in Nevada, and to develop tools for characterizing how they change over time.  

Different land management agencies define wetlands differently – the boundary for what the Forest Service uses to define a wetland may be different from what the Bureau of Land Management uses, for example. So, the first part of that project was to compile a statewide map of Nevada’s wetlands using data from multiple different agencies and sources. This map is now available on the DRI website 

A second part of that project was to develop a wetland analysis tool to help land managers and scientists from across the state better understand how various wetland areas have been changing over time. This tool, called WetBar, is used within the ArcMap GIS software package. It links the state wetland map with information about each wetland, and with an archive of satellite imagery dating back to 1985 that is available in Google Earth Engine. 

 

McGwire’s wetland map and WetBar ArcGIS analysis tool can be used to learn about how wetland areas in Nevada are changing over time. This wetland is located at The Nature Conservancy’s 7J Ranch Preserve near Beatty, Nevada.

 

DRI: How is this wetland analysis tool used? Can you give us an example? 

McGwire: WetBar allows you to identify, group, and sort different wetland sites based on different criteria. I can use it to look at the boundary of a water body like Lake Mead, and how the shoreline of the lake has retreated or flooded over timeFor example, using Landsat satellite imagery that goes back to 1985, I can use this tool to select only areas of the lake that have been flooded for 15 to 30 years, and create a map of just that area. This might help researchers get a feel for site conditions prior to visiting a field site, or help them to visualize the impacts of water withdrawals or changes in climate on a water body like Lake Mead. 

There are a lot of other ways you can use this tool. You can sort all of the wetland areas in the database by climate sensitivity, based on how much the wetlands have changed in satellite imagery over the last three decades. This could help land managers to prioritize certain sites for protection, or determine how frequently a certain species can withstand flooding. You can use it to monitor reservoir depletion, or how long it takes reservoir to fill. I recently received funding to provide outreach to people about what this toolbar can do, and try to get feedback on what other functions would make it more useful to decision makers, so more capabilities may be added as the project moves forward.   

 

(Click to enlarge) Screenshot of a wetland map made using the WetBar ArcGIS toolbar. By linking satellite imagery to known data about various wetlands in Nevada, scientists can use this tool to learn about changes in water and vegetation cover over time.

 

DRI: Does your any of your work take you out into the field? McGwire: Yes, definitely. Most of my fieldwork in the last couple years has been supporting the Great Basin Unified Air Pollution Control District (GBUAPCD)’s efforts to control dust emissions from Owens Lake, which has become mostly dry lakebed since the 1920s due to water diversion to Los Angeles. The lakebed is in a desert environment, and as the wind blows, clouds of sediment can blow toward Arizona. It was the biggest source of PM10 air pollution in the country for a while 

To mitigate the dustGBUAPCD has developed a variety of land cover treatments. They’ve turned portions of the lakebed into detention areas, which can be shallow flooded. They do drip irrigation of saltgrass in areas that have natural vegetation, to try to get vegetation to establish and grow on the lakebed. They spread gravel in some areas, and in other areas they’re distributing some of the natural brines from the center of the lake to form a hard salt crust. So I’ve been working with the GBUAPCD to develop monitoring methods to monitor the status of these treatments, which requires creating maps of treatment areas, as well as field visits to monitor conditions on the ground.  

 

What do you enjoy most about your line of work? 

McGwire: Working with satellite imagery is very visual, and the scientific investigation aspect of what we do creates a lot of variety in terms of intellectual stimulation. There’s a creative aspect to it, a visual aspect to it, and I enjoy finding ways to make that sort of way of looking at the world useful to other people.  

 

To learn more about Ken McGwire and his work, please visit his DRI directory page.

Desert Research Institute to lead Nevada’s new Regional STEM Networks

Desert Research Institute to lead Nevada’s new Regional STEM Networks

Reno & Las Vegas, NV (Feb. 6, 2020): The Desert Research Institute (DRI) and the Nevada Governor’s Office of Science, Innovation, and Technology (OSIT) today announced the creation of three new Regional STEM Networks across the state.

With a growing need for a workforce skilled in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) across Nevada and the nation, the state’s new Regional STEM Networks aim to increase student interest and achievement in STEM within the classroom and grow partnerships outside of the traditional classroom to support students.

Networks in Southern, Northwestern, and Rural Nevada will coordinate partners representing K-12 and Higher Education, business, industry, public libraries, after-school providers, non-profits, government, and philanthropy to identify and scale up STEM programs that will prepare students for Nevada’s 21st-century workforce.

“A high-quality STEM education helps students develop important skills like creativity, problem-solving, teamwork, and determination that will prepare them to succeed in their chosen career and as informed citizens.  I’m excited to partner with DRI to launch these three Regional STEM Networks in Nevada and increase our collaboration with local STEM partners,” said Brian Mitchell, Director of OSIT.

DRI was selected to coordinate the Networks in part due to the Institute’s record of success in delivering science solutions as well as informal education and outreach programs to Nevadans for more than 60 years.  Successful collaboration with regional partners has long contributed to the success of DRI’s Science Alive curriculum kits and teacher professional development courses, Citizen Science programs, STEM-based lecture series, workshops, and conferences for all ages.

“We are delighted to have the opportunity to enhance the STEM ecosystems in all three regions of our State,” said Craig Rosen, DRI Science Alive Administrator and Managing Director for Nevada’s Regional STEM Networks. “We look forward to bringing stakeholders together to identify gaps in STEM educational programming, scale-up quality STEM programs, and collaborate on new ideas and initiatives.”

The three regional STEM Networks will have five important tasks:

  1. Identify on-the-ground programmatic gaps or implementation challenges in need of a state-level solution.
  2. Grow interest, awareness, and achievement in STEM in the region.
  3. Carry out on-the-ground implementation of state-level programs/goals.
  4. Identify and build local programs and initiatives worthy of scaling statewide.
  5. Create and facilitate partnerships and the sharing of resources among K-12, higher education, and business/industry within the region.

DRI faculty and staff will host public STEM summits to allow stakeholders to communicate employment needs, highlight complementary informal STEM programs, and target areas for program growth and increased community support. Bringing together stakeholders from industry, the non-profit sector, education, and government, Rosen said he hopes, will lay the foundation for successful partnerships and program building throughout each region.

“We are particularly interested in creating opportunities that work for Nevada students and families from backgrounds underrepresented in the technical workforce,” Rosen explained.

“Through our Regional Network structure, we can address the unique challenges and opportunities of each region at the local level. Increasing student engagement in STEM has proven to translate directly into career success for students of all ages. In Nevada, our hope is that coordinating that engagement statewide will help our State build a robust, diverse workforce that can support the growing demand for STEM professionals throughout Nevada.”

DRI will officially launch the new Regional STEM Networks at public STEM summits in Spring 2020.

The Networks will be overseen by OSIT and the Nevada STEM Advisory Council.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Using Machine Learning to Address Land Subsidence in Pahrump Valley

Using Machine Learning to Address Land Subsidence in Pahrump Valley

As populations in the southwestern United States continue to grow, the demand on water resources also increases. One region experiencing this stress on its groundwater resources is Pahrump Valley in southern Nye County, Nevada. Pahrump Valley is one of the fastest growing counties in Nevada, which has led to groundwater-related issues such as land subsidence. “Land subsidence has been reported in Pahrump Valley since the 1960s,” says Dr. Hai Pham the principal investigator (PI) of this project, which also includes co-PIs Karl Pohlmann, Susan Rybarski, and Kevin Heintz and research assistant Larry Piatt. “It has caused damage to building foundations and slabs, fissuring, shearing of well casings, and extensive damage to roadbeds.”

In their 2017 Water Resources Plan Update, the Nye County Water District determined that land subsidence is one of the key issues related to population growth in Nye County. However, the causes of land subsidence still haven’t been clearly identified. “Previous studies failed to precisely map spatiotemporal evolutions of subsidence, or adequately clarify the causes of subsidence,” Pham says. “These studies were limited by data quantity and quality. The goal of this project is to identify and prioritize predominant factors that cause subsidence and make predictions using machine learning algorithms and big data.”

A concrete well pad exposed by land subsidence around the well casing (right) observed during a field survey in May 2019 (photo by Karl Pohlmann).

Land subsidence is a complicated process that is driven by multivariate intercorrelated factors, such as groundwater decline, soil and sediment types, and tectonic and geologic settings. For example, excessive groundwater pumping results in soil compaction, which has been identified as a primary cause of land subsidence in Pahrump Valley. However, the magnitude of soil compaction depends on aquifer materials, and therefore understanding the geologic structure of Pahrump Valley is vital to evaluating future subsidence. The advantage of using machine learning to assess potential areas of land subsidence is that it can help illuminate complicated data relationships that may not be as obvious using traditional data analysis techniques.

In this project, the researchers will use machine learning algorithms and high-resolution data sets to identify the predominant factors causing land subsidence in Pahrump Valley. “In this study, we will derive spatiotemporal subsidence maps using recent high-quality satellite images and the Interferometric Synthetic Aperture Radar [InSAR] technique,” Pham says. “InSAR is a powerful technique that allows us to measure and map vertical changes on the earth’s surface as small as a few millimeters.”

The researchers will then build three-dimensional (3-D) computer models of the subsurface geological structures in Pahrump Valley at a very fine (one-foot) vertical resolution using data from 13,000 boreholes. “Compaction of aquifer materials can accompany excessive groundwater pumping and it is by far the single largest cause of subsidence, but the magnitude of soil compaction differs by soil type,” Pham explains. “Therefore, it is important that we account for these well log data to construct high resolution 3-D models of geologic structures.” The researchers will also develop groundwater drawdown maps by processing data from records of 130 groundwater observation wells that range from the 1940s to the present. “Incorporating these high-resolution datasets will help us identify and prioritize the causes of subsidence and make better predictions,” Pham adds.

The groundwater level has declined approximately 25 feet from December 1999 to December 2017 (photo taken in May 2019 by Karl Pohlmann).

Because of the limitations of existing field data, the researchers will generate high-resolution datasets to train and validate the machine learning algorithms. Advanced machine learning algorithms will then be run on supercomputers to analyze the data. By analyzing this data, the researchers hope to identify the factors that cause subsidence and ultimately predict possible subsidence in the future. “Once we have identified these factors, we can roughly predict areas that are prone to subsidence,” Pham explains. “This information can also be used to predict subsidence in other arid and semiarid regions.”

This story was originally written for the Nevada Water Resources Research Institute (NWRRI) October 2019 Newsletter. Success and the dedication to quality research have established DRI’s Division of Hydrologic Sciences (DHS) as the Nevada Water Resources Research Institute (NWRRI) under the Water Resources Research Act of 1984 (as amended). The work conducted through the NWRRI program is supported by the U.S. Geological Survey under Grant/Cooperative Agreement No. G16AP00069.

DRI Launches Two New Projects to Study Hydrology at The Nature Conservancy’s 7J Ranch

DRI Launches Two New Projects to Study Hydrology at The Nature Conservancy’s 7J Ranch

Scientists will investigate water quality and flow in critical desert wetland habitat

 

LAS VEGAS, NEV. (Sept. 30, 2019) —The Desert Research Institute (DRI) is pleased to announce the launch of two new research projects to study hydrology at The Nature Conservancy in Nevada’s 7J Ranch property near Beatty, Nevada. Work will begin in September on two complementary projects, funded by the Sulo and Aileen Maki Endowment, which will install meteorological stations and develop a watershed model to monitor how future restoration activities at the 7J Ranch will affect its water resources.

