Alumni Spotlight: Cassie Gamm

Last week, we caught up with SEFS alumna Cassie Gamm, who graduated as an ESRM major in 2012 and is now in her first year as a master’s student at the University of Alaska Anchorage. She had taken a year off school to research graduate programs, including options in Montana and Colorado, but she had always wanted to live in Alaska. So when she found an exciting opportunity to work with Professor Patrick Sullivan and study ecosystem CO2 exchange in the Arctic—a position fully funded by the National Science Foundation—she jumped at the chance.

Gamm, who grew up near Snohomish, Wash., drove up to Anchorage this past August and spent the fall taking classes. She had never been to Alaska before, and she’s loved exploring the trails that snake throughout the city, as well as the proximity to the mountains.

Cassie Gamm

Cassie Gamm motors back to her field site in Greenland.

At the university, working with the Sullivan Lab in the Environment and Natural Resources Institute, Gamm’s current research focuses on the dynamics of plant respiration in three dominant Arctic species in Southwest Greenland.

In the context of climate change, in particular, she’s investigating how warming temperatures and longer summer growing seasons will impact the ecosystem. Will increased leafy area with expanding shrub growth lead to more photosynthesis, making the region a carbon sink? Or will the thawing permafrost release more carbon than the new greenery will store? Great questions, and they’ve launched her down a new and challenging scientific path.

“Going to UW and the forestry school, we focused on big trees and studying ecosystems on a landscape scale,” says Gamm. “Coming up here to the Arctic, I’m now studying ecology more on a molecular level with respiration and photosynthesis. It’s been a big learning curve, but it’s also been really interesting to study a whole new ecosystem!”

In the Field
As for that new ecosystem, Gamm already completed her first field season in Greenland last summer. The field camp, made up of 8 to 12 researchers in tents, is about a mile from the Greenland ice sheet, and about 20 miles from the nearest town. There’s no running water, and they use water from a nearby lake for drinking and dish washing. The team shares a car to drive into town about once a week to access the Internet, take showers and buy any food they can find. Most of what they eat—lots of pasta and oatmeal, for instance—gets prepped and mailed out in boxes beforehand. And there’s not much locally in the way of fresh produce—maybe a potato or onion every once in a while—so cravings for fruits and veggies can get overwhelming.

“Oh man, it takes a toll on your body,” she says. “We’d talk about making gigantic salads all the time!”

Still, despite the stresses and privations of remote field work on the tundra, Gamm has taken to the research with gusto. “I’d never been to Alaska, let alone the Arctic,” she says, “and it’s awesome!”

Cassie Gamm

Here’s one way you’ll know you’ve arrived in the Arctic: signs alerting you to musk ox!

In fact, in case the Greenland experience sounds equally intriguing to you, Gamm is currently looking for a field assistant to join her out there this coming summer for roughly two months from late May to late August. You have until March 1 to apply, and there are quite a few perks, from the incredible hands-on research experience to getting to live in and explore a stunning Arctic ecosystem. That said, Gamm doesn’t soft-pedal the field conditions and expectations, so make sure to read the official posting and description below as carefully—and honestly—as possible before applying!

Ecosystem Ecology Field Assistant, Southwest Greenland
A field research assistant position is available for the summer of 2014 in Southwest Greenland. The field assistant will be working on a project funded by the National Science Foundation to study the differential responses of grasses and shrubs (i.e. cycling of carbon and nitrogen) to a changing climate. The project is a collaborative effort between the University of Alaska Anchorage (Sullivan Lab) and Penn State University (Post and Eissenstat Labs). I am seeking a motivated and enthusiastic student with previous field experience. The research assistant will work one-on-one with me on my project examining both above and belowground carbon fluxes in grasses and shrubs. Duties will include taking accurate baseline measurements such as soil moisture and soil temperature, processing plant samples, data entry and operation of a Picarro isotopic gas analyzer. Experience with gas analysis is not required, but willingness to learn and troubleshoot technical issues is preferred. The field season will run from late May through late August. The fieldwork is based out of a tent camp about 20 miles from Kangerlussuaq, Greenland. Visits to town, which offers a wide range of amenities, will be made approximately once per week. Due to the remoteness of the tent camp, extensive camping experience and willingness to endure periods of poor weather is required. We are particularly interested in hiring college juniors or seniors who may be interested in pursuing graduate research in Arctic or Boreal ecology.

