Estom Yumeka Maidu Student Teaches DIY Air Filtration Techniques to Help Reservation Communities During Wildfire Season

Estom Yumeka Maidu Student Teaches DIY Air Filtration Techniques to Help Reservation Communities During Wildfire Season

Estom Yumeka Maidu Student Teaches DIY Air Filtration Techniques to Help Reservation Communities During Wildfire Season

January 17, 2023
RENO, NEV.

By Robin Smuda, Climate Reporter Intern

Air Filtration
Reservation Communities
Wildfire Season

Wildfires affect all in their way, from the places burned as fuel to the areas filled with smoke. Across the western U.S., climate change is leading to warmer, drier conditions and contributing to longer, more active fire seasons. In the Great Basin and other parts of the western U.S., indoor air filtration during wildfire season has become a problem. Many houses have no particulate filtration systems, and this is especially true on reservations. Possible solutions can be expensive and materials can be hard to obtain, but Piercen Nguyen and his colleagues Meghan Collins and Jade Nguyen of DRI have a proven solution.

HEALTH IMPACTS OF WILDFIRE SMOKE

Piercen Nguyen, DRI workshop intern and member of Enterprise Rancheria, Estom Yumeka Maidu Tribe, is a student at the University of Nevada, Reno, and became interested in the health impacts of wildfire smoke while working on a project for the Center for Genomic Medicine at DRI in Reno, Nev. Studying lung cell damage from prolonged episodes of wildfire smoke, he saw the physical effects of smoke on lung tissue.

According to Nguyen, the standard way of studying lung tissue involves using liquid smoke extracts introduced to the tissue. However, the team at DRI took a more realistic approach by “generating wildfire smoke and pumping it directly into an exposure chamber containing lung tissues,” Nguyen said.

Nguyen explains that they found that a type of cancer cell seemed to be resilient to wildfire smoke. They also found that wildfire smoke from different geographic areas has unique consequences on lung cell functions. This research had him thinking about the effects of smoke on communities. Back home in California, Nguyen’s community has been damaged by fires in the past, and his community members have been exposed to fire smoke heavily over time. People who rely on evaporative cooling systems have had to choose between overheating or breathing clean air, Nguyen said. Working with this project and seeing the effects of smoke on lung tissue sparked the idea to develop a usable solution for these communities.

Fire is an issue that hits very close to home for Nguyen. “There are tribal members, who have lost homes like, one person in my tribe lost their home twice to wildfires,” Nguyen said.

A PROBLEM MADE WORSE BY CLIMATE CHANGE

In the western U.S., fire has always been a part of life, but decades of fire suppression have led to unhealthy fuel buildups, and changes in climate such as increased drought and heat are contributing to longer and more active fire seasons. These effects of climate change touch the whole region. Wildfire smoke is harsh and dangerous for communities even if a fire is not threatening them. Communities have an exacerbated problem of poor air quality in these times, and some people need extra air filtration equipment for their homes.

Tools like the AirNow map show the dangers of fire and smoke in real-time. And regions like Northern Nevada have issues with fire danger and pollution from larger fires in Western areas. Recently the danger of this smoke has grown and stayed hazardous during summer and fall.

As seen in the graphics below, EPA air quality data from the summer and fall seasons of 2020 and 2021 in the Reno and Douglas County areas of Nevada show PM 2.5 reached “moderate” to “hazardous” levels for longer than any other period on record. PM2.5 is particulate matter that is less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter and is generated by various sources including wildfire smoke.

air quality data in reno

A tile plot generated from the EPA website shows a long period of “moderate” to “hazardous” air quality in Reno, Nev. during the summer and fall of 2020 and 2021. These were the most severe periods of poor air quality on record for this region, dating back to 1999. 

Data Source: EPA.

air quality data in douglas

In Douglas County, Nev., PM2.5 data has only been collected regularly since 2013, but patterns support what has been observed in Reno. Residents of Douglas County experienced long periods of “moderate” to “hazardous” air quality during late summer and fall of 2020 and 2021.

Data Source: EPA.

TRIBAL HOUSING CHALLENGES

Tribal housing infrastructure is very susceptible to issues like wildfire and smoke. Standing buildings are usually old designs that can have issues like lead paint and toxic flooring. They can be manufactured homes or trailers that are long past expected use. Elements like extreme cold and heat waves are an issue throughout the Great Basin, but many reservation homes are only equipped with woodfire stoves for heating, and swamp coolers, window units, or nothing for cooling.

On the Stewart colony of the Washoe Tribe of Nevada and California, most homes have nothing or swamp coolers for cooling air.

“So, people have to choose between either dealing with the heat or if it’s smokey outside, you know, just dealing with the smoke,” Nguyen said.

Using only low-cost materials that are easily found at a home improvement store like Home Depot, Nguyen learned how to make a simple air filtration system alongside the swamp coolers that were built into many reservation homes.

The do-it-yourself (DIY) filter system has been around a while, Nguyen remarked. The type of system he learned to build has been shown to be both effective and safe by the U.S. EPA {US, 2022, Research on DIY Air Cleaners to Reduce Wildfire Smoke Indoors}. The cost is under $50 and uses a box fan, cardboard, tape, and two air filters.

This design was made and chosen for keeping cost and complexity low. We also talked about manufactured air purifiers. Nguyen said most will work for smoke, just one must research the filter and have money for the cost.

BUILDING A DIY AIR FILTER

The price and availability of air filters are major issues for rural Tribal Communities, due to the distance many people would need to travel to buy supplies and the economics of the areas. This means many communities are staying at risk of wildfire smoke (and wildfires themselves).

For the last year, the researchers have been doing workshops on different reservations in Northern Nevada and Northern California to teach people how to build low-cost filtration systems for their homes. They received a grant in May of 2022 from the DRI Lander Endowment that allows them to provide the materials to these communities for free. So far, they have held 10 workshops that have helped 93 people build their own air filter systems.

In this workshop, DRI researchers provided materials to make a DIY air filter that utilized two filters to make a wedge shape. However, Nguyen adds that in a pinch, you can simply use a single filter fastened to a box fan and still get effective results. He adds that for safety reasons, it is crucial to use a box fan built in 2012 or later as manufacturer safety regulations have since been updated.

Watching a workshop at the Washoe Tribe’s Community Center at Carson Colony on September 15, 2022, the process was very easy.

Nguyen showed the group how to build an air filter using a box fan, a decent size cardboard sheet cut from the fan’s box (~1.5ft. on each side), two MERV 13 filters, and a few yards of Duct Tape or similar brand of tape. Triangular pieces were cut from the cardboard, and then all was assembled. So simple that personal touches were naturally added: showing the graphic from the box or not; what tape color, and where the cable should come out for their house.

 

PHOTOS: THREE STEPS TO BUILDING A DIY AIR FILTER

 

tapping air filters together

Step 1: Tape two filters together using duct tape.

Credit: Robin Smuda.

bending air filters into triangle

Step 2. Stand the filters on end, and tape them to a box fan in a triangular arrangement.

Credit: Robin Smuda.

fitting cardboard on top of filters

Step 3: Cut a triangular piece of cardboard to fit the top of the air filtration system. Attach with tape. 

Credit: Robin Smuda.

IMPROVING YOUR HOME’S AIR FILTRATION

Whether you live in a house, apartment, or another type of housing, if your home does have an air filtration system, it is important to know that filter quality is important. Filters are labeled by particles filtered: one is weakest, and 20 is strongest. The EPA recommends a better filter for filtering out smoke. However, you cannot just add thicker filters to your wall AC unit or central air system because that could damage the system. Additionally, two other rating systems are commonly used to classify filter quality: MPR and FPR. In these cases, it is recommended to use FPR 10 or MPR 1500 or better.

Filters work physically collecting certain size particulates, and filtration systems are designed for specific filter sizes. When we inspected the filters in our homes, Nguyen and I both found that our filters were the weakest possible – like looking through a sheet of paper — and probably not helping effectively during fire season.

There are a few different filter types available. HEPA filters are the gold standard and can remove most smoke particulates. However, availability can be an issue even in large population centers. Nguyen explained that during periods of heavy smoke, places like Home Depot run out and he has had to try and order cases that are on backorder.

Air filters also need to be replaced regularly. According to Nguyen, they should be replaced every three to six months, or possibly more often during periods of heavy smoke. He recommends checking air filters every month during fire season, and potentially replacing them monthly if you notice a visual change such as discoloration from the particulates being filtered.

“People have had an overwhelmingly positive response to the workshops,” Nguyen said. He added that several people expressed their excitement to use the DIY air purifiers to improve the air quality for both themselves and loved ones who may experience conditions like asthma or COPD. Workshop attendees also remarked to Nguyen and colleagues how helpful the DIY air purifiers were in combating hazardous downwind air quality resulting from the Northern California Mosquito wildfire event in the months of September and October 2022.

air filtration workshop in classroom

Piercen Nguyen, member of Enterprise Rancheria, Estom Yumeka Maidu Tribe, teaches a workshop on air quality and air filtration.

Credit: Provided by Piercen Nguyen.

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES:

https://www.epa.gov/air-research/research-diy-air-cleaners-reduce-wildfire-smoke-indoors

Robin Smuda is a Wašiw person and a member of the Washoe Tribe of Nevada and California. Currently, they are a reporter intern with Native Climate at DRI and studying Cultural Anthropology at the University of Nevada, Reno. Robin is planning on studying Ethno-Archeology and Indigenous Studies in grad school, with a focus on the transition from pre- and post-contact in the Great Basin.

The DRI Foundation Welcomes New Trustees for 2023

The DRI Foundation Welcomes New Trustees for 2023

The DRI Foundation Welcomes New Trustees for 2023

January 10, 2022
RENO, Nevada

DRI Foundation
Board of Trustees
DRIF

The DRI Foundation is pleased to welcome the following new members to its Board of Trustees, each serving a four-year term beginning January 1, 2023:

These board members were formally approved at the December NSHE Board of Regents meeting and will serve alongside existing DRI Foundation board members Kristin McMillan Porter (Chair), Stephanie Kruse (Vice Chair), Michael Benjamin (Past Chair), Robert McCart (Treasurer), Nora James (Secretary), Richard Ditton, John Entsminger, Robert Gagosian, James King, Janet Lowe, Terry Shirey, Ronald Smith, and Karen Wayland.

The DRI Foundation Board of Trustees is comprised of dedicated individuals committed to helping advance DRI’s mission. In 2022, Foundation leadership invested heavily in cultivating a strong and diverse pool of trustee candidates who are well-positioned to make an impact. These efforts led to an increase in board diversity in areas such as gender, ethnicity, age, and geographic location. These individuals will work in close collaboration with President Kumud Acharya and the Office of Advancement to engage and build relationships with new and existing supporters to further DRI’s work across Nevada and around the world.

“We welcome our new trustees to the DRI Foundation Board and extend our deepest thanks and appreciation to our outstanding current trustees,” said DRI President Dr. Kumud Acharya. “The expertise and commitment to philanthropy of the DRI Foundation Trustees play an essential role in building and maintaining relationships that are crucial to funding and promoting the impactful environmental work of DRI research to people and environments in Nevada and around the world.”

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

 

DRI Foundation Chair Kristin McMillan Porter

Headshot of DRI Foundation Chair Kristin McMillan Porter

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About the DRI Foundation

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

About DRI

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

DRI Leading $5 Million Regional Climate Adaptation Project

DRI Leading $5 Million Regional Climate Adaptation Project

DRI Leading $5 Million Regional Climate Adaptation Project

January 4, 2023
RENO, Nevada

CNAP
Climate Adaptation
Climate Resiliency

Above: Cloud of smoke from a California wildfire. CNAP’s projects will support adaptation needs to address some of the most pressing climate issues in the region including the public health impacts of wildfire smoke. 

DRI is partnering with Scripps Institution of Oceanography to build climate resiliency through the California Nevada Adaptation Program (CNAP)

The impacts of climate change have been acute in California and Nevada, with most of the last two decades spent in extended drought conditions and 2021 wildfires producing Reno’s worst recorded air quality in the 21st century. Adapting to these challenges will require not only focused research to better predict climatic events, but will also depend on empowering local communities to use this knowledge to make informed decisions in the face of adversity. With $5 million in funding from NOAA’s Climate Adaptation Partners initiative, the California Nevada Adaptation Program (CNAP) will spend the next five years bringing together researchers, community members, and practitioners to cooperatively conduct research and identify solutions.

For the first time, CNAP will be hosted in Nevada under the leadership of DRI’s Tamara Wall, Ph.D., research professor of atmospheric science and deputy director of the Western Regional Climate Center (WRCC). DRI’s long-standing partnership with Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego will continue, with Dan Cayan, Ph.D., regional climate researcher and CNAP lead since its founding in 1999, and Julie Kalansky, Ph.D., who has served as CNAP program manager for six years, joining Wall to lead the project.

“The goal of CNAP has always been to expand more fully across the California and Nevada region,” Wall says. “This is the first time that DRI is leading CNAP, and it’s also the first time that CNAP is a system-wide effort. Bringing on partners from UNLV and UNR is important for meeting that goal and will help us address climate change impacts across the state.”

California and Nevada have partnered for the CNAP program since 2011, producing research and results that include: the first Nevada Climate Assessment; California’s Fourth Climate Change Assessment; recommendations for updating red flag warnings and the fire weather watch system; and analyses of water use and supply in California’s agricultural communities.

The next five years will focus on adaptation, with an intentional transition from statewide climate research toward preparing communities for local-level action to address regional climate hazards. Six projects will support adaptation needs to address four of the most pressing climate issues in the region: extreme heat, wildfire smoke, coastal flooding, and water scarcity. As part of the project’s commitment to equity and diversity, it will include a mentorship program within community colleges to prepare the future’s workforce to address climate impacts. In addition, a small grants program, Building Capacity through Reciprocity with Tribal Communities, will work to enact community-identified solutions for tribal communities by supporting a Leaders Indigenous Climate Fellowship Program.

“Centering CNAP’s research on adaptation allows us to focus on producing community-centered solutions,” Wall says. “Impacts from climate change are expected to amplify in the coming decades, and disadvantaged communities are the least able to manage those impacts without additional support. Our research includes community partners so that we can adequately understand community needs and concerns and actually improve people’s lives.”

Research Focus Areas

Extreme Heat

Highlights for planned research include creating the Southern Nevada Heat Resilience Lab (SNHRL), a regionally focused program that will bring together public service providers, including emergency responders and social services workers, with scientific experts on extreme heat. Real-time air temperature sensors will be installed in at-risk neighborhoods within Las Vegas, targeting locations such as public transit stops and buses, cooling centers, places with outdoor laborers, and unhoused communities. Following a trial period in Las Vegas, the project aims to expand local heat sensor networks to rural and Indigenous communities, where heat impacts are less well studied and understood

Water Resiliency

In order to help California prepare a more resilient workforce in the face of growing issues with water availability, CNAP will partner with community colleges in the San Joaquin Valley to create climate-related workforce training opportunities. The goal is to create a more climate-technical workforce to support community adaptation to changes in water availability and climate extremes.

Coastal Erosion

Southern California is lined with some of the most heavily used beaches on the West coast, and this region is likely to experience increased flooding and erosion due to sea-level rise. CNAP will partner with collaborators to explore nature-based solutions and Indigenous stewardship as coastal adaptation strategies.

Public Health in the Face of Extreme Heat and Wildfire Smoke

California and Northern Nevada are increasingly experiencing extreme weather conditions with overlapping heat waves and intense wildfires. CNAP will explore the public health impacts of these events by directly assessing a sample of households in Washoe County, Nevada. Research will include installing air sensors to monitor heat exposure and air pollution, conducting interviews to understand decision-making under environmentally challenging conditions, and baseline health monitoring.

Understanding Burnout in Climate Change Professionals

Previous CNAP research has shown that climate change professionals are experiencing high rates of burnout, and institutional support isn’t yet providing adequate resources to this population. CNAP will continue this line of study by evaluating the traits and communities that lead to more psychological resiliency and developing training materials based on the results for the CNAP team and partner networks.

State Climate Assessments

Both California and Nevada will likely produce new statewide climate assessments within the next five years, and CNAP will continue to coordinate among state and local efforts. CNAP will also pilot a mentoring program focused on early career faculty at universities and colleges in California and Nevada.

“NOAA Climate Adaptation Partnerships (CAP, formerly ‘RISA’) advances equitable adaptation through sustained regional research and community engagement,” says Caitlin Simpson, Program Manager, NOAA Climate Adaptation Partnerships. “Climate affects every part of society, and this is most visible to us when we see long-term changes in social and environmental conditions, increased unpredictability, and extreme weather events. We seek to help people plan for and adjust to a changing climate by supporting long-lasting partnerships among scientists, decision makers, and communities. The result is a shared understanding about society’s needs and the co-generation of credible and actionable knowledge to support community solutions. We work within regions composed of multiple US state/territory jurisdictions which share similar climates and cultures.”

“CNAP’s long history in the CAP/RISA program dates from 1997, and features many accomplishments, including substantial scientific contributions to all five of California’s climate assessments in close partnership with the state government. CNAP has achieved deep expertise on sea level rise, drought, water resources, and wildfire planning issues and has closely partnered with a number of federal and nonfederal partners to advance local, state, and regional planning around these issues. The NOAA Climate Program Office is thrilled to fund the California-Nevada Climate Applications Program (CNAP) team for another five years as a part of the CAP/RISA Network.”

 

CNAP logo

More information:

For additional information about CNAP visit: https://www.dri.edu/cnap/

CNAP Principal Investigators include Tamara Wall (DRI), Julie Kalansky (Scripps), and Daniel Cayan (Scripps).

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About DRI

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

Tim Minor: Celebrating a Career in GIS and Remote Sensing

Tim Minor: Celebrating a Career in GIS and Remote Sensing

Tim Minor: Celebrating a Career in GIS and Remote Sensing

DECEMBER 21, 2022
RENO, NEV.

Tim Minor
GIS
Remote Sensing

Above: Minor piloting a drone; he is a FAA-certified Remote Pilot in Command.

Credit: Tim Minor/DRI.

Tim Minor, M.A, recently retired from DRI after 31 years. His successful career as a geographic information systems (GIS) and remote sensing scientist brought him to DRI in 1991; he served as Deputy Director of DEES from 2012 to 2018, and Interim Executive Division Director of DEES from 2018 to 2021.

Minor’s work uses satellite and drone imagery to map and analyze invasive species, surface disturbance, ground water resources, and mountain watershed water quality, among many other applications. He is a FAA-certified Remote Pilot in Command, and he taught introductory and advanced courses in GIS applications and image processing methods.

DRI sat down with Minor to discuss his long career as a scientist and competitive runner, his career highlights (featuring a Ghanaian marathon), and his advice for young scientists (including his own son, Blake, an associate research scientist in DHS).

Tim Minor and Mary Cablk

Minor conducting field work with DRI biologist Mary Cablk, whom he frequently worked alongside.  

Credit: Tim Minor/DRI.

DRI: What first brought you to DRI?

Minor: Well, I grew up in Pacific Grove, California, and went to Monterey Peninsula College, and then got a scholarship to come to the University of Nevada. I only stayed two years, finished off my degree and went back to grad school at U.C. Santa Barbara. I got an offer to come up to Reno in 1989 to work for a mining company that needed a geologic remote sensing person. While I was working for them, I started meeting some people from DRI, and I just thought it was an amazing place.

There was a guy named Jonathan Davis who was a mentor of mine. He was one of my teachers at UNR and I was really looking forward to working with him, Dave Mouat, and some of the other amazing people at DRI. I didn’t know quite how that would work, but things just kind of fell in place. I got a job at DRI in 1991.

The sad part was that I was really looking forward to working with Jonathan Davis — his wife worked with me at my mining company — but they were involved in a horrible car accident a couple of months before I got to DRI; Jonathan was tragically killed. We have a Jonathan Davis scholarship in DEES in his name.

DRI: And you’ve been at DRI ever since?

Minor: Yep, I stayed at DRI for 31 years. I think one of the things that really helped me is that in the GIS/remote sensing field, there are opportunities to work on a lot of diverse projects. I started off working on an air quality project, and then I started doing a lot of stuff with water, biology, and vegetation. And it just kind of took off from there — it was very rewarding.

You know, I have a master’s degree, not a Ph.D. So, despite everyone calling me doctor all these years, I’m not. What I hope to have inspired here is that with your master’s, you can still go pretty far at DRI. I’m pretty proud of the fact that I became a director with a master’s.

