Monday, December 5, 2016

Student Gets Ready to 'Rock' the AGU Conference

 After a semester of hard work University of Wyoming geology students have the opportunity to present their research at the AGU Conference in San Francisco December 12th - 16th. This is the largest worldwide conference in the geophysical sciences that brings together scientists, educators, and students. One UW student that will be presenting her research at the conference will be Casey McGuffy.

McGuffy, a New Jersey native, came to Wyoming after an undergraduate professor recommended she attend UW for her masters degree in geophysics. She became interested in geology due to her love of the outdoors.

Casey McGuffy working this summer in Jemez, N.M. 
McGuffy's research is focused on bedrock weathering at two mountain watersheds. Her first site is the Jemez Critical Zone, New Mexico and the Reynolds Creek Critical Zone, Idaho.

"The Critical Zone is a near-surface layer of the Earth that supports terrestrial life. This layer includes the bed rock up to the tops of the trees. So it is not only studied by geologists, but ecologists and soil scientists are also involved," McGuffy explains.

The Critical Zone site in Jemez, N.M. 

Over the summer McGuffy worked at the Jemez site, but she was unable to see the Reynolds Creek location. She used data collected by other colleagues from the Idaho site to contribute to her research project. McGuffy studied the thickness of regolith, the layer of soil, saprolite, and underlying weathered bedrock, to determine differences in weathering. The two zones have similar climates and ecosystems allowing for comparisons.

McGuffy found that the primary differences between weathering along the rock profiles were due to slope aspect. It was also noted that seismic profiles between the two sites lead to variations in weathering due to the different rock types.

Previously McGuffy had her undergraduate research presented for her at the conference, but this will be her first year attending. The AGU conference is also an occasion that is great for professional networking. As McGuffy finishes her masters degree, she wishes to create connections that could lead to possible career opportunities.

"I look forward to seeing other peoples research, talking with people about it, and attending different key note speeches," McGuffy adds.

We wish Casey good luck on her research presentation and all of her future endeavors. She is sure to 'rock' the field of geophysics.

Jemez, N.M. 

Friday, November 11, 2016

Diving into Groundwater Research

This August, WyCEHG welcomed a new scientist onto their team, Dr. Kevin Befus. Dr. Befus works in the Civil and Architectural Engineering Department as a groundwater hydrologist.

Before coming to Laramie, Dr. Befus received his PhD from the University of Texas, Austin and went on to serve as a U. S. Geological Survey Mendenhall Research Fellow in Woods Hole, Massachusetts.

Dr. Befus's research is focused on how groundwater interacts with conditions at the Earth's surface.

"Groundwater is what I'm curious about. How does it affect everything else?" Dr. Befus said.

Groundwater acts as long term reservoir for water, but it does change over time. Dr. Befus is interested in how human uses are affecting the sustainability of the resource and how this in turn may affect system ecology, chemistry, and weathering of bedrock.

"Groundwater is a huge resource for producing food and our populations water. Over half of Laramie's water comes from groundwater. It acts as underground storage and a natural filtration system," Dr. Befus said.

Dr. Befus became interested in hydrology during college. After changing his major to geology, he went to Honduras to help install water systems. "It was a humanitarian extrapolation of what hydrology can do," Dr. Befus explained.

Dr. Befus also enjoys working in the field, and has experience working in Wyoming's natural habitat. As a graduate student he worked in the Bighorn mountains studying their geological background and structure.

"Research is a different way to enjoy nature. It's like hiking except you are learning more about nature in the process, there's an additional purpose behind it," Dr. Befus said.

As his research begins Dr. Befus is looking for graduate and PhD students to work as a part of his Water Hydrology Group.

"We will possibly have 3 students for the start of 2017. They'd work on projects ranging from mountain hydrology, and potentially groundwater connections to other surface water and reservoirs," Dr. Befus said.

This is the first time Dr. Befus has been a part of an engineering program. In the future he would like to be involved with the Engineers without Boarders program and would act as a faculty mentor.

"Engineering is the applied aspect of science. It's science that can lead to better problem solving and designing," Dr. Befus said.

While Dr. Befus thinks understanding nature itself is satisfying, he also emphasizes the importance of the application of science to local communities.  He looks forward to contributing to outreach efforts within the University community and on the Wind River Reservation.

"Communicating about science is important because it shows the value of science and how it can affect day to day life. It helps get people excited. Not everyone is going to be a water nerd like me," Dr. Befus said.

We are excited that Dr. Befus has joined the WYCHEG team and can't wait to see what he has to contribute.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Ecology meets Technology

On June 21, 2016 girls from Laramie's Girl Scout troop participated in a Summer Coding Camp sponsored by the University of Wyoming Biodiversity Institute and Wyoming EPSCoR. The camp lasted for 3 days and took place at the Berry Biodiversity Conservation Center.  The nine participants were anywhere from 10-15 years old.