Travel from upstate New York to Kanger via the Air National Guard will be covered, as well as basic camping gear such as a tent and sleeping pad. The summer will be spent camping with a small group of researchers at a scenic site on the tundra about one mile from the ice sheet. Applicants should be physically fit and willing to learn and work as a team. A weekly stipend will be provided and compensation is dependent on experience level.

Please email a resume and cover letter to Cassie Gamm (cmgamm@alaska.edu). Review of applications will begin March 1 and will continue until the position has been filled.

Photos © Cassie Gamm.

Cassie Gamm

SEFS Seminar Series: Week 4 Preview

Increasing albedo through leaf pubescence has long been recognized as an effective morphological adaptation for plants in hot and dry environments, says Professor Soo-Hyung Kim. Will breeding crops for high albedo be an effective adaptation strategy for climate change?

Find out this Tuesday, October 22, in Week 4 of the SEFS Seminar Series when Professor Kim gives his talk, “Is Increasing Leaf Albedo an Effective Crop Improvement Strategy for Climate Change Adaptation?”

Soo-Hyung Kim

Encelia farinosa, which you’ll learn more about in Professor Kim’s talk!

Professor Kim received his Ph.D. in ecology, with an emphasis on agroecology, from the University of California at Davis, and his BS and MS degrees from the Department of Agronomy at Seoul National University in South Korea. He joined SEFS in September 2006 after working as a plant physiologist in the Crop Systems and Global Change Laboratory at Beltsville Agricultural Research Center in Maryland, where he investigated field crop responses to climate change.

Today, Kim’s research is centered on the physiology and ecology of plant responses to environmental stress. An important aspect of his research is to apply ecophysiological principles to modeling crop growth and yield for evaluating climate impacts and climate adaptation strategies in agroecosystems. He is also interested in examining the connections between crops, climate change and human health.

You’ll get a great look at some of that research in his talk tomorrow, so come out and join us!

The seminars are held on Tuesdays from 3:30-4:20 p.m. in Anderson 223, and all students, staff and faculty are encouraged to attend. Make sure to mark your calendars for the rest of the seminars this fall!

Photo © G. Wagner, calphotos.berkeley.edu.

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UW Students Press for Divestment

A group of University of Washington (UW) students—led by the College Greens and the Student Association for Green Environments (SAGE)—is calling on the University to divest its endowment from fossil fuels and take concrete action against climate change.

Divest UWTwo students leading the charge of the “Divest UW” campaign are Sarra Tekola from the School of Environmental and Forest Sciences and Robert Marsh from the Program on the Environment. They and other supporters are running a petition and gathering further backing, on top of their endorsement from the ASUW Student Senate, in the run-up to a presentation before the UW Board of Regents on Thursday, June 13, at 12:30 p.m., and a simultaneous rally on the HUB lawn. Regents meetings are open to the public, and organizers are hoping to pack the room to exercise their political voice as students in favor of divestment.

What is divestment? Championed by Bill McKibben and 350.org on the national scale, the divestment movement seeks to effect broad social change by shifting investment away from fossil fuel companies and other direct drivers of climate change. McKibben is widely known for his “Do the Math” tour, during which he traveled the country stressing that if we’re going to keep global temperatures rising less than 2°C, then we can only allow about 565 gigatons more CO2 into the atmosphere in the next four decades or so before reaching a tipping point, after which life as we know it will be fundamentally altered. However, says Tekola, the amount of carbon contained in the proven coal, oil and gas reserves of national oil companies and private corporations is about five times higher than that—roughly 2,796 gigatons—and burning all of it would have disastrous results.

