Monday, April 7, 2014

Roundtable discussion sparks discussion about outdoor learning on the Wind River Indian Reservation

"We must teach our children
To smell the Earth
To taste the rain
To touch the wind
To see things grow
To hear the sun rise and night fall
To care”
~ John Cleal

In a spacious meeting room at the Frank B. Wise Business Plaza in Fort Washakie, Wyoming, a group of educators, community members and tribal leaders met with Wyoming-EPSCoR to discuss science education on the Wind River Indian Reservation (WRIR). This is the second community-driven “Roundtable” hosted by Wyoming-EPSCoR, and one of many meetings and conversations this EPSCoR office has had with partners over the last year. The goal? To determine science education needs and expand learning opportunities on the WRIR about water-science topics such as hydrology and watershed health.

As individuals sat in-the-round conversing about science education needs, a key theme emerged: children need to learn outside. Many in the room stressed the need for an “outdoor classroom” that students and educators on the WRIR could use for water-science and natural resource education. 
Meeting on March 27, 2014.

This need was fully understood by Wyoming-EPSCoR staff. Education, Outreach, and Diversity Coordinator, Liz Nysson, stated, “By learning outside, students will be able to gain hands on experience and begin to view science as something that is all around us.” 

Outdoor education is not a new notion on the WRIR. 4-H educator, Jennifer Wellman, regularly takes groups of students outside for educational lessons. However, limited teaching resources and restrictions on access to outdoor spaces have limited some educators from being able to create and implement outdoor lessons. 

Other concepts discussed at the meeting coincided with outdoor education including creating science resource boxes for teachers, hosting community events about water, and working with partners to create internships in water-related fields for teenagers and young adults.
Notes from Meeting.

These conversations will help Wyoming-EPSCoR develop an education plan that is informed by needs and desires of the WRIR community. 

“It is important to EPSCoR that programs are community driven and supported by educators and community leaders,” Nysson said on Thursday March 27, immediately following the meeting. “Wyoming EPSCoR will continue to build partnerships and programs to expand educational opportunities for students on WRIR.” 

For more information about Wyoming-EPSCoR and WRIR community partnership, please email Liz Nysson at  

Monday, March 24, 2014

Spring runoff: What is it and why does it matter?

When the weather gets warmer, snow in the mountains begins to melt. This is called spring runoff, and it’s crucial that researchers measure and understand it.

“Spring runoff is that big push of water that we get from snowmelt across the state,” says Dr. Ginger Paige, a professor in the department of Ecosystem Science and Management. What WyCEHG is trying to do is get better numbers on predicting the amount of spring runoff that may occur, by measuring snow water equivalent.”

The information that WyCEHG and other researchers collect is an essential resource to people across the state of Wyoming.

“We need that information for watershed planning, for allocation of water in our basins,” says Dr. Paige. “It’s also important in terms of potential flooding. All of the emergency management offices across the state are looking at this information for mitigating flood damages. The information is also valuable for agriculture, for farmers and ranchers and irrigators who need to know how much water is available.”

All of the information collected by researchers is available to anyone who is interested. The National Resources Conservation Service SNOTEL (short for Snow Telemetry) website shows information about snow water equivalents and spring runoff all across the state of Wyoming. You can also find hydrologic information for Wyoming at the NOAA hydrology website

By Robin Rasmussen

Friday, March 7, 2014

Understanding how bark beetles are changing our forests

When you visit the Snowy Range in the Medicine Bow National Forest, you notice something—brown trees. Since 2008, this high alpine forest west of Laramie by way of highway 130 has undergone a considerable transformation caused by a bark beetle epidemic. 

There are many species of bark beetles in the United States, and uncontrollable bark beetle outbreaks are occurring in forests throughout the country. In the high alpine forest surrounding the Glacier Lakes Ecosystems Experimental Site (GLEES) near the Snowy Range Mountains, the spruce beetle is the dominate species of bark beetle present and tree mortality is noticeable in this Wyoming Engelmann spruce-subalpine fir forest. 

