Grad Student Spotlight: Matt Norton

While Michelle Trudeau has been on maternity leave this quarter, we’ve had a few friends helping out Amanda Davis and Lisa Nordlund in the Office of Student and Academic Services. One of the cheerful folks you’ve probably seen, whether in person or as a name in your inbox, is Matt Norton, who began his master’s program at the School of Environmental and Forest Sciences (SEFS) this past fall. We’ve been hearing a few tantalizing rumors of his past exploits—from driving airboats to having a day named after him in Florida’s Volusia County (February 8, 2001)—so we sat down with him last week to learn a little more of his story!

Matt Norton

Matt Norton steers through the Everglades on an airboat.

Turns out the rumors are true, though Norton is exceedingly modest when relating the colorful experiences that brought him to SEFS. A six-generation Floridian from Ormond Beach, he moved to Seattle in 2012 when his wife Claire was placed in the Pathology Residency Program here at the University of Washington. He’s enjoyed the cross-country transition so far, especially getting to explore all the parks and mountains nearby. Plus, the cool, wet climate has been an enormous relief from those sweat-soaked days in Florida. “One thing I guess I didn’t inherit from my great-grandfather is that I still overheat!”

Back home as an undergrad at the New College of Florida, Norton majored in environmental studies. Some of his course work and research involved canopy ecology, and spring ecology and eutrophication of Florida’s spring systems. For his thesis he focused on beach sedimentology—specifically, looking at beach nourishment (adding sand to eroding shores), policies and practices surrounding it, and how it relates to sediment dynamics.

After school, from 2009 to 2012 he worked as a lab and field technician, and later became a project manager, under Dr. Todd Osborne in the Soil and Water Science department at the University of Florida. He helped to conduct and managed research on a number of projects: several investigating the soils and ecology of the Everglades, one involving restoration work in the Kissimmee River basin, and three others looking at various species of clams and their preference for soils in Cedar Key, Fla.

Part of Norton’s job was guiding students out to study sites in the Everglades by airboat (also known as a fanboat). “You can go over anything,” he says. “It’s got Kevlar® on the bottom and a 550-horsepower engine, so you can run it anywhere, even on dry land.”

Matt Norton

Navigation can be tricky in some parts of the Everglades, where the grass goes on forever and can get up to 15 feet high.

Yet aside from enabling you to access remote reaches of the expansive Everglades—and scaring away gators—airboats are also “hellishly” loud and dangerous. From the risk of your engine blowing up to breaking down in 115-degree heat to getting lost in the endless sea of grass, tree islands and gator holes, Norton has more than a few harrowing tales from his time as an airboat pilot. So for all the fun memories of cruising through beautiful waterways and seeing all sorts of wildlife, he wasn’t terribly sad to leave that task behind when he moved to Seattle.

He spent his first spring here volunteering and later working as a surveyor with the digital mapping project at the Washington Park Arboretum. Norton spent some of that time, as well, researching possible graduate programs. “I really want to do something related to being outside and trying to help the environment in some way,” he says. And since his wife’s work as a pathologist will keep them fairly close to a larger city, Norton started thinking how he could apply his experience with restoration ecology and soil science in an urban setting.

Norton’s search quickly led him to SEFS, where he’s now working with Professor Darlene Zabowski. He’s currently studying stump decomposition and creating a model for carbon related to tree farms and biofuels with Erin Burt under Professor Rob Harrison, and he has a separate project involving restoration work in Magnuson Park.

He’s had a hand in a great many other projects along the way, too, from his days as an Eagle Scout to interning at a nuke site, but we don’t want to spoil all of his stories. So stop into the advising office sometime to introduce yourself and learn a little more about Norton!

Photos of Norton on the airboat © Ben Loughran; photo of Norton in the grass © Justin Vogel.

Matt Norton

Dissertation Defense: Camila Tejo Haristoy!

Camila Haristoy

Camila Haristoy

Want to see the forest from a different perspective? Then strap in for some high-flying research as Camila Haristoy defends her dissertation in the Forest Club Room this Monday, June 10, at 10 a.m.!

“Above and Below the Canopy of Bigleaf Maple (Acer macrophyllum): Canopy Soils, Litterfall and Decomposition in an Old-Growth Temperate Rainforest”

Epiphytes play critical functional roles in ecosystems by capturing rain, transforming nutrients and providing habitat for canopy-dwelling organisms that are often habitat specialists. Few studies have examined the transfer of epiphytes from the canopy to the forest floor, or how decomposition differs between the canopy and forest floor environment in coastal temperate forest ecosystems.

In her study, Haristoy examined canopy soils, epiphytic litterfall and decomposition of materials associated with bigleaf maple (Acer macrophyllum) in an old-growth temperate forest at the Queets River watershed, Olympic National Park. An enhanced understanding of the movement of epiphytes can provide ecological insights into processes and dynamics of these complex forest ecosystems, and provide conservation strategies for managers.