The course focused on concepts from both ecology and computer science to help solve real world problems. Brian Barber from the Biodiversity and Institute and Liz Nysson worked on developing the curriculum for the course.

To begin, the girls were introduced to some of the basic background of botany. Then they began to learn python coding, a type of coding typically used for beginners.

The python coding was then applied to Raspberry pi computers. These small computers are about the size of a credit card and can be used with a standard computer monitor, keyboard, and mouse.

"They learned basic programs and set up the circuit.  One of the firsts tasks they were assigned was to make a blinking light," Barber said.

The Arduino board was another piece of technology used for the girl's project. The board is a sensor that can be used for a variety of projects. It has the ability to detect movement, water levels, and Ph levels.

The girls used the Raspberry pi computers and the Arduino board to create a sensor they could put into a houseplant. The sensor could track the well-being of the plant and could alert the girls when it needed more water.

"It actually had a function and they applied it to a real world problem," Barber said. After the camp the girls were also allowed to keep what they had made.

While ecology and computer science may seem like to two completely different subjects, they are both essential parts of scientific research.

"Technology and computers drive a lot of our research. It requires computational power, you can't analyze the data any other way, and some of it is so specialized," Barber said.

It is also critical that coding programs such as this one are targeting younger girls. This because research has shown that once girls leave the STEM fields, they usually don't return to them at older ages. This early engagement can help foster interest in these fields and will eventually lead to more women in science

"It's empowering. They can think I did this myself, now I have the courage to try something else even greater," Barber said.

Barber and other outreach coordinators are looking forward to see how they can expand this program. Some future program ideas include focusing a coding workshop for adults and connecting this coding to Citizen Science projects.

Friday, October 28, 2016

WyCEHG Voices of the River

Learn how one University of Wyoming student conducts research that reimagines the science behind water in the Mountain West. 

Monday, October 24, 2016

Following the Flow

Better Understanding Water Processes in Wyoming 

Wyoming is a state that pays attention to water. As a semi-arid head water state, citizens and organizations need to know how much water we have, and where this water is going. With scientific research we can answer these questions. Working with WyCEHG, Associate Professor Ginger Paige has been able to conduct hydrology research that has been able to contribute to a better understanding of water processes across the state.

She became interested in hydrology after working with the Peace Corps for three years in Mali, located in West Africa. She worked on community development and technology to improve well construction and irrigation in the area.

She is currently working on two different research projects; one in the upper Wind River Basin watershed and another in the Crow Creek watershed.

"Wyoming is beautiful and I love the places where we work. I'd rather be doing the ground research than modeling. Measurements give you the chance to look at variability such as changing landscapes or changing soil," Paige said.

Through her research Paige has been able to quantify the return flow processes in the Wind River Basin using geophysics technology provided by WyCEHG. Her team has been looking at the partitioning of surface and subsurface water and mapping out the subsurface hydrologic pathways.

At the Crow Creek watershed site there is a focus on the partitioning of surface waters. The next step for these findings are putting it into a watershed modeling framework. This modeling demonstrates where the water is going; whether it returns to the stream, is transpired, or goes into deep percolation.

The results from this research will help inform water management decisions when looking at the tradeoffs between irrigation practices. 

"WyCEHG has given us new instrumentation and new ideas to expand our capability and allows us to work with partners across Wyoming," Paige said.

Communication with other stakeholders in Wyoming is an integral part of Paige's work. Part of the outreach that Paige has participated in includes Water Interest Group meetings.

"We will have three meetings over the five year grant. The first introduced WyCEHG and it's capacity, to water entities in the state and region, in terms of water resource questions, and the second highlighted the partnerships we've formed. The final meeting will be a summary of what we've been able to do and a pathway forward," Paige said.

WyCEHG also attends Wyoming's monthly water forums led by the state's engineer office to share information on their findings with other state agencies.

Paige has also worked with graduate students as a supervisor and project director.

"Graduate students are helping me with my research but also have their own research topics. For masters or PhD students its important that they have ownership for their own research and they tend to be allowed more freedom. We have shared goals, but we do want that ownership," Paige said.

The biggest piece of advice she has for students interested in science research is to find an area of research that they are passionate about.

"Find a piece that really interests you because science takes time. It's about asking the questions, finding the answers and taking the time to do field work or lab work," Paige said.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Arapaho Ranch Safari

By: Jennifer Wellman

Mentor program offers exploratory study for summer youth

During late July, several organizations on the Wind River Reservation collaborated to provide an interdisciplinary field camp, the Arapaho Ranch Safari, for students aged 14-23. The setting was Arapaho Ranch, a rural, historic ranch on the Wind River Reservation, northwest of Thermopolis at the confluence of the Owl Creek Mountains, the Absaroka Range, and Hamilton Dome. 

During the program, youth improved the Arapaho
 Ranch by working on service projects.
Run by the Northern Arapaho Tribe, the ranch includes a cattle operation, historic homesteads, and vast tribal lands and water for creative and scientific study. 