The 900-acre working ranch in Southern Nevada’s Oasis Valley is a unique place to study water, as it contains the headwaters of the Amargosa River, one of the world’s longest spring-fed river systems that runs mostly below the surface. The ranch’s unique geography and location where the Great Basin and Mojave deserts meet, and its habitat for many endemic and protected species, make it a globally important site for conserving biodiversity and give it strategic value for facilitating climate change adaptation for wildlife. The highly arid environment of southern Nevada and the Amargosa River’s status as an important source of groundwater discharge in the region also make its headwaters an important place to study hydrology.

The first project, led by Kevin Heintz, will install a hydrometeorological station to monitor the habitat at the 7J Ranch and study how surface water is affected by restoration activities and extreme weather conditions.  This study is significant to southern Nevada water issues because it will contribute to estimating the flow of water in a critical wetland habitat and it will continuously monitor for environmental stressors, both of which have implications for southern Nevada’s biodiversity and wetland health.

DRI’s second project, led by Gabrielle Boisramé, Ph.D., will study how the potential removal of ponds will impact downstream hydrology and habitat. This project will use a variety of environmental data to develop a water budget model that can describe the movement of water in and out of the restoration area under various scenarios.

DRI researcher Gabrielle Boisrame, Ph.D., inspects a floating evaporation pan at The Nature Conservancy’s 7J Ranch on September 18, 2019. Credit: Ali Swallow/DRI.

“Stream restoration in arid environments like the Mojave Desert has not been studied extensively,” explained Boisramé. “Our hope is that this new research will help guide other restoration work in similar spring-fed streams systems of southern Nevada.”

The Conservancy plans to encourage long-term research at the 7J Ranch, and this project will provide an important base of knowledge for future researchers to build upon.

“This research will provide critical information for needed restoration projects at 7J Ranch, and we are so grateful to the Desert Research Institute for their support,” said John Zablocki, Southern Nevada Conservation Director for The Nature Conservancy.  “The insights gained from these projects, and the instruments installed, will help inform better water management decisions for southern Nevada, help predict hydrologic responses to climate change, and help improve modeling on how groundwater flows in the region.”

The Sulo and Aileen Maki Endowment was established by the Sulo and Aileen Maki Trust to be used by the DRI’s Division of Hydrologic Sciences for research, instruction, and scholarships relevant to southern Nevada water issues. The endowment supports innovative, creative, and multidisciplinary research, as well as scholarly endeavors such as journal publications and presentations at scientific conferences, water resources course instruction and student scholarships, and community outreach and service. The overall goal of these efforts is to make the DRI’s Division of Hydrologic Sciences and the name Maki stand for excellence in water resources research, education, and outreach.

Desert Research Institute scientist Gabrielle Boisrame, Ph.D., (left) and graduate research assistant Rose Shillito from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (right) prepare a pressure sensor for measuring water depth

Desert Research Institute scientist Gabrielle Boisrame, Ph.D., (left) and graduate research assistant Rose Shillito from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (right) prepare a pressure sensor for measuring water depth at The Nature Conservancy’s 7J Ranch on September 18, 2019. Credit: Ali Swallow/DRI.

For more information, please contact Sara Cobble, Marketing and Communications Manager for The Nature Conservancy in Nevada, at sara.cobble@tnc.org or Kelsey Fitzgerald, Science Writer for the Desert Research Institute Communications Office at kelsey.fitzgerald@dri.edu

To view a photo gallery of images from 7J Ranch, please visit: https://flic.kr/s/aHsmHaHULv

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About The Nature Conservancy

The mission of The Nature Conservancy is to conserve the lands and waters on which all life depends. Guided by science, we create innovative, on-the-ground solutions to our world’s toughest challenges so that nature and people can thrive together. Working in 72 countries, we use a collaborative approach that engages local communities, governments, the private sector, and other partners. We’ve been working in Nevada for nearly 35 years. To learn more, please visit www.nature.org/nevada.

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

About the Nevada System of Higher Education The Nevada System of Higher Education (NSHE), 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.

Emissions from cannabis growing facilities may impact indoor and regional air quality, new research shows

Emissions from cannabis growing facilities may impact indoor and regional air quality, new research shows

RENO, Nev. (Sept. 16, 2019) – The same chemicals responsible for the pungent smell of a cannabis plant may also contribute to air pollution on a much larger scale, according to new research from the Desert Research Institute (DRI) and the Washoe County Health District (WCHD) in Reno, Nev.

In a new pilot study, DRI scientists visited four cannabis growing facilities in Nevada and California to learn about the chemicals that are emitted during the cultivation and processing of cannabis plants, and to evaluate the potential for larger-scale impacts to urban air quality.

At each facility, the team found high levels of strongly-scented airborne chemicals called biogenic volatile organic compounds (BVOCs), which are naturally produced by the cannabis plants during growth and reproduction. At facilities where cannabis oil extraction took place, researchers also found very high levels of butane, a volatile organic compound (VOC) that is used during the oil extraction process.

“The concentrations of BVOCs and butane that we measured inside of these facilities were high enough to be concerning,” explained lead author Vera Samburova, Ph.D., Associate Research Professor of atmospheric science at DRI. “In addition to being potentially hazardous to the workers inside the cannabis growing and processing facilities, these chemicals can contribute to the formation of ground-level ozone if they are released into the outside air.”

Although ozone in the upper atmosphere provides protection from UV rays, ozone at ground-level is a toxic substance that is harmful for humans to breathe. Ozone can be formed when volatile organic compounds (including those from plants, automobile, and industrial sources) combine with nitrogen oxide emissions (often from vehicles or fuel combustion) in the presence of sunlight. All of these ozone ingredients are in ample supply in Nevada’s urban areas, Samburova explained – and that impacts our air quality.

“Here in our region, unfortunately, we already exceed the national air quality standard for ground-level ozone quite a few times per year,” Samburova said. “That’s why it is so important to answer the question of whether emissions from cannabis facilities are having an added impact.”

A scientist from the Desert Research Institute measures air quality inside of a cannabis growing facility. Credit: Vera Samburova/DRI. 2019.

At one of the four cannabis growing facilities visited during this study, the team measured emission rates over time, to learn about the ozone-forming potential of each individual plant. The results show that the BVOCs emitted by each cannabis plant could trigger the formation of ground-level (bad) ozone at a rate of approximately 2.6g per plant per day. The significance of this number is yet to be determined, says Samurova, but she and her team feel strongly that their findings have raised questions that warrant further study.

“This really hasn’t been studied before,” Samburova said. “We would like to collect more data on emissions rates of plants at additional facilities. We would like to take more detailed measurements of air quality emissions outside of the facilities, and be able to calculate the actual rate of ozone formation. We are also interested in learning about the health impacts of these emissions on the people who work there.”

The cannabis facility personnel that the DRI research team interacted with during the course of the study were all extremely welcoming, helpful, and interested in doing things right, Samburova noted. Next, she and her team hope to find funding to do a larger study, so that they can provide recommendations to the growing facilities and WCHD on optimum strategies for air pollution control.

“With so much growth in this industry across Nevada and other parts of the United States, it’s becoming really important to understand the impacts to air quality,” said Mike Wolf, Permitting and Enforcement Branch Chief for the WCHD Air Quality Management Division. “When new threats emerge, our mission remains the same: Implement clean air solutions that protect the quality of life for the citizens of Reno, Sparks, and Washoe County. We will continue to work with community partners, like DRI, to accomplish the mission.”

This research was funded by the WCHD and DRI. Members of the DRI team included Vera Samburova, Ph.D., Dave Campbell, M.Sc., William R. Stockwell, Ph.D., and Andrey Khlystov, Ph.D.  To view this study online, please visit: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/10962247.2019.1654038

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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. 

The Washoe County Health District has jurisdiction over all public health matters in Reno, Sparks, and Washoe County through the policy-making Washoe County District Board of Health. The District consists of five divisions: Administrative Health Services, Air Quality Management, Community and Clinical Health Services, Environmental Health Services and Epidemiology & Public Health Preparedness. To learn more, visit https://www.washoecounty.us/health/  

Evaluation of Antibiotic Resistance Genes (ARGs) in the Urban Wetland Ecosystem: Las Vegas Wash

Evaluation of Antibiotic Resistance Genes (ARGs) in the Urban Wetland Ecosystem: Las Vegas Wash

Photo: Duane Moser (left) and Xuelian Bai (right) collect filters from the sampling pump to take back to the lab for analysis.


Research on antibiotic resistance genes at DRI

 

Antibiotic resistance—the ability of bacteria to survive in the presence of antibiotics—is an increasing environmental and public health concern as more antibiotics enter urban waterways and treated wastewater is increasingly used to supplement limited water resources. Current wastewater treatment processes have difficulty removing antibiotics, which also encourages the growth of antibiotic resistance in urban watersheds, such as the Las Vegas Wash.

“Contaminants that are persistent in treated wastewaters that are discarded or reused may lead to health risks for humans,” explains Dr. Xuelian Bai, the principal investigator (PI) of this project that also includes co-PI Dr. Duane Moser and student researcher Rania Eddik-Zein. “The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization, and numerous other global and national agencies recognize antibiotic resistance as a critical challenge.”

 

 

The Las Vegas Wash is a unique watershed that is highly affected by anthropogenic activities and flooding during wet seasons.

“A lot of research has been done to monitor chemical contaminants such as nutrients, heavy metals, and organic contaminants, as well as antibiotics in the Las Vegas Wash and Lake Mead,” Bai says. “However, there is still a lack of information on the presence of microbial contaminants and antibiotic resistance genes [ARGs] in the watershed.”

Understanding the presence and abundance of ARGs in this watershed will provide insight into possible antibiotic resistance developing in the wash.

For this project, the researchers will evaluate the occurrence and prevalence of ARGs in the Las Vegas Wash.

“Resistance to antibiotics is encoded in ARGs, which are segments of DNA that enable bacteria to fight antibiotics,” Bai explains. “The major concerns about antibiotic resistance are the tendency of bacteria to share ARGs through horizontal gene transfer and that efforts to kill resistant bacteria, such as UV or chlorine disinfection in wastewater treatment and drinking water facilities, may not remove ARGs.”

The researchers anticipate that the data from this study will provide insight into the prevalence of ARGs in the wash and provide valuable information that can be used to determine water quality and potential human health concerns in southern Nevada.

First, the researchers will take field samples of water and sediment from the Las Vegas Wash to assess the presence of ARGs in an urban wetland ecosystem.

“Municipal wastewater appears to be a significant reservoir of ARGs,” Bai says. “Many studies have detected ARGs at all stages of the municipal wastewater treatment processes.”

Urban water supplies are particularly susceptible to developing antibiotic resistance because of the concentrated quantities of antibiotics that are released when treated municipal wastewater is discharged into the environment.

“Microorganisms in wastewater discharge can transport ARGs to downstream surface waters used for recreation or sources of drinking water, which can lead to human exposure over local, or even global, scales,” Bai explains. “This is a concern in southern Nevada because five major wastewater treatment plants discharge into the Las Vegas Wash. The Las Vegas Wash then discharges into Lake Mead, which is the primary drinking water supply for the Las Vegas Metropolitan Area.”

 

Researchers carry equipment toward a sampling site at the Las Vegas Wash.

The DRI research team including (from left) Duane Moser, David Basulto, Hai Pham, and Xuelian Bai carry equipment down to the bank of the Lake Mead, one of several sampling sites along the Las Vegas Wash.