I never really felt a ton of pressure to get my PhD. I was also still competing a lot – I was still running very seriously in the 90s and into the 2000s, so I had to make some choices. And I chose to continue to be a runner and have a career on that side instead of going after the Ph.D.

Newspaper clipping of Tim Minor running photo

A newspaper clipping from the Reno-Gazette Journal that covered Minor’s 1993 marathon race in Ghana. Minor finished in 9th place with only 3 hours of sleep in the preceding two days due to traveling.

Credit: Tim Minor/DRI.

DRI: Tell me more about your competitive running career.

Minor: I ran competitively for a long time, from the time I was 15 to age 51. I ran for Nevada as an undergrad and then I just kept going.

DRI: What inspired you to become a specialist in remote sensing?

Minor: I’ve always been a map freak. I think since I was four or five years old, I was the geeky kid in the back of the car telling my mom and dad where to go because I was looking at maps. I was just fascinated by spatial relationships. People talk about cognitive mapping and our brains and I just always loved thinking about, “Okay, where are we going, and how do we get there?” But I didn’t know what I could do with that. I remember as I got to junior college, I was like, “What am I going to really do? Is there anything you could do with this stuff?” And that’s kind of when remote sensing was starting to really take off and become a science unto itself. And then of course, GIS came along later, but the key for me was taking remote sensing classes at UNR back in the late 70s. And that got me even more excited about it and the possibilities. 

But what really helped me take off was UC Santa Barbara. Santa Barbara was way ahead of its time in terms of quantitative spatial analysis in geography. Every job I’ve gotten has been a UCSB connection, even at DRI.

DRI: What are some of your career highlights?

Minor: The biggest highlight goes all the way back to ’93 through ’98, when I was working on the Hilton Foundation projects with World Vision doing water development in developing countries. In 1993, I went to Ghana, West Africa and participated in some of the initial fieldwork that was involved in trying to develop better drinking water access for small villages in the central part of Ghana. And it was the most amazing experience.

I started off things with a bang in ‘93. I got off the plane and slept that night, and then the next morning ran a marathon. There was a marathon going on in the capital of Accra and one of my colleagues who was already there had signed me up. I thought he was just joking and I didn’t even know it was a full marathon, it was a little crazy. I couldn’t drink the water at the aid stations, so they had to drive around and give me water, but they got lost. So, it got a little hot as you can imagine. But talk about total immersion right off the bat. I just fell in love with the country and the people.

I love everything that came out of that. I showed my daughter, Emily, the pictures from Ghana and shared my experiences. And when she graduated from high school, she went over and worked in an orphanage in Ghana and just loved it herself. So, it was a really cool family legacy thing. As for the project itself, you know, sometimes in research, you wonder “What is this really doing for people? How is it impacting society? How is it impacting people and helping them?” Well, something like drilling a water well in a small village that can totally change the quality of the water and the quality of the life was pretty impactful. Without a doubt that was the best thing I was ever involved in.

DRI: Tell me more about the project in Ghana.

Minor: Well, it was unique in that it was a partnership, with Ghanaians basically running the program there. So many times with some of these projects in developing countries, you have people who want to do well but it ends up getting a little cloudy. We saw programs where other European countries had come in and tried to build mechanized wells, but the problem was that when they broke down, nobody would come to fix them. So, they were just gathering cobwebs and dust. The World Vision’s trick was to build simple hand pump wells, and they taught the villagers how to repair them. Our role was basically putting the x’s on the ground — we were telling them based on our geophysics and our remote sensing and our hydrologic knowledge, this is probably the best place to drill. Other projects would often just drill in the center of the village without any real forethought about the best hydrological position. And because it was hand pumps, water tables had to be relatively shallow, right? They couldn’t be super deep wells.

DRI: Are these wells still in use?

Minor: Very much so, yes. Braimah Apambire is involved with this project and he’s done some amazing things. And so yes, a lot of those wells and things are still active and still going. It’s pretty cool.

Tim Minor and students at UNR sitting at a table

Tim Minor speaking with students at a STEM camp held at the University of Nevada, Reno in September. 

Credit: Tim Minor/DRI.

DRI: How have things changed since you first started your career?

Minor: Well, let’s start with the science itself. Back in the day — and I really feel like an old geezer when I talk about this — computing power wasn’t what it is now. And I share this with my son Blake, who is a hydrologist at DRI in DHS – he’s got an office 50 feet away from the cube I’m in now. And it’s a little surreal that he is an assistant research scientist at DRI, but he’s been working at DRI for almost nine years because he started as an undergrad. I always joke with him that he has no idea how good he has it, with Earth Engine and the processing power he has at his fingertips. What takes him a few minutes to do now literally used to take me days.

The advancement of computer technology, the cloud and all the other computing power that’s out there, it’s just absolutely revolutionized the science of remote sensing, GIS, and spatial analysis. To watch that over my 41 years of working has just been unbelievable.

I love where DRI has gone. I’ll be very frank because I was on the Diversity Committee, but I’m encouraged to see that we’re finally reaching some diversity goals that I think we could actually feel good about. We’ve still got a ways to go, definitely. I really respect my longtime female colleagues at DRI — they’re very much pioneers in what they do. I think it’s so fantastic that we are finally getting there. You know, it’s just taken a long time.

In general, I like the diversity at DRI and how it’s evolved. I always thought that was one of our strengths, and one of our biggest selling points, our scientific diversity. One of the huge advantages I had as a GIS/remote sensing expert is all these different science disciplines use GIS and remote sensing in different ways. So, one day I would be working with the hydrologists, and the next day with the air quality folks, and the next day with the biologists. It’s just a really cool place for me to work and I think it’s one of the ways I was able to sustain my funding, by staying diversified. When I became a director, I told people all the time, “The key to us surviving at this place is diversification.” Both within your scientific discipline, but also thinking outside your discipline and how you may be able to work with others.

DRI: How has working at DRI impacted your scientific research and network?

Minor: The network’s been amazing. We used to joke about ourselves being the Santa Barbara mafia. We’ve always had this pretty good network, if you will, of all these people from Santa Barbara who have gone off and worked in all kinds of amazing places, and DRI just added to that exponentially. The connectivity and the networking I’ve been able to do across the world has been astounding. I’m just amazed at all the wonderful people I’ve been able to work with from countries like Brazil and Ghana, Israel and Europe, Canada, Mexico, Australia, China. It’s just been phenomenal. It’s incredible how your network just expands worldwide. 

DRI: What advice do you have for young scientists?

Minor: Diversify. You know, I would tell people to do what I didn’t do – don’t be in such a rush. Do a little gap program. Go check things out. Go travel. And when you travel, maybe go visit a science center and see what they’re doing, it helps establish your future network. Learn a language. It’s fantastic, it helps with everything. Work on your math skills. Math and stats, those will take you a long way, especially in my particular field, statistics was so valuable. But the biggest thing is diversifying — get a minor in something. I think that’s what’s really important. Don’t be so siloed in with how you professionally identify yourself.   

DRI: Do you speak another language?

Minor: A little bit of French, and one of the goals I have now that I’m retired is to get much better with Spanish.

DRI: That’s a great goal. That also feeds into my next question: what are your plans for retirement?

Minor: Well, become better at Spanish, and travel. Just in the last eight months, we went to Europe and did a bike tour, and took my parents to Kauai. And then we went to Sayulita, Mexico to do a little surfing.

We have a trailer so we’re going to be doing a lot of camping. I used to coach high school cross country and track for nine years, and I may go back to coaching because there are many aspects of it I enjoyed. My wife Shannon and I are race directors for Moms on the Run, a local charity race that supports cancer survivors.  That keeps us pretty busy in the winter and spring.

Also, I’m doing the classic DRI semi-retirement, so I’m coming back January 3rd as an hourly. I’m very involved in the Integrated Terrain Analysis Program. I did a phased retirement, and what it taught me is I love science too much — I don’t want to just completely walk away. 

DRI: Is there anything else you think is important that we didn’t discuss?

Minor: Well, I’ve always had a goal to work with Blake on a project. It’d be pretty cool to work with my son.

It’s just been a fantastic adventure. All the things I’ve gotten to do, if I’m writing up my life story – DRI was such a catalyst for some amazing experiences. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. It was a little scary when I ventured into the administrative realm. I got voted in as a deputy director, and then years later I was suddenly interim director. But I wouldn’t trade any of that because as a director I got to find out about all the other unique things people were doing, within our own division and across the institute. You know, things that you sometimes aren’t aware of when you’ve got your head down and are focused on your own research. It was just amazing to see what people were doing.

A new study shows that tailpipe emissions are declining, but brake and tire wear particle emissions remain a persistent – and unregulated – air quality concern

A new study shows that tailpipe emissions are declining, but brake and tire wear particle emissions remain a persistent – and unregulated – air quality concern

Air Pollution Near Roads is Changing

DECEMBER 5, 2022
RENO, Nevada

Air Pollution
Roadways
Emissions

Above: Rush hour traffic with thick smog. Even as emissions from engine exhaust decline with stringent regulations and the growing popularity of electric vehicles, other traffic-related pollution remains unaddressed. Of particular concern are the microscopic particles from brakes and tires, worn down from abrasion and degradation, which mix into the air we breathe and wash into our watersheds, creating hazards for human and environmental health. 

Credit: Photo by plherrera, iStock. 

A new study shows that tailpipe emissions are declining, but brake and tire wear particle emissions remain a persistent – and unregulated – air quality concern

Air pollution near roads remains a significant health concern in the U.S., with an estimated 60 million people living within 500 meters of a major highway. Even as emissions from engine exhaust decline with stringent regulations and the growing popularity of electric vehicles, other traffic-related pollution remains unaddressed. Of particular concern are the microscopic particles from brakes and tires, worn down from abrasion and degradation, which mix into the air we breathe and wash into our watersheds, creating hazards for human and environmental health.

In a new study published Nov. 23 in Environmental Pollution, researchers from DRI, UC Riverside, UNLV, and the California Air Resources Board take a closer look at these overlooked pollutants, known as non-tailpipe emissions. With funding from the California Air Resources Board, they placed air quality monitors near two southern California highways and found that air pollutants from brake and tire wear exceed those from engine exhaust.

“We knew that tailpipe emissions are coming down, and that non-tailpipe emissions have been steady or slightly increasing,” says Xiaoliang Wang, Ph.D., Research Professor of Atmospheric Sciences at DRI and the study’s lead author. “But I didn’t realize that it’s already crossing over – that was a surprise.”

California sampling map

Map of roadside sampling locations in Los Angeles, California — one of the most polluted areas in the U.S. 

Credit: Elyse DeFranco/DRI.

Tire wear particles contain rubber and microplastics, as well as thousands of chemicals, some of which are known ecological hazards. Previous research identified one of these chemicals as the primary culprit in the decline of Coho salmon in the Pacific Northwest. And brake pads contain metals and other materials known to be harmful to human health. Non-tailpipe emissions like brake and tire wear particles aren’t regulated the way engine exhaust is, and are expected to become the primary source of particulate matter pollution near roads.

“There is increasing interest in understanding how much non-tailpipe emissions – including brake wear, tire wear, road surface wear, and road dust – are impacting air pollution for people living close to roadways,” Wang says. “This has environmental justice implications as well because many low-income communities tend to live closer to roads.”

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) established a near-road air monitoring network that measures nitrogen dioxide (which causes respiratory tract damage and can trigger asthma), but fine and coarse particles that are more related to non-tailpipe emissions than engine exhaust are monitored spottily or not at all.

California has led the way in enacting regulations on exhaust emissions, as Los Angeles first began experiencing smog-choked air in the 1940s. It wasn’t until the early 1950s that scientists discovered that motor vehicles were the primary source of this smog, and that engine exhaust chemically reacts with sunlight and industrial air pollution to create what is known as “secondary pollutants.” This means that air pollution isn’t merely the combination of all added pollutants, but that as these pollutants intermix in the air, new pollutants are born.

Electric vehicles have eliminated tailpipe emissions by transferring their emissions to their power source, but are heavier than conventional gasoline and diesel-powered vehicles. This could mean more road and tire wear particle emissions.

“There’s still active research going on trying to understand what’s the impact of electrification of vehicles on non-tailpipe emissions,” Wang says. Previous research has noted that because electric vehicles don’t reduce non-tailpipe particulate matter emissions, they shouldn’t be considered as the single and only solution to urban air pollution.

Although this study focused on air pollution near roads, Wang notes that the pollutants don’t stay only near highways, but follow wind patterns to become part of the overall air pollution mix, and eventually get washed into storm gutters and out to sea.

The study team is continuing this research to better understand the chemicals in the air samples they collected and will publish a more detailed analysis of the sources. The information will be provided to appropriate environmental and transportation agencies to aid decision-making for air quality improvements.

More on this study:

Evidence of non-tailpipe emission contributions to PM2.5 and PM10 near southern California highways
Environmental Pollution
https://doi.org/10.1016/j.envpol.2022.120691

Study authors include DRI researchers Xiaoliang Wang, Steven Gronstal, Judith C. Chow, Steven Sai Hang Ho, and John G. Watson; UC Riverside researchers Brenda Lopez, Guoyuan Wu, and Heejung Jung; UNLV researcher L.-W. Antony Chen; and Qi Yao and Seungju Yoon of the California Air Resources Board.

Scientists Uncover Conditions Key to Formation of the Great Barrier Reef

Scientists Uncover Conditions Key to Formation of the Great Barrier Reef

Scientists Uncover Conditions Key to Formation of the Great Barrier Reef

November 21, 2022
RENO, Nevada

K’gari
Sand Island
Great Barrier Reef

Above: Fraser Island, off Australia’s eastern Queensland coast, is the world’s largest sand island, stretching over 120km. Photo by John Natoli, istock.com.

Credit: John Natoli, iStock Photo.

New research shows that the growth of K’gari, the world’s largest sand island, was crucial for creating the clear waters that allowed the Great Barrier Reef to flourish.

Australia’s famed Great Barrier Reef is known for being the world’s largest coral reef – overflowing with marine life, it is the only living thing visible from space. Scientists have long sought to understand the conditions that led to the reef’s formation, as conditions seemed suitable long before the reef’s birth. Now, a new study claims the answer might be K’gari, the world’s largest sand island (also known as Frasier Island).

Nick Patton, Ph.D., a postdoctoral researcher now at DRI, teamed up with an international group of researchers from Sweden, New Zealand, Australia, and the United States for the study published Nov. 14 in Nature GeoScience. Their research showed that the sand island formed between 700,000 and 800,000 years ago, and that the reef was only able to establish once the island protected it from the northern flow of sand that naturally occurs in this area.

“The Great Barrier Reef is the world’s largest coral reef ecosystem, yet what I find so interesting is that we still do not really know what caused its initial inception,” says Daniel Ellerton, Ph.D., of Stockholm University and the study’s lead author. “Previous research has highlighted that several mechanisms are likely responsible and here we demonstrate an additional factor that should be considered.”

K’gari juts out like a finger from Australia’s eastern coast below the far southern reach of the Great Barrier Reef. The island itself is a UNESCO World Heritage area, covered with lush rainforest and freshwater dune lakes. It formed as wave action carried sediment north along the coast. As the sediment accumulated, the island formed a barrier that protected the coastal region to the north. Without the island, the coral reef would be covered in this drifting sand.

The timing of the island’s formation is due to a major shift in the Earth’s climate called the Mid-Pleistocene Transition, which saw glacial cycles extend from about 40,000 years to around 100,000. The longer cycle allowed for ice caps to grow larger, decreasing sea levels across the planet.

“Our work highlights how changes in sea-level variability approximately 700,000 years ago directly caused a dramatic reorganization of the coast and the formation of the Great Barrier Reef, as we know it today,” says Patton.

There is evidence that the Great Barrier Reef is around 650,000 years old, supporting the theory that K’gari directed sand away from Australia’s northeastern coast, providing the clear waters needed for coral growth.

To determine the age of K’gari, the researchers used a method called optically stimulated luminescence dating. This method provides an age estimate for the last time that sediments, like quartz sand, were exposed to light.

“These large coastal dune fields have rich geologic and climatic archives that provide important information on Earth’s history,” Patton says.

The research team engaged with the traditional inhabitants of K’gari and the adjacent Cooloola Sand Mass (the Butchulla and Kabi’ Kabi’ peoples, respectively) through an Australian Research Council Discovery Grant to understand the formation and evolution of these systems.

Studies that look back in time don’t only help us understand how ecosystems formed – they can also provide a glimpse into the possible future, the researchers say.

“Sea-level change is something we often hear about in the news, but I did not realize the sheer power of the ocean until working on this project,” Patton says. “As we observe in this study, rising and falling sea-levels have the ability to both create and destroy entire coastlines and ecosystems.”

“This research highlights the complex evolution of coastal environments over long timescales,” Ellerton says. “Coastlines globally are at risk from rising sea-levels under predicted global warming which poses a serious threat. If we are going to manage coasts and coral reefs under climate change scenarios, we need to understand how these complex responses occur.”

More Information:

The full study, Fraser Island and initiation of the Great Barrier Reef linked by Middle Pleistocene sea-level change, is available from Nature Geoscience: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41561-022-01062-6

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About DRI

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

Jim Hudson: Celebrating a Career in Cloud Physics

Jim Hudson: Celebrating a Career in Cloud Physics

Jim Hudson: Celebrating a Career in Cloud Physics

NOVEMBER 17, 2022
RENO, NEV.

Cloud Physics
Cloud Condensation Nuclei
Atmospheric Science

Above: Throughout his career Jim Hudson, Ph.D., worked in planes such as the NCAR C-130 on several projects during his time at DRI.

Credit: Jim Hudson/DRI.

Research Professor Jim Hudson, Ph.D., the Institute’s longest-serving employee, recently retired from DRI after 51 years studying cloud condensation nuclei (CCN) – tiny particles around which cloud droplets form. Hudson originally came to DRI as a graduate student in 1970, following the completion of his Master’s degree in physics at the University of Michigan. Here, he worked under the direction of cloud physicist and Director of Atmospheric Sciences Patrick Squires and graduated with his Ph.D. in Atmospheric Physics from the University of Nevada, Reno, in 1976.

Hudson’s long and successful career at DRI has taken him from his current home base in Reno to 31 aircraft field projects around the globe. He developed the continuous flow diffusion cloud chamber, isothermal haze chamber, and five CCN spectrometers. He has led projects sponsored by the National Science Foundation (NSF), National Aeronautics and Space Association (NASA), Department of Energy (DOE), and others. He has co-authored 97 peer-reviewed publications in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres, Journal of the Atmospheric Sciences, Journal of Applied Meteorology, Tellus, Atmospheric Chemistry & Physics, Atmospheric Physics, Atmospheric Science Letters, Journal of Atmospheric Chemistry, Geophysical Research Letters, Journal of the Meteorological Society of Japan, Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, Aerosol Science and Technology, Atmospheric Environment, Journal of Atmospheric & Oceanic Technology, Idojaras, and Science, and delivered 146 conference presentations.

Although he officially retired in August 2021, Hudson is continuing at as an Emeritus Scholar at DRI. We sat down with Hudson to learn about some of his career highlights:

DRI: What inspired you to become a cloud physicist?

Hudson: I did not set out to be a scientist although I had a lot of science interests as a child and took all math and science courses offered in high school. Other interest were law and politics. When taking the Kuder vocational interest test in my junior year in spite of conscious efforts to score high in persuasion (for law or politics) I could not resist science responses.  Thus, I was dismayed that of the ten interest categories science tied with persuasion. Physical Science, biology, and chemistry in the first three high school years did not pique my interest but physics in the senior year with its more logical nature turned me to science. Despite feeling at the time that scientists are mere pawns to politicians and businessmen I majored in physics and mathematics in the Honors College of Western Michigan University (BA 1968).  An attraction of physics was great job prospects, but that crashed, especially for high energy physics that had attracted me to the University of Michigan.  Thus, in my last semester and summer there I drifted into aeronomy, which included a good deal of physics.  When I learned that clouds also have physics, I found a more interesting application of my background.  But the familiar down-to-Earth clouds were not studied at Michigan.  DRI in Reno was the place to study the clouds that concern weather.

Thus, I traded the study of atomic nuclei for cloud nuclei under a founding father of cloud physics, Patrick Squires.  At that time the main goal of cloud physics was understanding the onset of precipitation and perhaps controlling it. This leads to cloud seeding, which usually involved the ice phase, which was thought to be the origin of all precipitation until warm rain was discovered in the 1940s.  Being from Australia where the ice phase is less common directed Squires toward warm non-freezing clouds.

DRI: Which of your career accomplishments are you most proud of?

