Graduate Student Symposium: Save the Date!

Graduate Student SymposiumThe date is set—Friday, March 8, 2013—and final details are coming together for the 10th Annual Graduate Student Symposium at the School of Environmental and Forest Sciences (SEFS)!

Held in the Forest Club Room, the annual symposium is a day dedicated to graduate students and their research. It is organized by and for graduate students, with the support of the Xi Sigma Pi Forestry Honor Society.

At this day-long event, we highlight the work of our graduate students through presentations and a poster session. We also invite outside panelists, often SEFS alumni, to present on a topic of interest. Ultimately, the symposium provides graduate students with the opportunity to present to their colleagues and professors, and gain valuable experience and feedback. This year’s theme is the Future of Forestry, so we will be asking panelists questions about what the future holds for the field, and we will hear from our future foresters and researchers at SEFS.

The Graduate Student Symposium runs from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and a tentative schedule of events is now available online. If you are still interested in submitting an abstract for a poster or presentation, please contact Ellen Weir. There will be an award ceremony recognizing the best presenters and posters at the symposium.

So join us on March 8 and celebrate your colleagues’ projects and research, and the success of our field today and for years to come!

For more information, contact Maria Sandercock or Miku Lenentine.

SEFS Seminar Series: Week 4 Preview

Hypoxic ZoneA major federal effort quantifying the water quality impacts of cropland conservation practice investments was recently completed for the entire Mississippi-Atchafalaya River Basin (MARB). Additional scenarios of watershed-level targeted conservation practice investments were modeled, and the costs of their implementation were estimated.

Utilizing these unique data, Professor Sergey Rabotyagov will explore several questions about the Northern Gulf of Mexico hypoxic zone, including whether additional conservation investments in the Upper Mississippi River Basin—the basin responsible for the majority of riverine nutrient delivery to the Gulf of Mexico—could cost-effectively reduce the areal extent of the hypoxic zone.

Join Professor Rabotyagov this Wednesday, January 30, for a deeper discussion in Week 4 of the SEFS Seminar Series, “Cost-effective Subwatershed Targeting of Agricultural Conservation Practices to address Gulf of Mexico Hypoxia.”

The seminars, held in Anderson 223 on Wednesdays from 4 to 5 p.m., are open to all faculty, staff and students. Check out the rest of the seminar schedule for the Winter Quarter, and join us each week for a reception in the Forest Room from 5 to 6:30 p.m.

Map of hypoxic zone © Sergey Rabotyagov.

Korena Mafune Receives Dean’s Award for Undergraduate Innovation

Korena Mafune

Korena Mafune collecting canopy soil samples last spring along the Queets River.

On December 18, 2012, Korena Mafune was officially named the very first recipient of the Dean’s Award for Undergraduate Innovation. Selected by the University of Washington College of the Environment Scholarship Committee, Mafune will receive $1,000 for research materials and supplies, and a $1,500 scholarship for tuition and fees, for a $2,500 total award.

Mafune, a senior Environmental Science and Resource Management major in the School of Environmental and Forest Sciences (SEFS), says the award will allow her to continue exploring her growing fascination with soil and plant ecology.

“While collecting and analyzing samples and data on my current capstone project—analyzing microbial communities in prairie restoration plots—I developed a strong interest for fungal associations, specifically mycorrhizal associations,” she says. “Thanks to the great opportunity provided by the Dean’s award, I will now be able to further my interests and expand the scope of my capstone project. It is an honor to be granted the award. Not only will it allow me to enhance my knowledge in the field, but it will allow us to become familiar with the (mostly) unknown mycorrhizal fungal communities on the prairie restoration plots.”

The Dean’s Award for Undergraduate Innovation funds are competitively awarded to support College of the Environment undergraduates engaged in research, as well as community-based projects or experiential learning, combining academic content and skillset learning with innovative applications to particular issues or problems within an environmental context. These funds are designed to support students not just in completing the level of projects they might already be required to complete for their degree programs, but also in taking their projects to a higher level, significantly adding to the depth, quality, creativity and impact of their work.

