Archive for the ‘Training’ Category

Building off of Alexandra’s and Julia’s excellent posts about our 10-day immersion into the world of science policy, I thought I would share some thoughts from our climate legislation group exercise. I felt this practical experience – like the others indicated in Alexandra’s post – was adroitly woven into aforementioned conversations with prominent experts. In particular, this legislation exercise provided us with an opportunity to reinforce some of our earlier fundamental policy lessons through a mock Senate committee markup and vote on climate change risk management legislation, cementing the notion of thoughtfulness as being essential in any policy making endeavor.

The multi-day exercise began on a Wednesday with a review of H.R. 2380, the Raise Wages, Cut Carbon Act of 2009 (111th Congress), which was introduced on May 13, 2009 (but never enacted). The language can be found here. Essentially, this bill was a revenue-neutral amendment to the Internal Revenue Code of 1986, placing a tax on combustible fossil fuels and using these “carbon tax” revenues to offset social security taxes. The idea was for the cohort to introduce amendments in a Thursday session and hold a final vote during a Friday session.

Stated goals for the participants, through the experience of doing, included developing a practical understanding of the potential political views of and landscape for the offices we respectively represented, as well as those of our fellow committee senators, and organically establishing an informed strategy for building consensus. With 36 graduate students, faculty, and professionals in the field of atmospheric sciences divided into nine small groups, each representing one member of the Senate’s Energy and Natural Resources committee (113th Congress), the activity seemed a touch audacious. Then again, how hard could this be?

"Senator" groups discussing how to interpret and respond to proposed amendments. [photo courtesy Julia Bradley-Cook]

“Senator” groups discussing how to interpret and respond to proposed amendments. [photo courtesy Julia Bradley-Cook]

It turns out the process of building consensus is hard. To start, four people had to come together and figure out how best to represent the constituents of their newly adopted state, which turned out to be our first lesson in compromise and diplomacy. Add to the “consensus of four” dynamic a reasonably imagined balance between ideology and constituency, such as “how would a Democrat from coal-friendly West Virginia react to this bill,” and I started to feel the very real weight of possible scenarios overload.

The committee markup exercise itself, streamlined for the purposes of the colloquium, allowed each “Senator” to offer one first-degree amendment to the bill and one second-degree amendment (an amendment to an amendment). Possible amendment strategies, also streamlined for the purposes of the exercise, ran the spectrum from actual, substantive improvements to the language and/or outcomes contained in the original bill to suggestions that, for all intents and purposes, makes it impossible for the altered bill to pass.

To say our cohort approached this with zeal may be understating the fervor with which we embodied our respective committee members. Every “Senator” offered a first-degree amendment as well as one second-degree amendment – an unofficial first in the 14-year history of the colloquium. Every “Senator” used at least 8 of their 10 allotted total minutes of speaking time to explain and advocate their amendments. Yes, there were amendments that split states along energy production criteria. Yes, there were amendments that split states along demographic criteria. Yes, there were impassioned floor “speeches” and exuberantly titled amendments (e.g., the “Reinvesting in Secure Energy (RISE) for America” amendment – RISE for America(!)). One amendment even had a catchy slogan!

The impressive moment of the exercise, in light of all that led up to it, predictably occurred near the end of the exercise. Over the course of three days, we collectively discussed and debated the virtues and failings of all the amendments. During the last day, a growing comprehension amongst the cohort began to fill the room. As we marched through each “yay” and “nay” vote, arguably complicating an already arguably elegant (i.e., simple and straightforward) bill with our amendments, a simultaneous desire for consensus emerged. The nine chosen “Senators” included four Democrats, four Republicans, and one Independent. Just before the vote on the final proposed amendment, a request for a short recess to confer with our respective party caucuses was called. This move may have even surprised our esteemed moderator, Paul Higgins (Director AMS Policy Program). This presented an opportunity to find common ground amidst our challenging sea of amendments. But how? A strategy emerged out of the hurried recess that somehow resulted in an amended bill we all were able to vote on (and pass).

