Alumni Update: Melissa Pingree

We were excited to learn that recent SEFS alumna Melissa Pingree, who defended her dissertation earlier this year and will walk in our graduation ceremony on June 9, has already begun a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Idaho with Dr. Leda Kobziar, a fire ecologist in the Department of Natural Resources and Society! Melissa will be working on projects relating fire disturbances to soil heating and repercussions for soil ecological processes.

Also, you may recall that for 10 weeks last summer Melissa studied in Japan’s Teshio Experimental Forest. She applied for the opportunity through the National Science Foundation’s East Asia and Pacific Summer Institutes (EAPSI) program, in conjunction with the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science. The work she accomplished there is currently being prepared for a peer-reviewed journal, and she looks forward to continuing her research endeavors with Dr. Makoto Kobayashi to form a better understanding of soil nutrient limitations that pose challenges around the world.

If you’d like to get a glimpse of her experience in Japan—and also her travels in the country afterwards—Melissa shared a great 15-minute video she put together from her photos!

Melissa Pingree Preps for Summer Research Program in Japan

This summer, from June 14 through August, SEFS doctoral candidate Melissa Pingree will be spending 10 weeks in Japan studying in the Teshio Experimental Forest—an ideal field research center in northern Hokkaido that provides 22,550 hectares of sub-boreal forests.

Melissa applied for the opportunity through the National Science Foundation’s East Asia and Pacific Summer Institutes (EAPSI) program, in conjunction with the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science. The EAPSI program partners with international research institutes in Australia, China, Japan, Korea, New Zealand and Singapore to provide graduate students in the United States with firsthand research experience in an international environment. Participating students get an immersive introduction to the science, science policy and scientific infrastructure of the host research institution, as well as an orientation to the society, culture and language of the host country.

Melissa Pingree collecting soil samples on the Olympic Peninsula.

Melissa Pingree collecting soil samples on the Olympic Peninsula.

EAPSI awards are designed to initiate professional relationships and enable future collaborations with foreign counterparts, and Melissa will be working with Professors Makoto Kobayashi and Kentaro Takagi of Hokkaido University. Her project involves measuring soil phosphorus (P) in contrasting soil types of northern Japan with an advanced method that mimics the variety of plant P acquisition techniques. In a laboratory experiment, they will combine soils with a common earthworm species and charcoal from wildfires in order to provide a context for biological activity and forest disturbance that is likely to alter soil P availability.

Melissa’s doctoral research at SEFS involves studying the role of wildfire in soil nutrient pools, and the influence of charcoal in fire-affected forest soils of the eastern Olympic Peninsula. So after spending so much time researching Pacific Northwest forests, she’s excited to get out in the woods in Japan. “I’m excited to see bamboo growing next to spruce and larch,” she says. “While we have some interesting similarities in the Pacific Northwest, with volcanism shaping much of our regions, there will also be some really interesting differences between our forests.”

Her NSF award includes a pre-departure orientation in Washington, D.C., an orientation and homestay in Tokyo, a summer stipend of $5,000, and roundtrip airplane ticket to the host location. The EAPSI partner agencies pay in-country living expenses during the summer period. While she’s there, Melissa will be participating in field excursions with her host lab to multiple experimental forests, as well as the nearby Daisetsuzan National Park, which is the largest of Japan’s national parks.

She can’t wait to experience and explore Japanese culture—very much including the unique and delicious food—and she promises to send plenty of photos when she gets there!

Photo © Melissa Pingree.

Evening Talks at ONRC: Melissa Pingree!

Coming up on Saturday, October 18, from 7 to 8 p.m., SEFS graduate student Melissa Pingree will be presenting the next installment in the Evening Talks at ONRC speaker series: “The unseen legacy of fire: Charcoal and its role in carbon and nutrient cycling in forest soils of the Olympic Peninsula.” Held out at the Olympic Natural Resources Center in Forks, Wash., the talk is open to the public, and light refreshments will be served.

Melissa Pingree

Pingree at Mount Rainier National Park.

Pingree, a second-year doctoral student working with SEFS Director Tom DeLuca, earned a bachelor’s in forestry from the University of Montana, where she worked in the DeLuca Biogeochemistry Lab and explored the fundamentals of soil science and forest ecology. After graduating, she worked for the forestry department at Fort Lewis Army Base (now Joint Base Lewis-McChord) and gained wildland firefighter certification. The following summer, she worked as a handcrew member with Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie Initial Attack, and later on the Wenatchee River crew with the U.S. Forest Service.

Her experiences in wildland fire sparked an interest in fire ecology, which Pingree combined with her knowledge of soils to earn a master’s in environmental science at Western Washington University. From working with Professor Peter Homan and studying the 2002 Biscuit Fire of southwest Oregon, she then diversified her fire experiences by working on a fuels module at North Cascades National Park, where she strengthened her skills in the field and traveled to various national parks in response to wildland fires, prescribed fires and fuel-reduction projects.

Working with Professor DeLuca once again, Pingree is studying the role of charcoal in nutrient and carbon cycling in natural forest ecosystems. This legacy of wildfires has the potential to alter short-term and long-term forest soil characteristics and plant-soil relationships, and you can learn a whole lot more from her talk next week! (Also, in case you can make the journey out to Forks, we hear Pingree knows some killer fishing spots out there, so bring your tackle along! No promises, though, because she says she’s about as likely to divulge those secrets as she is to call “soils” “dirt.”)

About the Speaker Series
Evening Talks at ONRC is supported by the Rosmond Forestry Education Fund, an endowment that honors the contributions of Fred Rosmond and his family to forestry and the Forks community. In addition to bringing speakers and interesting research out to ONRC, the series provides a great opportunity for graduate students to gain experience presenting their research to the public, and to a generally non-scientific—though thoroughly engaged—audience. For participating University of Washington graduate student speakers, ONRC will cover travel expenses and provide lodging for the night, as well as a stipend of $200.

So far, we’ve had fantastic talks from Laurel Peelle, Jorge Tomasevic, Meghan Halabisky and Rachel Roberts. If you’re interested in giving a talk or know someone who would be a great fit for this series, email Karl Wirsing or Frank Hanson!

Photos © Melissa Pingree.

Melissa Pingree