Hudson: In 2012 I finally realized that the DRI high-resolution CCN spectrometers often resolved two modes.  Although I and many others had known for decades that direct aerosol size distributions often displayed bimodality, I did not appreciate its importance until then.  Only then did I begin analyzing cloud microphysics (droplet and drop size distributions) in terms of CCN bimodality.  I have so far found opposite responses to CCN bimodality in stratus and cumulus clouds.  Bimodality seems to make more smaller droplets and less drizzle in stratus but fewer larger droplets and more drizzle in cumuli.

Jim Hudson and other male scientists

Jim Hudson, Ph.D. (left), poses for a picture with fellow scientists in September 1973 at a lab inside the Sage Building at UNR.

Credit: Jim Hudson/DRI.

DRI: What unanswered questions do you still want to solve?

Hudson: What’s known as the “indirect aerosol effect” continues to be the largest climate uncertainty. This is the interaction of air pollution with clouds and relates back to the 1950s discovery by Squires and Sean Twomey, that continental clouds differ from maritime clouds. They have more droplets, smaller droplets, and don’t precipitate as readily as maritime clouds. Why is that? Because there are more CCN over continents than oceans. Why are there more CCN over continents? That is a billion-dollar question. Are there significant natural continental sources or is it all anthropogenic?  This is such a difficult problem that most research dances around this question.  We actually know more about the unnatural sources, the man-made sources, than we do about the natural sources. The indirect aerosol effect is so important because to some yet to be known extent it probably counteracts the so-called greenhouse trace gas effect.  One does not need a degree to know that clouds are complicated.  We have known since the 1950s that CCN affect clouds though many have claimed that air motions (dynamics) are more important.  But when the effects of the clouds on the CCN are realized things get even more complicated.  Clouds thus are both a sink and a source of the CCN that in turn profoundly affect them.  This makes the foundation of science, cause and effect, especially challenging for clouds.

DRI: What are you working on as an Emeritus Scholar at DRI?

Hudson: I just want to further analyze the data I’ve collected over the last 30 or more years but now in terms of CCN bimodality.  Few atmospheric scientists delve into the extensive sets of aircraft data.  I’ve been in more than 30 cloud projects where we fly 10-20 research flights of 4-12 hours duration in a month or two.  Multitudes of data are collected throughout these flights, but only small fractions are analyzed or presented.  This is very time-consuming work much of which would be impossible if I were still employed.  These CCN cloud interactions are vitally important for the indirect aerosol effect and for fundamental cloud physics. I feel compelled to complete as much of this analysis as possible.

DRI: What has changed most at DRI during the course of your career?

Hudson: In the first, two or three decades of DRI partial contracts were not done.  In the 1970s there was actual pasting of letters and words onto paper.  Before the turn of the century proposals were hand delivered to parcel services.  Before the teens, Journals were printed onto paper and did not have supplementary material.

DRI: What advice do you have for future scientists?

Hudson: Look at the data. All of the data. Not just the data that you think is good, the data that fits your model. In all science, there’s always conflict between the theorists (modelers in cloud physics) and the experimentalists (observationalists). Peter Hobbs of University of Washington would say, “the modelers believe the data, and the observationalists believe the models.” Each are more aware of the pitfalls of their own area. I think he overstated that because he did not believe many models.  Conflicts between modelers and observationalists seem to be most intense in cloud physics. When I was in high energy physics 50 years ago there were articles about how theorists looked down on the experimentalists even though science is based on experiments.

DRI: Who have you most enjoyed working with at DRI?

Hudson: Of course, I did a lot of work with Squires in the beginning and then John Hallett for several field projects.  We must remember the engineers, who really built and maintained the CCN instruments, Gary Keyser, Rick Purcell, Norm Robinson, Dan Wermers and Morien Roberts. And then my students, Paul Frisbie, Xiaoyu Da, Hongguo Li, Yonghong Xie, Seong Soo Yum, David Mitchell, Subhashree Mishra, Samantha Tabor, Vandana Jha and Stephen Noble.  Fred Rogers was my fellow student under Squires.  In earlier years I worked with Dennis Lamb, Dick Egami, and Eric Broten.

male scientist in lab holding equipment

Jim Hudson, Ph.D., inventories the equipment in his lab space.

Credit: Jim Hudson/DRI.

Footprints Claimed as Evidence of Ice Age Humans in North America Need Better Dating, New Research Shows

Footprints Claimed as Evidence of Ice Age Humans in North America Need Better Dating, New Research Shows

Footprints Claimed as Evidence of Ice Age Humans in North America Need Better Dating, New Research Shows

November 15, 2022
RENO, Nevada
Footprints
Dating
Ice Age Humans
Above: Closeup photographs of excavated human trackways from the shores of an ice age lake that once filled the Tularosa Basin in south-central New Mexico, in what is now White Sands National Park.
Credit: Jeff Pigati & Kathleen Springer, USGS.

The preserved footprints found in New Mexico’s Lake Otero Basin would upend scientific understanding of how, and when, humans first arrived in North America, if they are accurately dated. A new study brings the age claim into question.

The wide expanse of an ancient lakebed in New Mexico holds the preserved footprints of life that roamed millennia ago. Giant sloths and mammoths left their mark, and alongside them, signs of our human ancestors. Research published in September 2021 claimed that these footprints are “definitive evidence of human occupation of North America” during the last ice age, dating back to between 23 and 21 thousand years ago. Now, a new study disputes the evidence of such an early age.

Scientists from DRI, Kansas State University, the University of Nevada, Reno, and Oregon State University caution in Quaternary Research that the dating evidence is insufficient for claims that would so radically alter our understanding of when, and how, humans first arrived in North America. Using the same dating method and materials, the new study shows that the footprints could have been left thousands of years later than originally claimed.

“I read the original Science article on the human footprints at White Sands and was initially struck not only by how tremendous the footprints were on their own, but how important accurate dating would be,” says Charles Oviatt, emeritus professor of geology at Kansas State University and one of the new study’s authors. “I saw potential problems with the scientific tests of the dates reported in the Science paper.”

“It really does throw a lot of what we think we know into question,” says David Rhode, Ph.D., a paleoecologist at DRI and co-author of the new study. “That’s why it’s important to really nail down this age, and why we’re suggesting that we need better evidence.”

Archaeologists and historians use a number of methods to determine the timing of historic events. Based on these methods, scientists tend to agree that the earliest known dates of humanity’s colonization of North America lie between 14 and 16 thousand years ago, after the last ice age. If the original claims are correct, current chronological models in fields as varied as paleogenetics and regional geochronology would need to be reevaluated.

“23 to 21 thousand years ago is in a timeframe where you need to really pay attention to how people got into North America,” says Rhode. “At that time, there was a huge, mile-high mountain range of ice covering Canada to the north, and the pathway down the Pacific Coast wasn’t very accommodating either – so it may have been that people had to come here much earlier than that.”

By studying ancient DNA from human fossils and using rates of genetic change (a sort of molecular clock using DNA), paleogeneticists surmise that the American Southwest was first occupied no earlier than 20 thousand years ago. If the footprints are older, it throws into question the use and integrity of these genetic models. It’s possible that the ages from one study at a single site in a New Mexico lake basin are valid, and that age estimates from a variety of other fields are invalid, the authors write, but more robust evidence is needed to confirm the claims.

At the center of the debate are the tiny seeds of an aquatic plant used to age the footprints. The timeframe for the seeds was identified using radiocarbon dating methods, in which researchers examine a type of carbon known as Carbon-14. Carbon-14 originates in the atmosphere and is absorbed by plants through photosynthesis. These carbon isotopes decay at a constant rate over time, and comparing the amount of Carbon-14 in the atmosphere to the amount present in fossilized plant material allows scientists to determine their approximate age. But the plant species used, Ruppia cirrhosa, grows underwater and therefore obtains much of its carbon for photosynthesis not directly from the atmosphere as terrestrial plants do, but from dissolved carbon atoms in the water.

“While the researchers recognize the problem, they underestimate the basic biology of the plant,” says Rhode. “For the most part, it’s using the carbon it finds in the lake waters. And in most cases, that means it’s taking in carbon from sources other than the contemporary atmosphere – sources which are usually pretty old.”

This method is likely to give radiocarbon-based age estimates of the plant that are much older than the plants themselves. Ancient carbon enters the groundwater of the Lake Otero basin from eroded bedrock of the Tularosa Valley and the surrounding mountains, and occurs in extensive calcium carbonate deposits throughout the basin.

The authors demonstrated this effect by examining Ruppia plant material with a known age from the same region. Botanists collected living Ruppia plants from a nearby spring-fed pond in 1947 and archived them at the University of New Mexico herbarium. Using the same radiocarbon dating method, the plants that were alive in 1947 returned a radiocarbon date suggesting they were about 7400 years old, an offset resulting from the use of ancient groundwater by the plant. The authors note that if the ages of the Ruppia seeds dated from the human footprints were also offset by roughly 7400 years, their real age would be between 15 and 13 thousand years old – a date which aligns with ages of several other known early North American archaeological sites.

The dating of the footprints can be resolved through other methods, including radiocarbon dating of terrestrial plants (which use atmospheric carbon and not carbon from groundwater) and optically stimulated luminescence dating of quartz found in the sediment, the authors write.

“These trackways really are a great resource for understanding the past, there’s no doubt about that,” says Rhode. “I’d love to see them myself. I’m just cautious about the ages that the researchers put to them.”

More Information:

The full study, A critical assessment of claims that human footprints in the Lake Otero basin, New Mexico date to the Last Glacial Maximum, is available from Quaternary Research: https://doi.org/10.1017/qua.2022.38

Study authors include Charles Oviatt (K-State), David B. Madsen (UNR), David Rhode (DRI), and Loren G. Davis (OSU).

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About DRI

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

About the University of Nevada, Reno

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

Childhood Traumas Strongly Impact Both Mental and Physical Health

Childhood Traumas Strongly Impact Both Mental and Physical Health

HPN Renown and DRI Logos

November 8, 2022
RENO, NV

Childhood Trauma
Mental Health
Physical Health

Above: The logos for the Healthy Nevada Project, DRI, and Renown Health.

Credit: DRI.

Childhood Traumas Strongly Impact Both Mental and Physical Health

Adult risk for obesity, chronic pain, migraines, and mental disorders increases in proportion to the number and types of traumas experienced in childhood

The social environments we grow up in are critical when determining our wellbeing and health later in life. Most Americans (67%) report experiencing at least one traumatic event in childhood, and a new study shows that these experiences have significant impacts on our health risks as adults. Physical illnesses such as obesity and chronic pain are affected, but mental disorders show the most significant association, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), bipolar disorder, substance abuse, and depression.

Scientists from DRI and the University of Nevada, Reno, led the study, published on Oct. 6 in the journal Frontiers in Psychiatry. More than 16,000 people from the Reno area volunteered for the research as part of the Healthy Nevada Project, one of the most visible genomic studies in the United States powered by Renown Health. Participants answered questions about their social environments before age 18, including experiences with emotional, physical, or sexual mistreatment, neglect, and substance abuse in the household. The researchers combined this information with anonymized medical records to build on existing research about how childhood traumas affect health outcomes.

“The study provides insight as to how social determinants of health may influence adult health disorders,” said Robert Read, M.S., a researcher at the Center for Genomic Medicine at DRI and one of the study’s lead authors.

Nearly two-thirds (66%) of participants recalled at least one type of trauma, and almost one-quarter (24%) reported experiencing more than four. Women and people of African American and Latinx descent reported a higher prevalence of traumatic experiences than men and those with European ancestry, but people in low-income households were the most impacted.

Thirteen mental illnesses showed the most statistically significant associations, including mood disorders, depression, PTSD, anxiety disorders, eating disorders, schizophrenia, and substance abuse. For every reported type of abuse experienced in childhood, a participant’s risk for PTSD increased 47%. Each cumulative trauma also increased one’s risk for making a suicide attempt by 33%.

The researchers note that although the study is rooted in Nevada — which has high rates of adults with mental illness and poor access to care — it provides a window into deeply rooted public health issues across the nation.

“Combatting the prevalence of childhood traumas is a complex problem,” said Karen Schlauch, Ph.D., a bioinformatics researcher at DRI and one of the study’s lead authors. “Personal experiences with neglect and abuse are more challenging to address, but many of the underlying issues can be tackled at the community level, like food insecurity and poverty.”

Beyond improving our understanding of how early social environments influence our health, Schlauch says that the next target for research is understanding how childhood traumas may be linked with specific traits like impulsivity — a prominent trait in Nevada’s gambling communities.

“In order to address the devastating impacts of early-life adversity on local population health and inequities, we must focus on the dominant social and behavioral mechanisms affecting Nevadans,” said Stephanie Koning, Ph.D., an assistant professor at the School of Public Health at the University of Nevada, Reno, and study co-author. “Beyond how population needs drive our research, we are partnering with community-based organizations to promote evidence-based interventions across individual, community, and state levels.”

As the study team expands their analysis of the health impacts of early-life adversity, they are exploring how to use the Healthy Nevada Project database to inform community-based interventions. They’ve partnered with community institutional partners — including the Stacie Mathewson Behavioral Health & Addiction Institute and Northern Nevada HOPES — for research and advocacy focused on promoting healthy childhood social environments and well-being throughout an individual’s life.

More information: 

The full text of the study, Using phenome-wide association studies and the SF-12 quality of life metric to identify profound consequences of adverse childhood experiences on adult mental and physical health in a Northern Nevadan population, is available from Frontiers in Psychiatry: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9583677/.

This project was funded by the Stacie Mathewson Behavioral Health and Addiction Institute, Renown Health, and the Renown Health Foundation. Study authors included Karen Schlauch (DRI), Robert Read (DRI), Stephanie Koning (UNR), Iva Neveux (DRI), and Joseph Grzymski (DRI/Renown Health).

For more information on the Healthy Nevada Project®, please visit: https://healthynv.org/.

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About DRI

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

About Renown 

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

About the University of Nevada, Reno

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

DRI Recognizes Lily Hahn as the 2022 Peter B. Wagner Memorial Award-Winner for Women in Atmospheric Sciences

DRI Recognizes Lily Hahn as the 2022 Peter B. Wagner Memorial Award-Winner for Women in Atmospheric Sciences

DRI Recognizes Lily Hahn as the 2022 Peter B. Wagner Memorial Award Winner for Women in Atmospheric Sciences

November 3, 2022
RENO, Nevada

Wagner Award
Atmospheric Sciences
Lily Hahn

Above: The 2022 Wagner Award winner, Lily Hahn, presents her research during an award ceremony at DRI’s campus in Reno on November 2, 2022.

Credit: Jessi LeMay/DRI.

DRI is pleased to announce that the 24th annual Peter B. Wagner Memorial Award for Women in Atmospheric Sciences has been awarded to Lily Hahn of the University of Washington, Seattle. An award ceremony commemorating her achievement was held at the DRI campus in Reno on Nov. 2, 2022.

The Peter B. Wagner Memorial Award for Women in Atmospheric Sciences is an annual competition recognizing the published works of women pursuing a master’s or Ph.D. in the atmospheric sciences or any related program at a university in the United States. The award is presented to women graduate students with outstanding academic publications and includes a $1,500 prize. This award has been presented annually by DRI since 1998 and is the only such honor designated for graduate women in the atmospheric sciences in the United States.

Hahn, a Ph.D. student in the Department of Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Washington, Seattle, is receiving this award for her paper Seasonality in Arctic Warming Driven by Sea Ice Effective Heat Capacity. Hahn’s research investigates the processes that cause Arctic warming to peak during early winter under rising concentrations of atmospheric greenhouse gases. A fundamental cause of this warming pattern is the transition from frozen sea ice to open ocean, which maintains warmer temperatures later in the year and produces peak warming in early winter. This information is essential for developing accurate models for projecting the timing and extent of Arctic warming under climate change scenarios.

“I’m very excited to receive the Wagner Memorial Award,” Hahn says. “I’m grateful to the selection committee for their time and consideration, and to my advisors and coauthors for their collaboration and guidance. I really enjoyed this project as an opportunity to design idealized model experiments to isolate and understand the mechanisms of Arctic warming. It’s awesome to receive recognition, the opportunity to share this work at DRI, and inspiration to continue pursuing creative and impactful research as I wrap up my Ph.D.”

 

two female scientists smile at the camera

Lily Hahn (right) the 2022 recipient of the Peter Wagner Memorial Award for Women in Atmospheric Sciences, with Vera Samburova (left), Chair of Award Committee and Associate Research Professor at DRI.

Credit: Jessi LeMay/DRI.

Runners up for the 2022 award include: 2nd place – Lyssa M. Freese from the Department of Earth, Atmosphere and Planetary Sciences at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for the paper Antarctic Radiative and Temperature Responses to a Doubling of CO2.

3rd place – Tehya Stockman from the Department of Civil, Environmental, and Architectural Engineering at the University of Colorado, Boulder for the paper Measurements and Simulations of Aerosol Released While Singing and Playing Wind Instruments; and Yingxiao Zhang from the Department of Climate and Space Sciences and Engineering at the University of Michigan for the paper Projected Climate-Driven Changes in Pollen-Emission Season Length and Magnitude Over the Continental United States.

About the Peter B. Wagner Memorial Award

Ms. Sue Wagner — former Nevada Gaming Commissioner, Nevada Lieutenant Governor, DRI Atmospheric Scientist, and widow of Dr. Peter B. Wagner — created the Peter B. Wagner Memorial Award for Women in Atmospheric Sciences in 1998. Dr. Wagner, a faculty member at DRI since 1968, was killed while conducting research in a 1980 plane crash that also claimed the lives of three other Institute employees.

In 1981, Dr. Wagner’s family and friends established a memorial scholarship to provide promising graduate students in DRI’s Atmospheric Sciences Program an award to further pursue their professional careers. Since 1998, this opportunity has extended specifically to women pursuing graduate education across the nation.

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About DRI

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

Elevated levels of arsenic and other metals found in Nevada’s private wells

Elevated levels of arsenic and other metals found in Nevada’s private wells

Elevated Levels of Arsenic and Other Metals Found in Nevada’s Private Wells

October 26, 2022
RENO, Nevada

Water Treatment
Arsenic
Private Wells

Above: Researchers test a private well water for traces as metals such as arsenic in Washoe Valley. Private wells are the primary source of drinking water, serving 182,000 people outside of Nevada’s bustling cities. 

Credit: Monica Arienzo/DRI.

Study shows that many household wells need better drinking water treatment and monitoring

 

Outside of Nevada’s bustling cities, private wells are the primary source of drinking water, serving 182,000 people. Yet some of the tested private wells in Nevada are contaminated with levels of heavy metals that exceed federal, state or health-based guidelines, a new study published in Science of The Total Environment shows. Consuming water contaminated by metals such as arsenic can cause adverse health effects.

Scientists from DRI and the University of Hawaii Cancer Center recruited households with private wells through the Healthy Nevada Project. Households were sent free water testing kits, and participants were notified of their water quality results and recommended actions they could take. More than 170 households participated in the research, with the majority from Northern Nevada around Reno, Carson City and Fallon.

“The goals of the Healthy Nevada project are to understand how genetics, environment, social factors and healthcare interact. We directly engaged our participants to better understand environmental contaminants that may cause adverse health outcomes,” said co-author Joseph Grzymski, Ph.D., research professor at DRI, principal investigator of the Healthy Nevada Project®, and chief scientific officer for Renown Health.

Nearly one-quarter (22%) of the private wells sampled had arsenic that exceeded safe levels determined by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) — with levels 80 times higher than the limit in some cases. Elevated levels of uranium, lead, cadmium, and iron were also found. 

 

two female scientists collect well water samples

Monica Arienzo, Ph.D., and Erika Robtoy, undergraduate student at the University of Nevada, Reno collect well water samples in Palomino Valley, Nevada.

Credit: Daniel Saftner/DRI.

“We know from previous research that Nevada’s arid climate and geologic landscape produce these heavy metals in our groundwater,” says Monica Arienzo, Ph.D., an associate research professor at DRI who led the study. “It was important for us to reach out to community members with private wells to see how this is impacting the safety of their drinking water.”

Fewer than half (41%) of the wells sampled used water treatment systems, and some treated water samples still contained arsenic levels over EPA guidelines. Although average levels of heavy metal contaminants were lower in treated water, many homes were unable to reduce contaminants to levels considered safe.

The state leaves private well owners responsible for monitoring their own water quality, and well water testing helps ensure water is safe to drink. This study shows that more frequent testing is needed to ensure Nevada’s rural communities have safe drinking water. This is particularly important as the effects of climate change and population growth alter the chemistry of groundwater, potentially increasing metal concentrations.