Realistic? Perhaps not, but the process we experienced contained rich lessons in diplomacy, compromise, and the importance of relationships. We never would have come close to our (perhaps) fanciful bill without conversations with each other. Overall, this simplified exercise illuminated the complexity and nuance of legislation creation (and ratification). It also echoed the concept of knowing what your audience (e.g., constituents, fellow committee members) wants. Judy Schneider, Specialist on Congress at the Congressional Research Service and one of our esteemed speakers, discussed the important “P’s” underpinning governance: policy, politics, procedure, and patience. I would say our legislation group exercise experience emphasized the truth in her statement.

Class photo on the grounds of beautiful Mt. Vernon. [photo courtesy AMS]

Class photo on the grounds of beautiful Mt. Vernon. [photo courtesy AMS]

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Greetings from Washington DC! Gifford, Alexandra and I are in the capitol for a 10 day crash course on science policy that is hosted by the American Meteorological Society.


We have joined 33 other participant to learn the fundamentals of science policy, meet with experts, and learn through hands-on exercises.

The participants make for a dynamic group. We have a very wide variety of backgrounds, including: grad students, post-docs, climate modeling research scientists, social scientists studying climate and extreme weather, a science education expert, professional forecasters, and NOAA administrators. The diversity of experiences and perspectives make for lively discussions during our meetings and interesting conversations during breaks and over meals.

What is science policy anyway? In short, it captures two key concepts: (1) “science for policy,” meaning science that is used to assist or improve policy decisions, and (2) “policy for science,” meaning policy that determines how to fund or structure the systematic pursuit of knowledge (science!). For instance, science for policy includes carbon models that are used to project future greenhouse gas emissions and the risk that our activities pose for the future. On the other hand, policy for science determines how much money is given to science and technology and how it is prioritized among areas of research.

After morning presentations and discussions, we spent the first two afternoons of the Colloquium visiting Capitol Hill for meetings with staffers and experts in the Senate and House of Representatives.


The group of participants taking the bus to The Capitol building

The Capitol Building, home to the Senate and House of Representatives

The Capitol Building, home to the Senate and House of Representatives


The AMS Colloquium participants in the House of Representatives

Meeting with majority and minority staff of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee

Meeting with majority and minority staff of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee

It is exciting to be around people who are learning and talking about science policy. More than anything, these first days of science policy “boot camp” have taught me that there is so much more to learn about how policy and politics(!) are connected to science.

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It’s easy to feel disconnected to nature when you spend all day in an office or lab and don’t leave until it’s dark. Today was another one of those days. I was inside all day, and yet, nature infiltrated those hours. I had a tasty peach during lunch thanks to pollinators. I drank lots of water thanks to clean waterways.  I worked on a wooden desk thanks to timber-supplying forests. These types of resources that ecosystems provide humans are called ecosystem services or nature’s benefits. Other ecosystem services include carbon sequestration, medicine, minerals, waste decomposition, and recreational opportunities, like hiking.

A bee pollinates a peach flower. Pollination is an important "ecosystem service."

A bee pollinates a peach flower. Pollination is an important “ecosystem service.”

In September I had the privilege of going to the “Third Conference for Sustainability IGERTs on Ecosystem Services for Sustainability.” Many people at the conference, including myself, were interested in how humans interact with their environment, and how we can conserve nature and sustain the benefits that nature provides us.

What was really neat about the conference was that, in true IGERT-style, there were fellows representing a range of disciplines. Ecologists, environmental psychologists, economists, earth scientists, geographers, and sociologists had various viewpoints about how ecosystem services were to be analyzed and valued. We spent a large amount of time work-shopping these ideas and talked about how we should communicate these ideas to the public.

I also presented my work on arctic pollination, which all of my fellow cohort members helped with. In short, I found that the national flower of Greenland, niviarsiaq, greatly depends on pollinators to produce seeds. My poster is below.

Does flower density affect pollination

A poster about my small project on niviarsiaq (Chamerion latifolium, dwarf fireweed) pollination. Click to enlarge

I would encourage everyone to attend a topic-based conference, like this ecosystem services conference, in addition to attending conferences based in your disciplines. It was productive and an excellent opportunity to discuss the values and challenges of interdisciplinary work.