These photos show the changes in the forest near GLEES from 2003 to 2013.  
Photo Credit: John Frank

Spruce beetles aid in killing trees by exposing them to blue stain fungi which colonize the xylem of the attacked trees; thus, not allowing water to travel through the tree.  Although spruce beetles can be a part of healthy forest cycle, under epidemic conditions spruce beetles drastically impact forests by attacking large populations of larger diameter trees.

At GLEES, University of Wyoming scientists, including members of the Wyoming Center for Environmental Hydrology and Geophysics (WyCEHG), have an ongoing partnership with the U.S. Forest Service to monitor spruce beetle impacts there and assess how this epidemic has changed forest conditions. 

Last Friday, UW doctoral student, John Frank, discussed findings from his research at GLEES on changes in the ecosystem due to tree mortality. John is not only working towards earning his Ph.D. within the Program in Ecology, but he is also an employee of the U.S. Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station. With support from his UW Ph.D. advisor, Dr. Brent Ewers, John discovered that to accurately model predictions of ecological conditions (ecosystem fluxes of carbon dioxide and water vapor) after disturbance from the spruce beetle epidemic, changes in tree physiology have to be accounted for in addition to the observed mortality of the trees.
To get to this conclusion, John evaluated six years of data which was collected during the progression of the spruce beetle epidemic. 

With WyCEHG scientists and partners examining impacts on forests from bark beetle disturbance, researchers and managers will be better able to understand how forest ecology is changing and how to predict ecological changes in the future. 

By: Elizabeth Nysson 
Sources used:
Interview with Dr. Brent Ewers by Elizabeth Nysson on March 4, 2014.

“How much does a spruce beetle epidemic alter ecosystem carbon and water processes?” Department of Botany Seminar; John Frank, Ph.D. Student, Botany Department, PiE; Friday, February 28, 2014.

“Ecosystem CO2/H2O fluxes are explained by hydraulically limited gas exchange during tree mortality from spruce beetles.” (IN REVIEW: Journal Geophysical Research-Biogeosciences) John M. Frank, William J. Massman, Brent E. Ewers, Laurie S. Huckaby, José F. Negrón; U.S. Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, 240 W. Prospect Road, Fort Collins, Colorado, 80526, USA; Department of Botany and Program in Ecology, University of Wyoming, 1000 E. University Avenue, Laramie, Wyoming, 82071, USA

“Western U.S. Bark Beetles and Climate Change.” Preparer: Barbara Bentz, FWE, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Western Bark Beetle Research Group (WBBRG). Accessed from:

Friday, February 28, 2014

CI-WATER's Teaching Toolbox in Action

Retta Hudlow, a sixth grade science teacher in Pinedale, Wyoming was one of the first teachers to use the CI-WATER Teaching Toolbox in her classroom.

Hydropoly game
The toolbox includes a manual with multiple lesson plans for various age groups and the equipment needed to conduct lessons and experiments in the manual.  There are games, books, models and more to help students learn about everything from water modeling to human use and impact on water.

The toolbox is designed for Utah and Wyoming K-12 teachers, students and community groups. The experiments and lessons provided in the toolbox meet state education standards.

“The Next Generation Science Standards include standards on the water cycle, groundwater resources, human impact, modeling particle motion in different states, along with scientific and engineering processes,” says Retta. “The toolbox addresses many parts of these standards.”

The toolbox gave Retta an opportunity to add to the curriculum she was already teaching.

“I already had a unit on water and weather,” says Retta. “But this added more lessons on the properties of water, which were powerful teaching tools.”

Retta has enjoyed using the toolbox and knows that her students have learned a lot with their time using the toolbox.

“They have learned a great deal about water. Their pre- and post-test scores were impressive,” she says.

For more information about the toolbox, please visit the CI-WATER website or contact Beth Cable at or 307-766-3544. 

By Robin Rasmussen
Photos by Kali McCrackin

Friday, February 21, 2014

Wyoming EPSCoR Continues to Expand Research Statewide

Wyoming EPSCoR works to expand research opportunities around Wyoming by building strong working relationships with Wyoming community college faculty and students.

“Wyoming EPSCoR supports community college researchers by increasing research capacity and encouraging innovation by educators and students,” says Liz Nysson, Education, Outreach and Diversity Coordinator for Wyoming EPSCoR.