“The results emphasize the importance of regular water quality monitoring and treatment systems,” said co-author Daniel Saftner, M.S., assistant research scientist at DRI.

Although the research focused on wells in Nevada, other arid communities in Western states are facing similar risks of water contamination.

 

More information:

The full study, Naturally Occurring Metals in Unregulated Domestic Wells in Nevada, USA, is available from Science of The Total Environment: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.scitotenv.2022.158277.

This project was funded by an NIH award (#1R01ES030948-01). The Healthy Nevada Project was funded by grants from Renown Health and the Renown Health Foundation. Study authors included Monica M. Arienzo (DRI), Daniel Saftner (DRI), Steven N. Bacon (DRI), Erika Robtoy (DRI), Iva Neveux (DRI), Karen Schlauch (DRI), Michele Carbone (University of Hawaii Cancer Center) and Joseph Grzymski (DRI/Renown Health).

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About DRI 

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

About Renown Health

Renown Health is Nevada’s largest, not-for-profit integrated healthcare network serving Nevada, Lake Tahoe, and northeast California. With a diverse workforce of more than 6,500 employees, Renown has fostered a longstanding culture of excellence, determination, and innovation. The organization comprises a trauma center, two acute care hospitals, a children’s hospital, a rehabilitation hospital, a medical group and urgent care network, and the locally owned not-for-profit insurance company, Hometown Health. Renown is currently enrolling participants in a community-based genetic population health study, the Healthy Nevada Project®. For more information, visit renown.org.

About the University of Hawaiʻi Cancer Center

The University of Hawaiʻi Cancer Center through its various activities, including scientific research and clinical trials, adds more than $57 million to the Oʻahu economy.  It is one of only 71 research institutions designated by the National Cancer Institute.  An organized research unit within the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa, the UH Cancer Center is dedicated to eliminating cancer through research, education, patient care and community outreach with an emphasis on the unique ethnic, cultural, and environmental characteristics of Hawaiʻi and the Pacific.  Learn more at https://www.uhcancercenter.org.  Like us on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/UHCancerCenter.  Follow us on Twitter @UHCancerCenter.

Media Contacts:

Renown Public Relations
M: 775.691.7308
E: news@renown.org

Detra Page – DRI
M: 702.591.3786
E: Detra.Page@dri.edu

DRI Welcomes Emily McDonald-Williams as STEM Education Program Manager

DRI Welcomes Emily McDonald-Williams as STEM Education Program Manager

DRI Welcomes Emily McDonald-Williams as STEM Education Program Manager

October 11, 2022
RENO, Nevada

DRI is excited to welcome Emily McDonald-Williams as its STEM Education Program Manager. She brings experience as a 4-H Coordinator at Oregon State University, where she focused on developing and expanding STEM education opportunities on a state, national, and international basis. Prior to her work at Oregon State University, she worked with Montana State Parks and the Bureau of Land Management with a focus on integrating natural resource content with hands-on education throughout the community.

“Emily’s experience in STEM education and her desire to expand high-quality programs and offerings makes her a terrific addition to DRI’s STEM Education group,” said DRI Executive Director of the Division of Earth and Ecosystem Sciences Philippe Vidon, Ph.D. “We are delighted for Emily to lead DRI’s K-12 STEM Education program.”

Along with her dedication to expanding high-quality STEM education opportunities, McDonald-Williams will focus on designing curriculum that is inclusive, accessible, and provided equitably.

“I’m thrilled to lead DRI’s impactful K-12 STEM education program,” said McDonald-Williams. “My experience in STEM education, community outreach, and environmental conservation and restoration work has prepared me for this new role.”  

In addition to obtaining a Bachelor of Arts in environmental studies and biology from the University of California, Santa Cruz, McDonald-Williams also holds a Master of Science in education from Southern Oregon University, with a concentration in STEM curriculum and instruction.

 

headshot of emily mcdonald williams

Emily McDonald-Williams, STEM Education Program Manager at Desert Research Institute (DRI).

Credit: Jessi LeMay/DRI.

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About DRI 

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

 

Nevada Gold Mines Supports DRI’s Nevada Robotics STEM Education Programs

Nevada Gold Mines Supports DRI’s Nevada Robotics STEM Education Programs

Nevada Gold Mines Supports DRI’s Nevada Robotics STEM Education Programs

September 27, 2022
RENO, Nev.

Nevada Robotics
Nevada Gold Mines
STEM Education

Supports educator training, robots and equipment, and outreach throughout the state

To address the economic need for a strong STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) workforce in Nevada, the goal is to bring robotics and engineering to every school across the state. With support from Nevada Gold Mines (NGM), Nevada’s educators are able to increase STEM education in the classroom with hands-on robotics training and support.

Thanks to NGM and other founding partners, more than 1,200 educators have been trained in educational robotics to date. This summer, 333 educators attended the Robotics Academy of Nevada (RAN) educator professional development training series held in Las Vegas, Reno, and the first inaugural event in Elko. Training increases educator confidence in robotics lessons and brings engineering, computer science, and coding to life in the classroom.

In addition to the new Elko RAN, Nevada’s rural communities are receiving greater access to STEM and robotics education, thanks to support from NGM. Through the Desert Research Institute Foundation, NGM provided funding to Nevada Robotics for a Rural STEM Coordinator to support the Elko and Spring Creek Boys and Girls Clubs, help local robotics educators, and host family STEM and Career Nights in rural Nevada. The goal is to increase equitable access to high-quality STEM education with training, support, and equipment.

“Robotics is an amazing way to spark a lifelong interest in STEM, teamwork, and creative problem solving for students of all ages,” said Christine Keener, chief operating officer, Barrick North America. “Nevada Gold Mines recognizes the need for additional STEM education in Nevada’s rural communities, and we are honored to provide the funding for a Rural STEM Coordinator.”

“Thanks to support from Nevada Gold Mines, we’re thrilled to be able to expand access to STEM education in Nevada’s rural communities by hiring a Rural STEM Coordinator,” said A.J. Long, M.A., head of the Nevada Robotics program at DRI.

The Nevada Robotics program, launched in 2018, introduces Nevada teachers to the engineering and robotics skills needed to build and program automated and remote-controlled robots with groups of students. Teaching students the fundamentals of engineering, computer science, and coding will help fill the STEM workforce pipeline gap in Nevada.

To support DRI’s Nevada Robotics program or for more information on how to make a gift to support DRI, please contact Kristin Burgarello, director of advancement, at 775.673.7386 or Kristin.Burgarello@dri.edu.

Restoring our relationship with hímu (willow) requires human interaction rather than protection

Restoring our relationship with hímu (willow) requires human interaction rather than protection

Restoring our relationship with hímu (willow) requires human interaction rather than protection

SEPT 19, 2022
RENO, NEV.

By Robin Smuda, Climate Reporter Intern

Native Climate
Hímu
Willow

dá∙bal (dah-ball; big sage), ťá∙gɨm (tdah-goom; pinion pine), and hímu (him-oo; willow) are why Wá∙šiw (Washo) live here.

In between the high lush landscape of dáɁaw (Lake Tahoe) and the expanse of arid landscapes within the Great Basin, the Wá∙šiw have lived here and have lived with this community for countless generations. The continuation of life for the Wá∙šiw is based around plants that always stand: dá∙bal, ťá∙gɨm, and hímu. With them, survival is always possible, and they can help us understand our problems. But current viewpoints that prioritize protection over interaction with the environment are at odds with strong traditional relationships between the Wá∙šiw people and these plants.

washoe lands map

Wá∙šiw traditional homelands (shown in light and dark green) are located in the mountains and valleys around dáɁaw (Lake Tahoe), along what is now the California-Nevada border. Today, most Wá∙šiw people live in colonies and communities of the Carson Valley of Nevada (shown in black).

Credit: Washoe Tribe of Nevada and California.

HÍMU IN WÁ∙ŠIW WEAVING

hímu, particularly the willow that grows in the valleys around the Lake Tahoe region (“valley hímu,” also known as coyote willow) is especially important to Wá∙šiw basket weaving for tradition and quality material. Baskets can be woven from most materials, but quality Wá∙šiw basketry wants and sometimes requires strong valley hímu for its strength and clean color.

Healthy valley hímu can grow long stalks independently, but human encouragement is the traditional way. Traditional growth patterns were propagated by planting hímu, pruning them, having fire consume or interact with them, shaping them to provide shade from hot sun-filled days, and more. The continued handling leads the plant to grow long and strong.

“My great aunts, the Smokey Sisters, and other elder basket weavers like Marie Kizer and Florine Conway, harvested and tended to the willow in Dresslerville along the river and surrounding areas,” said Melanie Smokey, Wá∙šiw basket weaver. “They would talk to the willow and were proud of this area. They graciously accepted visitors who asked to harvest willow in the area. Once everyone gathered their bounty, then they would all go to the Senior Center where a pre-planned good meal was served in honor of the guests. They were proud of their Wá∙šiw má∙š, their lands. Their baskets didn’t just hang on a wall, their baskets were used to gather, to sift pinenut and acorn flour in, and to cook in. They wanted basketry to continue so they taught and encouraged young people.”

Without the human touch, knots, bends, and eyes (from buds of branches) can become common. These become hindrances for collection of the long stalks that are necessary for a strong product and create weaknesses in the weaving.

Valley hímu has become the main variant of willow used for weaving, despite other types being readily available, because of the ability to grow tall and straight. These willows create the structure of the basket. hímu that grows in the mountains (“mountain hímu”) grows low and bunched, providing shorter stalks that make for weaker baskets, which last for one season at most.

Mountain hímu that grows in the Tahoe Basin has been used for fishing traps or twine, and temporary burden baskets, explained Smokey. The hímu in Northern Nevada’s arid low valleys is stronger, straighter, and necessary for complete and keepable baskets.

The long stalks of valley hímu create baskets of maximum strength that hold together under use of fire for roasting or carrying heavy objects for years. The feeling and fact of strength from valley hímu is most apparent in baby boards, which carry the next generation, make the child feel safe, and last for decades.

hímu burden basket on top of table

A ~100 year old Wá∙šiw hímu burden basket that was used over 2 lifetimes. Basket was on display as part of Wa She Shu It’ Deh at Meeks Bay, courtesy of Melba Rakow.

Credit: Robin Smuda.

VALLEY HÍMU IN DECLINE: DROUGHT, HEAT, FIRE, AND MORE

Valley hímu on Wá∙šiw lands are under stress from drought and heat. hímu that is tall and healthy enough for weaving is practically nonexistent in the wild in Carson Valley, according to local weavers. Wá∙šiw weavers have harvested usable stalks in limited amounts from the Nature Conservancy preserve at River Fork Ranch in the Carson Valley, but finding quality hímu in other areas is so difficult that gatherers protect locations from many people out of respect, for the land is not a guarantee.

“…my cousin Sue goes clear to Oregon to get hers because this lady grows it for her in her yard,” says Melba Rakow, Wá∙šiw Elder and employee of the Culture and Language Resources Department of the Washoe Tribe of Nevada and California.

In addition to drought and heat, the unnaturally long and powerful fires from years of current forest management practices and climate change harm valley hímu as they tear through the landscape. hímu is burned down, damaged, or in some cases preemptively destroyed with herbicide as they are seen as an agricultural weed and potential fire hazard.

Changes in the timing of the warm season may also be impacting the timing of hímu flowering. Wá∙šiw weavers have noticed that the timing of flowering is becoming more unpredictable. Analysis of weather data by Paige Johnson and Kyle Bocinsky from the Native Climate team found that in Minden, Nev., the first warm spell of the year (measured as 7 consecutive days where the minimum daily temperature rose above 28oF) has been happening earlier in the year. Their data shows that the first warm spell is occurring about 2.8 days earlier every decade, which amounts to nearly 3 weeks over the last 70 years.

graph of 7-day warm spells

The earliest 7-day warm spells recorded each year at a weather station in Minden, Nev. 

Credit: Paige Johnson and Kyle Bocinsky, Native Climate.

INTERACTION, NOT EXPLOITATION

Some of the problems facing Wá∙šiw today are the ability to restart traditional valley hímu growing practices and access to land, water, and money needed to propagate them. Many of the best areas for hímu growing are controlled by resource production and natural conservation mindsets. Most parks and natural areas in the Carson Valley are designed to keep nature in its pure state. Ranches that surround the Carson River and lusher areas of the Carson Valley are focused on livestock production and control large areas of land and water.

Working and living with the land gets us to a healthier environment, says Herman Filmore, Director of Culture/Language Resources Department of the Washoe Tribe of Nevada and California. The plants and land are sovereign beings, and we live with them, which includes human interaction and use. He explains that the idea of untamed wilderness Indigenous peoples lived in is detrimentally wrong. Plants were harvested and propagated on purpose. Landscapes were managed and areas were cleared. The difference is that human needs were not the only concerns.

Campsites were used and plants were cared for, but not always, as rest is important for the plants and the landscape, says Rakow. The overworking of land is something she has seen in her life. Ranchers in the Carson Valley used to have cattle graze one area and let that area heal for years before using the land again. Today, this is much less common.

Valley hímu near a creek

Valley hímu growth near an unkept creek. Note that the majority of the branches are broken or twisted and unusable for weaving. 

Credit: Robin Smuda.

A RETURN TO TRADITIONAL WAYS

These are long-standing problems, but solutions are underway. For the first time in a generation, valley hímu is now being worked with on Wá∙šiw land in mass. It is a return and reimagining of what was done before. Rhiana Jones and the Washoe Tribe’s Environmental Department have been working on a pilot project to grow hímu that will be accessible to the whole community. She and others have propagated hímu stalks on the Dresslerville Reservation in the Carson Valley using traditional methods of fire and pruning to encourage great-quality stalks.

While efforts to have valley hímu in our community again are growing stronger, much still needs to be done in order to restore our relationship with this plant and the landscape as a whole. hímu faces many of the same challenges that we do — less water, intense heat, destruction of the environment, and out-of-control fire. They are resilient, as they always have been. It falls on people to become reconnected and move forward with them for generations to come.

hímu cradle boards with roasting pans, baskets, and a cedar net

hímu cradle boards, 3 used roasting pans, lidded baskets, and a traditionally made cedar net on display at Wa She Shu It’ Deh at Meeks Bay courtesy of the Culture and Language Resources Department of the Washoe Tribe of Nevada and California.

Credit: Robin Smuda.

Robin Smuda is a Wašiw person and a member of the Washoe Tribe of Nevada and California. Currently, they are a reporter intern with Native Climate at DRI and studying Cultural Anthropology at the University of Nevada, Reno. Robin is planning on studying Ethno-Archeology and Indigenous Studies in grad school, with a focus on the transition from pre- and post-contact in the Great Basin.

The making of a megafire: Study explores why some wildfires grow fast and furious

The making of a megafire: Study explores why some wildfires grow fast and furious

The making of a megafire: Study explores why some wildfires grow fast and furious

August 22, 2022
RENO, Nev.

Megafires
Fire Ecology
Fire Detection

Above: A view of the Las Conchas Fire, which burned more than 150,000 acres in New Mexico in 2011. The fire was among those analyzed as part of this study.

Photo courtesy of the National Interagency Fire Center.

Reposted from https://www.fs.usda.gov/pnw/news-releases/making-megafire-study-explores-why-some-wildfires-grow-fast-and-furious

Some wildfires grow much larger and a lot faster than others to become megafires. But why? As their name suggests, megafires are wildfires of extreme size with great destructive potential, which can make them especially challenging to manage. As megafires become more frequent in the Western United States, better wildfire prediction is needed to protect lives, property, and resources.

A recent study led by the USDA Forest Service’s Pacific Northwest Research Station explores why some fires turn into megafires by analyzing the effects of daily weather conditions. The findings can help fire managers anticipate which fires are likely to grow most rapidly and become megafires.

“Ours is the first study to systematically and quantitatively compare daily weather conditions with daily fire growth using multiple fires across the country,” said Brian Potter, research meteorologist at the station’s Pacific Wildland Fire Sciences Laboratory in Seattle, Wash. Along with Daniel McEvoy, researcher with the Desert Research Institute, Potter analyzed 40 fires that burned in California, the Great Basin, the Rockies, the Northwest, and the Southwest between 2002 and 2017.

The two researchers looked at a particular kind of megafire, which they called “fires of unusual size” or FOUS. These fires were 90,000 acres or larger and grew an additional 22,000 acres or more after at least one blowup, or growth, event. The scientists then compared these unusually large wildfires with smaller wildfires from the same general area. For each fire, they looked at the effects of prevailing dryness and daily weather conditions.

The scientists were surprised to find that the daily weather during these types of fires was, if anything, less extreme than during the smaller fires in their study sample. The FOUS tended to develop after two to four weeks of drier weather, which appears to prime them to grow much more when strong, dry winds occur.

More information:

  • The largest wildfires developed because they responded to one- or two-day, high-wind events and preceding dryness more strongly than the other wildfires.
  • It was how the wildfires responded to weather, not the weather itself, that appeared to differentiate the largest fires from other fires.
  • The study’s findings suggest that when the previous couple of weeks have been dry, fire managers may need to be more aware than usual of infrequent high-wind days, even when overall conditions are mild.

Potter, Brian E.; McEvoy, Daniel. 2021. Weather factors associated with extremely large fires and fire growth days. Earth Interactions. 25(1): 160-176.

Heading to the mountains? The Living Snow Project needs your help

Heading to the mountains? The Living Snow Project needs your help

Heading to the Mountains?

The Living Snow Project needs your help
JULY 8, 2022
RENO, NEV.

By Kelsey Fitzgerald

Living Snow Project
Snow Algae
Citizen Science

Featured research by DRI’s Alison Murray, Meghan Collins, Jaiden Christopher, Eric Lundin, and Sonia Nieminen.

On a cool and breezy morning in late spring, DRI Research Professor Alison Murray, Ph.D. and student intern Sonia Nieminen hiked up a ski slope at Mount Rose Ski Area, outside of Reno. The ground, wet from snowmelt, squished and squelched beneath their feet as they crossed a hillside of soggy grass to reach a remnant patch of late-season snow.

They were out to find snow algae – a type of freshwater algae that thrives in late-season snowpack. Although snow algae is best known for being pink, it actually comes in colors ranging from yellow to orange, light-green, brown, light pink, or a bright watermelon pink.

“There’s a whole microbial community that lives in the snow, and snow algae is the food source that gets it all started,” Murray explained. “They are a primary producer, so they bring organic carbon into the snow that feeds a diverse community of bacteria, fungi, protozoans and other multicellular animals. For example, little rotifers, tartigrades, mites, and spiders also call the snow ecosystem home.”

snow algae search in snow patches
Alison Murray, Sonia Nieminen, and KOLO reporter John Macaluso look for snow algae among snow patches at Mount Rose, May 31, 2022.
Credit: DRI.

Murray, Nieminen, Meghan Collins, Jaiden Christopher, and Eric Lundin at DRI are studying snow algae as part of the Living Snow Project (https://wp.wwu.edu/livingsnowproject/) – a collaboration between DRI and Robin Kodner and her team at Western Washington University. The project aims to learn more about the ecology, diversity, and prevalence of snow algae in the Cascade and Sierra Nevada mountains, with help from citizen scientists.

“The literature is pretty spotty on the biology of snow and snow algae,” Murray said. “A lot is known about just a few species of snow algae, but we want to see what else is out there, and learn more about the role that algae play in the snowpack in a changing climate.”

female scientist digs through patch of light pink snow

Alison Murray digs into a patch of light pink snow at Mount Rose Ski Area to collect a snow algae sample.

Credit: DRI.
To collect a sample of snow algae, Murray and Nieminen first looked for patches of discolored snow. They dug down a few inches with a shovel, and then opened a sample collection kit – a pair of rubber gloves and a small plastic tube filled with a small amount of preservative. They used the lid of the tube to scoop some snow into the tube, then gave it a shake and sealed it. Finally, they recorded their location and sample number using the project’s smartphone app.
Living Snow Project sample collection kit instructions
snow algae samples in a plastic tube
Female collects a snow algae sample
Top Left: Participants in the Living Snow Project receive sample collection kits with specific instructions on how to collect a snow algae sample.

Top Right: Snow algae samples are collected using a plastic tube filled with a small amount of preservative.

Bottom: Sonia Nieminen collects a snow algae sample at Mount Rose Ski Area.