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The Greenland Ice Sheet holds many stories of past climate. Summit Camp, in fact, was established for scientists to drill two miles down into the ice and pull out an ice core that tells a story of warming and cooling events from the past 100,000 years.

Ten years and 1 week after the completion of this GISP2 drilling operation, the IGERT C4 gals made our way up to Summit and uncovered a new story held in recent ice.

Alden, Kristin, Christine, and Ruth at the site of GISP2

Alden, Kristin, Christine, and Ruth at the site of GISP2

In July of last year, as you may recall, 97% of the Greenland icesheet experienced surface melting.

While much of this melt refroze on the surface,  some melted snow flowed below the surface to form frozen fingers poking down through layers of previously fallen snow. The frozen fingers, which we call vertical flow channels, are like icicles that are suspended in snow rather than air.

A trip to a backlit snowpit introduced us to the melt layer and one vertical flow channel. These features were buried 75 cm below the surface by a year’s worth of snow.

Unlike surrounding layers, the melt layer and the vertical flow channels were icy, clear, and hard; easily distinguishable with the naked eye or the touch of a finger running down the snow pit wall. It is important for scientists to study these icy features to better understand the physics of water flow through snow and to understand how their  properties may affect the information that satellites and radar collect about the ice sheet.

melt layer

Alden showing us the snow pit. The green arrow points to the melt layer, the white arrow points to a vertical flow channel (i.e., finger).

Our mission was to dig under the frozen melt layer and excavate any ice fingers we could find.  We were like archeologists, hoping to discover arctic artifacts.

We first uncovered the snow pit that Alden had dug earlier in the season.

Removing the snow from plywood that covers the snow pit.

Removing the snow from plywood that covers the snow pit.


Revealing the snow pit.

Then Alden and Kristin graphed the stratigraphy of the snow pit layers to document the depths of the melt layer, winter and summer snow, and wind crusts.


Kristin’s lovely stratigraphy diagram

With our hands protected by waterproof mittens and zipbloc bags, we swept away the snow under the melt layer, feeling for any icy vertical flow channels. Kristin and I found several frozen fingers right away and started excavating by delicately brushing out the snow around them until we reached their icy bottom tips.  It took me 2 hours to excavate a beautiful flow channel that was one-half meter long.  We measured the fingers, recorded their position, and made notes about their form.

Carefully excavating a finger, which I nicknamed ‘Precious’.

Alden and Ruth worked on a side of a snow pit that seemed to have a different flow pattern. They diligently dug back through 1 meter of snow but didn’t uncover any frozen fingers.

While Kristin and I chip away at our excavations, Ruth and Alden continue to dig back, looking for vertical flow columns...the snow pit is getting larger!

While Kristin and I chip away at our excavations, Ruth and Alden continue to dig back, looking for vertical flow channels…the snow pit is getting larger!

As we reached the corner of our site, Mary found a behemoth vertical flow channel. We named him Hector II. Tired and cold, Ruth and Alden quickly sawed, shoveled, and pried Hector II out of the snow so that we could return back to camp.

After dinner, Mary, Ruth, and I excavated Hector II ex-situ and loaded him and our other frozen fingers into an insulated ice core box. We covered the fingers with cardboard, snow, and icepacks to make sure that they would stay frozen on their trip back to Dartmouth College.

Ruth carrying Hector II - all wrapped up - to the ice core box.

Ruth carrying Hector II – all wrapped up – to the ice core box.

We made one last trip to the snow pit…this time on a snow mobile. I was particularly excited about this arrangement. We blazed across the ice sheet at a whopping 5 miles per hour, filled in our digging site, and recovered our tools.  Although the work was difficult, we were grateful to be at Summit a year after the surface melt, when the ice fingers were still within reach of a shovel and the hands of four motivated IGERTs.