The research funding, to be administered by Professor John Bakker, Mafune’s faculty advisor at SEFS, will be dispersed in Winter Quarter 2013.

Congratulations, Korena, on this terrific achievement!

Photo © Korena Mafune.

Using Remote Sensing to Understand Climate Change Effects on Wetland Ecosystems

Semi-arid wetlands might sound like an oxymoron—until you are wading into one surrounded by snow (see right).

Field verifying the condition of such wetlands in the sage-shrub steppe of Douglas County, Wash., is part of a research project led by Meghan Halabisky of Professor Monika Moskal’s Remote Sensing and Geospatial Analysis Lab (RSGAL). The goal of Halabisky’s research is to inventory wetlands in the Pacific Northwest and understand what will happen to these vulnerable ecosystems as the climate changes. These understudied yet ecologically important ecosystems are critical habitat for amphibians, migratory birds and rare plant species.

Aerial Imagery

Example of wetland classification using high-resolution aerial imagery; ponds are colored blue, while emergent wetland vegetation are colored in green.

It can be challenging to study wetlands at the landscape scale because they occur on both public and private lands and can be difficult to access. In addition, little is known of their dynamic hydrology as it requires frequent monitoring. That’s why remote sensing is a key tool in understanding the spatial and temporal relationships of wetlands across the landscape.

Through the of use of high-resolution aerial imagery, multiple years of Landsat satellite imagery and cutting-edge remote sensing techniques, the RSGAL team—which also includes Chris Vondrasek, Lopamudra Dasgupta, Michael Hannam and Stephanie Kong—is able to both identify wetlands and reconstruct historical changes in wetland function. This function includes changes in wetland hydrology, surrounding land use and water pollution of wetlands.

The RSGAL team’s field verification work includes measuring water depth of depressional wetlands and placing multiple sensors (ibuttons) at different wetland elevations to measure the seasonal fluctuation of water levels.

Field verification

The RSGAL team measuring water depth of depressional wetlands.

This research is part of an interdisciplinary project to develop hydrologic projections for diverse wetland habitats (e.g. forest wetlands, wet meadows, small ponds and riparian wetlands) across the Pacific Northwest for the 2020s, 2040s and 2080s. The projections can be used to support ecological and landscape-based vulnerability assessments and climate change adaptation planning.

For more background on this project, listen to an interview Chris Vondrasek put together!

Photos courtesy of Meghan Halabisky and Chris Vondrasek.

SEFS Seminar Series: Week 3 Preview

China’s Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) saw a near tripling of population, from about 150 million to more than 400 million. There were no significant changes in technology or forms of energy used, but only more intensive use of existing technology and energy sources. That growth put a huge strain on natural resources, including water, soil and forests. What was the outcome for medium-term (decade-to-century scale) sustainability?

Join Professor Harrell this Wednesday, January 23, for a deeper discussion in Week 3 of the SEFS Seminar Series, “Suffer the Buffers: Population Growth and Resource Degradation in Pre-Modern China.”

The seminars, held in Anderson 223 on Wednesdays from 4 to 5 p.m., are open to all faculty, staff and students. Check out the rest of the seminar schedule for the Winter Quarter, and join us each week for a reception in the Forest Room from 5 to 6:30 p.m.

Photo © Courtesy of Stevan Harrell.  

Alumni Spotlight: Kristen McIvor

Kristen McIvor

Kristen McIvor, brandishing a purple cauliflower.

Forget putting a chicken in every pot, or a car in every backyard. Kristen McIvor has a much grander, greener and more sustainable vision for Tacoma: “I would like there to be a garden in every neighborhood that wants one.”

McIvor, who grew up in Kirkland and Spokane, first got involved in community gardening in Tacoma as a Ph.D student with the School of Environmental and Forest Sciences (SEFS). Interested in urban agriculture and reconnecting people to their food supply, she came to SEFS to work with Professor Sally Brown in 2005 and later completed her dissertation in June 2011.