Credit: DRI.
Just off the boardwalk at Tahoe Meadows, the team came across another patch of lightly pink pigmented snow and stopped to collect some samples. Snow algae spend the winter in the soil, Murray explained, and remain there until the wetness and light conditions of melting snowpack trigger the algae’s flagellated growth phase. The algae move to the top of the snowpack, where they develop sunscreen-like pigments that turn them shades of orange, pink, or deep red.
scientist collects snow algae
Scientist collects snow algae with rubber gloves
Sample tubes with snow algae inside on top of snow
Top Left: DRI scientist Alison Murray collects a snow algae sample at Tahoe Meadows.

Top Right: Sonia Nieminen collects a snow algae sample at Tahoe Meadows. Rubber gloves help to prevent the contamination of samples with any microbiota on the researcher’s hands.

Bottom: Samples tubes containing snow algae collected at Tahoe Meadows in Nevada during late spring 2022.

Credit: DRI.
In the sample tubes, the snow samples appeared muted shades of brown, yellow, and light pink. But back in the laboratory at DRI, Eric Lundin placed the samples under a light microscope, and the red pigments became easier to see.

“The algae appear red due to astaxanthin, a pigment that protects snow algae from UV radiation,” Lundin explained.

Next, he examined the samples using fluorescence microscopy and DAPI staining. DAPI is a  fluorescent dye that is attracted to DNA. Using fluorescence microscopy, the snow algae appear as red circular cells due to the autofluorescence of chlorophyll.

Finally, he looked at the samples using confocal microscopy, which uses specific wavelengths of light to induce fluorescence and shows the 3-D structure of the cells as a 2-D image. In these images, blue indicates the presence of DNA. Chlorophyll appears red, clearly showing the presence of snow algae. The snow algae cells are often coated with a layer of bacterial cells, and some debris too.

Snow algae cells illustration
microscope view of snow algae sample
Snow algae cells viewed with a microscopy
Top Left: Snow algae cells (red) from the Mount Rose sites were identified in the laboratory using a light microscope. Pollen grains are large and appear to have two “ears” on either side of the main pollen particle, that helps the pollen grains get transported by the wind, they are often referred to as Mickey-Mouse shaped.

Top Right: Using fluorescence microscopy and DAPI staining to examine a sample, snow algae appear as red circular cells. Pollen grains, if the nucleus is still intact, emit blue light due to the presence of DNA. Other material seen in the image is a combination of bacteria, plants, dirt, and extracellular material.

Bottom: Snow algae, some of which are surrounded by bacterial cells (blue) as viewed with confocal microscopy. Blue indicates the presence of DNA, and red indicates presence of chlorophyll.

Credit: DRI

Want to participate in the Living Snow Project?

For the second year in a row, the group has put out a call to action to the outdoor recreation community for help tracking snow algae blooms, recording observations, and collecting samples of snow algae from backcountry areas during the late spring into the summer. By enlisting the help of volunteers, the research team is able to cover much more ground than they could alone.

“We appreciate the help of anyone who is out in the mountains in the early summer – hikers, summer skiers, or anyone else – who can help us collect samples or just use their phones to log locations where snow algae is found and how prevalent it is,” Murray said.

Are you heading to the mountains and interested in participating in the Living Snow Project? Instructions for how to participate are available on the Living Snow website: https://wp.wwu.edu/livingsnowproject/

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About DRI

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

Study Explores Uncertainties in Flood Risk Estimates

Study Explores Uncertainties in Flood Risk Estimates

Study Explores Uncertainties in Flood Risk Estimates

June 14, 2022
RENO, Nev. 

Hydrology
Climate
Flood Risk

Above: The Truckee River in Reno, Nev. during high flow conditions after a storm in late January, 2016. 

Credit: Kelsey Fitzgerald/DRI.

Results show a need to revise existing methods for estimating flood risk

Flood frequency analysis is a technique used to estimate flood risk, providing statistics such as the “100-year flood” or “500-year flood” that are critical to infrastructure design, dam safety analysis, and flood mapping in flood-prone areas. But the method used to calculate these flood frequencies is due for an update, according to a new study by scientists from DRI, University of Wisconsin-Madison, and Colorado State University 

Floods, even in a single watershed, are known to be caused by a variety of sources, including  rainfall, snowmelt, or “rain-on-snow” events in which rain falls on existing snowpack. However, flood frequencies have traditionally been estimated under the assumption these flood “drivers,” or root causes, are unimportant. 

In a new open-access paper in Geophysical Research Letters, a team led by Guo Yu, Ph.D., of DRI examined the most common drivers (rainfall, snowmelt, and rain-on-snow events) of historic floods for 308 watersheds in the Western U.S., and investigated the impact of different flood types on the resulting flood frequencies. 

Their findings showed that most (64 percent) watersheds frequently experienced two or three flood types throughout the study period, and that rainfall-driven floods, including rain-on-snow, tended to be substantially larger than snowmelt floods across watershed sizes.   

Further analysis showed that by neglecting the unique roles of each flood type, conventional methods for generating flood frequency estimates tended to result in under-estimation of flood frequency at more than half of sites, especially at the 100-year flood and beyond. 

“In practice, the role of different mechanisms has often been ignored in deriving the flood frequencies,” said Yu, a Maki postdoctoral research associate at DRI. “This is partly due to the lack of physics-based understanding of historic floods. In this study, we showed that neglecting such information can result in uncertainties in estimated flood frequencies which are critical for infrastructure.” 

The study findings have important implications for estimating flood frequencies into the future, as climate change pushes conditions in snowmelt-dominated watersheds toward increased rainfall. 

“How the 100-year flood will evolve in the future due to climate change is one of the most important unanswered questions in water resources management,” said Wright, an associate professor in Civil and Environmental Engineering at University of Wisconsin-Madison. “To answer it, we need to focus on the fundamental science of how the water cycle, including extreme rainstorms and snow dynamics, are and will continue to change in a warming climate.” 

The study team hopes that this research is useful to engineers, who rely on accurate estimates of flood frequencies when building bridges and other infrastructure. Although many engineers realize that there is a problem with the conventional way of estimating flood frequencies, this study provides new insights into the level of inaccuracy that results.  

“This study shows that taking into account different physical processes can improve flood risk assessment,” said Frances Davenport, Ph.D., postdoctoral research fellow at Colorado State University. “Importantly, this result suggests both a need and opportunity to develop new methods of flood frequency assessment that will more accurately reflect flood risk in a warming climate.” 

More information: 

The full study, Diverse Physical Processes Drive Upper-Tail Flood Quantiles in the US Mountain West, is available from Geophysical Research Letters: https://agupubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1029/2022GL098855  

This project was funded by the DRI’s Maki Postdoctoral fellowship, U.S. National Science Foundation Hydrologic Sciences Program (award number EAR-1749638), and Stanford University. Study authors included Guo Yu (DRI/University of Wisconsin-Madison), Daniel Wright (University of Wisconsin-Madison), and Frances Davenport (Stanford University and Colorado State University).  

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About DRI 

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

About Colorado State University’s Walter Scott, Jr. College of Engineering 

Colorado State is one of the nation’s top public research universities with about 33,000 students and $447 million in annual research funding. The Walter Scott, Jr. College of Engineering at CSU prepares students to solve global challenges to shape a better world through research, education, innovation, and outreach. In addition to a top-ranked graduate program in atmospheric science, the college conducts cutting-edge, interdisciplinary research that provides students hands-on learning in biological, biomedical, chemical, civil, computer, electrical, environmental, mechanical, and systems engineering. The college attracts about $80 million in annual research dollars, placing it in the top tier of public institutions of similar size, and is a campus leader in patents, startups, and technology transfer. For more information, please visit www.engr.colostate.edu. 

Field Notes From a DRI Research Team in Greenland: A Story Map

Field Notes From a DRI Research Team in Greenland: A Story Map

Field Notes From a DRI Research Team in Greenland: A Story Map

In May 2022, a team led by scientists from DRI in Reno, Nevada departed for Greenland, where they were joined by ice drilling, Arctic logistics, and mountaineering experts. Together, the team plans to collect a 440 meter-long ice core that will represent 4,000 years of Earth and human history.  

For much of their time on the Greenland ice sheet, the team will not have access to the internet or phone service — but they are able to send short text messages back to DRI from a Garmin inReach two-way satellite communicator. You can follow along with their journey on our Story Map, “The Return to Tunu.” 

Meet Brianda Hernandez Rosales, Graduate Researcher

Meet Brianda Hernandez Rosales, Graduate Researcher

Meet Brianda Hernandez Rosales, Graduate Researcher

MAY 23, 2022
LAS VEGAS, NEV.

Hydrology
Hydrogeology
Rainwater

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

Credit: Mike Hernandez.

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

DRI: What brought you to DRI?

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

DRI: What are you studying?

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

Brianda Hernandez Rosales headshot

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

Credit: Mike Hernandez.

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

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

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

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

Hualapai Community Garden

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

Credit: Alexandra Lutz.

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

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

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

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

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

pebble wrestling

“Pebble wrestling” in Rocky Mountains National Park.

Credit: Mike Hernandez.

Additional Information:

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

Nevada Receives National Science Foundation Research Award for $20 Million

Nevada Receives National Science Foundation Research Award for $20 Million

drone in wildfire

May 17, 2022
LAS VEGAS

Fire Science
Wildland Fire Research
Workforce Development 

Nevada Receives National Science Foundation Research Award for $20 Million

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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About NSHE

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

About the Nevada System Sponsored Programs and EPSCoR

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

About DRI

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

Study Develops Framework for Forecasting Contribution of Snowpack to Flood Risk During Winter Storms

Study Develops Framework for Forecasting Contribution of Snowpack to Flood Risk During Winter Storms

flooding along the South Fork of the Yuba River in California

May 3, 2022
RENO, NEV.

Forecasting
Flood Risk
Winter Storms

Above: During January 2017, a rain-on-snow event caused flooding along the South Fork of the Yuba River in California. Climate change is expected to make such events larger and more frequent.

Credit: JD Richey. 

Study Develops Framework for Forecasting Contribution of Snowpack to Flood Risk During Winter Storms

New research advances effort to create a decision-support tool for reservoir operators and flood managers

Anne Heggli in the snow

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

Credit: M. Heggli. 

Reno, Nev. (May 3, 2022) –In the Sierra Nevada, midwinter “rain-on-snow” events occur when rain falls onto existing snowpack and have resulted in some of the region’s biggest and most damaging floods. Rain-on-snow events are projected to increase in size and frequency in the coming years, but little guidance exists for water resource managers on how to mitigate flood risk during times of rapidly changing snowpack. Their minute-by-minute decisions during winter storms can have long-lasting impacts to people, property, and water supplies.

A new study by a team from DRI, University of California, Berkeley, the National Weather Service, and University of Nevada, Reno, provides the first framework for a snowpack decision support tool that could help water managers prepare for potential flooding during rain-on-snow events, using hourly data from existing snow monitoring stations.

“During rain-on-snow events, the people managing our water resources always have decisions to make, and it’s really challenging when you’re dealing with people’s lives and property and livelihood,” said DRI Graduate Assistant and lead author Anne Heggli, M.S. “With this work, we’re leveraging existing monitoring networks to maximize the investment that has already been made, and give the data new meaning as we work to solve existing problems that will potentially become larger as we confront climate change.”

snow depth sensor installation

Lead author Anne Heggli of DRI installing a snow depth sensor at the UC Berkeley Central Sierra Snow Laboratory in the Tahoe National Forest for the 2021-2022 winter.

Credit: P. Kucera. 

To develop a testable framework for a decision support tool, Heggli and her colleagues used hourly soil moisture data from UC Berkeley’s Central Sierra Snow Laboratory from 2006-2019 to identify periods of terrestrial water input. Next, they developed quality control procedures to improve model accuracy. From their results, they learned lessons about midwinter runoff that can be used to develop the framework for a more broadly applicable snowpack runoff decision support tool.

“We know the condition (cold content) of the snowpack leading into a rain-on-snow event can either help mitigate or exacerbate flooding concerns,” said study coauthor Tim Bardsley of the National Weather Service in Reno. “The challenge is that the simplified physics and lumped nature of our current operational river forecast models struggle to provide helpful guidance here. This research and framework aims to help fill that information gap.”

“This study and the runoff decision framework that has been built from its data are great examples of the research-to-operations focus that has been so important at the Central Sierra Snow Lab for the past 75 years,” said study coauthor Andrew Schwartz, Ph.D., manager of the snow lab. “This work can help inform decisions by water managers as the climate and our water resources change, and that’s the goal – to have better tools available for our water.”

The idea for this project was sparked during the winter of 2017, when Heggli and her brother were testing snow water content sensors in California. Several large rain-on-snow events occurred, including a series of January and February storms that culminated in the Oroville Dam Spillway Crisis.

“I noticed in our sensors that there were these interesting signatures – and I heard a prominent water manager say that they had no idea how the snowpack was going to respond to these rain-on-snow events,” Heggli explained. “After hearing the need of the water manager and seeing the pattern in the data, I wondered if we could use some of that hourly snowpack data to shave off some level of uncertainty about how the snowpack would react to rain.”

Heggli is currently enrolled in a Ph.D. program at UNR, and has been working under the direction of DRI faculty advisor Benjamin Hatchett, Ph.D., to advance her long-term goal of creating a decision support tool for reservoir operators and flood managers.

The results of this study can next be used to develop basin-specific decision support systems that will provide real-time guidance for water resource managers. The study results will also be used in a new project with the Nevada Department of Transportation.

“Anne’s work, inspired by observation, demonstrates how much we still can learn from creatively analyzing existing data to produce actionable information supporting resource management during high-impact weather events as well as the value of continued investment to maintain and expand our environmental networks,” said Hatchett, DRI Assistant Research Professor of Atmospheric Science.

More information:

The full text of the study, Toward snowpack runoff decision support, is available from iScience: https://www.cell.com/iscience/fulltext/S2589-0042(22)00510-7. 

This project was funded by University Corporation for Atmospheric Research’s COMET Outreach program, Desert Research Institute’s Internal Project Assignment program, and the Nevada Space Grant Consortium Graduate Research Opportunity Fellowship. Study authors included Anne Heggli (DRI), Benjamin Hatchett (DRI), Andrew Schwartz (University of California, Berkeley), Tim Bardsley (National Weather Service, Reno), and Emily Hand (University of Nevada, Reno).

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About DRI

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

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

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

Graphic representation of the DNA sequence

April 27, 2022
RENO, Nev.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Additional information:

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

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

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

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About DRI

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

About Renown Health 

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

About Helix 

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

New study shows robust increases in atmospheric thirst across much of U.S. during past 40 years

New study shows robust increases in atmospheric thirst across much of U.S. during past 40 years

Dry Nevada landscape with mountains

April 6, 2022
RENO, Nev.

Atmospheric Thrist
Temperature
Climate

Above:  A dry Nevada landscape. New research led by DRI scientists shows that atmospheric thirst is a persistent force in pushing Western landscapes and water supplies toward drought.

Credit: Riccardo Panella/DRI.

New study shows robust increases in atmospheric thirst across much of U.S. during past 40 years

Largest changes centered over Rio Grande region of Southwestern U.S.

A multi-dataset assessment of climatic drivers and uncertainties of recent trends in evaporative demand across the continental U.S.
The full text of the study, A multi-dataset assessment of climatic drivers and uncertainties of recent trends in evaporative demand across the continental U.S., is freely available from the Journal of Hydrometeorology: https://journals.ametsoc.org/view/journals/hydr/23/4/JHM-D-21-0163.1.xml.

Reno, Nev. (April 6, 2022) –In arid Western states, the climate is growing warmer and drier, leading to increased demand for water resources from humans and ecosystems. Now, the atmosphere across much of the U.S. is also demanding a greater share of water than it used to, according to a new study by a team from DRI, University of California, Merced, and Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego.

The study was published in the Journal of Hydrometeorology and assessed trends in evaporative demand across the U.S. during a 40-year period from 1980-2020 using five datasets. Evaporative demand, sometimes described as “atmospheric thirst,” is a measure of the potential loss of water from the earth’s surface to the atmosphere based on variables including temperature, humidity, wind speed, and solar radiation.

The team’s findings showed substantial increases in atmospheric thirst across much of the Western U.S. during the past 40 years, with the largest and most robust increases in an area centered around the Rio Grande and Lower Colorado rivers. These regions have experienced changes on the order of two-to-three standard deviations from what was seen during the baseline period of 1980-2000.

“This means that atmospheric thirst conditions in parts of the country are now verging outside of the range that was experienced 20 to 40 years ago, especially in some regions of the Southwest,” said lead author Christine Albano, Ph.D., of DRI. “This is really important to understand, because we know that atmospheric thirst is a persistent force in pushing Western landscapes and water supplies toward drought.”

Figure showing changes in atmospheric thirst
Figure showing changes in atmospheric thirst, measured in terms of reference evapotranspiration (mm), from 1980-2020. The largest changes are centered over the Rio Grande region of the southwestern U.S.
Credit: DRI.
To learn more about the role that different climate variables play in determining atmospheric thirst, Albano and her colleagues analyzed the relative influences of temperature, wind speed, solar radiation, and humidity. They found that, on average, increases in temperature were responsible for 57 percent of the changes observed in all regions, with humidity (26 percent), wind speed (10 percent), and solar radiation (8 percent) playing lesser roles.

“This study shows the dominant role that warming has played on the increasing evaporative demand and foreshadows the increased water stressors the West faces with continued warming,” said study co-author John Abatzoglou, Ph.D., of University of California, Merced.

For farmers and other water users, increases in atmospheric thirst mean that in the future, more water will be required to meet existing water needs. Some of these changes observed in this study are centered over areas where warming temperatures and lower-than-average precipitation are already creating stress on water supplies.

For example, in the Rio Grande region, the study authors calculated that atmospheric thirst increased by 8 to 15 percent between 1980 and 2020. Holding all else equal and assuming no other changes in management, this means that 8 to 15 percent more water is now required to maintain the same thoroughly-watered crop.

“Our analysis suggests that crops now require more water than they did in the past and can be expected to require more water in the future,” said study co-author Justin Huntington, Ph.D., of DRI.

Other impacts of increased atmospheric thirst include drought, increased forest fire area, and reduced streamflows.

“Our results indicate that, decade by decade, for every drop of precipitation that falls, less and less water is likely to drain into streams, wetlands, aquifers, or other water bodies,” said study co-author Michael Dettinger, Ph.D., of Scripps Institution of Oceanography and DRI. “Resource managers, policy makers, and the public need to be aware of these changes and plan for these impacts now and into the future.”

Members of the team are now developing seasonal to sub-seasonal forecasts of evaporative demand.

“We anticipate these types of forecasts will be important for drought and fire forecasting applications,” said study co-author Dan McEvoy, Ph.D., of DRI.

Additional information:

The full text of the study, A multi-dataset assessment of climatic drivers and uncertainties of recent trends in evaporative demand across the continental U.S., is freely available from the Journal of Hydrometeorology: https://journals.ametsoc.org/view/journals/hydr/23/4/JHM-D-21-0163.1.xml

The study team included Christine Albano (DRI), John Abatzoglou (UC Merced), Daniel McEvoy (DRI), Justin Huntington (DRI), Charles Morton (DRI), Michael Dettinger (Scripps Institution of Oceanography/DRI), and Thomas Ott (DRI).

This research was funded by the Sulo and Aileen Maki Endowment Fund to the Desert Research Institute’s Division of Hydrologic Sciences, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) California-Nevada Climate Applications Program (NA17OAR4310284), NOAA National Integrated Drought Information System California-Nevada Drought Early Warning System (NA20OAR4310253C), the NASA Applied Sciences, Water Resources Program (NNX17AF53G), the U.S. Geological Survey Landsat Science Team (140G0118C0007), and USDA-NIFA project (2021-69012-35916).

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About DRI

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

About UC Merced

UC Merced opened in 2005 as the newest member of the University of California system and is the youngest university to earn a Carnegie research classification. The fastest-growing public university in the nation, UC Merced is on the cutting edge of sustainability in campus construction and design and supports high-achieving and dedicated students from the underserved San Joaquin Valley and throughout California. The Merced 2020 Project, a $1.3 billion public-private partnership that is unprecedented in higher education, nearly doubled the physical capacity of the campus with 11 buildings earning Platinum LEED certification. 

About Scripps Oceanography

Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego is one of the world’s most important centers for global earth science research and education. In its second century of discovery, Scripps scientists work to understand and protect the planet, and investigate our oceans, Earth, and atmosphere to find solutions to our greatest environmental challenges. Scripps offers unparalleled education and training for the next generation of scientific and environmental leaders through its undergraduate, master’s and doctoral programs. The institution also operates a fleet of four oceanographic research vessels, and is home to Birch Aquarium at Scripps, the public exploration center that welcomes 500,000 visitors each year. 