 

Lake Mead supplies water to millions of residents in the southwestern United States, so identifying potential antibiotic resistance is increasingly important, especially with the drastic population growth in the region. Effluent discharged from wastewater treatment plants, urban runoff, and floodwaters during wet seasons carry sediment, nutrients, and other contaminants to Lake Mead. This generates several water-quality concerns, particularly about the effects of contaminants on aquatic habitats.

“The Las Vegas Wash provides the full continuum of major freshwater aquatic habitats, includingwetlands, flowing water, lake water, and sediment,” Bai explains. “Wetlands, flowing water, and lake water are defined by aerobic conditions and exposure to photosphere influence. However, sediments almost always go anoxic very quickly below the surface, usually within millimeters in eutrophic systems. The fate of antibiotics and the microbial genes that mediate changes in anaerobes have been relatively understudied.”

The researchers anticipate that the field sampling and the lab studies conducted for this project—which include microcosm and microbial community experiments, and DNA analysis—will allow them to specifically identify southern Nevada water issues.

“We will detect and quantify target ARGs in water samples collected upstream and downstream along the Las Vegas Wash, as well as target ARGs in sediment samples collected from the Las Vegas Wash wetlands,” Bai says. “We will also determine the fate and spread of ARGs in the aquatic ecosystems, and assess the effects of elevated antibiotic concentrations on the ecosystem.”

Because evaluating ARGs in surface water and sediment has not been fully studied locally or globally, this project will address local water issues in Nevada and provide useful antibiotic resistance data about urban watersheds that can be used worldwide.

This story was originally written for the Nevada Water Resources Research Institute (NWRRI) July 2019 Newsletter. Success and the dedication to quality research have established DRI’s Division of Hydrologic Sciences (DHS) as the Nevada Water Resources Research Institute (NWRRI) under the Water Resources Research Act of 1984 (as amended). The work conducted through the NWRRI program is supported by the U.S. Geological Survey under Grant/Cooperative Agreement No. G16AP00069.

Problem Plastic: Investigating Microplastic Pollution in Nevada’s Waterways

Problem Plastic: Investigating Microplastic Pollution in Nevada’s Waterways

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


 

Microplastics research at DRI

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

Research team sets up equipment at Lake Tahoe.

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

 

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

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

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

Filter used to capture microplastic particles.

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

filter used to sample microplastics

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

DRI's microplastics research team at Lake Tahoe

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

 

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

Researchers identify connection between more frequent, intense heat events and deaths in Las Vegas

Researchers identify connection between more frequent, intense heat events and deaths in Las Vegas

Photo: Hotter temperatures and longer, more frequent heat waves are linked to a rising number of deaths in the Las Vegas Valley over the last 10 years.


 

Las Vegas, Nev. (June 4, 2019) – Over the last several decades, extreme heat events around the world—particularly in the North American Southwest—have gotten hotter, occurred more frequently, and lasted longer. These trends pose significant health risks to the growing number of people making cities like Las Vegas home.

A new study by faculty and undergraduate students at the Desert Research Institute (DRI), Nevada State College, and Universidad de Las Americas Puebla traces the relationship between extreme heat and mortality rates, identifying a clear correlation between heat wave episodes and heat-related deaths in Las Vegas over the last ten years.

“Current climate change projections show an increased likelihood of extreme temperature events in the Las Vegas area over the next several years,” explained Erick Bandala, Ph.D., assistant research professor at DRI and lead author on the study. “Understanding recent extreme heat trends and their relationship to health hazards is essential to protecting vulnerable populations from risk in the future.”

Researchers analyze data on computer.

Erick Bandala, PhD (left), shows a graduate student the data he and his team analyzed for this study.

Urban areas of the Southwest are of particular concern because several factors compound the health-related risks of extreme heat events. The heat-absorbing properties of common materials like asphalt exacerbate already high temperatures in cities (called the urban heat island effect), particularly at night. What’s more, populations in cities like Las Vegas are growing rapidly, especially among those 55 and older, which means that more and more people are exposed to risk.

In this study, the research team analyzed two measures of extreme heat—heat index and excess heat factor—for the Las Vegas metropolitan area in the June, July, and August months from 2007 to 2016. Heat index (HI) accounts for how the human body reacts to surface temperature and relative humidity. Excess heat factor measures (EHF) heat wave intensity in relation to historic temperature trends to account for how acclimated the public is to a given temperature threshold. Because both HI and EHF incorporate the human body’s response to extreme heat, they are ideal metrics for assessing public health impacts, and both were shown to rise over the study period.

The annual average of severe heat events per year in Las Vegas also showed significant increases in this study, from an average of 3.3 events per year from 2007-2009 to 4.7 per year in the 2010-2016 period. These findings match historic trends, which show a steady increase in severity and frequency of excess heat in Las Vegas since 1980.

Strikingly, the number of heat-related deaths in Las Vegas map onto these trends: as heat wave intensity increases, the number of heat-related deaths does, too.

Graphs of heat index and excess heat factor.

Heat Index (HI) and Excess Heat Factor (EHF) are metrics that go beyond just temperature to also account for the human body’s response to heat. This study found that rising trends in these measures tracked closely with the number of heat-related deaths in Las Vegas.

“From 2007 to 2016, there have been 437 heat-related deaths in Las Vegas, with the greatest number of those deaths occurring in 2016,” explained Bandala. “Interestingly, 2016 also shows one of the highest heat index measures over the last 35 years. This shows a clear relationship between increasingly intense heat events in our area and public health effects.”

Bandala’s team found that the subpopulation particularly at risk of heat-related deaths is adults over 50 years old—76% of the heat-related deaths in the study period were individuals in this subpopulation. Of the deaths in this group, almost all individuals also showed evidence of pre-existing heart disease. Researchers note that these findings are highly significant given that the population of adults over 50 in Las Vegas is increasing, with more retirees choosing Clark County as a retirement destination.

Only 23% of heat related deaths occurred in the subpopulation of adults aged 20 to 50 years; interestingly, the most common pre-existing condition for this group was drug and alcohol use. More research is needed to understand how heat is impacting this segment of the population, Bandala noted, because though the number of deaths in this group is comparatively smaller, it is still nearly one quarter of heat-related deaths in the Las Vegas Valley. Additionally, this subpopulation includes economically active adults.

With more intense, more frequent, and longer lasting heat events projected in the coming years, the research team hopes that the trends identified in this study can assist local decision-makers in taking steps to protect the most vulnerable groups in Las Vegas.

“This research helps us better understand the connection between the climate changes we’ve experienced in Las Vegas and their impact to public health over the last 35 years,” Bandala said. “Ideally, this data analysis will help our community adapt to the changes yet to come.”

The full study, titled “Extreme heat and mortality rates in Las Vegas, Nevada: inter-annual variations and thresholds”, is published in the International Journal of Environmental Science and Technology. The study abstract and references are available here: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs13762-019-02357-9 

This study is based on work supported in part by the National Science Foundation, NASA, and the Desert Research Institute. Other members of the project team include Kebret Kebede, Nikole Jonsson, Rebecca Murray, and Destiny Green, all of Nevada State College; John Mejia of DRI; and Polioptro Martinez Austria of the Universidad de Las Americas Puebla. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Population health study “Healthy Nevada Project” goes statewide, adding 25,000 participants

Las Vegas, Nev. (May 8, 2019) – The Healthy Nevada Project, a first-of-its-kind, community-based population health study combining genetic, clinical, environmental and social data, is expanding enrollment to Las Vegas. The Project aspires not only to offer genetic testing to every Nevadan interested in learning more about their health and genetic profile but ultimately, to develop and expand the Project for communities across the United States to drive positive health outcomes nationwide.

Adding 25,000 Study Volunteers in Southern Nevada

The Healthy Nevada Project is announcing a statewide expansion – opening 25,000 testing slots in Las Vegas in a collaboration with University Medical Center of Southern Nevada (UMC), which serves as the host-site for Las Vegas.

With UMC welcoming the study to southern Nevada, the Healthy Nevada Project will offer no-cost genetic testing through a simple spit sample to 25,000 study volunteers. Study volunteers will take Helix’s clinical-grade DNA saliva test and will receive their ancestry and traits, at no cost, through the My Healthy Nevada Traits app. Participants will then be given a chance to answer a follow-up health survey from Renown Institute for Health Innovation (Renown IHI), and upon survey completion, will be entered to win an iPhone.

In addition, study participants can agree to be notified about genetic test results that could impact their health, and which could be used to improve their medical care. This return of clinical results, plus genetic counseling and other genetic services as appropriate, will be provided by Genome Medical, the leading network of clinical genetics specialists.

“This is an incredible opportunity to learn more about our genetics and improve health throughout the Silver State,” said Mason VanHouweling, CEO of UMC. “In support of UMC’s commitment to promoting innovation in health care and building a better future for our home state, we embrace the opportunity to collaborate with Renown Health while hosting the Healthy Nevada Project in southern Nevada.”

Healthy Nevada Project’s Evolution & Ongoing Expansion

With more than 35,000 study participants enrolled in just over two years, the Healthy Nevada Project has become the fastest-enrolling genetic study in the country. The Project was created by Renown IHI – a collaboration between Reno, Nev.-based not-for-profit health network, Renown Health, and the world leader in environmental data, Desert Research Institute (DRI). Leveraging Renown’s forward-thinking approach to community health care and DRI’s data analytics and environmental expertise, Renown IHI has grown its capabilities to lead a larger, more complex research study of significance that will analyze and model public health risks in Nevada and serve as a national model for future population health studies working to improve overall health through clinical care integration.

During the Project’s pilot launch in September 2016, more than 10,000 community members signed up for DNA testing in just 48 hours. In March 2018, phase two offered full genomic sequencing through a simple spit test from partner, Helix, to northern Nevadans. In October 2018, the Project announced the return of clinical results for study participants, notifying them of their risk for CDC Tier 1 conditions including familial hypercholesterolemia, BRCA positive 1 and 2, and Lynch syndrome, a precursor to colon cancer.  These conditions affect more than one percent of the population and are inherited so they impact family members as well. Now, the Project announced its next phase – expanding enrollment to 25,000 people in southern Nevada through a collaboration with UMC.

Serving as a National Model

This expansion to Las Vegas truly makes this the “Healthy Nevada Project” with a statewide impact making Nevada the only state in the U.S. to offer such a program.

“Nevada was ripe to advance population health goals because, sadly, our state ranks near the bottom in health outcomes. The Healthy Nevada Project is working to change that,” said Anthony Slonim, M.D., DrPH, FACHE, president and CEO of Renown Health and president of Renown IHI. “Our researchers are working on a number of clinical programs and scientific studies to determine why in Washoe County, the county in which Renown Health is located, Nevada’s age-adjusted death rates for heart disease, cancer and chronic lower respiratory disease are 33 percent higher than the national rate. Imagine if we can gather more data like this on a national scale and use it to change the future of health and health care? That is what the Healthy USA Project is looking to do in the years to come.”

“The Healthy Nevada Project is committed to providing study participants clinically actionable data that will help improve their health,” said Joseph Grzymski, Ph.D., associate research professor at DRI, principal investigator of the Healthy Nevada Project and chief scientific officer for Renown Health. “We are providing this information at the individual level so study volunteers can make lifesaving changes to reduce their risk. We’re also doing it on the community level to develop leading-edge research on health determinants for entire neighborhoods, states and eventually, the country.”

