Thursday, November 19, 2015

Lake Michigan: The Beauty, The Beast, And A Changing Climate.

My Sea Grant Fellowship have taken me all around Lake Michigan the past couple of months. I've been lucky enough to capture the lake in all her fury and beauty. In this post I'll share some wisdom about one piece of lake shore in particular and preview a coming post about climate change. But first some sounds....

The Beast: "When The Gales of November Come Early"

The Gales of November are known for creating waves on the Great Lakes upwards of 20 feet. They are perhaps most well known for shipwreck the Edmund Fitzgerald which left 29 men dead. Gordon Lightfoot wrote what is now a classic song about the wreck:


While near Traverse City for the State of Lake Michigan Conference I captured this video of Lake Michigan being, well, beastly. 

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The Beauty: Old Mission Micro-climates

Just a day later, as the conference came to a close the weather had broken in classic Michigan style. The sun came out from the clouds and lake Michigan was placid. I took the drive down M-37 and ended up at the tip of Old Mission Peninsula. Old Mission juts out in the center of Grant Traverse Bay. 

A Map Detailing Old Mission Peninsula 
Old Mission's location in the center of the bay allows it to have a unique micro-climate. The large water body in the bay moderates the temperature on the narrow peninsula. While most of northern Michigan had already lost its leaves by this time in late November, Old Mission's colors were peaking. Rambling through the woods, migratory birds flying south could be heard hiding somewhere among the orange and red hues. 


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This microclimate makes for especially good fruit growing. The peninsula is dotted with wineries, cider makers, cherry orchards, apple orchards and vineyards. These food-oriented businesses form an important part of the backbone of the regions tourism economy. For every winery, there is a handful of inns hosting tourists from all of the world. Of course, the cherries and the fruit make for a vital export commodity. 

Danger looms in the beauty, though. Its not just the dangers of windy days. Climate change stands to threaten the culture and the livelihood of the people who live and work on Old Mission. Micro-climates are highly sensitive to the large trends of warming being experienced the world over. In my next blog post (a podcast!) we will interview Alexandra Brewer, whom runs the sustainable development program at Futurewise, an environmental NGO in Seattle, Washington. She is an expert on how climate change will affect the Great Lakes and she is preparing to head to Paris, France for the UN Climate negotiations. Stay tuned! 

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A calm day on the tip of Old Mission Peninsula 

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

The Knauss Fellowship - a wealth of opportunities!

In addition to co-coordinating reports for Congress on harmful algal bloom and low oxygen conditions, I am now also helping to develop a five-year strategic plan for the Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory.

Assigned projects aside, I have had the great fortune of participating in numerous professional development activities. In May, I went to a meeting of the International Joint Commission Great Lakes Science Advisory Board to discuss the contents of an upcoming report. At the Canadian Embassy the following day, I observed each advisory board reporting out to the commissioners and providing guidance on the content of the report.

The Canadian Embassy where I observed the proceedings of an International Joint Commission meeting.

During Capitol Hill Ocean Week in June, I observed panels of government researchers and policymakers discussing some of the most pressing issues our oceans are facing. Topics included Arctic Ocean policy, illegal fishing and collaborative marine conservation. One of the most interesting panels was a group of high school and college students who had done notable ecological projects. The students talked about their projects, what inspires them, and their vision for tackling challenging problems, including climate change. The event ended with a leadership panel that included Dr. Katherine Sullivan, NOAA’s Administrator and Undersecretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere, who discussed her thoughts on challenges and successes in ocean science and policy.
A squinty photo of me at Capitol Hill Ocean Week, with the Capitol Building in the background.

Another day I traveled from Silver Spring to the Dirksen Senate Office Building in downtown D.C. to check out a congressional hearing on the drought conditions in California and other West Coast states. It was sobering to hear just how severe the drought was and is projected to be in the future. However, I was encouraged by some of the senators’ questions, which reflected an understanding of how grave the drought is and displayed an interest in understanding how to help the situation. Theoretically, the senators can use this information to make decisions that support a variety of drought mitigation efforts. I sure hope they do.