About UC San Diego

At the University of California San Diego, we embrace a culture of exploration and experimentation. Established in 1960, UC San Diego has been shaped by exceptional scholars who aren’t afraid to look deeper, challenge expectations and redefine conventional wisdom. As one of the top 15 research universities in the world, we are driving innovation and change to advance society, propel economic growth and make our world a better place. Learn more at ucsd.edu.

Benjamin Hatchett Receives Board of Regents 2022 Rising Researcher Award

Benjamin Hatchett Receives Board of Regents 2022 Rising Researcher Award

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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About DRI

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

Childhood Traumas Strongly Impact Both Mental and Physical Health

Childhood trauma and genetics linked to increased obesity risk

HPN Renown and DRI Logos

March 9, 2022
RENO, NV

Childhood Trauma
Genetics
Obesity

Above: The logos for the Healthy Nevada Project, DRI, and Renown Health.

Credit: DRI.

Childhood trauma and genetics linked to increased obesity risk 

New study from the Healthy Nevada Project® shows strong influence of genes and environment on human health 
Front page screenshot of Healthy Nevada Project study

The full text of the study, The Impact of ACEs on BMI: An Investigation of the Genotype-Environment Effects of BMI, is available from Frontiers in Genetics: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fgene.2022.816660/full

Reno, Nev. (March 9, 2022)New research from the Healthy Nevada Project® found associations between genetics, obesity, and childhood trauma, linking social health determinants, genetics, and disease. The study, which was published this week in Frontiers in Genetics, found that participants with specific genetic traits and who experience childhood traumas are more likely to suffer from adult obesity.  

In 2016, DRI and Renown Health launched the Healthy Nevada Project®, the nation’s first community-based, population health study, which now has more than 60,000 participants. The project is a collaboration with personal genomics company, Helix, and combines genetic, environmental, social, and clinical data to address individual and community health needs with the goal of improving health across the state and the nation.  

The new study focuses on Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), which are traumatic and unsafe events that children endure by the age of 18. Over 16,000 participants in the Healthy Nevada Project® answered a mental health survey, and more than 65 percent of these individuals self-reported at least one ACE occurrence. These 16,000 participants were cross-referenced with their genetic makeup, and clinical Body Mass Index (BMI) measures.  

According to the research team’s findings, study participants who had experienced one or more types of ACE were 1.5 times more likely to become obese adults. Participants who experienced four or more ACEs were more than twice as likely to become severely obese.    

“Our analysis showed a steady increase in BMI for each ACE a person experienced, which indicates a very strong and significant association between the number of adverse childhood experiences and adult obesity,” said lead author Karen Schlauch, Ph.D., of DRI. “More importantly, participants’ BMI reacted even more strongly to the occurrence of ACEs when paired with certain mutations in several genes, one of which is strongly associated with schizophrenia.” 

“We know that genetics affect disease in the Healthy Nevada Project® [https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31888951/], and now we are recognizing that ACEs also affect disease,” said Healthy Nevada Project® Principal Investigator Joseph Grzymski, Ph.D., of DRI and Renown Health. “Our new study shows that the combination of genes and environmental factors like ACEs, as well as many social determinants of health, can lead to more serious health outcomes than either variable alone. More broadly, this new work emphasizes how important it is for population genetic studies to consider the impact of social determinants on health outcomes.” 

The study team believes that it is important for clinical caregivers to understand the strong impact that negative childhood experiences such as ACEs can have on both child and adult health. The researchers hope the information from this study will encourage doctors and nurses to conduct simple screenings for ACEs and consider a patient’s social environment and history in combination with genetics when developing treatment plans for better patient health. 

According to the 2019 Youth Behavior Risk Survey (YRBS), 25.6 percent of Washoe County teenagers are overweight or obese. Obesity is a serious health concern for children and adolescents. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, obese children and adolescents are more likely to become obese as adults.   

“Obese and overweight children and adolescents are at risk for multiple health problems during their youth, which are likely to be more severe as adults,” said Max J. Coppes, MD, PhD, MBA, FAAP, Nell J Redfield Chair of Pediatrics at the University of Nevada Reno School of Medicine, Physician in Chief of Renown Children’s Hospital. “Obese and overweight youth are more likely to have risk factors associated with cardiovascular diseases, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and type 2 diabetes. Losing weight, in addition to a healthy diet, helps to prevent and control multiple chronic diseases and improves quality of life for a lifetime.”  

“We’d like to thank all of the Healthy Nevada Project® participants who provided information to make our work possible,” said Robert Read, M.S., of DRI. “Our research illustrates that it’s not just genetics that cause disease, but that our environment and life experiences interact with our genes to impact our health in ways that we are only beginning to understand.” 

Many thanks to Renown Health, the Stacie Mathewson Behavioral Health and Addiction Institute, and the Center for Genomic Medicine at DRI for supporting this significant work. Renown is currently enrolling participants in the world’s largest community-based genetic population health study, the Healthy Nevada Project®. For more information, visit renown.org. 

More information: 

The full text of the study, The Impact of ACEs on BMI: An Investigation of the Genotype-Environment Effects of BMI, is available from Frontiers in Genetics: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fgene.2022.816660/full 

This project was funded by the Stacie Mathewson Behavioral Health and Addiction Institute, Renown Health, and the Renown Health Foundation. Study authors included Karen Schlauch (DRI), Robert Read (DRI), Iva Neveux (DRI), Bruce Lipp (DRI), Anthony Slonim (Renown Health), and Joseph Grzymski (DRI/Renown Health). 

For more information on the Healthy Nevada Project®, please visit: https://healthynv.org/ 

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About DRI

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

About Renown 

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

Media contacts: 

Kelsey Fitzgerald, DRI
Senior Communications Official
775-741-0496
Kelsey.fitzgerald@dri.edu 

Renown Public Relations
775-691-7308
news@renown.org 

The DRI Foundation Welcomes New Trustees for 2022

The DRI Foundation Welcomes New Trustees for 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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*DRI Foundation Board Member photos available upon request.

 

About the DRI Foundation

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

About DRI

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

NSF-funded Study Finds Eolian Dust Systems Impact Cardio-Pulmonary Health

NSF-funded Study Finds Eolian Dust Systems Impact Cardio-Pulmonary Health

Baylor University paleoclimatologist analyzed gypsum- and quartz-dominated dune systems for possible fine, breathable dust fluxes detrimental to human health

Above: Mark Sweeney and Eric McDonald set up measurements of PI-SWERL at White Sands National Park. Credit: Baylor University. 

Reportsed from Baylor University: https://www.baylor.edu/mediacommunications/news.php?action=story&story=226267

WACO, Texas – A recent National Science Foundation funded study that included Baylor University paleoclimatologist Steven L. Forman, Ph.D., professor of geosciences, evaluates current and future dust sources in central North America with consideration for climate change. These fine dust fluxes are detrimental to asthmatic and general cardio-pulmonary health for populations downwind, particularly areas of west Texas and New Mexico that have large areas of significant dust sources with dry and drought conditions in the past decade.

The study, published in Geology, seeks to characterize dust emission potential from landforms in two end-member eolian systems, where wind is the primary source of sediment transport: the White Sands dune field in New Mexico and the Monahans dune field in west Texas. The study’s lead author is Mark Sweeney, Ph.D., University of South Dakota. Eric McDonald, Desert Research Institute, joined Sweeney and Forman on the research team.

The White Sands dune field is composed of gypsum and a hot spot for dust emissions because the dunes and adjacent playa yield high dust fluxes. However, the active Monahans dune field is composed of quartz and produce low dust fluxes. Adjacent to Monahans, stabilized sand sheets and dunes that contain silt and clay could produce high dust fluxes if reactivated by climate change or anthropogenic disturbance.

“We chose these sites because the gypsum dunes and playa lake environments should be hot spots for dust emission, and the Monahans composed of mostly pure quartz grains should be a low dust emission system. We were wrong about the Monahans,” Forman said.

Field- and model-based estimates of dust emissions from dune systems are difficult to characterize. By considering whole eolian systems — active and stabilized dunes, interdunes, sand sheets and playas — dust emissions can be more accurately estimated for estimating current and future atmospheric dust loading. Atmospheric dust has impacts on radiative forcing, biogeochemical cycles, extreme climate variability and human health.

The researchers utilized a Portable In Situ Wind Erosion Laboratory (PI-SWERL) to measure the dust emission potential in the field. The PI-SWERL, which was developed by a team from DRI, is a circular wind-erosion device, measures concentrations of inhalant particulate matter at different friction velocities from soil surfaces.

“The PI-SWERL is wind tunnel wrapped into a circle which makes this novel technology portable,” Forman said. “Thus, we can quantify the winds speeds and forces necessary to loft small, breathable particle sizes that at certain elevated concentrations induce an asthmatic response and heightened risk of pulmonary mortality and morbidity.”

The PI-SWERL measurements showed considerable differences in the dust emission potential across both systems. Active dunes, sand sheets and interdunes at White Sands generated similarly high dust fluxes. Comparatively, the playa had the widest range of fluxes with the lowest fluxes on moist or hard surfaces and the highest where loose sand and aggregates were at the surface.

In contrast, the Monahans active quartz dunes generated low dust fluxes. However, dry crusted interdunes with loose sand at the surface had much higher fluxes. Dust emissions increase exponentially with rising wind friction velocities for both systems, often associated with common winds 10 to 15 mph.

The results revealed intra- and extra-landform variability in dust fluxes from eolian systems, mostly due to the degree of surface crusting or soil moisture. More dust occurs on surfaces with loose sand or aggregates where saltation bombardment, when wind lifts particles and causes them to hit along the surface with increased velocity, could erode playas or interdunes and aggregates could break apart to create more dust.

Surprisingly, White Sands showed high magnitudes of dust emission from the abrasion of dune sand and erosion of playa sediments, indicating both landforms are particulate sources during dust storms. The Monahans system produced low dust emissions due to low rates of abrasion in active dunes and vegetative cover, which protects the surface from wind erosion. However, the most common landforms — sand sheets that surround the dune fields for miles — are rich sources for fine breathable particles, at the same magnitude as White Sands.

“The most surprising results was variability in dust emissivity for White Sands landforms and the very high dust flux from the flat sand sheet area that covers most surfaces in west Texas. There is a hidden dust source in these deposits and soils, which were unrecognized,” Forman said.

Dust emission assessments are important to current and future climate modeling. Wind-dominated and drought-sensitive systems could see stabilized dunes and sand sheets become reactivated, or adjacent playas may increase emissions. Potential atmospheric dust loading can occur from diverse landforms in active and presently stabilized eolian systems.

“Atmospheric dust concentrations are important for the global heat-balance and locally can lead to a thermal-blanking effect raising local temperatures. Recent studies associate ozone degradation with elevated dust concentrations high in the atmosphere,” Forman said. “As our planet warms from increasing greenhouse gases many deserts will expand, and grassland areas like on the Southern High Plains will diminish, revealing a limitless supply of dust that will worsen aridity and is detrimental to human health. Understanding the land surface response to climate warming is critical for future sustainability.”

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About Baylor University

Baylor University is a private Christian University and a nationally ranked Research 1 institution. The University provides a vibrant campus community for more than 20,000 students by blending interdisciplinary research with an international reputation for educational excellence and a faculty commitment to teaching and scholarship. Chartered in 1845 by the Republic of Texas through the efforts of Baptist pioneers, Baylor is the oldest continually operating University in Texas. Located in Waco, Baylor welcomes students from all 50 states and more than 90 countries to study a broad range of degrees among its 12 nationally recognized academic divisions.

About DRI

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

Seeking answers from the ashes

Seeking answers from the ashes

Seeking answers from the ashes

January 20, 2022
RENO, NEV.

By Kelsey Fitzgerald

Above: A soil collection field site located within the perimeter of Dixie fire. November 18, 2021.

Credit: Vera Samburova.

DRI scientists study soil dynamics in the wake of Sierra Nevada wildfires

After a wildfire, soils in burned areas become temporarily water-repellent, resulting in increased risk of flooding and erosion in the months that follow. Scientists and land managers have never thoroughly understood why or how this happens – but when last summer’s Dixie, Tamarack, and Caldor fires burned through the Sierra Nevada in close proximity to DRI’s Reno campus, scientists Brad Sion, Ph.D., Vera Samburova, Ph.D., and Markus Berli, Ph.D., jumped into action. 

The team, led by Sion, obtained a Rapid Response Research grant from the National Science Foundation for a new project aimed at exploring the impacts of wildfires on physical and chemical properties of burned soils.

Brad Sion
vera samburova

Above, left: Brad Sion, Ph.D., Assistant Research Professor of Geomorphology, holds a frozen chunk of burned soil at a soil sample collection site  near Kirkwood in the wake of the Tamarack Fire.

Credit: Vera Samburova.

Above, right: Vera Samburova, Ph.D., inspects soils in a burned area near Frenchman Lake that was affected by the Beckwourth Complex Fire.

Credit: Brad Sion.

To collect soil samples before the burned areas were impacted by rain or snowfall, time was of the essence. In October, the team made several trips to nearby fire sites to collect soil samples and to conduct field measurements of soil water repellency.

Then, in late October, a major atmospheric river storm came through. The team’s next visit to the fire sites revealed a changed landscape – a real-world example of how wildfires and water repellent soils can impact ecosystems and infrastructure.

“When we first went out into the field, the sites were very dry and ash-covered,” said Samburova. “When we went back out after the atmospheric river storm, we saw lots of mudslides along the roads, and even dirt on top of the road in some places. The soil was very mushy at the surface, but bone dry within centimeters below. And a lot of water was staying on the surface. It was hard to walk on – very slippery.”

water droplet penetration test results
erosion and mudslides

Above, left: The results of a water droplet penetration test on burned soils at the Dixie fire show a high degree of soil water repellency.

Credit: Vera Samburova.

Above, right: After a late October atmospheric river storm passed through the region, researchers observed erosion and mudslides field sites at the Dixie fire. 

Credit: Vera Samburova.

An interdisciplinary approach

Although previous studies have examined impacts of fire on soils in a controlled laboratory setting, the new DRI study will be one of the first to investigate changes in soil properties and their interrelationships using samples collected directly from freshly burned forests. This work builds upon earlier research by co-investigators Samburova and Berli, which investigated the impacts of fire smoke on water repellency of sand samples.

The team, which includes experts from all three of DRI’s research divisions, is approaching their research questions from several angles. Sion is leading the effort to measure the hydraulic (water-related) and thermal (heat-related) properties of burned soils. Samburova is analyzing organic compounds found in the burned soil samples, and Berli is conducting tests to assess the degree of soil water repellency.

Together, their results will provide new insight into linkages between fire burn severity, changes in soil thermal and hydraulic properties, and more.

“Our goal is to understand from a basic science perspective, what the cause is for these various soil characteristics pre- and post- fire,” said Sion. “If we can look at different fire conditions and the soil conditions that result, then we can say something about how a soil may respond in the future, and eventually that information can be extrapolated to different landscape settings.”

At present, the researchers have completed sample collection and are analyzing samples in their respective laboratories in Reno and Las Vegas. They plan to return to their field sites next fall to see how the soil water repellency changes over time.

As climate warms and western wildfire activity increases, Sion and his colleagues believe that understanding how forest fires impact soil properties will continue to be a topic of growing importance.

“Climate change and wildfires are not problems that are unique to the Sierras,” Sion said. “Whether you’re in the Pacific Northwest, Canada, Alaska, or elsewhere, you’re seeing increases in fire activity. People are thinking about the landscape responses and what they mean.”

Diana Brown

Diana Brown, Staff Research Scientist of Geomorphology, analyzes samples in the Soil Characterization and Quaternary Pedology laboratory in Reno. The soil samples have been saturated with water and contain tensiometers and heat probes to analyze hydraulic and thermal properties of the soil.

Credit: DRI.

Funding for this study is provided by the National Science Foundation (award # 2154013). Additional DRI scientists participating in this project include Hans Moosmüller, Ph.D., Diana Brown, M.S., Chris Baish, M.S., Janelle Bustarde, Palina Bahdanovich, Shelby Inouye, Adam Hackbarth, Zimri Mena and Kendrick Seeber.

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About DRI

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

New USDA Grant to Support Climate Resilience Planning in Indian Country

New USDA Grant to Support Climate Resilience Planning in Indian Country

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

More information:

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

 

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About DRI

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

DRI scientist Rishi Parashar receives NSF Mid-Career Advancement Award

DRI scientist Rishi Parashar receives NSF Mid-Career Advancement Award

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

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

DRI: What do you do at DRI?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More information:

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

NASA grant funds research for sunscreen on Mars

NASA grant funds research for sunscreen on Mars

NASA grant funds research for sunscreen on Mars

December 30, 2021
RENO, NEV.

By Michelle Werdann, UNR

NASA
Mars
Sunscreen

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

Credit: UNR

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

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

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

Serious sunscreen

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

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

Tanzil Mahmud with lichen sample

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

Credit: UNR

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

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

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

Harvesting compounds…then blasting them with radiation

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

 

Wolf lichen sample

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

Credit: UNR

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

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

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

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

 

Laser beam

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

Credit: UNR

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Credit: UNR

Spanning the disciplines

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

December 1, 2021
RENO, NEV.

By Kelsey Fitzgerald

Antarctic Sea Squirt
Melanoma
Health

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

Credit: Alison E. Murray, DRI

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

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

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

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

Synoicum adareanum

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

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

The full study, Discovery of an Antarctic ascidian-associated uncultivated Verrucomicrobia with anti-melanoma palmerolide biosynthetic potential, is available from mSphere.

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Credit: Bill Dent, University of South Florida.

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

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

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

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

Diver in the Antarctic Peninsula

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

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

More information:

The full study, Discovery of an Antarctic ascidian-associated uncultivated Verrucomicrobia with antimelanoma palmerolide biosynthetic potential, is available from mSphere.

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

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

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About DRI

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

About The University of South Florida

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

About Los Alamos National Laboratory

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DRI project contributes to an air quality win in Jakarta

DRI project contributes to an air quality win in Jakarta

DRI project contributes to an air quality win in Jakarta

Nov 8, 2021
RENO, NV
By Kelsey Fitzgerald

Air Quality
Jakarta
Air Pollution

Above:Jakarta, Indonesia is severely polluted by sources that include vehicle emissions, factories, and coal-fired power plants.

Credit: Arnaud Matar, Flickr Image.

From Nevada to Jakarta, the work of DRI scientists often has long-lasting impacts in far-off places. This fall, scientists Alan Gertler, Ph.D., John Watson, Ph.D., Judith Chow, Sc.D., Sarath Guttikunda, Ph.D., and Ricky Tropp, Ph.D., received word that air quality monitoring guidelines and reports from a decade-old project in Indonesia had served a beneficial new purpose: providing key evidence in an important court decision that will require stricter air quality standards in the City of Jakarta.

The City of Jakarta is home to 10 million people, and severely polluted by sources that include vehicle emissions, factories, and coal-fired power plants. Additionally, burning of rainforest to create space for palm oil plantations in the countryside causes air pollution that extends into neighboring countries such as Singapore, Vietnam, Laos, and Thailand. 

air quality training seminar Jakarta

DRI’s John Watson, Ph.D., introduces an air quality training seminar in Jakarta in 2019.

Credit: DRI

In 2011, this DRI team began a multi-year project funded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to develop an urban air quality management program for Jakarta. The first phase of the project consisted of an emissions inventory, an assessment of health impacts of air pollution, development of pollution abatement strategies, upgrading the air quality measurement and management program, training in-country personnel in air quality management, development of an air quality index, and more.

Unfortunately, the second phase of the project, which would have consisted of developing control strategies for emissions reduction and providing air quality information to the public, was never funded.

“Although Phase II of the project was never funded, we did as much as we could with the funding that we had for Phase I,” said Gertler, Principal Investigator and Project Manager for the Jakarta project. “We worked on the project for a number of years and were able to make great progress toward helping stakeholders in Jakarta develop better air quality management capabilities.”

The DRI team completed their work on this project in 2017, but the air pollution problems in Jakarta continued. In 2019, a group of 32 Indonesian citizens decided to take action and filed a lawsuit against Indonesian President Joko Widodo and other top officials for neglecting the citizens’ rights to clean air.