Expanding to Become the Healthy USA Project

The accelerated speed of the Project is made possible thanks to the ever-decreasing cost of sequencing. Today, Helix is able to sequence an entire exome – which allows reporting on most actionable genomic knowledge – for a fraction of what it would have cost just 10 years ago. Additionally, advances in digital health mean Helix and Project researchers can capture unprecedented amounts of health data digitally, making significant contributions to advancing precision health. The partnership has managed to remove the traditional barriers of population health studies, including the difficulty in recruiting participants, establishing quality high-throughput lab systems, and scaling interpretation and return of results. This development will be key as other health systems around the country join the Project.

“We are thrilled to see the constant, fast-paced evolution of this Project with Renown IHI,” said Justin Kao, Co-Founder of Helix. “In less than a year, we have sequenced the DNA of thousands of study participants and are now preparing to offer this incredible study in other states. Combining environmental, clinical, social and genetic data allows us to discover risk factors within communities and help people take action to live longer, healthier lives. That’s what makes the next step of the Healthy USA Project so exciting for all of us.”

Northern and southern Nevadans over age 18 who are interested in taking part are encouraged to learn more and sign up for the study at HealthyNV.org.

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About UMC

UMC offers the highest level of care in Nevada, providing a wide range of exclusive and specialized health care services to community members and visitors. UMC is home to Nevada’s only Level I Trauma Center, only Designated Pediatric Trauma Center, only Burn Care Center and only Center for Transplantation. Children’s Hospital of Nevada at UMC serves as the state’s only hospital to be recognized and accepted as an associate member of the Children’s Hospital Association. Offering highly skilled physicians, nurses and staff members supported by the latest, cutting-edge technology, UMC and Children’s Hospital of Nevada continue to build upon their shared reputation for providing Nevada’s highest level of care. In support of its mission to serve as the premier academic health center, UMC is the anchor partner for the UNLV School of Medicine. For more information, please visit www.umcsn.com and www.chnv.org.

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

Helix is a genomics company with a simple but powerful mission: to empower every person to improve their life through DNA. Our affordable, turnkey population health solution enables institutions to quickly scale projects that engage communities and accelerate research and discovery, ultimately allowing every person to benefit from the power of genomics. We’ve also created the first marketplace for DNA-powered products where people can explore diverse and uniquely personalized products developed by high-quality partners, providing powerful tools to increase engagement and speed the pace of population-scale genomics. Helix is headquartered in the San Francisco Bay Area, has an office in Denver, Colorado and operates a CLIA-certified and CAP-accredited next-generation sequencing lab in San Diego powered by Illumina (NASDAQ: ILMN) NGS technology. Helix was created in 2015. Learn more at www.helix.com.

Helix, the Helix logo and Exome+ are trademarks of Helix Opco, LLC. All other trademarks referenced herein are the property of their respective owners.

Preserving Nevada’s Lost City using drones

Preserving Nevada’s Lost City using drones

Photo: Ruins of adobe houses, Lost City of Nevada. Credit: Special Collections, University of Nevada, Reno Libraries.


 

Nevada’s “Lost City,” located northeast of Las Vegas on a terrace above the Muddy River, has been lost twice before – first abandoned by the native people who built it, then later flooded beneath the waters of Lake Mead – but a team of archaeologists from the Desert Research Institute’s Las Vegas campus hopes to ensure that it isn’t lost a third time.

This summer, DRI researchers JD Lancaster, Tatianna Menocal, and Megan Stueve plan to use unmanned aircraft system (UAS) or drone technology to create high-resolution 3-D maps of the Lost City archaeological site, which consists of about 46 adobe structures that date back more than 1,000 years. Working with representatives from the National Park Service, the team will then use these detailed maps of the structures and topography to devise best management practices for the continued preservation of the site.

“The structures are set on old river terraces and lake deposits that are really susceptible to erosion, and as the level of Lake Mead has dropped, the erosion seems to have accelerated quite a bit,” said Lancaster, Assistant Research Scientist of Archaeology at DRI. “Our goal with this project is to try to figure out where erosion is particularly bad and to try some different techniques to help control that erosion.”

Researchers holding drones.

During summer 2019, DRI researchers JD Lancaster, Megan Stueve and Tatianna Menocal plan to use unmanned aircraft system (UAS) or drone technology to create high-resolution 3-D maps of the Lost City archaeological site.

 

Lost in time

Lost City, also known as the Pueblo Grande de Nevada, was home to a small community of people of the Puebloan culture from about 800 A.D. to 1300 A.D. Here, they lived along the banks of the Muddy River, farming crops such as corn, squash, cotton and beans, and supplementing agriculture with wild and hunted foods.

No one knows exactly why Lost City was abandoned by its original inhabitants, but once the remains were discovered in the 1920s, they were mapped by archaeologists. After the construction of the Hoover Dam in 1935, the rising shoreline of Lake Mead became a threat the site.

“The area was inundated by the rising waters of Lake Mead after the construction of the Hoover Dam. Original researchers and the Civilian Conservation Corps were under a time crunch to get all the data they could while the Dam was being constructed, all the while knowing it would be lost after inundation,” said Stueve, Staff Research Scientist of Archaeology. “Fortunately, only half the site was inundated by high water levels and as the water receded from years of drought, the site was fully exposed once again and available to study.”

The ruins were studied again in more detail in 1979 through the 1990s, by which time extensive erosion had already damaged a number of the structures.

“One thing that has always been noted in the archaeological studies is the level of erosion in this area,” said Menocal, Assistant Research Scientist of Archaeology. “Entire landforms or portions of the landforms have been eroded away, so portions of the site are no longer there. In some places, entire houses are gone.”

Today, Lost City is listed in the National Register of Historic Places and managed by the National Park Service as part of Lake Mead National Recreation Area. Lancaster, Menocal, and Stueve approached NPS with an idea for a partnership to aid in preservation of the site. When an opportunity to fund the project through DRI’s Lander Endowment became available they realized the partnership was a possibility.

“We were looking for ways that we could branch out and impact the local community and the local resources around us a bit more,” Lancaster said. “We have a lot of capabilities at DRI; it’s the type of place that has the infrastructure for us to do high quality and meaningful environmental science.”

Ruins of houses at Lost City, Nevada.

A photograph of an unidentified person sitting in a group of restored pueblo homes at Lost City located near Overton, Nevada, circa 1930s-40s. Photo from University of Nevada, Las Vegas Special Collections.

A plan for preservation

To help protect Lost City from further damage, the DRI team plans to use UAS technology to create high-resolution maps of the area, through a process called photogrammetry.

“The UAS will fly around and take a series of several hundred photos of the area of interest, and we’ll use that to essentially build a 3-D model of the surface,” Lancaster explained.

They will use the maps to identify areas where erosion has occurred in the past and present, as well as areas where they expect erosion to occur in the future. During the summer of 2020, before the monsoon season hits, the DRI team will work with representatives from NPS to design effective treatments for the erosion problem. They plan to monitor the results of their efforts using UAS photogrammetry as the monsoon season progresses.

“The erosion is focused in these deep gullies that have formed in soft sediments, and these gullies are causing damage to the site as they expand and run into each other,” Lancaster said. “So, we’re planning a paired study. We’ll install an erosion treatment in one gully, and the other gully in that pair will not get a treatment. We’re essentially testing the effectiveness of erosion treatments approved by NPS management.”

The team is still looking for funding for another component of the project, which would utilize a thermal sensor on the UAS to detect structures or stone objects that are buried beneath the land surface.

“Out at Lost City, there are probably still structures that are buried beneath sediments, that you can’t actually see,” Lancaster said. “If we could discover where they were, and discover where gullies or erosion might expose them and start to damage them in the future, we could actually prevent them from being damaged or exposed in the first place. That’s one really exciting aspect of the project that we’d love to have the opportunity to test.”

Researchers with drones

DRI researchers JD Lancaster, Tatianna Menocal and Megan Stueve work with drones at DRI’s Las Vegas Campus.

 


LEARN MORE

About Pueblo Grande De Nevada (Lost City), from Online Nevada: http://www.onlinenevada.org/articles/pueblo-grande-de-nevada-lost-city

About Lost City Archaeology, from Online Nevada: http://www.onlinenevada.org/articles/lost-city-archaeology

About Pueblo Grande De Nevada (Lost City) from the National Park Service: https://npgallery.nps.gov/AssetDetail/6b5182e4-c08c-4a6f-a296-e94058ebd6e1

DRI and The Discovery Launch First-Ever Northern Nevada Science & Technology Festival

DRI and The Discovery Launch First-Ever Northern Nevada Science & Technology Festival

RENO, Nev. (April 24, 2019) – From May 13th to 17th, the Desert Research Institute (DRI) and the Terry Lee Wells Nevada Discovery Museum (The Discovery) are hosting the region’s first-ever Northern Nevada Science & Technology Festival (NNS&TF).

The festival will inspire and connect our community with local science and technology organizations through free community events offered each night of the week at various locations throughout the region, as well as hands-on programming in K-12 schools.

“DRI and The Discovery have a great partnership and have worked over the years to increase science and technology-focused educational programs for students, teachers, and the community,” said Amelia Gulling, DRI Science Alive STEM Education Director. “We decided this year to invite our collaborators together and create a free and accessible event where even more people can experience the power of science and technology.”

Evening programming during the festival will include events led by Sierra Nevada Journeys, the Fleischmann Planetarium, the National Automobile Museum, DRI, and the Discovery. Each event is free and open to the public and will feature interactive, family-friendly activities for science and technology enthusiasts of all ages.

“Northern Nevada is a growing center of innovation,” said Sarah Gobbs-Hill, Senior Vice President of Education & Exhibits at The Discovery. “It’s our hope that by having an annual festival, students, parents, businesses, and working professionals will see how science and technology is connected to the way we live here and interwoven into the future of our region.”

The presenting sponsor of the 2019 Northern Nevada Science & Technology Festival is NV Energy. The NNS&TF is also supported by Tesla and Click Bond.

Formal and informal education organizations from around the region are collaborating to launch the inaugural NNS&TF. Major collaborators include: Fleischmann Planetarium; Challenger Learning Center of Northern Nevada; Sierra Nevada Journeys; Raggio Research Center for STEM Education; Nevada STEM Coalition; Evirolution; Nevada State Science Teachers Association (NSSTA); Northwest Regional Professional Development Program (RPDP); the Governor’s Office of Science, Innovation & Technology (OSIT); Nevada Teach; Fernley STEM Festival; Washoe County School District; Douglas County School District; Carson City School District; and Lyon County School District.

For more information about the NNS&TF and full details about each evening event, please visit: nnsciencefest.org.

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The mission of The Northern Nevada Science & Technology Festival is to celebrate the many ways science and technology touch our everyday lives and shape our future, to broaden public access to informal learning environments, to create meaningful direct interactions between scientists and the general public, and to inspire the workforce of the future.

Media Contacts: 
Patrick Turner
The Discovery
pturner@nvdm.org
O: 775-398-5940
M: 775-560-5505

Jaquelyn Davis
Desert Research Institute
j.davis@dri.edu
O: 775-673-7375
M: 209-728-7507

Nevada Higher Education Institutions Partner with Tesla in New Robotics Academy For Teachers

Nevada Higher Education Institutions Partner with Tesla in New Robotics Academy For Teachers

Students assemble a basic electric motor at Gigafactory 1 with Tesla volunteers during Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day 2019. Credit: Tesla


New program to offer K-12 teacher trainings developed by DRI, UNR and UNLV

 

Reno, Nev. (April 16, 2019) –  The Desert Research Institute (DRI), University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) and University of Nevada, Reno (UNR) are partnering with Tesla to help Nevada’s teachers go from curious to confident in coaching robotics programs.