One of her first projects with Brown, though, was to spend a summer in Tacoma with TAGRO, the city’s biosolids program, which worked to protect the environment by transforming sewage into user-friendly products for home gardeners, in addition to supporting local agriculture. And as McIvor learned about biosolids, she cultivated a separate grassroots interest on the side—promoting community gardening in Tacoma.

She discovered plenty of interest in neighborhood gardens, yet not a centralized organization coordinating or promoting them. So McIvor soon helped galvanize local excitement around community gardens, and she was then hired to support them officially when the Tacoma-Pierce County Community Garden Program launched in 2010. No longer a graduate student, she now works full-time as the community garden coordinator.

Proctor Community Garden

Proctor Community Garden in Tacoma

The program doesn’t own or oversee any of the gardens, says McIvor, but they provide training to gardeners, help groups build new gardens, organize community events and educational workshops, and generally support gardens across a broad demographic. “It’s really diverse,” says McIvor. “There’s not one type of garden or gardener, and we support them all.”

Some gardens are the size of a backyard or a few raised beds; another covers seven acres and houses a chicken co-op. More than five languages might be spoken at one location, or have as many as 50 gardeners on site, while others might have only two or three volunteers. Most gardens are divided to some degree into individual plots for personal harvest and consumption, but many grow almost exclusively to donate to local food banks. (Their “Share the Harvest” program was designed specifically to help boost food bank contributions; in its first year, the goal was to donate 4,000 pounds, but they ended up topping 12,000.)

Today, the program is a collaborative effort of the city of Tacoma, Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department, Metro Parks, Pierce County, the Pierce Conservation District and other community groups. For the first two years, about 85 percent of program funding came from the city of Tacoma, and other support has come from the Allen Foundation, or through in-kind donations of office space or products.

Green Thumb

Green Thumb Community Garden

With the strong support of Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Strickland—who has set an ambitious goal of Tacoma eventually having the most gardens per capita in the country—the city kicked off the effort by offering seven pieces of property for garden use (four have since been developed). Other gardens came together through local parks districts, churches, schools and private owners, and the program has quickly taken root. In 2010, there were 26 community gardens in Tacoma and surrounding Pierce County, says McIvor. Now, with the program in year three, there are 54.

Getting to work with these various garden groups and their associated neighborhoods is a huge motivator for McIvor. “They’re really committed to making their neighborhoods better,” she says. “It’s fun to be at that intersection where people are coming together, getting to know each other, seeing the possibilities and deciding on a common vision for their neighborhood. There’s a lot of good energy, and we get to be a part of it and support them.”

Part of that support comes from the city through a partnership with TAGRO, where McIvor spent her initial summer of graduate study. The city program provides its products—such as potting soil from residual biosolids, or a manure substitute to blend into soil—for free to participating gardens. Recycling these sewage byproducts helps close the production loop, making for an extremely efficient and sustainable system.

Green Thumb

Green Thumb Community Garden opening celebration.

So far, McIvor has coordinated this dynamic program without a permanent website, but she’s hoping to have one perhaps within a few weeks. They do have a Facebook page, however, and she’s also hired a second staff person to help ease some of the pressures on time and resources. “We’re finally able to put some better systems in place, so this year should be a lot more smooth—but then we do keep launching more things,” says McIvor. In fact, they have three new gardens in the works, and another four requests. They also now offer an Edible Garden Workshop Series; a demonstration/learning garden that opened in 2011; a fruit tree steward program to help people get certified and take better care of their trees; and this year, a community specialist track within the Master Gardener Program.

A community garden for any neighborhood in Tacoma that wants one? At this rate, doesn’t seem that farfetched anymore. “Our growth has been kind of crazy,” says McIvor. “It’s like a rocket ship I keep expecting to settle into orbit and hang out there, but it keeps going!”

Photos © Kristen McIvor.