As evidence, the prosecution requested the use of a number of data files and records from DRI’s project. Gertler and Watson were happy to comply – and in September, the court ruled in the Indonesian citizens’ favor, ordering the officials to tighten national air quality standards and fulfill the rights of citizens to a good and healthy environment.

“I’m really glad that someone was able to make use of the work that we did, and that they were successful at winning their case,” said Gertler. “Let’s hope they can make some progress toward cleaner air in Jakarta.”

 

Indonesian air quality monitoring station

John Watson (to left) visits a recently installed Indonesian air quality monitoring station.

Credit: DRI

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About DRI

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Evidence on High

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meet Anne Heggli, Graduate Researcher

Meet Anne Heggli, Graduate Researcher

Meet Anne Heggli, Graduate Researcher

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

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

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

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

Credit: M. Heggli.

DRI: What brought you to DRI?

Heggli: The applied and operational approach towards research.

DRI: What are you studying?

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

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

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

 

Anne Heggli at Sagehen Creek Field Station

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

Credit: M. Heggli.

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

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

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

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

Anne Heggli with Hydropower agency in Panama

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

Credit: M. Heggli.
Additional Information:

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

 

New DRI Internship Program Focuses on Mentorship for Inclusion in STEM

New DRI Internship Program Focuses on Mentorship for Inclusion in STEM

New DRI Internship Program Focuses on Mentorship for Inclusion in STEM

Oct 26, 2021
RENO, NEV.

By Kelsey Fitzgerald

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

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

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

Riccardo Panella and John Cooper in lab

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

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

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

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

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

Student intern Mary Andres
Riccardo Panella and Mary Andres

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

Credit: DRI.

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

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

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

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

Student Intern John Cooper

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

Credit: DRI.

More Information:

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

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

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About DRI

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

Consortium Launches New Online Water Data Platform to Transform Water Management in the Western United States as Droughts Intensify

Consortium Launches New Online Water Data Platform to Transform Water Management in the Western United States as Droughts Intensify

“What OpenET offers is a way for people to better understand their water usage. Giving farmers and water managers better information is the greatest value of OpenET.” – Denise Moyle, Farmer, Diamond Valley, Nevada

OpenET makes satellite-based data widely accessible to help 17 states develop more resilient water supplies

Reposted from OpenET

SACRAMENTO, CA – OpenET, a new online platform that uses satellites to estimate water consumed by crops and other plants, launched today, making critical data for water management widely available in 17 western states for the first time amid record drought.

OpenET fills a major information gap in water management in the West. Although water is essential to the health of our communities, wildlife, and food supply, access to accurate, timely data on the amount of water used to grow food has been fragmented and often expensive, keeping it out of the hands of many farmers and decision-makers. OpenET allows users to easily view and download this important water data for the current year and previous five years at no charge.

OpenET is providing this data down to the field scale in 17 western states as water supplies become increasingly scarce due to drought, climate change and population growth. The states covered by OpenET are Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming.

“OpenET addresses one of the biggest data gaps in water management in the western United States,” said Forrest Melton, program scientist for the NASA Western Water Applications Office. “This easy-to-use online platform provides scientifically robust data that are invaluable for water management at all scales, from an individual agricultural field to an entire river basin.”

As water supplies become increasingly scarce in arid regions, we need new, innovative tools like OpenET to manage water more precisely and sustainably,” said Robyn Grimm, senior manager, water information systems, at Environmental Defense Fund (EDF). “OpenET provides all farmers, policymakers and communities big and small with the same high-quality data on water use, so that we can all work together from the same playbook to develop more resilient water supplies across the West.”

“OpenET is a powerful application of cloud computing that will make a measurable impact on the ground in the agriculture sector. Google is proud to support such an important new tool to help improve water sustainability in the western United States as we see the impacts of climate change intensify,” said Google Earth Engine developer advocate Tyler Erickson.

“OpenET combines decades of research with advances in technology from just the past five years to make valuable water data much more affordable and accessible to all,” said Justin Huntington, a research professor at Desert Research Institute. “In the future we hope to expand OpenET to other arid regions of the world, such as South America, India and Africa.”

 

Justin-Huntington-OpenET-Technical-Team

“As someone who has worked on evapotranspiration for more than 40 years, I am thrilled to see multiple, independent models for estimating ET come together on a single, easy-to-navigate platform,” said Richard Allen, a professor of water resources engineering at the University of Idaho. “By putting these water consumption data into the hands of farmers and water managers across the western United States, OpenET will be transformative in helping us manage water more sustainably,” added Ayse Kilic, a professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

“In some parts of the arid West, more than 70% of irrigation water ends up as evapotranspiration. By automating calculations for this highly important water data, OpenET will enable the USGS and water managers to more easily create water budgets at the watershed scale, which is an essential first step toward proactive water management,” said Gabriel Senay, a scientist with the U.S. Geological Survey.

“Irrigated agriculture is essential to feeding a growing population,” said Martha Anderson, a research scientist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. “OpenET will be a powerful tool to help our nation’s farmers increase food production under conditions of limited freshwater resources.”

“OpenET has not just transformed access to information on ET, but has also facilitated important advances in the underlying science,” said Josh Fisher, a research scientist with the University of California, Los Angeles. “The collaborative approach used to develop OpenET will accelerate our ability to scale the platform to other regions, and to rapidly incorporate new information from future satellite missions.”

“The development of multi-model tools based on cloud computing, as provided by OpenET, is a paradigm shift, allowing water resources management in sustainable ways, not only in the United States, but also in many agricultural regions of the world, where agriculture and irrigation are increasing rapidly, as in Brazil”, added Anderson Ruhoff, a professor at the Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul in Brazil.

 

Screenshot of OpenET Data

Applications of OpenET data include:

  • Informing irrigation management and scheduling to maximize “crop per drop” and reduce costs for water, fertilizer and energy. ET data are being used by E&J Gallo Winery in California and Oregon state legislator and alfalfa farmer Mark Owens to reduce applied irrigation water while sustaining crop yields and quality.
  • Enabling water and land managers to develop more accurate water budgets, water trading programs and other innovative programs. Rosedale-Rio Bravo Water Storage District in California’s San Joaquin Valley is using OpenET in its online accounting and trading platform. Salt River Project in Arizona is using OpenET to improve their understanding of the impacts of wildfire and forest management on streamflow and groundwater recharge.

What is evapotranspiration?

The “ET” in OpenET stands for evapotranspiration — the process by which water evaporates from the land surface and transpires, or is released, from plants. ET is a key measure of water consumed by crops and other vegetation that can be used by farmers and water managers to better track water use as well as water saved, for instance, when farmers change crops or invest in new technologies.

Evapotranspiration can be estimated by satellites because the ET process absorbs energy and cools the land surface, and vegetation reflects and absorbs different amounts of visible and near-infrared light depending upon the density and health of the vegetation. These effects are visible to thermal and optical sensors on a satellite. Using sophisticated biophysical models, OpenET combines satellite information with local weather data to accurately estimate ET. 

Using publicly available data, OpenET brings together six independent models for estimating evapotranspiration onto a single computing platform, ultimately helping to build broader trust and agreement around this information.

OpenET data has been extensively compared to ground-based measurements collected in agricultural fields and natural landscapes, and tested by a wide variety of organizations through several use cases to ensure the highest accuracy.

Unprecedented public-private partnership

OpenET has been developed through an unprecedented public-private collaboration with input from more than 100 farmers, water managers, and other stakeholders. The project is led by Environmental Defense Fund, NASA, Desert Research Institute, and HabitatSeven. Additional team members include Google, the U.S. Geological Survey, U.S. Department of Agriculture, California State University Monterey Bay, University of Idaho, University of Maryland, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, University of Wisconsin-Madison, UCLA, and Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul in Brazil.

The OpenET project has received funding from the NASA Applied Sciences Program Western Water Applications Office, S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation, Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, Walton Family Foundation, Water Funder Initiative, Lyda Hill Philanthropies, The Keith Campbell Foundation for the Environment, Delta Water Agencies, and the Windward Fund. In-kind support has been provided by Google Earth Engine and partners in the agricultural and water management communities.

Providing farmers and local water managers free ET data is a core objective of the OpenET project. For-profit entities and other organizations looking for large-scale access to OpenET data will be able to purchase it through an application programming interface (API) expected to launch in 2022. Revenue generated will fund continuing research and development of OpenET data services.

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Environmental Defense Fund (edf.org), a leading international nonprofit organization, creates transformational solutions to the most serious environmental problems. EDF links science, economics, law and innovative private-sector partnerships. Connect with us on Twitter, Facebook and our Growing Returns blog.

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

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Early Human Activities Impacted Earth’s Atmosphere More Than Previously Known

Early Human Activities Impacted Earth’s Atmosphere More Than Previously Known

Early Human Activities Impacted Earth’s Atmosphere More Than Previously Known

Oct 6, 2021
RENO, NV
By Kelsey Fitzgerald

Climate Change
Earth’s Atmosphere
Ice Cores

Above: After a storm at the drilling camp on James Ross Island, northern Antarctic Peninsula.
Credit: Robert Mulvaney
New study links an increase in black carbon in Antarctic ice cores to Māori burning practices in New Zealand more than 700 years ago
drilling the James Ross Island ice core
The James Ross Island core drilled to bedrock in 2008 by the British Antarctic Survey provided an unprecedented record of soot deposition in the northern Antarctic Peninsula during the past 2000 years and revealed the surprising impacts of Māori burning in New Zealand starting in the late 13th century. Robert Mulvaney, Ph.D., pictured here led collection of the core.
Credit: Jack Triest
nature-article-screenshot

The full text of the study, Hemispheric black carbon increase after 13th C Māori arrival in New Zealand, is available from Nature: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41586-021-03858-9

Reno, Nev. (October 6, 2021) – Several years ago, while analyzing ice core samples from Antarctica’s James Ross Island, scientists Joe McConnell, Ph.D., and Nathan Chellman, Ph.D., from DRI, and Robert Mulvaney, Ph.D., from the British Antarctic Survey noticed something unusual: a substantial increase in levels of black carbon that began around the year 1300 and continued to the modern day.

Black carbon, commonly referred to as soot, is a light-absorbing particle that comes from combustion sources such as biomass burning (e.g. forest fires) and, more recently, fossil fuel combustion. Working in collaboration with an international team of scientists from the United Kingdom, Austria, Norway, Germany, Australia, Argentina, and the U.S., McConnell, Chellman, and Mulvaney set out to uncover the origins of the unexpected increase in black carbon captured in the Antarctic ice. 

The team’s findings, which published this week in Nature, point to an unlikely source: ancient Māori land-burning practices in New Zealand, conducted at a scale that impacted the earth’s atmosphere across much of the Southern Hemisphere and dwarfed other preindustrial emissions in the region during the past 2,000 years.  

“The idea that humans at this time in history caused such a significant change in atmospheric black carbon through their land clearing activities is quite surprising,” said McConnell, research professor of hydrology at DRI who designed and led the study. “We used to think that if you went back a few hundred years you’d be looking at a pristine, pre-industrial world, but it’s clear from this study that humans have been impacting the environment over the Southern Ocean and the Antarctica Peninsula for at least the last 700 years.” 

Norwegian US East Antarctic Traverse
Four ice cores from continental Antarctica were drilled in East Antarctica, including two as part of the Norwegian-American International Polar Year Antarctic Scientific Traverse.
Credit: Stein Tronstad
Tracing the black carbon to its source 

To identify the source of the black carbon, the study team analyzed an array of six ice cores collected from James Ross Island and continental Antarctica using DRI’s unique continuous ice-core analytical system. The method used to analyze black carbon in ice was first developed in McConnell’s lab in 2007.  

While the ice core from James Ross Island showed a notable increase in black carbon beginning around the year 1300, with levels tripling over the 700 years that followed and peaking during the 16th and 17th centuries, black carbon levels at sites in continental Antarctica during the same period of time stayed relatively stable.  

Andreas Stohl, Ph.D., of the University of Vienna led atmospheric model simulations of the transport and deposition of black carbon around the Southern Hemisphere that supported the findings.  

“From our models and the deposition pattern over Antarctica seen in the ice, it is clear that Patagonia, Tasmania, and New Zealand were the most likely points of origin of the increased black carbon emissions starting about 1300,” said Stohl.  

After consulting paleofire records from each of the three regions, only one viable possibility remained: New Zealand, where charcoal records showed a major increase in fire activity beginning about the year 1300. This date also coincided with the estimated arrival, colonization, and subsequent burning of much of New Zealand’s forested areas by the Māori people.  

This was a surprising conclusion, given New Zealand’s relatively small land area and the distance (nearly 4,500 miles), that smoke would have travelled to reach the ice core site on James Ross Island. 

“Compared to natural burning in places like the Amazon, or Southern Africa, or Australia, you wouldn’t expect Māori burning in New Zealand to have a big impact, but it does over the Southern Ocean and the Antarctic Peninsula,” said Chellman, postdoctoral fellow at DRI. “Being able to use ice core records to show impacts on atmospheric chemistry that reached across the entire Southern Ocean, and being able to attribute that to the Māori arrival and settlement of New Zealand 700 years ago was really amazing.” 

 

Graphic showing increase in black carbon at the year 1300 and inset of globe showing the distance ash travelled from new zealand to antarctica
Black carbon deposition during the past 2000 years measured in ice cores from Dronning Maud Land in continental Antarctica and James Ross Island at the northern tip of the Antarctic Peninsula. Atmospheric modeling and local burning records indicate that the pronounced increase in deposition in the northern Antarctic Peninsula starting in the late 13th century was related to Māori settlement of New Zealand nearly 4000 miles away and their use of fire for land clearing and management. Inset shows locations of New Zealand and ice-core drilling sites in Antarctica.
Credit: DRI
Research impacts 

The study findings are important for a number of reasons. First, the results have important implications for our understanding of Earth’s atmosphere and climate. Modern climate models rely on accurate information about past climate to make projections for the future, especially on emissions and concentrations of light-absorbing black carbon linked to Earth’s radiative balance. Although it is often assumed that human impacts during preindustrial times were negligible compared to background or natural burning, this study provides new evidence that emissions from human-related burning have impacted Earth’s atmosphere and possibly its climate far earlier, and at scales far larger, than previously imagined.  

Second, fallout from biomass burning is rich in micronutrients such as iron. Phytoplankton growth in much of the Southern Ocean is nutrient-limited so the increased fallout from Māori burning probably resulted in centuries of enhanced phytoplankton growth in large areas of the Southern Hemisphere. 

Third, the results refine what is known about the timing of the arrival of the Māori in New Zealand, one of the last habitable places on earth to be colonized by humans. Māori arrival dates based on radiocarbon dates vary from the 13th to 14th century, but the more precise dating made possible by the ice core records pinpoints the start of large scale burning by early Māori in New Zealand to 1297, with an uncertainty of 30 years. 

“From this study and other previous work our team has done such as on 2,000-year old lead pollution in the Arctic from ancient Rome, it is clear that ice core records are very valuable for learning about past human impacts on the environment,” McConnell said. “Even the most remote parts of Earth were not necessarily pristine in preindustrial times.”  

Continuous ice core analyses at DRI

Measuring the chemistry in a longitudinal sample of an ice core on DRI’s unique ice core analytical system.

Credit: Joe McConnell

Additional information: 

The full study, Hemispheric black carbon increase after 13th C Māori arrival in New Zealand, is available from Nature: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41586-021-03858-9 

Study authors included Joseph R. McConnell (DRI), Nathan J. Chellman (DRI), Robert Mulvaney (British Antarctic Survey), Sabine Eckhardt (Norwegian Institute for Air Research), Andreas Stohl (University of Vienna), Gill Plunkett (Queen’s University Belfast), Sepp Kipfstuhl (Alfred Wegener Institut, Germany) , Johannes Freitag (Alfred Wegener Institut, Germany), Elisabeth Isaksson (Norwegian Polar Institute), Kelly E. Gleason (DRI/Portland State University), Sandra O. Brugger (DRI), David B. McWethy (Montana State University), Nerilie J. Abram (Australian National University), Pengfei Liu (Georgia Institute of Technology/Harvard University), and Alberto J. Aristarain (Instituto Antartico Argentino). 

This study was made possible with funding from the National Science Foundation (0538416, 0968391, 1702830, 1832486, and 1925417), the DRI, and the Swiss National Science Foundation (P400P2_199285).   

To learn more about DRI’s Ice Core Laboratory, please visit: https://www.dri.edu/labs/trace-chemistry-laboratory/

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About DRI

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

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

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

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

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

By: Mike Wolterbeek, University of Nevada Reno

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meet Graduate Researcher Nicholas Kimutis

Meet Graduate Researcher Nicholas Kimutis

Meet Nicholas Kimutis, Graduate Researcher

SEPTEMBER 29, 2021
RENO, NEV.

Public Health
Climate
Epidemiology

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

Nick-net

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

Credit: Lauren Redosh.

DRI: What brought you to DRI?

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

DRI: What are you studying?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nick-and-dog-Simon

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

Credit: Ryan Wong

Additional Information:

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

 

Yi Zhang of Princeton University Receives DRI’s 23rd Annual Wagner Award for Women in Atmospheric Science

Yi Zhang of Princeton University Receives DRI’s 23rd Annual Wagner Award for Women in Atmospheric Science

Photo: Yi Zhang, Ph.D,, (left) of Princeton University and Vera Samburova, Ph.D., (right) of DRI stand outside on DRI’s Reno campus following the Wagner Award Ceremony on Sept. 16, 2021. Credit: DRI.


Wagner Award is the only such honor for graduate women in the atmospheric sciences in the United States

 

Reno, Nev. (Sept 17, 2021) – DRI is pleased to announce that the 23rd annual Peter B. Wagner Memorial Award for Women in Atmospheric Sciences has been awarded to Yi Zhang, Ph.D., of Princeton University. Zhang received this honor on September 16 at an award ceremony and public lecture on her winning paper at the DRI campus in Reno.

The Wagner Award recognizes a woman pursuing a graduate education in the atmospheric sciences who has published an outstanding academic paper and includes a $1,500 prize.  This competitive national award has been conferred annually by DRI since 1998 and is the only such honor for graduate women in the atmospheric sciences in the United States.

Zhang is a student in Princeton University’s Program of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences. Her paper, Projections of tropical heat stress constrained by atmospheric dynamics, was published earlier this year in Nature Geoscience journal.

“We are pleased to honor Yi Zhang with this award, based on her outstanding research addressing knowledge gaps in model projections of extreme heat in tropical regions,” said Chair of the Wagner Award Selection Committee and Associate Research Professor in DRI’s Division of Atmospheric Sciences Vera Samburova. “Zhang was selected from a very strong pool of applicants from excellent colleges and universities around the U.S., and we hope that this recognition of her amazing contributions to atmospheric science helps her as she moves forward with her career.”

Runners up for the 2021 Award included: 2nd place  –  Victoria Ford from the Department of Geography, Texas A&M University College of Geosciences; 3rd place – Lily Hahn from the Department of Atmospheric Sciences, University of Washington; and, Ting-Yu Cha from the Department of Atmospheric Science, Colorado State University.

ABOUT THE PETER B. WAGNER MEMORIAL AWARD

Ms. Sue Wagner—former Nevada Gaming Commissioner, Nevada Lieutenant Governor, and DRI employee and widow of Dr. Peter B. Wagner—created the Peter B. Wagner Memorial Award for Women in Atmospheric Sciences in 1998. Dr. Wagner, an atmospheric scientist who had been a faculty member at the DRI since 1968, was killed while conducting research in a 1980 plane crash that also claimed the lives of three other Institute employees.

In 1981, Dr. Wagner’s family and friends established a memorial scholarship to provide promising graduate students in the DRI’s Atmospheric Sciences Program a cash award to further their professional careers. Ms. Wagner later extended that opportunity nationally and specifically for women through the creation of the Peter B. Wagner Memorial Award in 1998.

For more information on the Peter B. Wagner Memorial Award, please visit: https://www.dri.edu/about/awards-and-scholarships/wagner/

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

DRI Research Professor Dr. Michael Dettinger Awarded 2021 Tyndall Lecture

DRI Research Professor Dr. Michael Dettinger Awarded 2021 Tyndall Lecture

Second DRI researcher to be recognized with this prestigious award

 

Reno, Nev. (September 10, 2021) – DRI announced that research professor Michael Dettinger, Ph.D., has been selected by the American Geophysical Union (AGU) to give this year’s Tyndall Lecture at the Fall 2021 AGU meeting. The prestigious Tyndall Lecture Award recognizes outstanding work in advancing understanding of global environmental change. Dettinger is the second DRI researcher to be recognized by AGU since the award’s inception in 2013. World-renown DRI researcher Kelly Redmond, Ph.D., was recognized with the second Tyndall Lecture award in 2014.