The Divest UW campaign, in turn, is focusing on the UW’s reputation for environmental sustainability and stewardship—and how taking a stand on divestment would make a huge statement about the importance of investing in a cleaner energy future right now.

It’s true, says Tekola, that the UW’s direct investment in fossil fuel companies—which is variable, but right now represents about $10 million of a total $2.2 billion endowment—won’t make a big individual impact on the profitability of these companies. But hurting stock prices isn’t the immediate goal. The deeper aim, she says, is to revoke their social license and to put public pressure on these industries. And the only way to combat the financial and political leverage these companies hold is with a mass movement, and with universities at the forefront of social change. Seven other colleges have already divested, and another 300 other campuses have campaigns going on just like Divest UW, so the momentum is growing. On top of that, Tekola says that Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn has pledged to divest the city’s general fund from fossil fuels.

Divest UWTekola and Marsh cite multiple studies that divestment won’t harm the UW’s endowment or endanger its financial viability. To the contrary, they argue that divestment will put UW on safer long-term financial ground. The Divest UW campaign is designed to hedge against increased risk and potential profit losses, and to preserve the health of the endowment for future generations of students.

A similar divestment tactic, says Tekola,  was effective with the tobacco industry, which had stymied health science, label laws and taxes through incredible congressional influence until scientists and universities joined forces to sound the alarm of the dangers of cigarettes.

Now, the Divest UW campaign is hoping to overcome the assault against climate change science. Their message is clear: There is no possible way fossil fuel industries can continue business as usual while preserving a stable climate, and investing in a business-as-usual scenario presents incredible financial, social and ethical risks to the UW endowment.

“Climate change isn’t something that only affects polar bears,” says Tekola. “It will submerge Harbor Island and the shores of West Seattle and South Park, and we are already seeing the impacts. Last year the Atlantic Ocean was in the subways of New York City, on top of it being one of the hottest years on records, there is no denying climate change is here. Continued support for the use and investment in fossil fuels is signing a blank check for the destruction of our home. There are many better alternatives, but first we have to take a stand. Supporting divestment is about protecting our future.”

Divest UW is an entirely student-led initiative, and you can find more information, sources for statistics and information, and studies regarding the impact of divestment on an endowment financially on the group’s Facebook page or website.

Dissertation Defense: Ailene Ettinger!

In case you’re seeing Megan McPhaden’s defense this morning, the best way to keep your neurons firing when she’s done is to join Ailene Ettinger in the Forest Club at 12:30 p.m. as she defends her dissertation, “Testing the Limits: Understanding How Climate and Competition Affect Species Ranges in a Warming World.”

Mount RainierRising temperatures could result in tree range shifts. Indeed, scientists have already observed that many species ranges have moved upward in latitude and altitude as global temperatures have increased during the past century. However, competition with neighboring trees can also affect species distributions, which means that global warming may not always result in range shifts. Ettinger’s dissertation research investigates these issues by examining how climate (including temperature, rain and snow) interacts with competition to determine the performance of common tree species at Mount Rainier National Park.

Her committee chair is Biology Professor Janneke Hille Ris Lambers, and other members include Martha Groom, Joshua Tewksbury and SEFS Professors Josh Lawler and Tom Hinckley.

Your brain will be hungry, so feed it!

Photo © Ailene Ettinger.

Thesis Defense: Jesse Langdon!

Jesse Langdon

Species turnover hot/cold spots.

Nothing gets the nervous/excited juices flowing like more faces in the crowd, so come out and support Jesse Langdon tomorrow afternoon, Wednesday, April 24, as he defends his thesis, “Forecasting the impacts of climate change on terrestrial species and protected areas in the Pacific Northwest!”

Part of the Landscape Ecology and Conservation Lab, Langdon’s faculty advisor is Professor Josh Lawler, and his other committee members are Professor Steve West and Elizabeth Gray. He will be giving his talk in the Forest Club Room from 1-2 p.m., with snacks and refreshments provided.

It’s a great opportunity to support a fellow colleague and student, and to help commemorate his years of research and contributions to the SEFS community!

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.