The Robotics Academy of Nevada – a new statewide professional development program funded by Tesla’s K-12 Education Investment Fund – will launch this summer, facilitated by DRI’s PreK-12 STEM education and outreach program, Science Alive, in partnership with the Colleges of Engineering at Nevada’s research universities.

The Academy is comprised of two week-long teacher trainings designed to help 200 middle and high school teachers to coach robotics programs at their schools, with mentor support throughout the year. Trainings will be held on the universities’ campuses and will be taught by university faculty from the Departments of Engineering and Education, with assistance from college students.

“We are very excited to be given the opportunity to help create this new Academy to directly support Nevada’s teachers,” said Amelia Gulling, Science Alive STEM Education Director at DRI. “The primary highlight of this statewide initiative has been the collaborative partnerships that have been developed with our fellow NSHE institutions, robotics competition programs, and school districts.”

The Academy will introduce engineering and robotics content into the existing curriculum across Nevada, including an introduction to engineering processes, careers and methodologies for integration. Additional content will specifically address the implementation of competitive robotics and computer programming and cyber-literacy. Teachers will be also introduced to other robotics coaches and a network of mentors and others, both inside and outside of the universities, who they can work with year-round.

DRI’s Science Alive program is working with FIRST Nevada and the Robotics Education and Competition Foundation (REC Foundation) in a shared vision to help bring a quality robotics program to every school in Nevada over the next four years.

“The most widely-utilized system for encouraging students to participate in robotics-related activities are competition leagues, FIRST Robotics leagues for example,” said David Feil-Seifer, project lead for the University of Nevada, Reno and assistant professor of computer science and engineering. “We will organize a Northern Nevada Robotics Competition Workshop, which will be open to stakeholders of such a program, such as league administrators, school personnel, parents, University personnel and members of the private innovation community as a hands-on zero-to-competition experience.”

“Tesla and DRI understand that Nevada needs a highly skilled, STEM-ready workforce,” said Brendan O’Toole, chair of UNLV’s mechanical engineering department in the College of Engineering and UNLV lead on the project. “As a longtime FIRST Robotics mentor and coach, I’ve experienced first-hand how robotics programs prepare students to solve challenging problems and strengthen the school-to-STEM-career pipeline by inspiring students to explore science, engineering and technology options.”

The funding of the Robotics Academy of Nevada is part of Tesla’s $37.5 million investment in K-12 education in Nevada aimed at programs that encourage students of all backgrounds to consider a career in STEM or sustainability. Tesla began rolling out the education investment in 2018 and will carry it out over five years.

Trainings will be completely free to educators, and all educators will receive a stipend and continuing education credits. Participants who are non-local will also have accommodations covered.

Trainings will be hosted in both Las Vegas and Reno early this summer:

Las Vegas: May 28-June 1 at UNLV

Reno: June 17-21 at UNR

Recruiting for participation in the Robotics Academy of Nevada is open now, and interested teachers can apply at https://sciencealive.dri.edu/robotics

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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.

University of Nevada, Las Vegas is a doctoral-degree-granting institution of more than 30,000 students and 3,500 faculty and staff that is recognized among the top three percent of the nation’s research institutions – those with “very high research activity” – by the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education. UNLV offers a broad range of respected academic programs and is committed to recruiting and retaining top students and faculty, educating the region’s diversifying population and workforce, driving economic activity, and creating an academic health center for Southern Nevada. Learn more at unlv.edu.

The University of Nevada, Reno is a public research university committed to the promise of a future powered by knowledge. Founded in 1874 as Nevada’s land-grant university, the University serves nearly 22,000 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. More than $800 million has been invested campus-wide in advanced laboratories, residence halls and facilities since 2009. It is home to the University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine and Wolf Pack Athletics, as well as statewide outreach programs including University of Nevada Cooperative Extension, Nevada Bureau of Mines and Geology, Small Business Development Center and Nevada Seismological Laboratory. The University is part of the Nevada System of Higher Education. Through a commitment to student success, world-improving research and outreach benefiting Nevada’s communities and businesses, the University has impact across the state and around the world. For more information, visit www.unr.edu.

Media Contacts:

Justin Broglio
Desert Research Institute
justin.broglio@dri.edu
(775) 673-7610

Mike Wolterbeek
Communications Officer
University of Nevada, Reno
mwolterbeek@unr.edu
(775) 784-4547

Tony Allen
Director of Media Relations
University of Nevada, Las Vegas
tony.allen@unlv.edu
(702) 895-3102

DRI researchers successfully remove harmful hormones from Las Vegas wastewater using green algae

DRI researchers successfully remove harmful hormones from Las Vegas wastewater using green algae

Xuelian Bai, Ph.D., Assistant Research Professor of Environmental Sciences, works with an algae sample in the Environmental Engineering Laboratory at the Desert Research Institute in Las Vegas. Credit: Sachiko Sueki.


 

LAS VEGAS, Nev. (April 8, 2019) – A common species of freshwater green algae is capable of removing certain endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) from wastewater, according to new research from the Desert Research Institute (DRI) in Las Vegas.

EDCs are natural hormones and can also be found in many plastics and pharmaceuticals. They are known to be harmful to wildlife, and to humans in large concentrations, resulting in negative health effects such as lowered fertility and increased incidence of certain cancers. They have been found in trace amounts (parts per trillion to parts per billion) in treated wastewater, and also have been detected in water samples collected from Lake Mead.

In a new study published in the journal Environmental Pollution, DRI researchers Xuelian Bai, Ph.D., and Kumud Acharya, Ph.D., explore the potential for use of a species of freshwater green algae called Nannochloris to remove EDCs from treated wastewater.

“This type of algae is very commonly found in any freshwater ecosystem around the world, but its potential for use in wastewater treatment hadn’t been studied extensively,” explained Bai, lead author and Assistant Research Professor of environmental sciences with the Division of Hydrologic Sciences at DRI. “We wanted to explore whether this species might be a good candidate for use in an algal pond or constructed wetland to help remove wastewater contaminants.”

Samples of Nannochloris grow in the Environmental Engineering Laboratory at DRI. This species of green algae was found to be capable of removing certain types of endocrine disrupting chemicals from treated wastewater. Credit: Xuelian Bai/DRI.

Samples of Nannochloris grow in the Environmental Engineering Laboratory at DRI. This species of green algae was found to be capable of removing certain types of endocrine disrupting chemicals from treated wastewater. Credit: Xuelian Bai/DRI.

During a seven-day laboratory experiment, the researchers grew Nannochloris algal cultures in two types of treated wastewater effluents collected from the Clark County Water Reclamation District in Las Vegas, and measured changes in the concentration of seven common EDCs.

In wastewater samples that had been treated using an ultrafiltration technique, the researchers found that the algae grew rapidly and significantly improved the removal rate of three EDCs (17β-estradiol, 17α-ethinylestradiol and salicylic acid), with approximately 60 percent of each contaminant removed over the course of seven days. In wastewater that had been treated using ozonation, the algae did not grow as well and had no significant impact on EDC concentrations.

One of the EDCs examined in the study, triclosan, disappeared completely from the ultrafiltration water after seven days, and only 38 percent remained in the ozonation water after seven days – but this happened regardless of the presence of algae, and was attributed to breakdown by photolysis (exposure to light).

“Use of algae for removing heavy metals and other inorganic contaminants have been extensively studied in the past, but for removing organic pollutants has just started,” said Acharya, Interim Vice President for Research and Executive Director of Hydrologic Sciences at DRI. “Our research shows both some of the potential and also some of the limitations for using Nannochloris to remove EDCs from wastewater.”

Although these tests took place under laboratory conditions, a previous study by Bai and Acharya that published in November 2018 in the journal Environmental Science and Pollution Research examined the impacts of these same seven EDCs on quagga mussels (Dreissena bugensis) collected from Lake Mead. Their results showed that several of the EDCs (testosterone, bisphenol A, triclosan, and salicylic acid) were accumulating in the body tissues of the mussels.

Researcher examines a sample of quagga mussels collected from Lake Mead. A recent study by Bai and Acharya found that endocrine disrupting chemicals are accumulating in the body tissues of these mussels. Credit: Xuelian Bai.

Researcher examines a sample of quagga mussels collected from Lake Mead. A recent study by Bai and Acharya found that endocrine disrupting chemicals are accumulating in the body tissues of these mussels. Credit: Xuelian Bai.

“Algae sit at the base of the food web, thereby providing food for organisms in higher trophic levels such as quagga mussels and other zooplantkons,” Bai said. “Our study clearly shows that there is potential for these contaminants to biomagnify, or build up at higher levels of the food chain in the aquatic ecosystem.”

Bai is now working on a new study looking for antibiotic resistance in genes collected from the Las Vegas Wash, as well as a study of microplastics in the Las Vegas Wash and Lake Mead. Although Las Vegas’s treated wastewater meets Clean Water Act standards, Bai hopes that her research will draw public attention to the fact that treated wastewater is not 100 percent clean, and will also be helpful to utility managers as they develop new ways to remove untreated contaminants from wastewater prior to release.

“Most wastewater treatment plants are not designed to remove these unregulated contaminants in lower concentrations, but we know they may cause health effects to aquatic species and even humans, in large concentrations,” Bai said. “This is concerning in places where wastewater is recycled for use in agriculture or released back into drinking water sources.”

Bai’s research was funded by the Desert Research Institute Maki Endowment, the U.S. Geological Survey, and the Nevada Water Resources Research Institute. The studies mentioned in this release are available from Environmental Pollution and Environmental Science and Pollution Research journals:

Bai, X. and Kumud Acharya. 2019. Removal of seven endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) from municipal wastewater effluents by a freshwater green alga. Environmental Pollution. 247: 534-540. Available: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0269749118347894

Bai, X. and Kumud Acharya. 2018. Uptake of endocrine-disrupting chemicals by quagga mussels (Dreissena bugensis) in an urban-impacted aquatic ecosystem. Environmental Science and Pollution Research. 26: 250-258. Available: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11356-018-3320-4

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

Study provides new insight into how microbes process nitrogen

Study provides new insight into how microbes process nitrogen

Reno, Nev. (Feb. 19, 2019): Microbes play a key role in Earth’s nitrogen cycle, helping to transform nitrogen gas from the atmosphere back and forth into organic forms of nitrogen that can be used by plants and animals.

New research from the Desert Research Institute in Reno, Nev. provides new insight into how this process happens, through the examination of a unique species of microbe called Intrasporangium calvum that was found in a contaminated groundwater well at Oak Ridge National Laboratory Field Research Station in Tennessee.

The study, which published in Frontiers in Microbiology in January, examined the response of I. calvum to different concentrations of environmental resources and how those differences impacted the microbe’s nitrogen cycling ability. The study team also investigated the evolution of this microbe, the biochemistry behind the reactions, and how each of those factors interact with the environment.

Although most microbes perform just one step in the nitrogen cycle – converting nitrogen gas (N2) from the atmosphere to ammonia (NH3) in the soil, for example – the research team discovered that I. calvum could perform two types of reactions: respiratory ammonification and denitrification. Respiratory ammonification retains nitrogen in an ecosystem as ammonium in the soil or water, while denitrification sends nitrogen on a path back to the atmosphere as a gas.

“The microbe that we studied is unique because it can essentially ‘breathe’ in nitrogen and then send the nitrogen along one of two pathways, ‘exhaling’ either ammonium or nitrous oxide,” said David Vuono, Ph.D., postdoctoral researcher fellow with DRI’s Division of Earth and Ecosystem Sciences and Applied Innovation Center, and lead author of the new study. “This is kind of like humans breathing in oxygen and then having the ability to exhale either carbon dioxide or methane.”