The three community college programs Wyoming EPSCoR sponsors include the Community College Transition Program, the Community College Research Program, and the Community College STEM Summer Research Projects.

“With support from the National Science Foundation and the new Wyoming Center for Environmental Hydrology and Geophysics, we are able to expand and renew community college support.” says Liz.

The Community College Transition Program (CCTP) is for students majoring in science, technology, engineering and math who are transferring to the University of Wyoming to complete their undergraduate degrees. Awardees receive $1,500 per semester for two years and gain research experience. During the first semester, awardees rotate through several faculty labs and join a laboratory during the following semesters to complete an undergraduate research project with a faculty mentor. The application deadline for CCTP is April 1st, 2014 for the 2014 fall semester.

Community College Research Program (CCRP) is intended to encourage research initiatives for community college educators by providing multiple years of support. For the next three years, CCRP is in collaboration with the Wyoming Center for Environmental Hydrology and Geophysics (WyCEHG). Community college projects with a strong tie to WyCEHG research and those that would benefit from the use of WyCEHG equipment will be considered. The application deadline for pre-proposals is March 3rd at 5 p.m.

The Community College STEM Summer Research Projects (CC-STEM) aims to provide support to community college summer research projects with students. Research projects must be within a STEM-related field. CC-STEM recipients receive $7,000 for project and student support. The application deadline for the Community College STEM Summer Research Project is March 21st at 5 p.m.

If you are interested in applying for any of these programs, please visit our website or contact Rick Matlock ( or Liz Nysson ( for more information. 

By Robin Rasmussen

Friday, February 14, 2014

On this Valentine's Day: Why We Love Water

Here is a list of interesting facts and figures about one thing we love here at EPSCoR: Water!

Water and us! Water is a crucial part of our everyday existence. Water makes up anywhere from 55-78% of a human’s body weight, making it literally a part of our lives! At birth, water accounts for roughly 80% of the infant’s weight.

People should drink water regularly. A person can drink about 48 cups (that is roughly 3 gallons) each day. By the time a person feels thirsty, his or her body has lost over 1 percent of its total water amount!

Water in the World! Freshwater only accounts for 3% of the water on earth. The remaining 97% is salt water. Of that small percentage of freshwater, 30% of it is groundwater and most of the world’s freshwater is found in glaciers.

Where you live can dictate how fast your water boils. Water boils faster in Denver, Colorado than in New York City. So, a mile high also means quicker tea water.

Happy Valentine’s Day to our most beloved Valentine, water. 

These facts and more can be found here and here.

By Robin Rasmussen
Photo by Robin Rasmussen

Friday, February 7, 2014

WyCEHG Researchers Attend Winter Safety Trainings

As all residents know, winters in Wyoming can be brutally cold. Deep snow, strong winds, and freezing temperatures are a recipe for disaster for anyone caught unprepared.

To combat the dangers of winter weather in Wyoming, WyCEHG encourages its researchers to take classes and learn to be better prepared for winter conditions.

Elizabeth “ET” Traver facilitated two trainings last week providing WyCEHG researchers the tools they need to be prepared for many different winter conditions.

The first training was a snow safety training taught by Dan McCoy of the Outdoor Program. The training focused on avalanche safety, how to dress appropriately, and how to stay safe while outdoors. The second training focused on snowmobile use and safety.  

“I have a protocol about how to use these snowmobiles,” says ET. “We went through it step by step, from how to hook up to the trailer, to how to get the snowmobiles on and off the trailer, to making sure that people always had their helmets on, so that they remembered, ‘this is an integral part of being on a snowmobile’”.

Much of the research underway by WyCEHG researchers requires them to hike into remote backcountry locations to take measurements and conduct other studies.

Because so much research happens in the mountains, trainings like these are crucial for the WyCEHG team members, for many reasons.

 “We have more and more people out in the snow all day, doing all sorts of different research activities,” says ET. “Our objective is to try to give people some skills and some knowledge and get them thinking about how to stay safer while out in the snow.”

For more information about how to safe while in the snow, please visit the following websites:

By Robin Rasmussen
Photos courtesy of Elizabeth Traver and Steve Holbrook