Haristoy’s committee is co-chaired by Professor Darlene Zabowski and Nalini Nadkarni, and other members include SEFS Professors Bob Edmonds and Jerry Franklin, along with Marcia Ciol.

Camila Haristoy

Images © Camila Haristoy.

Thesis Defense: Colton Miller!

Colton Miller

Miller and one of his Douglas-fir seedlings.

This Thursday, May 23, at 10 a.m. in Winkenwerder 107, Colton Miller will be defending his Master’s Thesis: “Reforesting Surface Coal-Mined Land Using Douglas-fir Seedlings in Washington State.”

Land productivity can be substantially degraded by surface mining, which introduces such problems as erosion, landslides, floods and loss of habitat. Previous research has focused on methods for improving tree seedling establishment on surface mines in the Appalachian region. Miller’s research investigated modified treatments for improving seedling performance in the Pacific Northwest. He also quantified the response of seedling foliar nutrients to post-planting fertilization.

While you let these thoughts take root, go ahead and mark your calendar and come out and join Miller’s committee chair Darlene Zabowski and other committee members Rob Harrison, Eric Turnblom and Dan Vogt!

Refreshments will be served!

Photo © Colton Miller.

Thesis Defense: Betsy Vance!

Hackelia venusta

Is there a better way to kick off a Wednesday morning than by listening to one of your fellow graduate students present her original research? No way!

So come out to Anderson 22 at 9 a.m. this Wednesday, May 22, to hear Betsy Vance defend her Master’s Thesis: “Investigating the ecological requirements of Hackelia venusta: An examination of the soils and their potential influence on the limited distribution of one of Washington State’s most endangered species.”

Hackelia venusta (“Showy Stickseed”) is an endemic, endangered species restricted to a single population located on the eastern footslopes of the Cascade Mountains in Washington State. Preservation of the current population, as well as the establishment of future populations, is contingent upon a better understanding of the plant’s specific ecological requirements. The purpose of this study was to characterize the physical and chemical properties of the soil and how these properties may be influencing the current extent of the population.

Professors Darlene Zabowski and Rob Harrison are co-chairs of Vance’s committee, and other members include Professors Sarah Reichard and Eric Turnblom.

She’ll have coffee, juice and some sort of food/snack on hand, so come kick-start your day with some caffeine and a healthy dose of intellectual stimulation!

Photo of Hackelia venusta © Betsy Vance.

Thesis Defense: Erika Knight!

Next week on Thursday, May 9, round up your friends and colleagues to come support Erika Knight as she defends her Master’s Thesis! Her talk begins at 1 p.m. in Anderson 22, so join us in commemorating her years of work and research at SEFS.

Treatment Plot

One of Knight’s treatment plots at the Fall River Long-term Soil Productivity study site in western Washington.

Increasing demand for timber, as well as current interest in the use of woody biomass for energy and chemical production, may result in higher quantities of organic matter removed from plantation forests than currently occurs during harvesting. Knight’s thesis focuses on the potential of two practices that can increase the yield of woody biomass from a harvest site to change soil carbon and nitrogen storage:

1. Application of herbicides to control competing vegetation and improve crop tree growth; and
2. Removal of branches and foliage (slash) in addition to the bole during harvest.

She conducted her research in a 12-year-old Douglas-fir plantation at the Fall River Long-term Soil Productivity site in western Washington. She is part of Professor Rob Harrison’s soils lab, and her other committee members are Professors Darlene Zabowski and Dan Vogt.

Photo © Erika Knight.

The Water Seminar: Water, Soils and Watersheds

Water Seminar 2013We’re already four weeks into the Water Seminar and Environmental Science and Resource Management Seminar series (ESRM 429), but there are still six presentations remaining, starting this Tuesday, February 5! The focus this Winter Quarter is “Water, Soils and Watersheds,” and the presenters represent outside partners as well as several schools within the College of the Environment and broader university community.

The seminars are open to the public and are held Tuesday mornings from 8:30 to 9:20 a.m. in Anderson 223. So mark your calendars for the dates below!

(Contact SEFS Professor Darlene Zabowski or Lynn Khuat with questions about the seminars.)

February 5
How Watershed Complexity Promotes Sustainability of Freshwater Resources to People and Wildlife
Daniel Schindler, SAFS/Department of Biology

February 12
Serving Multiple Ends: Water and Urban Design
Nancy Rottle, Landscape Architecture

February 19
Sustained Productivity Along Subarctic River Systems Explained by Biological Nitrogen Fixation
Tom DeLuca, SEFS Director

February 26
What New Learning Tells Us About the Efficacy of Riparian Forest Practice Regulations
Kevin Ceder and Mark Teply, Cramer Fish Sciences

March 5
Tsunami Impacts Past and Present: Water Where It isn’t Wanted
Jody Bourgeois, Earth & Space Sciences

March 12
Brightwater: A Wastewater Treatment System for the Future
Stan Hummel, King County