Sample bottles of I. calvum are sterilized via flame in the Genomics Laboratory at DRi. February 2019. Credit: DRI.

With the ability to perform more than one type of reaction – either sending nitrogen back to the atmosphere or retaining it in the soil or water – Vuono and his team wondered what would trigger the microbe to select one pathway versus the other. Previous studies had concluded that the ratio of carbon (C) to nitrate (NO3) in the surrounding environment was the determining factor, but Vuono wondered if the story wasn’t actually more complex.

In this study, Vuono and his team looked beyond the C:NO3ratio to investigate the importance of the overall concentration of each nutrient. They tested the response of I. calvumunder conditions of both high and low resource availability, while keeping the ratio of C:NO3at a constant level.

According to their findings, it is the resource concentration, rather than the C:NO3ratio, that determines pathway selection. When grown under low carbon concentrations, the team found that these microbes were more likely to process nitrogen by ammonification; under high carbon concentrations, denitrification prevailed.

“As we learned, the concentration of nutrients available to these microbes is what determines where the nitrogen ends up, whether it takes a pathway back towards the atmosphere or returns to ammonium,” Vuono explained. “That is a really important distinction, because depending on the environment that you’re in, you may want to remove nitrogen or you may want to retain it.”

In a waterway, for example, high levels of nitrogen can cause algae blooms and dead zones; by creating conditions that favor denitrification, it is possible that microbes could be triggered to send nitrogen back to the atmosphere. In an agricultural field, on the other hand, nitrogen deficiencies in the soil can lead to poor plant growth; by creating conditions that would promote respiratory ammonification, microbes could be prompted to retain nitrogen in the soils, eliminating or lessening the need for chemical fertilizers.

David Vuono, Ph.D., prepares a sample of I. calvum for analysis in the Laboratory of Molecular Responses at DRI. February 2019. Credit: DRI.

This study was funded by the Nevada Governor’s Office of Economic Development (GOED), the Desert Research Institute postdoctoral research fellowship program, Ecosystems and Networks Integrated with Genes and Molecular Assemblies (ENIGMA), and Oak Ridge National Laboratory (US Department of Energy, Office of Science, Office of Biological and Environmental Research).

Other DRI scientists who contributed to this study included Robert Read, John A. Arnone III, Iva Neveux, Evan Loney, David Miceli, and Joseph Grzymski.

The full study, titled Resource Concentration Modulates the Fate of Dissimilated Nitrogen in a Dual-Pathway Actinobacterium, is available online from Frontiers in Microbiology (22 January 2019): https://doi.org/10.3389/fmicb.2019.00003

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Graphic from the NWS Reno Facebook page

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nevada’s land-grant university founded in 1874, the University of Nevada, Renoranks in the top tier of best national universities by U.S. News and World Report and is steadily growing in enrollment, excellence and reputation. The University serves nearly 22,000 students. Part of the Nevada System of Higher Education, the University is home to the University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine, University of Nevada Cooperative Extension and Wolf Pack Athletics. Through a commitment to world-improving research, student success and outreach benefiting the communities and businesses of Nevada, the University has impact across the state and around the world. For more information, visit www.unr.edu.

Nevada Solar Nexus Project: 2013-2018

Nevada Solar Nexus Project: 2013-2018

“I knew our research institutions were doing solar energy research, but I didn’t realize how much they were doing,” said Nevada State Assemblyman Chris Brooks in welcoming attendees to the “Solar Nexus: Nevada’s Research Institutions Supporting our Community” panel event at the Springs Preserve on November 14th.

This panel discussion, attended by members of the Las Vegas community, featured researchers from DRI and the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV)–Eric Wilcox, Ph.D. (DRI), Gayle Dayna, Ph.D. (DRI), Dale Devitt, Ph.D. (UNLV), and Bob Boehm, Ph.D. (UNLV)–all of whom have who have spent the last five years working on the Solar Energy, Water, and Environment Nexus in Nevada project, a wide-ranging research project sponsored by the Nevada System Sponsored Programs and Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR).

The Solar Nexus project (for short), which also includes researchers from University of Nevada, Reno, began in June 2013, its focus the nexus between solar energy generation, Nevada’s limited water resources, and the state’s fragile environment. Existing industrial solar panel models require water to keep them producing solar power at the rate at which they were intended and alter their surrounding environments, so research is needed to provide solutions to these potential barriers to widespread solar energy adoption in desert environments like Nevada.

Dr. Robert Boehm and Dr. Jacimaria Batista of UNLV describe the original idea for the Solar Nexus project.

The Solar Nexus project has involved a wide range of research over the last five years, all of it collaborative—48 faculty, 14 technical staff, and over 30 graduate students from DRI, UNLV, and UNR have been involved over the five years of the project. Research included but was not limited to the testing of dry cooling methods for solar panels to conserve water resourcesinvestigating the impact of panels on rainwater infiltration into soilsexamining the possibilities for desert soil restoration, and studying the factors that impact solar power generation and may cause it to fluctuate, like cloud cover.

All areas of study pursued by the project interweaved the goals of promoting economic diversification in Nevada, minimizing the negative environmental impacts of solar energy development while achieving maximum benefits, and developing the cyberinfrastructure and diverse, educated workforce needed to sustain the renewable energy industry in Nevada.

“The Solar Nexus project has put Nevada on the map with regard to the engineering and research related to solar energy,” said Dana, DRI project director and Nevada EPSCoR Director.

During the panel discussion, Dana and her fellow panelists were quick to point out, however, that research goals were not the only ones met by the project: the economic and workforce development outcomes of the project were also significant.

Photo of speakers at the Solar Nexus panel event held at the Springs Preserve in Las Vegas.

Brian Beffort, Director of the Sierra Club, Toiyabe Chapter (standing far left) moderated the discussion at the Solar Nexus panel event held at the Springs Preserve in Las Vegas. Speakers, from left: Eric Wilcox, Dale Devitt, Bob Boehm, and Gayle Dana. November 14, 2018.

“Workforce development is a really big part of the Solar Nexus project, and we have a number of different mechanisms built in to develop this pipeline of educators and students,” said Dana. The project helped create new faculty and graduate student positions at each of the state’s research institutions, filling out each institution in terms of research area expertise related to solar energy that hadn’t been represented in the past. In all, nearly forty students graduated with advanced degrees related to renewable energy after working on the Solar Nexus project.

Beyond building capacity in the research expertise of Nevada’s research institutions, the project also helped expand the possibilities for commercialization of new technologies related to solar energy. This entrepreneurial activity has a ripple effect.

“Universities are an economic driver for the community,” explained Wilcox, associate research professor of climatology at DRI and solar forecasting researcher on the Solar Nexus project. “Economic growth draws on the intellectual production of faculty at our research institutions.”

With this project coming to a close this year, researchers are looking ahead to the next round of EPSCoR funding and another project that can build research excellence and drive economic development. EPSCoR is a program run by the National Science Foundation that works to stimulate research capacity and competitiveness in states that receive comparatively less federal funding. Nevada is one of 28 states, in addition to Puerto Rico, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, eligible for EPSCoR funding.

To hear from DRI’s Markus Berli about the Solar Nexus project on the Shades of Green radio show, hosted by Green Alliance, visit: http://www.greenalliancenv.org/blog/nexus-of-water-and-energy-usage.

To browse an archive of stories about the Solar Nexus project’s research and impact for the state, visit: https://solarnexus.epscorspo.nevada.edu/about/feature-articles/.

Q & A with AGU Presenter Rose Shillito

Q & A with AGU Presenter Rose Shillito

Rose Shillito is a hydrologist and graduate student researcher working with Markus Berli, Ph.D., associate research professor of environmental science. Rose has worked at DRI since 2011, and she plans to defend her doctoral dissertation at UNLV and earn her Ph.D. in geosciences this fall.

DRI: In a couple of sentences, what is the ‘plain English’ summary of what are you presenting at AGU? 

Rose Shillito: Fire can cause soils to become water repellent—water will not spontaneously enter the soil. We have developed a physically-based model to understand and predict the effect of soil water repellency on infiltration, thus on the potential for post-fire flooding and erosion.

(Rose was recently featured by the UNLV Foundation for her work on post-fire water repellency. Read the article here: https://www.unlv.edu/news/article/trickle-down-effect.)

DRI: What are you most looking forward to at AGU this year? What do you hope to learn, or who do you hope to connect with? 

RS: At AGU, I like to get an overview of research in my specific topic, but also get a general overview of research directions and methods in my field (hydrology). I get a chance to connect with colleagues and make new connections with other researchers.

DRI: The theme of this year’s meeting is “What Science Stands For.” From your perspective, what does science stand for? 

RS: Currently, to me, science is about answering questions.

Meet Rose at her AGU poster session, “Effective Infiltration Measurements for Fire-Affected Water-Repellent Soils,” happening Tuesday, December 11th during the afternoon session. (Session H23L-2548 in the program.)

This Q&A is part of a series of profiles of DRI scientists who will be participating in the 2018 AGU Fall Meeting, to be held in Washington DC during the week of December 10th. Learn more about this annual meeting of 24,000 scientists from a wide range of disciplines here: https://fallmeeting.agu.org/2018/.

Graduate student Yang Han receives Young Algae Researcher Award

Graduate student Yang Han receives Young Algae Researcher Award

DRI graduate student Yang Han, fifth from left, received a Young Algae Researcher Award in October.


 

November 5, 2018 (Reno, Nevada): Desert Research Institute (DRI) graduate student Yang Han was one of six student scientists to be honored with a Young Algae Researcher Award at the 2018 Algae Biomass Summit in The Woodlands, Texas in October.

Han, who received first place for outstanding research in algae engineering, is a Ph.D. student in the atmospheric sciences program. He is currently working under DRI faculty advisor S. Kent Hoekman, Ph.D., to convert algae into biofuel using a high temperature, high pressure thermochemical process known as hydrothermal liquefaction.

There are many potential benefits of using algae as a source of biofuel, Han says.

“Compared with other terrestrial biomass feedstock, algae won’t compete for resources with food production, and will have less impact on land use change and biodiversity,” Han explained. “It can be cultivated in diverse environments – fresh water, waste water, and salt water. Algae also has great potential to rapidly recycle or sequester carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.”

Yang Han works in the energy lab at Desert Research Institute, in Reno, Nev., on Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2018. Photo by Cathleen Alison/Nevada Momentum.

Yang Han works in the energy lab at Desert Research Institute, in Reno, Nev., on Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2018.
Photo by Cathleen Allison/Nevada Momentum.

The Young Algae Researcher Awards recognize outstanding research by early-career scientists using algae to address challenges in energy, human health, climate change, agriculture and other fields. A panel of  judges evaluated more than 100 posters based on six key criteria: presentation, methodology, data analysis, poster integrity and the presentation of the poster by the presenter him or herself.

“I felt very honored to receive this award, and look forward to continuing my research in this area,” Han said.


For more information on the Young Algae Researcher Award, visit: https://algaebiomass.org/blog/10384/abo-announces-six-winners-young-algae-researcher-awards-2018-algae-biomass-summit/

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meet Henry Sun, Ph.D.

Meet Henry Sun, Ph.D.