Dirksen Senate Office Building, where I heard a hearing on the West Coast drought.

I also participated in two NOAA workshops: Planning and Facilitating Collaborative Meetings and Project Planning and Evaluation. Both were extremely helpful in providing training in techniques that I hope to do more of in my career moving forward.

A trip to the U.S. Naval Observatory, as part of a Knauss Fellow potluck and open house event, was a breath of fresh air from the usual urban D.C. surroundings. With its green lawn, tall trees, and buildings dating back to the 1800s, the campus has the feel of an old field station. After a potluck dinner on the grounds, we went on a tour of the campus, which included the James Melville Gilliss Library and two large telescopes, one of which we used to see a vivid image of Saturn and its rings!

Photos above: Looking around the James Melville Gilliss Library and getting a tour a telescope at the U.S. Naval Observatory. 

The Knauss Fellows working on the legislative side also recently organized an event on Capitol Hill. This provided an opportunity to meet with legislative assistants and professional subcommittee staffers working in both the House and Senate, and included a tour of the Capitol building and the Library of Congress. In my humble opinion, the intricate patterns, textures, and colors in the floors, walls, and ceiling of the Library of Congress make it one of the most beautiful buildings in D.C. 

Above left: The star in the floor of the U.S. Capitol Building that marks the point at which the streets in Washington D.C. are laid out and numbered. Above right: a view from inside the Library of Congress. 

Through these activities, I have learned about the executive and legislative branches of government, Great Lakes and ocean policy, planning projects, and facilitating events.

Needless to say, I am learning a lot and staying busy, and there are still two months to go! 

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Department of Commerce Natural Capital Business Roundtables

My last post was about my overall experience working at NOAA and being a Knauss Fellow, so I thought I’d use this one to go a bit deeper into one of the projects I lead, the Department of Commerce Natural Capital Business Roundtables.


Natural capital, the world’s stocks of natural assets such as water, air, geology, and living things, is critical for economic growth and human survival. Natural capital, just like financial and human capital, is a key component of business operations, and smart business decisions necessitate accounting for both the natural capital assets a company uses, and the natural capital its operations impact.


My team is traveling to four coastal regions - the Gulf of Mexico, Great Lakes, Northeast, and Silicon Valley - to engage businesses and other external partners in day-long workshops on case studies, strategies, and challenges for conducting corporate natural capital work. In addition to facilitating peer-to-peer learning among companies, we’re gaining insight into how the Department of Commerce can better meet business needs in the natural capital space.


I’ve heard some pretty inspiring examples of how companies are integrating natural capital into their business operations. For example, Dow Chemical Company’s first constructed wetland system for treating industrial wastewater had a capital cost of just $1.4 million, compared to $40 million for the next best option. It filters water better than other systems, requires fewer resources for operations and maintenance, and produces a host of co-benefits including habitat for native wildlife.
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Our first Natural Capital Business Roundtable, which engaged the oil and gas, petrochemical, and ports industries at Rice University’s Center for Energy Studies at the Baker Institute for Public Policy

The backbone of this effort is a cross-bureau team in the Department of Commerce, including NOAA, the Economics and Statistics Administration (ESA), and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). I’ve had the opportunity to work with some pretty cool people, including NOAA’s Acting Assistant Secretary for Conservation and Management, the Department of Commerce Chief Economist, and the Commerce Chief Data Officer. I’ve also engaged with innovative companies like Entergy Corp and Bechtel Infrastructure, and natural capital experts at NGO’s and academic institutions.


Leading this project has taught me how to facilitate decision making and provide strategic direction for a team whose members all have different levels of subject matter expertise and sit in different levels in a hierarchical organization. It has also taught me a lot about effective external engagement, and helped me realize that I really love the collaborative, perspective-broadening work of engaging people from across multiple sectors towards a common goal.