SEFS Seminar Series: Week 2 Preview

Robert HarrisonAs we all know, trees grow really tall in the Pacific Northwest. But, though we have studied the aboveground world of forests intensely, much less is known about the “hidden half” of forests—the soil. A recent regional study of soil to depths of three to four meters shows there is a lot going on deep in soil, from storage of large amounts of carbon, to deep rooting that appears to help our trees survive the dry summers.

Join Professor Rob Harrison tomorrow, Wednesday, January 16, for a deeper discussion during his talk, “The really hidden half of the hidden half: The role of deep soil in forest ecosystem processes,” in Week 2 of the SEFS Seminar Series!

The seminars, held in Anderson 223 on Wednesdays from 4 to 5 p.m., are open to all faculty, staff and students. Check out the rest of the seminar schedule for the Winter Quarter, and join us each week for a reception in the Forest Room from 5 to 6:30 p.m.

Photo of deep soil study © Robert B. Harrison.

Professor Bob Edmonds: A World Apart

“Never a dull day, never boring,” says Bob Edmonds—that’s the life of a professor.

That certainly seems true of Edmonds’ career, which has spanned an incredible spectrum of fields within the forestry community. In 37 years of teaching and research, his studies have covered everything from forest pathology and aerobiology to soil ecology and microbiology. He’s delved into water and watersheds, including a long-term project investigating the effects of air pollution and acid rain on forests and aquatic ecosystems on the Olympic Peninsula. He’s also explored the influence of biosolids on forest soils, as well as the ecology and management of root diseases.

Bob EdmondsThrough all of his interests and inquiries, he says, runs a passion for forest health, and trying to understand and manage healthy forest ecosystems. “What am I?” he asks with a wistful smile. “I’d probably say I’m an ecosystem ecologist.”

Edmonds, professor emeritus with the School of Environmental and Forest Sciences (SEFS), began his academic work the early 1960s. He grew up in Australia and earned a B.S. in Forestry from the University of Sydney in 1964. Two years later he moved to Seattle and enrolled at the University of Washington to study forest pathology. He earned his master’s in 1968, and then his Ph.D. in 1971. Initially, he figured he’d return to Australia afterwards, but when he met his future wife—who was from Juneau, Alaska, and also in school in Seattle—he decided to stick around.

A postdoctoral position at the University of Michigan soon had Edmonds studying aerobiology with the US/IBP (International Biological Program Aerobiology Program. “It was pretty interesting work,” he says, “because it involved a lot of international travel, lots of meetings, going to Washington, D.C., and serving on national committees.”

When the Michigan program ended three years later, he managed to secure a staff position back at the University of Washington, and then shortly after he became a member of the research faculty and associate director of the US/IBP Coniferous Forest Biome Program.

Some of that early biome research contributed greatly to the global understanding of how ecosystems function, and the importance of old-growth forests. Many of the practices they came up with—involving the management of wildlife and other elements of the forest ecosystem—are still respected standards today. “You can’t predict where you’re going with life, but it was very interesting to be involved in big science at the time.”

One of his first research projects at the College of Forest Resources in the 1970s involved some dirty work with soil science with fellow faculty member Professor Dale Cole: an experiment to figure out whether the city’s treated sewage sludge—now called biosolids—could be repurposed as fertilizer to improve forest soils. Using several stands in Pack Forest as test grounds, Edmonds and colleagues discovered that the sludge, which had a consistency like “chocolate cake mix,” worked marvelously with some plants and trees but was disastrous for others, like hemlock. (“Douglas-fir responds like crazy,” he says. The evidence is still on display at the front desk of Anderson 107, where you’ll find a cross-section of a young tree with rings that explode with growth after the introduction of sludge.)

Bob EdmondsAfter a few missteps, including an occasional mini-mudslide of sewage, their work led to the design of an ecologically safe, sustainable program for the disposal of large quantities of biosolids. “It was an example of how the work we do here [at SEFS] is used around the world. We were the first to use these biosolids in a forest environment. It was successful, and many of the people who run the program in Seattle today are grads from our program—and they’re still putting it in forests today.”