Henry Sun, Ph.D., is an associate research professor of microbiology with the Division of Earth and Ecosystem Sciences at the Desert Research Institute in Las Vegas. Henry specializes in the study of microscopic organisms that live in extreme environments, often using specimens from here on earth to learn about possibilities for life on Mars. He is originally from China and has a bachelor’s degree in botany and master’s degree in phycology (the study of algae) from Nanjing University. He also holds a Ph.D. in microbiology from Florida State University and completed a post-doc in astrobiology (the study of life in the universe) at the Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena, CA. Henry has been a member of the DRI community since 2004. In his free time, he enjoys playing pickup basketball with friends in Las Vegas, and spending time with his wife and two kids.

DRI: What do you do here at DRI?HS: I do quite a few things, all centered around the study of life in extreme environments – places that are in one way or another similar to Mars. We are studying what we call analog environments, trying to understand whether there’s life in these places that are comparable to Mars, learning how to go about detecting life and organisms, and developing ideas for reliable instruments that we can send to Mars to look for life there.

DRI: How did you become interested in this line of work?
HS: It started in graduate school, when I was given the opportunity to go to Antarctica, to a place called the Dry Valleys, to do my dissertation work. Until 1976, this was a place thought to be devoid of all life. But my former adviser, Imre Friedmann, extrapolating from his work in the hot deserts in the southwestern U.S., discovered thriving communities of microalgae and cyanobacteria in the pore spaces in the Antarctic sandstone. Sandstone is translucent, so sunlight can penetrate the first few millimeters. The stone holds onto water in the pore spaces so it doesn’t dry out right away. And that’s all you need to support life. I fell in love with these organisms on my very first trip there.

Henry Sun at work in Antarctica, January 2005.

Henry Sun at work in Antarctica, January 2005.

DRI: What did you learn from studying those organisms?
HS: Probably the most remarkable thing we have learned about these organisms is that they have a very slow growth rate. We have monitored a few rocks closely over the last 50 years and never saw any appreciable signs of growth. In fact, they are so long-lived that their age can be determined by radiocarbon decay. In other words, if you look at their radiocarbon content, you would think they are dead, fossilized organisms. But we know they are alive because as soon as we thaw them to a normal temperature they start to breathe, taking up carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen. And because they start to grow and reproduce when we put them in a petri dish and incubate at more favorable temperature conditions.

That said, we still have a lot to learn about these organisms, and the opportunity for a serious study presented itself this year. When my former advisor passed away in 2007, he left behind a large collection of thousands of rocks from Antarctica, amassed over his career, in a walk-in -30oC freezer at Florida State University in Tallahassee, Florida. Last year, Florida State decided to decommission that building, and the samples were about to be thrown out. This past June, with a little help from DRI and NASA, we raised some money and purchased three freezers. I drove to Florida and hauled all of the samples back in a cargo van full of coolers and dry ice. I moved the entire collection to Las Vegas without them ever being thawed, so now they are sitting at DRI waiting to be studied.

An outcrop of Antarctic sandstone at one of Henry Sun's field sites.

An outcrop of Antarctic sandstone at one of Henry Sun’s field sites.

DRI: What are you planning to do with these samples?
HS: Inside of the freezers, the samples are kept at temperatures of -30oC (-22oF) and in complete darkness, but the microbes are still alive. As I said, we have thousands of samples. Only two samples have been studied using modern-day DNA analysis. So, the first thing we want to is a comprehensive molecular study and find out what lives in these samples.

We are also working with colleagues at the NASA Ames Research Center to look for cyanobacteria that can grow not using the visible light, but using the infrared. Visible light, which photosynthetic organisms prefer, is filtered out by the sandstone. But the infrared is still present. It is not as good as the visible, but that is all the organisms at the bottom of the colonized zone have. We speculate that they may subsist on the infrared.

Closeup of one of Henry Sun's Antarctic rock samples, home to unknown species of microorganisms.

Closeup of one of Henry Sun’s Antarctic rock samples, home to unknown species of microorganisms.

DRI: What do you like best about what you do?
HS: I feel most rewarded when we engage school teachers and their students in what we do. We do this through a program called Spaceward Bound, which was created by Chris McKay, DRI’s Nevada Medalist from two years ago. The goal is to train the next generation of space explorers in remote but scientifically interesting places that are analogous to the moon or Mars. The reason why we need to start this now is because the first human mission to Mars may happen as early as the 2030s. The scientists who will go to Mars to study its environment are still in school today. We have done several Spaceward Bound expeditions in the Mojave and Death Valley area with teachers and students from Nevada. To me, there is no greater reward than to see children get inspired by the work we do so that one day they may become scientists themselves and continue to push back the frontier of knowledge.

Henry Sun talks with a student at DRI's 2018 'May Science Be With You' event in Las Vegas.

Henry Sun talks with a student at DRI’s 2018 ‘May Science Be With You’ event in Las Vegas.

For more information on Henry Sun and his research, continue to his research page: https://www.dri.edu/directory/4764-henry-sun

DRI researchers share projects with Nevada water resources professionals at state-wide symposium

DRI researchers share projects with Nevada water resources professionals at state-wide symposium

Several DRI researchers reported on recent projects at the Nevada Water Resources Association (NWRA) Fall Symposium in Reno this week. They were among engineers, resource managers, water rights professionals, and other stakeholders from across Nevada brought together by NWRA to discuss current water resource management topics, research and technology development, and legal issues related to water in the state.

DRI researchers explored a wide range of topics in their presentations, including drought and fire danger, innovations in irrigation, hydromechanics in mining operations, and more:

  • Tim Brown, Ph.D., research professor of climatology and Director of the Western Regional Climate Center, explored the relationship between fuel moisture and fire danger.
  • Dan McEvoy, Ph.D., assistant research professor of climatology and regional climatologist at the Western Regional Climate Center, identified a correlation between drought and dire danger indices and is now working with stakeholders to develop prediction strategies for fire based on EDDI (evaporative demand drought index).
  • Alan Heyvaert, Ph.D., associate research professor of biochemistry, discussed the impacts of wildfire on surface water, including ash deposition, erosion, and declining water clarity.
  • Zhiqiang Fang, Ph.D., postdoctoral researcher in the Division of Hydrologic Sciences, described two recent projects, including evaluating the effects of stresses on tunnels in mining operations using coupled hydromechanical models, and analyzing constant rate fluid injection into rock in geothermal systems.
  • Hai Pham, Ph.D., postdoctoral fellow in the Division of Hydrologic Sciences, showed how his team has used groundwater models to examine the effect of groundwater pumping on surface water in the Tahoe Valley South groundwater basin.
  • Maureen McCarthy, Ph.D., research faculty in the Division of Earth and Ecosystem Sciences, Christine Albano, graduate research assistant in the Division of Earth and Ecosystem Sciences, and Justin Huntington, Ph.D., research professor of hydrology, presented with colleagues from other institution–including the University of Nevada, Reno and USGS–about the Water for the Seasons project, a program that partners scientists with community water managers and water right holders in the Truckee-Carson River System (TCRS), to explore new strategies and solutions for dealing with extreme climate events such as droughts and floods. The four year study is funded by the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and uses the TCRS in a pilot study to learn how to best link science with decision-making in snow-fed arid-land river systems. By working collaboratively with stakeholders, Water for the Seasons aims to create a model for improving community climate resiliency, or ability to adapt to extreme climatic conditions.

In operation for more than 70 years, NWRA is a non-profit professional association that provides education, networking, and training opportunities for water resources professionals in Nevada. To learn more about NWRA, visit: http://www.nvwra.org/

To learn more about the wide range of water resources research conducted at DRI, please visit: https://www.dri.edu/hydrologic-sciences

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The research team:

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

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

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

Secrets of Successful Solar

Secrets of Successful Solar

Photo caption: Prototype sky-imaging camera. Credit: Eric Wilcox.

 

By: Jane Palmer

Reno, NV (September 1, 2018) – Solar energy is a clean and renewable energy source, but integrating solar power into the grid is not without challenges. For electricity to be useful, it needs to be delivered to users in a steady, reliable, and affordable way, says NEXUS scientist Eric Wilcox of the Desert Research Institute (DRI). But solar energy can only be generated when the sun is shining, so to guarantee a reliable source of electricity requires using power from other sources when the sun goes down or clouds shade solar panels. “This poses both a technical and an economic challenge,” Wilcox says. “How can we design systems so that solar power is maximized and backup power generation is minimized?”

NEXUS researchers have addressed this question from a variety of perspectives. Scientists at DRI and the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) have investigated the fluctuations in solar power production due to cloudiness, in an attempt to build accurate forecasts. At UNLV, researchers have built a microgrid—a mini version of the electric power grid—that can operate independently of the main grid for testing “smart” technology. Such technologies will maintain a steady power supply when transitioning between solar power, gas-generated backup, and battery storage systems. Economics researchers at the University of Nevada, Reno (UNR) have also been performing economic analyses to determine how behavioral economics can motivate greater efficiency and utilization of renewable energy.“The promise of the approaches used and technology under development by this group is central to the mission of increasing the utilization of solar energy and mitigating pollution, by reducing the amount of fossil-fuel generated backup power needed to protect electricity grids from fluctuations in solar power generation,” Wilcox says.

Calculating Cloudiness

Although Nevada enjoys many sunny days each year, every few weeks or so, the North American monsoon effect carries moisture from the Gulf of California to form clouds over Southern Nevada. And when these clouds come, solar facilities can’t produce as much power.

Numerical weather prediction models can determine when one of these weather events will arrive up to five days in advance, but the models can’t predict when a particular cloud will move in between a solar panel array and the sun. Typically during these times, the amount of sunlight reaching a panel can vary dramatically over very short time scales, causing large fluctuations in voltage and power. Ideally, grid operators could anticipate from the forecasts when these events occur, so that they could coordinate a smooth transition toward using alternative power sources.

“The research has demonstrated the validity of using fluctuations in regional humidity over Las Vegas to characterize the error in solar forecasts derived from numerical weather prediction models,” Wilcox says. “So it will help achieve more accurate day-ahead solar forecasting.”

To detect and predict these quick power fluctuations, Wilcox and his team have built a prototype sky-imaging camera that takes images of the sky in the vicinity of solar photovoltaic (PV) arrays. The weatherproof camera takes the pictures and then analyzes them to distinguish cloudy pixels, which are the smallest units of a digital image, from clear sky pixels. Using this information, a computer algorithm can then track the movement of a cloud and predict when it will shade the PV array.

Following from this work, UNLV assistant professor Brendan Morris has explored more accurate prediction algorithms and UNLV scientist Venkatesan Muthukumar has investigated other concepts to produce distributed sensors for forecasting solar fluctuations. “This idea has really seemed to have caught on now and spread well beyond our DRI lab,” Wilcox says.

The low cost of the developed tool means the scientists could deploy the instruments at distributed solar PV sites in the city of Las Vegas and develop a shared database of sky images. This wealth of data will mean the researchers can continue to refine the algorithms that predict the cloud movements. “The goal is to build networks of sensors that can make predictions of solar generation fluctuations and communicate those forecasts to advanced control systems,” Wilcox says.
The researchers are continuing to work on developing the idea of making short-term forecasts of cloud cover in as little as 5 to 20 minutes away. The goal is to determine if the low-cost forecasting technology can make a difference in optimizing the use of batteries, such as the Tesla Powerwall batteries. “Grid operators may also be interested in the networked nature of this solution, so that optimization can happen at the neighborhood scale,” Wilcox says.