The Northern Arapaho Workforce Investment Act (WIA) Summer Program employs reservation youth in various tribal departments and businesses. This summer, with a grant from the US Department of Labor, WIA formed a partnership to create the Ranch Safari with Wind River EPSCoR, Maker Space 307, Poetics of Peace, Wind River Native Advocacy Center, Arapaho Tribal Health and numerous other artists and local experts. 

The Ranch Safari was the first, multi-faceted 5 day field camp for WIA workers that offered an adventure in filmmaking, cultural awareness, scientific study, and creative environmental exploration. 

The group set base camp at the historic old mansion, built in the late 1800's, and the Ranch's yurt, established in 2012 by the Wyoming Conservation Corps. Water conservation was critical during the week as the house's plumbing was not functional; students were able to use other local showers and bathrooms and had to haul water for drinking and cooking. 

Each day consisted of chores and activities, including assisting with cooking and clean up. Meals included fresh salads, lean meats, and delicious snacks to guide students toward healthy options that were easy to make, with assistance from UW's Centsible Nutrition Program

Youth went on a horse culture ride with Alison
Sage from Arapaho Tribal Health.
Ranch Safari highlights included: 
  • Documentary film-making with Alan O'Hashi, a regional film producer, using iPad minis;
  • Poetry reading and writing with henry Real Bird (Crow Tribe), the 2009-2011 Montana poet laureate;
  • Field trips to cultural and environmental sites: a buffalo jump, tipi rings, historic petroglyphs at Legend Rock, Thermopolis hot springs, and Anchor Reservoir;
  • Service learning projects at the mansion and the ranch headquarters, clearing vegetation and debris from the grounds and updating paint on a roadside fence;
  • Horse culture ride with Alison Sage from Arapaho Tribal Health;
  • Buffalo wallow ecology discussion with Jason Baldes, an Eastern Shoshone scientist and buffalo expert.

Ranch Safari mentors were:

Clarinda Calling Thunder, WIA program director
Jason Baldes, Wind River Native Advocacy Center
Hetty Brown-Tabaha, WIA Program
Alfred Burson, Arapaho tribal guide
Susan Grinels, Maker Space 307
Lorre Hoffman, Wind River Development Fund
Clina Longtimesleeping, WIA Program
Barbara May, photographer
Alan O'Hashi, Wyoming Community Media
Kelli Pingree, UW Centsible Nutrition
Henry Real Bird, Crow Tribe
Alison Sage, Arapaho Tribal Health
Marvene Thunder, Sky People Higher Education
Manuela Twitchell, local artist and poet
Jennifer Wellman, Wind River EPSCoR

In addition to US Department of Labor funding for the ranch Safari, Wyoming EPSCoR supported the purchase of supplies, food, and teaching materials. Additional funds were provided by a Wyoming Arts Council grant to Wind River Development Fund, a local non-profit. 

For more information on this project or other collaborative science opportunities on the Wind River Reservation, contact Jennifer Wellman at 

Friday, October 7, 2016

Spring Creek Water Project

On Tuesday Sept. 27, 2016 Spring Creek Elementary 3rd and 4th graders went to LaPrele Park to study human impacts on water and the water cycle. 

Prior to their field trip, the class had studied the water cycle, aquifers, and the effects humans have on water.

Wyoming EPSCoR was able to help teachers bring place-based education where students could preform tests and observe water close to home. Science and Math Teaching Center graduate student, Claire Ratcliffe and EOD coordinator Emily Vercoe went out with the class to help with class discussions and testing. 

Before they started testing, the class learned what an aquifer is and how features like a spring form in an aquifer. An example used was the Casper Aquifer. The Casper Aquifer accounts of 60-100% of Laramie's drinking water. Students were able to make personal connections to the science of water by studying it in the context of their local environment. 

Students tested water quality in Huck Finn Pond, a spring fed fishing pond. They were also able to test along Spring Creek. This creek is also spring fed, but comes from a different source further east. These two different testing areas offered the opportunity to compare and contrast moving and still water. 

The class conducted a variety of tests including; pH, turbidity, dissolved oxygen, and temperature. Based on the information collected, students could make predictions on the health of the stream and pond. 

While testing, students had time to observe macro-invertebrates. Macro-invertebrates commonly found in the water of Huck Finn Pond and Spring Creek are stoneflies, mayflies, or sowbugs. Most students went hunting for crawdads, by far the most coveted catch of the macro-invertebrates. 

There was also playful creativity incorporated into the field trip. The students played "Macro Mayhem", a version of the game sharks and minnows. Students were asked to mimic a stream, helping them to see how sensitive macro-invertebrates quickly die off if stream quality is damaged.

To conclude their day of scientific explorations the class walked back to school along Spring Creek Road, making observations along the way. 

The class can look forward to another day out in the field on Oct. 10 when they return to the water cycle, with a focus on watersheds.