“I am deeply honored to be recognized with the Tyndall Lecture and to follow in the footsteps of Dr. Kelly Redmond,” said Dettinger. “I look forward to sharing my research at the Fall 2021 AGU meeting. My lecture will present a history of climate and water studies in the Western U.S. Water resources have not been a focus of previous Tyndall Lectures and with current conditions in the West, the time is right for taking a look at this history.”

Dr. Dettinger joined DRI several years ago following a long (38-year) career with the U.S. Geological Survey that began in Nevada with studies of Las Vegas valley groundwater and the carbonate-rock aquifers of Eastern and Southern Nevada in collaboration with DRI scientists in the early 1980s. His career has since focused on unraveling the complex interactions between water resources, climate variations and change, and ecosystems in the Western U.S.  He recently co-edited a book on atmospheric rivers. He is a Fellow of the AGU and a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

“We are proud of Mike’s accomplishments and are honored that he has been awarded DRI’s second Tyndall Lecture Award,” said DRI Executive Director, Division of Hydrologic Sciences Sean McKenna, Ph.D. “Mike has sustained his considerable energy, curiosity and creativity over a long career resulting in ground-breaking insights on global environmental change. His ability to communicate his findings in clear language and his dedication to mentor other researchers is a shining example of what we strive for at DRI.”

The Tyndall History of Global Environmental Change Lecture is presented annually and recognizes outstanding contributions to our understanding of global environmental change. It honors the life and work of Irish physicist John Tyndall, who confirmed the importance of the greenhouse effect in the late 1800s.

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

Media Contact:
Detra Page
Communications Manager
Detra.page@dri.edu
702.591.3786

Study shows a recent reversal in the response of western Greenland’s ice caps to climate change

Study shows a recent reversal in the response of western Greenland’s ice caps to climate change

Study Shows A Recent Reversal in the Response of Western Greenland’s Ice Caps to Climate Change

Sept 9, 2021
RENO, NV

Climate Change
Polar Research
Ice Cores

Above: A wide view of the Nuussuaq Peninsula in West Greenland. Project collaborators investigate an ice core extracted from this region for signs of change and response to past periods of warming.

Credit: Sarah Das © Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

Research suggests some ice caps grew during past periods of warming

Although a warming climate is leading to rapid melting of the ice caps and glaciers along Greenland’s coastline, ice caps in this region sometimes grew during past periods of warming, according to new research published today in Nature Geoscience. The study team included Joseph McConnell, Nathan Chellman, and Monica Arienzo of DRI, who analyzed a 140 m ice core from an ice cap on Greenland’s Nuussuaq Peninsula at DRI’s Ice Core Laboratory in Reno, Nevada.

“The use of records from Greenland’s coastal ice caps in climate change research has been hampered by difficulties in creating chronologies for ice-core measurements,” said McConnell. “Here we used a novel approach based on synchronizing detailed measurements of heavy metals in an array of Greenland ice cores.”

“This allowed creation of a tightly constrained chronology in a coastal core for the first time, and it was this chronology that underpinned this climate study,” Chellman added.

The analysis was done using DRI’s unique continuous ice core analytical system, which was developed in McConnell’s lab and funded by grants from the National Science Foundation during the past 15 years.

The full news release from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution is below.

Ice capped and snow-covered mountains of coastal west Greenland. (Apr. 2015)

Ice capped and snow-covered mountains of coastal west Greenland. (Apr. 2015)

Credit: Matthew Osman © Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

Thumbnail image of nature geoscience paper

The full text of the study, “Abrupt Common Era hydroclimate shifts drive west Greenland ice cap change,” is available from Nature Geoscience: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41561-021-00818-w.pdf 

News release reposted from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution:

Woods Hole, Mass. (September 9, 2021) – Greenland may be best known for its enormous continental scale ice sheet that soars up to 3,000 meters above sea level, whose rapid melting is a leading contributor to global sea level rise. But surrounding this massive ice sheet, which covers 79% of the world’s largest island, is Greenland’s rugged coastline dotted with ice capped mountainous peaks. These peripheral glaciers and ice caps are now also undergoing severe melting due to anthropogenic (human-caused) warming.  However, climate warming and the loss of these ice caps may not have always gone hand-in-hand.

New collaborative research from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and five partner institutions (University of Arizona, University of Washington, Pennsylvania State University, Desert Research Institute and University of Bergen), published today in Nature Geoscience, reveals that during past periods glaciers and ice caps in coastal west Greenland experienced climate conditions much different than the interior of Greenland. Over the past 2,000 years, these ice caps endured periods of warming during which they grew larger rather than shrinking.

This novel study breaks down the climate history displayed in a core taken from an ice cap off Greenland’s western coast. According to the study’s researchers, while ice core drilling has been ongoing in Greenland since the mid-20th century, coastal ice core studies remain extremely limited, and these new findings are providing a new perspective on climate change compared to what scientists previously understood by using ice cores from the interior portions of the Greenland ice sheet alone.

“Glaciers and ice caps are unique high-resolution repositories of Earth’s climate history, and ice core analysis allows scientists to examine how environmental changes – like shifts in precipitation patterns and global warming – affect rates of snowfall, melting, and in turn influence ice cap growth and retreat,” said Sarah Das, Associate Scientist of Geology and Geophysics at WHOI. “Looking at differences in climate change recorded across several ice core records allows us to compare and contrast the climate history and ice response across different regions of the Arctic.” However, during the course of this study, it also became clear that many of these coastal ice caps are now melting so substantially that these incredible archives are in great peril of disappearing forever.

The research team on the ground of a coastal West Greenland ice cap, preparing to extract and examine ice cores.

The research team on the ground of a coastal West Greenland ice cap, preparing to extract and examine ice cores.

Credit: Sarah Das © Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

Due to the challenging nature of studying and accessing these ice caps, this team was the first to do such work, centering their study, which began in 2015, around a core collected from the Nuussuaq Peninsula in Greenland. This single core offers insight into how coastal climate conditions and ice cap changes covaried during the last 2,000 years, due to tracked changes in its chemical composition and the amount of snowfall archived year after year in the core. Through their analysis, investigators found that during periods of past warming, ice caps were growing rather than melting, contradicting what we see in the present day. 

“Currently, we know Greenland’s ice caps are melting due to warming, further contributing to sea level rise. But, we have yet to explore how these ice caps have changed in the past due to changes in climate,” said Matthew Osman, postdoctoral research associate at the University of Arizona and a 2019 graduate of the MIT-WHOI Joint program. “The findings of this study were a surprise because we see that there is an ongoing shift in the fundamental response of these ice caps to climate: today, they’re disappearing, but in the past, within small degrees of warming, they actually tended to grow.” 

According to Das and Osman, this phenomenon happens because of a “tug-of-war” between what causes an ice cap to grow (increased precipitation) or recede (increased melting) during periods of warming. Today, scientists observe melting rates that are outpacing the rate of annual snowfall atop ice caps. However, in past centuries these ice caps would expand due to increased levels of precipitation brought about by warmer temperatures. The difference between the past and present is the severity of modern anthropogenic warming.

The team gathered this data by drilling through an ice cap on top of one of the higher peaks of the Nuussuaq Peninsula. The entire core, about 140 meters in length, took about a week to retrieve. They then brought the meter-long pieces of core to the National Science Foundation Ice Core Facility in Denver, Colorado, and stored at -20 degrees Celsius. The core pieces were then analyzed by their layers for melt features and trace chemistry at the Desert Research Institute in Reno, Nevada. By looking at different properties of the core’s chemical content, such as parts per billion of lead and sulfur, investigators were able to accurately date the core by combining these measurements with a model of past glacier flow.

“These model estimates of ice cap flow, coupled with the actual ages that we have from this high precision chemistry, help us outline changes in ice cap growth over time. This method provides a new way of understanding past ice cap changes and how that is correlated with climate,” said Das. “Because we’re collecting a climate record from the coast, we’re able to document for the first time that there were these large shifts in temperature, snowfall and melt over the last 2,000 years, showing much more variability than is observed in records from the interior of Greenland,” Das added. 

“Our findings should urge researchers to return to these remaining ice caps and collect new climate records while they still exist,” added Osman. 

University of Arizona postdoctoral research associate Matthew Osman and U.S. Ice Drilling Program specialist Mike Waszkiewicz move an ice core barrel into place in West Greenland, as part of their work to study ice caps’ response to climate change.

The research team on the ground of a coastal West Greenland ice cap, preparing to extract and examine ice cores.

Credit: Sarah Das © Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

Additional collaborators and institutions:

  • Benjamin Smith, University of Washington
  • Luke Trusel, Pennsylvania State University
  • Joseph McConnell, Desert Research Institute
  • Nathan Chellman, Desert Research Institute
  • Monica Arienzo, Desert Research Institute
  • Harold Sodemann, University of Bergen and Bjerknes Centre for Climate Research 

This research is funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), with further support from the U.S. Department of Defense National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate Fellowship; and an Ocean Outlook Fellowship to the Bjerknes Centre for Climate Research; the National Infrastructure for High Performance Computing and Data Storage in Norway; Norwegian Research Council; and Air Greenland. 

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About Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) is a private, non-profit organization on Cape Cod, Massachusetts, dedicated to marine research, engineering, and higher education. Established in 1930, its primary mission is to understand the ocean and its interaction with the Earth as a whole, and to communicate an understanding of the ocean’s role in the changing global environment. WHOI’s pioneering discoveries stem from an ideal combination of science and engineering—one that has made it one of the most trusted and technically advanced leaders in basic and applied ocean research and exploration anywhere. WHOI is known for its multidisciplinary approach, superior ship operations, and unparalleled deep-sea robotics capabilities. We play a leading role in ocean observation and operate the most extensive suite of data-gathering platforms in the world. Top scientists, engineers, and students collaborate on more than 800 concurrent projects worldwide—both above and below the waves—pushing the boundaries of knowledge and possibility. For more information, please visit www.whoi.edu

About DRI

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

DRI Taps Seasoned Development Executive to Lead  Nationwide Environmental Fundraising Efforts 

DRI Taps Seasoned Development Executive to Lead  Nationwide Environmental Fundraising Efforts 

Kristin Ghiggeri Burgarello Joins as Director of Advancement at DRI

 

LAS VEGAS (Sept. 2, 2021) – DRI is proud to welcome long-time education fundraising professional Kristin Ghiggeri Burgarello, who will serve as Director of Advancement. In her role, Burgarello will lead fundraising efforts for DRI in collaboration with the DRI Foundation.

Burgarello comes to DRI from the University of Nevada Reno (UNR), where she spent the last 17 years in development and alumni relations roles, including her last role as Executive Director of Development and previous role as Director of Development of the Reynolds School of Journalism. While at UNR, she helped secure major gifts to support buildings, student needs, faculty support, planned gifts, diversity initiatives, and many other key areas of support for the University. She also worked collaboratively with the deans and development directors in the College of Engineering, College of Science, College of Liberal Arts, Reynolds School of Journalism, Libraries, and Honors College to raise substantial funds to support their areas on campus.

“We are happy to welcome Kristin to our DRI family,” said DRI President Dr. Kumud Acharya. “Kristin’s expertise will be key in elevating DRI’s research, science-based results and their global implications to a broader support base. Our team of more than 450 scientists, engineers, and staff are currently conducting important environmental research aimed at preventing and fighting wildfires; the human health effects of air pollution and COVID; drought and the impacts to our drinking water levels and resources; and extreme weather. We look forward to expanding awareness of these and other imminent challenges through Kristin’s focused approach.”

In her role at DRI, Burgarello will focus on creating a culture of philanthropy that will direct awareness of critical environmental issues and the necessity to fund the life-saving research at DRI that aims to solve these and many other challenges affecting not only Nevada, but the Western region, country, and world.

“Kristin’s accomplishments in raising significant funds to support endowed scholarships, capital funds, planned gifts, and many other fundraising needs are impressive and equally impressive are the strong relationships she has built through the years both on and off-campus in Nevada and across the country,” said DRI Foundation Chair Mike Benjamin. “We are excited to have her expertise in-house as we broaden our outreach to address significant environmental challenges happening on a global scale.”

“I would like to thank President Acharya, Foundation Chair Benjamin, and the DRI Foundation Trustees for this amazing opportunity,” said Burgarello. “Also, I would like to personally thank DRI’s current donors and friends with whom I am eager to work to build upon their many contributions. I am thrilled to be able to combine my passion for DRI’s mission with my experience in fundraising and relationship-building, to create awareness for DRI’s work, not only at home in Nevada but across our nation, and beyond. Today more than ever as we face serious environmental challenges that threaten our very way of life, we need to invest in the critical research and ensuing solutions being developed at DRI right now. I look forward to connecting donors and friends with DRI to support our very timely and important environmental research.”

Anyone interested in making a gift in support of DRI may contact Kristin Burgarello at (775) 673-7386 or Kristin.Burgarello@dri.edu.

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

Media Contact:

Detra Page
Communications Manager
Detra.Page@DRI.edu
702-591-3786

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reposted news release from the office of Senator Cortez Masto.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The bill text can be found here.

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

WASH Capacity Building Program Alumni Share Career Impacts

WASH Capacity Building Program Alumni Share Career Impacts

WASH Capacity Building Program Alumni Share Career Impacts

July 28, 2021
RENO, NEV.

By Kelsey Fitzgerald

Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH)
Sustainability
Education

Successful international training program provides education in the field of water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) and environmental issues.

Alumni from the Desert Research Institute’s WASH Capacity Building Program (WASHCap) recently gathered for an online Zoom panel to share some of the positive impacts that the program has had on their careers in the areas of water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) across Africa and India.

The WASHCap program is led by DRI’s Center for International Water and Sustainability (CIWAS), in partnership with the University of Nevada, Reno (UNR), Drexel University, and World Vision. Students complete a series of courses on topics related to WASH, some of which are taught online and others in a face-to-face setting in locations such as eSwatini, Ghana and Uganda.

Since launching in 2016, five cohorts of students have graduated from WASHCap program – a total of 133 students from 25 countries. A sixth cohort of 38 students is currently enrolled, and includes for the first time students from Latin America and the Caribbean.

More than 75 WASHCap alumni, friends, colleagues, and students attended the online panel discussion, which featured dynamic and lively dialogue among the current and previous students of the program, and remarks by Margaret Shuler, Senior Vice President of International Programs at World Vision and Jodi Herzik, Interim Vice Provost of Extended Studies at UNR.

WASHCap program alumni Martin Mutisya is currently a program manager for WASH WorldVision in Sudan. Credit: DRI.

WASHCap program alumni Martin Mutisya is currently a program manager for WASH WorldVision in Sudan. 

Credit: DRI.

The discussion was moderated by Braimah Apambire, Ph.D., Director of CIWAS at DRI. Several instructors from the WASHCap program including DRI’s Rosemary Carrol, Ph.D., Alan Heyavert, Ph.D., and Erick Bandala, Ph.D., and Drs, Emmanuel Opong, John Akudago and Eleanor Wozei also participated in the discussion, asking program alumni to reflect on ways in which the program has helped them to improve their careers, implement new business plans, understand complex issues related to WASH, network with other professionals, and more.

Martin Mutisya, Program Manager for WASH World Vision Sudan, appreciated the breadth of knowledge that was covered during a course called “Cross-cutting issues in WASH”, which helped him understand issues of gender and social inclusion, and the importance of covering them in WASH plans.

Alexander Pandian from World Vision India said that the WASHCap program helped him to feel more comfortable serving as a technical point person for WASH, and allowed him to help develop the first World Vision country strategy on WASH for India.

Rose Riwa, a hygiene specialist from World Vision in Tanzania, credited the WASHCap program for helping her to understand how WASH integrates with other issues, and for helping her to progress in her career as a leader in WASH in her country.

WASHCap program alumni Pamela Wamalwa is currently a program manager for WASH WorldVision in Kenya.

WASHCap program alumni Pamela Wamalwa is currently a program manager for WASH WorldVision in Kenya.

Credit: DRI.

Pamela Wamalwa of World Vision Kenya said that because of the training she received in conducting research and presenting term papers during the WASHCap program, she now feels more comfortable doing research in her job and presenting her findings at professional conferences.

“During the training, I gained a lot of courage,” Wamalwa said. “Before I was not able to present papers, but during the training, I realized that I can actually do research and present in conferences. It was an experience I couldn’t have gotten if I didn’t attend this program.”

Other panelists spoke to the value of the program in building their knowledge, research skills, presentation skills, confidence, and networks within the WASH sector. Many graduates of the WASHCap program have gone on to lead WASH programs and projects across Africa and India, including many who are now employed by World Vision.

“It was very powerful to hear about the positive impact that this program has had on the careers of so many of our graduates, and to be able to share that message with students who are in the program now,” Apambire said.

Additional information:

 

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About DRI

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

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

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

From COVID-19 to Drought:

Collaborating on Emerging Challenges Across Indian Country

July 27, 2021
RENO, NEV.

By Kelsey Fitzgerald

COVID-19
Drought
Emergency Response

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

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

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

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

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

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

Credit: DRI.

New problems, new platform

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

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

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

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

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

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

Projects and accomplishments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More information:

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

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

Facts Not Fear: https://factsnotfearcovid.com

 

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About DRI

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

About Native Waters on Arid Lands

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

In Memory of Thomas Gallagher

In Memory of Thomas Gallagher

It is with deep sadness that we share the passing of Tom Gallagher, our dear friend and four-term Trustee, leader, and passionate supporter of DRI and the DRI Foundation. Tom strongly believed in supporting cutting-edge scientific research initiatives, and he was the first to donate to the newest emerging projects. Recently, Tom committed $1 million to the Innovation Research Program as a matching grant. Tom’s desire to make our world a better place for all and his commitment to the future of environmental science took him all over the world right along DRI researchers as they performed pioneering on-the-field analysis in Asia, the Middle East, and Africa.

Sitting alongside him, we have been able to experience his vision and leadership these last two decades in his role as Trustee, Executive Council, Vice Chairman, and founding member of the President’s Council. Tom’s extraordinary contributions will live on in these and many other life-saving initiatives and key programs. Our hearts and thoughts are with Tom’s wife Mary and the entire Gallagher family during this sad and difficult time. Tom’s obituary is below.

Thomas Edmund Gallagher

Thomas Edmund Gallagher died peacefully on July 15, 2021 surrounded by family at UC Irvine Medical Center following complications from a year long battle with cancer.   He was born in Michigan and grew up in Detroit.  He was the son of Edmund and Monica Gallagher, the oldest of eight children.

Thomas graduated magnum cum laude from College of the Holy Cross and cum laude from Harvard Law School. In the early 1970s, Thomas dedicated time to public service, including handling nominations for Attorney General and The Supreme Court while serving as chief legislative counsel for former US Senator John Tunney.  Thomas was a partner for twenty years in the law firm of Gibson Dunn and Crutcher, serving in the firm’s Los Angeles and New York offices, and as managing partner of its London and Riyadh offices.

During the late 1980s he initially served as Merv Griffin’s lawyer then transitioned to president and CEO of the Griffin Group, the investment and management company for Merv Griffin’s extensive hotel, gaming, entertainment, and media operations. Five years later his position included CEO of Resorts International. After the merger of Resorts International with Sun International, he joined Hilton Hotels Corporation as its Executive Vice President and General Counsel, leading the spinoff of its gaming businesses into a new NYSE company Park Place Entertainment. He subsequently became CEO of Park Place (renamed Caesars Entertainment), the world’s largest casino resort company at that time.

In 2004, after a successful 33 year career as a businessman and lawyer, Thomas ran for Congress for Nevada’s Third Congressional District. Although he lost his bid, Thomas continued to show his commitment to helping others while serving on the boards of several Nevada non-profit organizations, including the Guinn Center for Policy Priorities (a co-founder), the Black Mountain Institute, and Vegas PBS. He also served as a trustee of the UNLV Foundation and the Desert Research Institute Foundation. Committed to education, in 2017 he joined the UNLV William S. Boyd School of Law and Lee Business School as an Adjunct Professor, teaching Business Law and Ethics.

Tom is survived by his wife Mary Kay, his four adult children, seven grandchildren, his five brothers and two sisters, and many nieces and nephews. He was preceded in death by his parents and a granddaughter.

Cremation will take place in Orange, CA and a Memorial Mass will be held at a later date. In lieu of flowers a donation in his honor to the DRI Foundation in Reno would be welcomed.