In December I will head to Stanford for the final regional roundtable, and I’m currently planning the Department of Commerce National Natural Capital Summit, which will take place in early 2016. Read more about the Natural Capital Business Roundtables on the ESA blog, and follow us on Twitter: @DOCEconomist.


Friday, October 9, 2015

Fun First Quarter as the First IJC Fellow

Hello Everyone!

My name is Ankita Mandelia, and I am the first Michigan Sea Grant – International Joint Commission Fellow!  Being at the International Joint Commission is very cool – I have always wanted to work on large-scale environmental policy, and growing up in Michigan, I have a vested interest in the lakes.  My interests are primarily in chemical life cycle analysis and the Great Lakes Areas of Concern (AOCs), since my master’s thesis focused on polychlorinated biphenyl compounds and metals in the Torch Lake Area of Concern.

My living situation is unique in that I live at home with my parents and cross an international border every day.  The border crossing is not too bad if you’re patient, and it is significantly improved once you get a NEXUS card.  The IJC Great Lakes Regional Office (GLRO) is located very close to the Windsor-Detroit Tunnel, and from our office we have an excellent view of the Detroit River; though I am on the opposite side of the building overlooking Ouellette Avenue, specifically right at where my grandparents used to live.


The view from my office.
A view from the conference room: Riverside Drive, Windsor.
A view from the conference room: Detroit Skyline.

For my fellowship, I am assisting two of the IJC Boards with their activities (such as summarizing teleconferences and reviewing ongoing and potential contract work): the Health Professionals Advisory Board (HPAB) and the Science Advisory Board’s (SAB’s) Research Coordination Committee (RCC).  The HPAB “provides advice on clinical and public health issues related to the transboundary environment, and is responsible for recommending ways to communicate about these issues with the public and stakeholder groups.” (http://ijc.org/en_/boards)  The RCC is part of the Science Advisory Board, which is mandated by the 2012 Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement (GLWQA) to “provide advice on research to the Commission and to the Great Lakes Water Quality Board.” (2012 Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement)

One of the projects I have been helping the RCC with is the Great Lakes – St. Lawrence Research Inventory System (RIS) revision.  The RIS is intended to be a binational clearinghouse of information regarding Great Lakes research, but it needs to be significantly updated.  The idea is that the end user can find out what research is being conducted in the basin and access information about these projects.  I helped to write a report to the Commissioners explaining this need and asking for the means to move forward with this project.

My primary, year-long project is on what happens to AOCs once they are delisted.  AOCs are environmentally degraded areas within the Great Lakes basin, and they are of concern because they have experienced extreme pollution and ultimately flow into the Great Lakes.  Well-established mechanisms exist to address and ultimately delist each AOC’s beneficial use impairments (BUIs), and in turn delist sites from the AOC list; however, it is currently unclear what happens to AOCs once they have been delisted.  The objective of my project is to create a guidebook-type document for newly-delisted AOCs to help them maintain their restored site.

In addition to working on projects, I have witnessed the inner workings of the International Joint Commission.  Commissioners sometimes visit the GLRO, which is a great way to meet and talk with them about current work; I met U.S. Commissioner Dereth Glance, U.S. Commission Chair Lana Pollack and Canadian Commission Chair Gordon Walker this way.  One major event this past month was the IJC Executive Meeting, during which IJC Staff met with the Commissioners to discuss current work and seek decisions to move forward on several fronts.  The IJC is a consensus-based organization, which means there are many mechanisms in place to ensure that everyone who should have input on a decision does.