Mighty Microgrids

As the U.S. electric grid has been starting to run up against its limitations, the Department of Energy (DOE) has developed a vision of a future, more resilient, “smart” electric power infrastructure. The DOE Smart Grid Research and Development Program considers microgrids— localized grids that can disconnect from the traditional grid to operate autonomously—as key building blocks for this smart grid. Using such microgrids would facilitate integrating renewable sources of energy into the electrical infrastructure and offer other advantages for grid reliability.

“Microgrids can strengthen the grid resilience which is becoming increasingly important in the face of the increased frequency and intensity of power outages caused by severe weather due to climate change,” says NEXUS scientist Dr. Yahia Baghzouz of UNLV.

Baghzouz and his team have built a small microgrid at UNLV, which acts as a test bed to investigate the various devices that will be needed for the smart grid and technologies that will ultimately help with the integration of renewable energy resources into the grid infrastructure. Using this microgrid, the scientists have demonstrated that advanced inverters, which convert the output of photovoltaic solar arrays into utility frequency alternating current, can be configured to ride through voltage and frequency disturbances as well as assist with voltage support and reactive power requirements.

Simultaneously, NEXUS scientists Mehdi Etezadi-Amoli and M. Sami Fadali at UNR have built a new lab for simulating real-time digital monitoring and control of remote systems, such as the UNLV microgrid. Baghzouz is also testing the DRI forecasting technology for its ability to smooth out variations in solar power output to the electricity grid when coordinated with a battery energy storage system.
“The microgrid is the natural place to see how we can combine forecasting technology with other smart grid technology with the goal of increasing the reliability of solar power on the electric grid,” Wilcox says.

A Different Type of Forecast

Solar power has the potential to supply a sustainable and clean source of energy to households and industry in the state of Nevada and beyond, but to fully realize its benefits requires a detailed understanding of the economic costs and risks associated with its use. “The incorporation of solar into our power supply has to be done with the highest of knowledge, not only in engineering but also in economics,” says NEXUS economist Dr. Thomas Harris at UNR.

Consequently, Harris has also been looking at the risks, for investors, associated with this sustainable energy source. His work has demonstrated that income tax credits and appropriate depreciation schedules can yield rates of return on solar development greater than 15 percent, which is sufficient for private investment. The study also estimates that solar energy development on the 60,000 acres of Nevada designated by the Bureau of Land Management as Solar Economic Zones has the potential to yield $326 million annually in positive impacts on output, employment, and household income.

NEXUS economist Dr. Dilek Uz has been looking into solar energy policy and its political implications. “If, as a society, we have ambitious environmental goals, it is important that we reach them in the most cost effective way possible,” Uz says. When it comes to solar, large-scale projects seem to offer significant cost advantages relative to residential rooftop installations, however the whole issue is highly controversial and politically charged, Uz says.

Storage is the key to integrating renewables into the grid and this is where the new frontier in power utility regulation is, Uz says. Currently the renewable energy policy toolbox of many states includes rebates for residential rooftop solar installations as well as favorable rates for residential solar power. Uz is researching how the different benefits provided by owning a rooftop panel are valued at the residential level. It is research that will inform policy on the correct subsidy level for better use of tax payer money. She is also looking into how owning a rooftop solar panel correlates with voting patterns on energy related issues.
The economics team is also collaborating with the DRI researchers in analyzing the benefits of improved cloud forecasting techniques to mitigate the impacts of intermittency on the economics of solar. “How much does using this technology cost?” Harris says. “It is a very complicated issue from a solar standpoint.”
For solar power to be not just sustainable, but profitable, in future decades economists have to investigate all the variables and permutations associated with this relatively new industry, Harris says.

A Model Future

A common thread running through the research investigating maximizing the benefits of solar power while minimizing the costs is that of building models to test out different systems, technologies and theories. At DRI, the scientists numerically simulate the weather using a supercomputer and at UNLV, the engineers have constructed a physical model of a grid in the form of the experimental microgrid.
Creating such models allows the scientists to see how such complex systems would react in different scenarios e.g., to investigate how the solar power responds to different degrees of cloudiness, or how different technologies can smooth out fluctuations in the grid. Questions like these are difficult to answer only by observing real systems because often so many elements of the system change at the same time. “Modeling is an important research tool for estimating the behavior of such complex systems because we can carefully control the environment,” Wilcox says.
Similarly, at UNR, the NEXUS economists have constructed numerical models to simulate the economic relationships among participants in the energy and development markets in Nevada.

Fluctuations in solar and wind generation are often cited as a limiting factor in preventing generation of a large majority of electricity from renewable sources, Wilcox says. “We seek to understand the economic factors that may limit solar electricity development and then we seek to mitigate the fluctuations that limit the extent to which the grid can depend on solar electricity,” he says. “Overcoming these limitations is essential to reducing greenhouse gases and other pollution emissions from traditional fossil fuel sources of electricity generation.”###

This article was written by Jane Palmer for the Solar Nexus project. The original post is available here:  https://solarnexus.epscorspo.nevada.edu/secrets-of-successful-solar/

Started June 1, 2013, the Solar Nexus Project is a multifaceted five-year research project focusing on the nexus (or linkage between) solar energy generation and Nevada’s limited water resources and fragile environment. The focus of the Solar Nexus Project is creating a center of research excellence on solar energy conversion to electricity, minimizing its negative impacts on water usage and the environment. In essence, seeking to create a paradigm shift in how solar plants are built and utilized, helping Nevada establish itself as a competitive state in the field of solar nexus research.

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.

Low-severity wildfires impact soils more than previously believed

Low-severity wildfires impact soils more than previously believed

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


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

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

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

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

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

Researcher examines soils in a burned area near Las Vegas.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Researcher collects soil samples in burned area near Las Vegas.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

E-cigarettes in the Organic Analytical Lab

E-cigarettes in the Organic Analytical Lab at DRI.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tesla selects DRI’s Science Alive to develop statewide teacher training infrastructure

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Tesla announced the following education grants today:

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

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

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

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

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

DRI launches cybersecurity internship program in collaboration with SANS Institute

DRI launches cybersecurity internship program in collaboration with SANS Institute

Program now accepting applications for 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Additional photos available upon request.  

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

Meet Brittany Kruger, Ph.D.

Meet Brittany Kruger, Ph.D.

Brittany Kruger, Ph.D., is a staff research scientist in geobiology with the Division of Hydrologic Sciences at the Desert Research Institute in Las Vegas, NV. She specializes in the study of microbes that live in deep underground environments, such as those found inside of deep mines. Brittany is a Minnesota native, and holds a Ph.D. and Master’s Degree in Water Resources Science from the University of Minnesota, Duluth. Her work has taken her to diverse environments, including Lake Superior, Lake Malawi in Africa, Woods Hole, MA, Japan, and a mile-deep abandoned gold mine in South Dakota. She has been a member of the DRI community since 2014, when she moved to Las Vegas for a position in Dr. Duane Moser’s Environmental Microbiology Lab. In her free time, Brittany enjoys rock climbing in Red Rock Canyon and making trips into the Sierras.


DRI: What do you do here at DRI?
BK: I am a staff scientist here at DRI. I support a number of different projects that focus on deep biosphere life, which essentially means we try and examine life as deep as we can access it underground. Specifically, we look for microbial life and try and understand how those organisms are functioning given the stresses that they encounter deep underground.

DRI: How do you access deep underground environments?
BK: There are a couple different ways you can access the deep biosphere. One way is to actually go there – you can go down in deep mines, for example. In that scenario we can actually bring instruments and equipment down with us. One of our most recently active field sites is an old gold mine in South Dakota, where we are able to go about a mile underground.

Another option to access subsurface life is to use deeply drilled wells that access water or aquifers that are very far underground. This is the approach that we use at active field sites in the Death Valley and Armargosa Valley areas. There aren’t a lot of places in the world where you can access the very hottest, deepest part of the earth quite as easily as we can in this area, because that surface layer of the earth is a little bit thinner here, particularly in the Death Valley region.

Brittany Kruger collects samples from an underground mine site.

Brittany Kruger collects samples from an underground mine site.

DRI: We understand that some of your research has implications for life on other planets. Can you tell us about that?
BK: One of the projects that I’ve been focusing on since I started here at DRI is the NASA Astrobiology Life Underground Project. I have served as continental fieldwork coordinator for that project since joining DRI. We try to access the deep biosphere in multiple locations to install experimentation and collect samples, and we use what we learn about the way microbes are metabolizing and surviving in those locations to help us understand how life might be functioning on other planets that experience the same or similar stressors, like extreme heat, temperature, pressure, radiation, lack of sunlight, etc.

Right now, we’re installing experiments that focus on better understanding exactly what chemical reactions microbes are using to live in these deep environments.  If you think about it, the majority of life that we understand well, the life on the surface of the planet, uses sunlight for energy at some point in their food chain. But these microbes deep underground do not.  Instead they’re able to rely on dissolved metals or other compounds to produce the energy they need to live. Sometimes they need to be in actual physical contact with these compounds, and attach to those surfaces to live.  It’d be similar to us having to go touch a rusty car in order to breathe. So we’re installing various mineral materials into these deep biosphere environments and studying the microbial populations that colonize them.

As an additional component to that project, we also work closely with members of the SHERLOC instrument team at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, who are developing an instrument slated to fly on the Mars 2020 Rover that uses Raman and Luminescence scanning to detect organics and chemicals. A lot of the field samples and experiment results are analyzed with that instrument to learn more about our samples and to help provide background data for the instrument prior to its Mars deployment.

Brittany Kruger collects samples from an underground mine site.

Brittany Kruger collects samples from an underground mine site.

DRI: What is it like to work deep underground?
BK: It’s great. I love it. I’m always excited to go down. It’s absolute pitch black, and it gets hotter the deeper you go. At our hottest underground site, it is something like 90 degrees and 90 percent humidity. It is uncomfortable to be there for a long time, for sure. But the facility we work in does a really good job of trying to mitigate air flow while we’re there to keep that a little more comfortable.

One of the best parts is also spending time with the old miners. I go to South Dakota every few months, and spend multiple days underground accessing our sites in what was once the Homestake Gold Mine.  Mining has ceased in the facility, and the entire mine has now been dedicated solely to science and is called the Sanford Underground Research Facility.  So it’s a really unique facility where people who previously mined the workings are now employed as underground guides for scientists. There are extremely high-level physics labs located about a mile underground on the deepest accessible level. You’d never know you were underground in those labs; they’re like any state of the art aboveground facility.

But, that’s not where we want to go – we want to go to the far away, dirty, dark, hot places where it’s not maintained and where we can access the unaltered water flowing out of the mine wall. So, we get to hang out with the old miners that know the mine, and know how to access those places and know how to do it safely. So that’s fantastic – we get to see some really exciting things and some really awesome old history. It’s fun.

Brittany Kruger collects samples from an underground mine site.

Brittany Kruger collects samples from an underground mine site.

 

New research improves prospects for imperiled Devils Hole Pupfish in captivity

New research improves prospects for imperiled Devils Hole Pupfish in captivity

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Additional photos are available upon request.

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

Healthy Nevada Project announces pilot study insights and phase two enrollment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saving the Desert’s Upper Crust

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

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

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

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

Banking Biology

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

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

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

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

Putting Crusts to the Test

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Helix to help expand Healthy Nevada Project

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scientists investigate northern Sierra Nevada snow droughts

Scientists investigate northern Sierra Nevada snow droughts

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


 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Graph of the snow drought of 2017/2018.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For more information about DRI visit www.dri.edu

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

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

New Technology Company Comes to Nevada to Focus on Water Quality

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Celebrating over 15 years of science in the classroom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Green Boxes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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