Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Dawn Allenbach at UW April 25-26

On Thursday, April 25 and Friday, April 26, Dawn Allenbach, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of New Orleans, will visit the University of Wyoming to share her experience as a scientist and to talk about her research. This week on the blog, we would like to share her biography and encourage you to attend her presentations. 

Dawn M. Allenbach, MS

Ph.D. candidate in Conservation Biology

Dawn M. Allenbach was born with a neuromuscular disease called spinal muscular atrophy (SMA).  SMA is a genetic recessive disorder that prevents skeletal nerves from transmitting signals to skeletal muscles, causing them to progressively atrophy over time.  She first showed signs of the disease at around 18 months of age but was not definitively diagnosed until the age of three years.  Doctors immediately advised that Dawn and her sister Stacy (one year of age, also diagnosed with SMA) be placed in an institution because of the great amount of physical care they would require over their life span, which the doctors said would not exceed 20 years.  Fortunately, her parents didn’t listen.  They chose to raise all three of their children (including little brother Paul, six years Dawn’s junior, who was also diagnosed at one year of age) in the same manner as they would a child without the disease.
 Dawn’s father told her and her siblings early in their lives, “You WILL go to college.  End of discussion.”  To that effect, Dawn graduated high school as a member of the National Honor Society (NHS) in 1989, from Hutchinson Community College (AA in biology) as a member of Phi Theta Kappa NHS in 1991, and from Wichita State University (BS in biological sciences) as a member of Golden Key NHS and Mortar Board NHS in 1994.  She went on to earn her MS in biological sciences, emphasis in ecology and environmental toxicology, from WSU in 1997. Dawn is proud to say she graduated with a mere $1000.00 of debt, thanks to the grants and academic scholarships that paid for her undergraduate degree and a teaching assistanceship she held during her graduate degree.  Dawn is currently a Ph.D. candidate in the conservation biology program at the University of New Orleans and plans to defend her dissertation this summer.  During her studies at UNO, she received the Louisiana State Board of Regents Superior Graduate Fellowship and the Ford Foundation Dissertation Fellowship.  Both her masters and Ph.D. work have examined the effects of pesticide runoff on fish.  In the future, she hopes to also examine the full life cycle effects of residual nanoparticles on fish.
 Much hated in her life is the fact that Dawn has outlived both her siblings.  Stacy died in 2001 at the age of 27.  She was four months short of achieving her elementary education degree from Western Illinois University; however, the university did posthumously grant her degree.  Paul died in 2007 at the age of 30.  He was six months short of receiving his master of arts in English literature from Wichita State University; again, his degree was posthumously granted, and his parents were invited to a special awarding of his diploma during graduation.  Dawn has determined to be fully, corporeally present for her hooding ceremony in honor of her two first and best friends.

Please join us Thursday, April 25 at 11a.m. in the Union Family room (212) for Dawn’s presentation of Dairy of a Gimpy Kid: The Adventures of a Would-be Biologist, and on Friday, April 26 at 12:10 p.m. in room 138 of the Berry Center for Effects of Climate Change and Land Use-Related Stressors on Medaka (Oryzias latipes).

By Dawn Allenbach

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Words, pictures and adventures: Wyoming EPSCoR's Communications Coordinator

Earlier this year we started a series of blogs about the EPSCoR office. The following is part five of the series and focuses on Communications Coordinator, Kali McCrackin.