So far I have had ample opportunity to network by attending three conferences.  The first conference was the International Environmental Indicators Conference, where I met scientists working on indicators from all over the world; it was especially helpful to meet scientists working on indicators in the AOCs.  The second meeting was the Sea Grant Great Lakes Network Meeting, where I met people working on many of the issues on the IJC’s radar, particularly on-the-ground outreach of these issues.  Everyone at this conference was really friendly, but I most enjoyed spending some quality time with the Michigan Sea Grant folks!  Finally, last week I attended my first Healing Our Waters (HOW) conference; which I was eager to attend because I have been working on Great Lakes issues for the past few years and have previously attended Great Lakes Days in Washington D.C. with the coalition.  This conference was excellent – I learned something new in just about every session, and I got to spend some quality time with IJC folks outside of the office – including two of the Commissioners.  I also ran into Sam Molnar, the Great Lakes Commission fellow!


GLC Fellow Sam Molnar and me on the Chicago River Boat Tour field trip during the HOW Conference.
Now I am back at the office refocusing on my groundwork.  So far this fellowship has been excellent – I work on interesting projects that will have a real impact on Great Lakes restoration, I meet a lot of people I can learn from, and I travel!  And all this just in the first quarter!  I’m looking forward to what’s next.

Until next time,

Ankita

Friday, August 21, 2015

Musings of a new Sea Grant Fellow: How to pay for a human right? Social perceptions of the value of water

Greetings Sea Grant blog readers! My name is Samuel Molnar and I am the 2015-2016 Sea Grant Fellow at the Great Lakes Commission. I am currently flying through my third month at the Commission. My main project is the development of the Great Lakes Blue Accounting strategy and the scoping a pilot for the Blue Accounting Process around municipal water supply.

But first a little bit about me. I am a Michigan native. After doing my undergraduate degree in Public Affairs at Wayne State University I was a community organizer in Detroit working primarily in churches and high schools. I did this for a number of years, along with some odd jobs building mountain biking trails, before I decided to go chase down a master’s degree at the University of Michigan’s School of Natural Resources and Environment. While there I studied environmental informatics and worked on the Climate Ready Great Lakes Cities team. I also had the opportunity to be an environmental radio host with Its Hot In Here in WCBN – FM in Ann Arbor.

Throughout the past couple of months I have been working on scoping the Blue Accounting pilot project for municipal water supply. Blue Accounting is a program that supports strategic decisions, led jointly by the Great Lakes Commission and The Nature Conservancy. Blue Accounting is anchored by nine overarching desired uses of and values associated with the Great Lakes water system. These desired outcomes fall under the general categories of social values, sustainable human uses and healthy aquatic ecosystems. Blue Accounting is an information management strategy which will establish collaboratives around the desired outcomes that can agree on common goals, create and support metrics to measure progress toward the goals utilizing existing data streams, and measure progress based on those metrics.  

One of my main tasks has been to conduct interviews with directors of municipal water systems and water supply experts. There is a lot variation among the water supply systems and we hear many different perspectives. For example in water systems that were built too large for current population and industry levels such as Milwaukee’s do not prioritize conservation on the part of consumers because they need to keep pressure in their pipes and maintain revenue streams that can support system maintenance and upgrades.

The City of Guelph, Ontario on the other hand is dependent on limited groundwater and has spent decades shaping an ethic of water conservation so much so that neighbors report that having green grass during a drought is reason for social ostracization. These different perspectives, however, are both rooted in the same need for revenue to maintain infrastructure. This problem is rooted in the social perception of the value of water.

Water is both priceless, valuable beyond measure, and a basic natural resource that most believe should be available to us at a nominal fee.

This dilemma has come to a head in Detroit. I spent a couple hours at a meeting of the Great Lakes Water Authority one afternoon. The minutes from previous meetings featured public comments from groups including “The Raging Grannies” prodding the board to devise a way to end the water shutoffs that have affected thousands of Detroiters who are unable to pay their bills on time. It has been called a public health crisis and condemned by the United Nations as “a violation of the most basic human rights.”  A common refrain you might hear in Detroit’s political scene now is “Water is a human right!” Indeed it is, but it’s an expensive one. With infrastructure breaking down at an unprecedented rate, bills are rising are for the watersheds most impoverished residents.