Celebrating a job well done

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Now that we’re here in McMurdo (yes! we made it!), our thoughts are focused on getting out into the field so we can start collecting and processing soil samples.  But getting out into the field isn’t simple.  First, every member of our team needs to have all the appropriate safety training.  For us newbies on the team, this meant Snow School (also known as Happy Camper).

One of our first views of the continent!

One of our first views of the continent!

For the past two days, our group of 10 Happy Campers discussed risk assessment and cold injuries, practiced setting up tents and building snow walls, and learned how to communicate on the continent’s radio system.  We headed out to our camping site and set to work creating our cozy home — complete with kitchen table and private sleeping areas.  Since I wanted a new winter sleeping experience, I decided to dig my own snow trench (it is exactly what it sounds like).  After many hours of grueling shoveling, I had a hole in snow big enough to sit up in (without hitting my head on the roof) and long enough to fit my sleeping bag.  What a warm and cozy night it was!

Digging my snow trench was exhausting work, but ultimately worth the effort!

Digging my snow trench was exhausting work, but ultimately worth the effort!

During our two days out, we were blessed with clear skies and beautiful views of Mt. Erebus, Mt. Discovery, and the Royal Society Range.

Our campsite with beautiful mountains in the distance.

Our campsite with beautiful mountains in the distance.

Looking out toward the mountains made me even more excited to head out to the Dry Valleys and see more of this continent!  Our first day of field work will hopefully be on Tuesday, but we still have a lot of work to do before heading out.  Setting up the lab, organizing our food and gear, a few more training videos….

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Knoxville, Tennessee hosted the 2012 annual meeting of the Entomological Society of America. The theme this year was A Global Society for a Global Science. Many of the sessions highlighted the latest research on how global change will impact insects as pollinators, pests of agricultural and forest systems, and vectors of disease.

Zak Gezon and I presented our research that falls within this theme. Zak shared his results from a study of how collecting bees for scientific studies affects native bee populations.
Zak at his field site

[Zak and his bee net near Gothic, Colorado. Photo credit: Jess Welch]

Pollination biologists collect hundreds of bees every year to count and identify for important studies such as climate impacts on pollinator phenology (more on this in the future from Zak). Given significant concerns about global pollinator decline, it’s necessary to think about how collecting bees for these studies may affect native bee populations. The highly-anticipated results of Zak’s study are good news for scientists, as they suggest so far that the number of bees collected have negligible effects on bee populations.

I shared the Arctic perspective in a symposium titled “Aquatic Entomology as a Measure of Global Changes.”

speaking at the Entomology meeting

[Lauren on stage, talking about insects. Photo credit: Ramsa Chaves-Ulloa.]

The highlight was sharing my latest data on climate effects on mosquito abundance. Turns out, and consistent with local knowledge, a warm and wet spring ups the number of mosquitoes that survive to emerge. I also shared some preliminary data on mosquito fecundity, or how many eggs a female mosquito will lay. With the help of some very tolerant lab assistants, we counted the numbers of eggs in hundreds of mosquitoes collected from Kangerlussuaq this spring.

a female full of eggs

[The maximum number of eggs counted from one mosquito is… 122!]

In addition to sharing science, being at these meetings provides an opportunity to meet and talk with entomologists from around the world.
excited entomologists

[Some very excited entomologists, including Zak Gezon (second from right) and Ramsa Chaves-Ulloa (right) from Dartmouth’s EEB graduate program.]

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This term we welcomed the fourth and final Dartmouth IGERT cohort to our clan. We thought that a great way to welcome them would be to create a scavenger hunt that would take them across Dartmouth campus, finishing with a group dinner with cohorts 1, 2 & 3.


And the scavenger hunt begins….

The scavenger hunt started in the Arctic library and took cohort 4 to various important places across campus: Thayer engineering building, Ross Virginia’s office, to the Steffansson collection at the Rauner Library, and to the new Life Sciences Center.


Cohort 4 completes a task of the scavenger hunt by taking a photo on the green with no feet (or hooves!) on the ground.

The scavenger hunt culminated with a fun dinner with all cohorts present.


Ross Virginia with all of the IGERT cohorts. A great way to kick of the new term!

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