During his long career at the University of Washington, Edmonds says he had the privilege of working with 48 graduate students and teaching hundreds of others in his many courses. He is now officially retired, and while he doesn’t necessarily miss the big classes he taught (survey courses like “Forest and Society”), he absolutely loved the smaller groups. “The nicest classes to teach have about 20 students with a lab, and everyone wants to be there. They hang on every word you say, and then you have field trips where you can go show them what they’ve been learning in class. That’s really satisfying teaching.”

One of his regular field excursions involved a trip to the east side of the Cascades to examine forest health issues. “We’d explore stressed forests that had damage from insects, fire and disease,” he says. “You could actually show students what was happening on the ground.”

Another favorite trip, he recalls, was a tour along the Interstate 90 corridor. On a Saturday, he and his students would make seven stops to mark changes in the different forest ecosystems as they traveled east through urban, suburban and forest environments. “It was usually a big hit.”

Next up for Edmonds? He’s planning to tackle a new history of SEFS. He’ll draw from The Long Road Traveled, written by Henry Schmitz in 1973, yet Edmonds wants to expand the narrative to include more personal stories and anecdotes from the many talented people who’ve passed through the college and school since its founding in 1907.

“Things have changed over time,” says Edmonds, “but this place has had a very big influence on what’s going in forestry throughout the world.”

*If you want to see Edmonds in action, he’s giving a lecture tomorrow, January 15, as part of the Water Seminar series. His talk, “The Role of Trees in Modifying Water Chemistry,” starts at 8:30 a.m. in Anderson 223. It’s open to the public, no registration necessary, so come check it out!

Photos courtesy of Bob Edmonds.

SEFS Seminar Series: Week 1 Preview

Fire RegrowthTomorrow afternoon, SEFS Director Tom DeLuca will kick off the Seminar Series (SEFS 550F) with the opening discussion topic, “Nitrogen dynamics in boreal ecosystems.”

Wildfires are a natural disturbance in boreal forest ecosystems. They transform plant communities, release carbon into the atmosphere, and also release approximately 200 to 400 kg of nitrogen per hectare from the forest environment. Given a 200-plus year fire return interval and a virtual lack of herbaceous or woody nitrogen-fixing plants, it was not clear how nitrogen is replenished to maintain the long-term productivity of these fire-maintained forest ecosystems. Our work, says Professor DeLuca, demonstrates that an association between cyanobacteria and the ubiquitous carpets of feather mosses (predominantly Pleurozium schreberi and Hylocomium splendens) provides the nitrogen that is essential to sustaining the structure and function of northern boreal forests.

Join us this Wednesday, January 9, from 4 to 5 p.m. in Anderson 223 to learn more about the nature and ecology of this dynamic system, and check out the rest of the seminar schedule for the Winter Quarter!

The seminars are open to all faculty, staff and students. Each week, a reception will follow in the Forest Room from 5 to 6:30 p.m.

Photo of charred log and regrowth in Sweden © Tom DeLuca.

Katrina Mendrey Awarded AWRA Fellowship

Katrina Mendrey, a full-time master’s student with the School of Environmental and Forest Sciences (SEFS), has just been awarded a $2,000 fellowship through the Washington Section of the American Water Resources Association (AWRA).

Katrina Mendrey
Mendrey canoeing on Lake Sawyer with her dog Jude.

Mendrey began her master’s program in January 2012 with her faculty advisor, Professor Sally Brown, and the AWRA fellowship will assist her research into ways of limiting phosphorus leaching from soils used in rain gardens.

The end goal is to develop a simple method that can be used by soil producers to ensure the soils they make for in situ stormwater management will not contribute to eutrophication—a phenomenon causing large losses in aquatic life when algae blooms fueled by nutrients begin to decompose using up available oxygen. Such a method would allow for a greater variety of composts to be used in rain gardens, broadening the market for these local resources while enhancing the potential for such soils to protect aquatic ecosystems from both urban runoff and nutrient overloads.

Mendrey will formally receive the award at an event this January.

Congratulations, Katrina, and good luck with your research!

Photo © Katrina Mendrey.