While public officials feel the heat of public outrage and an estimated 40,000 people scramble to live without functioning water (as seen in this compelling and infuriating video by Detroit’s RaizUp Collective), the quagmire of paying for water infrastructure upgrades remains. The old and overbuilt water system in Detroit must be paid for by a smaller and less wealthy populace than it was built for. Some have called for a social campaign to help people to place more value on their water. “If only people would pay for their water half of what they pay on their cable bill”, goes the refrain. Never mind that a rising number of people, myself included have no cable bill, water is a distinctly different public utility. Unlike cable, water is a true public good; necessary to public health and welfare.  

At the Great Lakes Water Authority meeting it seemed momentarily that public officials were listening to their constituents. Extra time in the agenda was added for a presentation from one of the board members on how other communities with a large low-income population have dealt with funding water infrastructure maintenance with. One example that seems particularly promising is to model Philadelphia’s recently passed income-based policies in which low income consumers would pay a bill that is a certain percentage of their income, while more affluent consumers would pick up the tab for remaining costs.

Despite the challenges I am inspired by the many intelligent and passionate people working in the grassroots and at the top of water systems to find a way forward for water infrastructure and financing in 21st century economy. I am honored to be working alongside them.   


Friday, August 14, 2015

Hitting the six month mark

It’s hard to believe I’ve hit the halfway point in my fellowship. When I’m staring up at the burned-out fluorescent light above my cube, it seems like I’ve been here forever, and when I'm trying out a new bike route to a meeting at the Commerce Building it seems like I’ve just arrived.

The ceiling above my cube

In any event, I do feel like I’ve accomplished a lot. I am on a cross-bureau team in the Department of Commerce leading a series of workshops with businesses in coastal regions around the country. We are helping companies integrate natural capital values into their planning and operations. This work has taken me to Houston, Cleveland, and New York City, and later this fall I’ll travel to California.
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Houston in February > Silver Spring in February

Dr. Holly Bamford, NOAA's Acting Assistant Secretary for Conservation and Management, speaking at the Great Lakes Natural Capital Business Roundtable in Cleveland

The trips have provided some exciting new scenery for triathlon training!

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Training runs in Houston Memorial Park and near the National Conservation Training Center

I’m also happy to have a project that keeps me close to my climate adaptation roots. I am working on a report with a group of NOAA researchers that synthesizes 15 years of risk communication and behavior literature, focusing on extreme weather events. We are helping transition this research to applications like better weather risk education and more effective flood and tornado warnings. In May, I traveled to the National Adaptation Forum in St. Louis to interface with more colleagues who are working on the human impacts side of climate and extreme weather.

Taking a break from the conference to visit the St. Louis Arch

I’ve had a couple of superb professional development opportunities, including science communication training from the University of Maryland Integration and Applications Network (IAN), and a facilitation training led by experts from NOAA’s Office for Coastal Management.

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Mouth of the Choptank River at University of Maryland's Horn Point Lab

Finally, I’m enjoying the simple things in life, like participating in scavenger hunts around the NOAA campus, and having my husband and dog (finally) move to Silver Spring.

Scavenger hunt with NOAA's Office of Program Planning and Integration (we had to "take a picture with a turtle")

I have six action-packed months under my belt, and I can’t wait to see what the next six will bring!

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Time flies when you are having fun!

February and March were cold months in Silver Spring. Coming from Michigan, I figured that the winter weather wouldn't phase me, but Silver Spring winds definitely rival those of southeastern Michigan. Burr! There were also some icy days that left me chuckling as I skated in my sneakers down the sidewalk.  

 Slippery sidewalks!

Snow on the hand statue in front of Building 3 of NOAA's Silver Spring campus.

On the fellowship front, things have been much warmer. I am into the third month and loving it. Apart from writing the Great Lakes report section of the Comprehensive Harmful Algal Bloom and Hypoxia Research Plan and Action Strategy (a report mandated by the 2014 reauthorization of the HABHRCA or Harmful Algal Bloom and Hypoxia Research and Control Act), I have been helping to put on a HABHRCA webinar series to reach out to stakeholders for their input on needs relating to HABs and hypoxia. An additional stakeholder forum was held in person at Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, Ohio.

I also participated in Great Lakes Day in Washington DC, at which the Great Lakes Commission, Healthy Waters Coalition, government employees, and others gathered to meet with legislators on the Hill about topics near and dear to those who care about the Great Lakes, including nutrient pollution and Asian carp.

As part of my fellowship, I have had the opportunity to spend some time at the Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory in Ann Arbor, Michigan. It is a fun place, with hallways and conference rooms named after places in the Great Lakes, including the St. Clair River and the Lake Superior conference room. The people are warm and welcoming.

During one of my visits to Michigan, I took a side trip to the Lake Michigan Field Station in Muskegon, Michigan.  Marine Superintendent, Dennis Donahue, gave me a tour of the station and vessels. Though the station doesn’t appear to be large, it houses a number of small and mid-sized boats that are used by federal agencies and universities for research and outreach purposes. I was impressed to find out that the station was partially powered by solar panels and wind turbines, and that the entire fleet runs on biodiesel! The engineers at LMFS are masters at stripping down vessels and building them back up with updated hardware to suit the science needs of the NOAA researchers. My favorite vessel was the 41-year-old SRV (small research vessel) Laurentian, a boat I had heard about from my mentors at the University of Michigan, but had never seen in person until now.
 SRV Laurentian - laden with science equipment, ready for the field season.
 SRV Laurentian
 SRV Laurentian - the bench where samples are processed.
SRV Laurentian

We also had a Knauss event that included Knauss Alumni and Sea Grant staff at the National Botanic Garden. We had the entire gardens to ourselves and ample opportunity to catch up with fellows from placement week and to meet new people. Its warmth and greenery was a nice reprieve from the cold, windy world outside. I connected with some people whose names I had been seeing while I did the information searches for the HABHRCA report.

 Orchids at the United States Botanic Garden
Orchids at the United States Botanic Garden
The Botanic Garden was lit up at night for the Knauss Alumni event

Another exciting aspect of the fellowship is the professional development activities. One notable event was the DC Science Writers Association Professional Development Day. I am not a science writer per say, but since I have a general interest in science writing and communications, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the workshops were useful for someone at my level, who doesn’t yet have formal science writing experience. We talked about good versus bad story pitches and what it meant to be a good editor.

Looking forward to more fun as the fellowship continues!

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Happenings on New Hampshire's Seacoast

A little Coastline Packs a Punch
New Hampshire's Seacoast isn't known for its size (~17 miles of Atlantic coastline). It is known, however, for its vibrant surfing and kayaking communities, its real working waterfronts and Naval Shipyard, and its tight-knit, historic, New England towns. It's these valuable assets, among others, that I've been working to better understand and protect over the past 16 months as a NOAA Coastal Management Fellow with the New Hampshire Coastal Program.

A fall day at the beach in Rye, NH

A lot of my time has been spent working with the NH Coastal Adaptation Workgroup (CAW)--a partnership of 20 organizations all focused on helping communities prepare for the impacts of climate change. This group rocks. Their approach is incredibly effective--they translate the science for community decision-makers (read: board of selectmen, town planners, zoning boards, planning boards, conservation commission members) and facilitate workshops to help others make plans to prepare. It's the first effort I've come across that takes the time to understand what communities really need and designs ways to meet those needs. In addition to an effective approach, CAW members are energetic, driven, and funny. For a little more insight into their work, here's CAW's web page and blog: nhblog.stormsmart.org.
Photo by Ron Sher taken in Hampton, NH. Winner of the 2014 Gulf of Maine King Tides Photo Competition.

Managing a Shoreline for Change
Aside from 'resilience', one of the hottest topics/terms in coastal management right now is 'living shorelines' (or green shorelines, or soft shorelines, or whatever synonym you like). As sea levels rise and coastal storms intensify with climate change, natural resource managers are incredibly interested in finding ways to protect communities from flooding and erosion while also preserving habitat and ecosystem function. You've likely seen some living shoreline designs coming out of New York City in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. That's the idea. Use oyster reefs and dunes and salt marshes in the place of or in concert with harder, more traditional shoreline management structures like seawalls and revetments. Help communities learn to 'live with water' by raising homes or retreating rather than keeping the water out with flood gates.

CAW, the NH Coastal Program, and the Great Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve wanted to start a dialogue about these emerging and innovative shorelines management strategies, so we organized a conference last month to do just that. I was on a team that designed the agenda, identified speakers, and made some maps showing predicted sea-level rise in vulnerable NH Seacoast locations for an interactive exercise. With over 100 participants, the conference was a success, and I'm looking forward to working on some of the next steps we identified to keep the conversation moving. One of the first steps is to create a high resolution inventory of the NH shoreline--not just the 17 Atlantic coast miles, but also the 200+ miles of estuarine shorelines in the Great Bay and Hampton-Seabrook estuaries. We need a detailed understanding of what's there now before we can think about which shorelines strategies might work and where.


Facilitating an activity at the NH Shoreline Management Conference

What is the value of it all?
And finally, my fellowship project. What an interesting, challenging, and rewarding experience it's been so far. I'm managing an integrated assessment of the ecosystem services in the Great Bay estuary. We have a project team of five people and an Advisory Committee of 20+ folks. Together, we have run an initial model to evaluate habitat risk of eelgrass, oysters, and salt marsh today.

Counting oyster spat at the UNH Jackson Estuarine Lab
Now we're getting into a really fun part of the assessment: designing future scenarios. I say fun because I get to ask people who generally spend their time focused on the realistic and practical limits of their work to be imaginative and hypothetical. We get to draw on maps. We get to make things up. All in the name of curiosity. Ultimately the goal is to be able to explain the value that these habitats provide for people in the area (values like carbon sequestration and storage, coastal protection, fisheries, recreation, and nutrient filtration), and to show how that value could change under different management scenarios and sea-level rise. Will we be able to do it? I'll check back in 6 months or so and let you know.

A salt marsh in Great Bay, NH


Best of luck if you're applying for a fellowship! Feel free to shoot me an email if you have any questions about my experience or the application process (kirstenbhoward at gmail dot com).   

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Great time at Placement Week

Placement week was just as everyone described; exhausting, but fun. Favorite parts? Meeting my fellow Fellows, getting to know the people in a handful of offices at interviews, and getting a chance to check out D.C. and Silver Spring. Everyone is interesting and accommodating. Many facilitators and interviewers involved in the process have been fellows themselves, and so are extra-understanding. While it is good to prepare with the proper clothes, snacks, etc., the most useful thing was having an open mind and going with the flow. With a full day of host presentations, fourteen interviews, and social events every evening, there isn’t much time to be stressed. The week is over before you know it and at the end not only do you have an exciting new job, but you already know some people you will be working with and are generally oriented to the DC area.

I was excited to be placed with Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory, working on a report to update Congress on recommendations for actions to prevent harmful algal blooms and hypoxia in the Great lakes. I will be based in Silver Spring and travel to Ann Arbor, Michigan periodically where I will connect with researchers and other stakeholders to gather information for the report. With a background in harmful algal bloom studies, the topic couldn’t be a better fit for my interests. 

I am glad I stayed a couple extra days to look for housing and childcare around Silver Spring. Touring apartments was helpful, but even more helpful was getting a feel for each part of the city in the daytime and at night.

I am looking forward to starting the fellowship in February and living in a vibrant metro area with great food and lots to do!