Kali at the Grand Canyon over spring break in March.
Our staff member, who quietly interviews, creatively writes and photographs, promotes and advertises and effectively communicates to a large and very diverse audience needs to be recognized herself!  EPSCoR’s Communication Coordinator, Kali McCrackin, leads a full and inspiring life definitely worth sharing.
Kali grew up in Laramie and is a graduate of Laramie High School.  To provide an idea of the motivated and go-getter attitude that Kali possess:  After her freshman year at the University of Wyoming, Kali went to Tanzania, Africa to teach English.  Imagine, an 18-year-old woman leaving her family, friends and the life that she knows and traveling alone to Tanzania for a month.
“Going to Tanzania is one of my proudest accomplishments,” Kali shares.  “Travelling abroad, and to Africa specifically, was something that I always wanted to do.  I feel like it is where I grew up and it was a life-changing experience for me.  It is also where I met my boyfriend, Andy.  Tanzania will always be a very special place for me.”
Currently, Kali is a senior graduating in May.  She is majoring in journalism and international studies and minoring in creative writing and French.  Additionally, she is in the Honors Program at the University of Wyoming, where she met her now closest friends during her very first semester.  Kali has studied French since she was in the seventh grade and also went abroad to Tours, France in 2011 during her junior year.  While in France, she studied at the Fran├žois Rabelais University.  She has also completed an independent study project on Africa.
Kali also works part-time for EPSCoR and the College of Engineering.  As the Communications Coordinator for EPSCoR, she accesses all multi-media forums, including Facebook, Twitter, blogs, newsletters and video.  And, she does this with a large team of scientists, researchers and educators often joining – with camera, notebook and recorder - these folks in the field.  “I love working with EPSCoR.  I am so happy to apply my degrees and have the opportunity to write and meet people.  No day is ever the same, which is so unlike other jobs.”
Where does the creative writing come in?  “I got into writing through stories.  My mom always read to us [my brother and I].  I learned to write through reading.  I did a lot of creative writing in high school, including novels, which I now need to take the time to edit.”  Kali continues, “At the University, I mainly write short stories.”
Reading and writing hasn’t always been easy for Kali.  “I was a poor student in elementary school.  I didn’t learn to read until I was eleven and in the fifth grade.  My teacher worked really closely with me.”  Overcoming this challenge rooted Kali’s attitude, “I learned early-on that if I worked hard, I can do anything.”
Kali has proven that she can do anything.  Kali is one of twenty Arts and Sciences Outstanding Undergraduates and a nomination for the Spitaleri Award - the best female undergraduate award.  For this award, Kali was interviewed by a panel of twelve faculty and administration members from all over campus.  (The Spitaleri award will be named on April 26th.)  She is also a member of the Phi Beta Kappa Honorary Society and the International Studies Honorary Society.
If not exhausted already just reading about Kali and her accomplishments, Kali is completing her Honors Program project about literature and photography.  This project is a combination of the history of the two working together and a series of four (yes, four) short stories (written by Kali) with pictures (taken by Kali).  The last story is told almost completely through photographs.  Kali will present this project on April 26th at the Undergraduate Research Day and the end of June at a presentation conference in Steamboat Springs.
In addition her scholastic and academic interests and accomplishments, Kali also likes to be outside running, hiking and road biking.  She was on the ski team in high school and still enjoys skiing. 
“I have to be busy,” Kali admits.  “I don’t know what relaxation is.  I thrive with a lot to do.  My mom is the same way and I think I learned this from her.”
Following graduation in May, Kali will spend the summer in Laramie.  She then plans to travel to Asia in August to teach English for at least a year.  “If I really love it, I will stay longer.  This is what I’ve looked forward to doing:  travelling abroad after graduation.  Maybe go back to Tanzania.  I want to travel and explore and experience before finding a real job.”
Surely, these travel adventures will enhance Kali’s already diverse and broad experiences.  She hopes to someday find a job similar to what she currently does, “A multi-media communication position with an organization that I believe in.   I want to be able to creatively get the information out!”

By Beth Cable
Photo courtesy of Peggy McCrackin

Friday, April 12, 2013

FINSE: Keeper of the Geophysics Equipment

Snow, snow and more snow. That’s the weather forecast for the next week, much to the disappointment of Laramie’s inhabitants. While we are ready for the warm spring weather to return, we might be thankful for the moisture this summer, especially if last summer’s dry conditions return. The new snow has helped bring most water basins in the state up to between 80 and90% of average, but the question remains, will there be enough water? This is the problem WyCEHG is seeking to answer, not just for this year, but for years to come.
WyCEHG is the Wyoming Center for Environmental Hydrology and Geophysics. It was established in July 2012 through a Track 1 National Science Foundation EPSCoR grant. The goal of WyCEHG is to understand the complexities of Wyoming’s water systems using a multi-disciplinary approach. This center brings together experts from hydrology, geophysics, ecology, ecosystem science, zoology, and engineering to study and model water systems at both the surface and subsurface level. To do this, WyCEHG has set up the Surface and Subsurface Hydrology Lab (SSHL), run by Elizabeth Traver, and the Facility for Imaging the Near and Sub-Surface Environment (FINSE), run by Dr. Brad Carr. Earlier in the year, Traver talked to us about SSHL. Today, Dr. Carr explains the role that FINSE plays in WyCEHG.
“FINSE is the repository of the geophysical equipment as well as the expertise and training arm,” Dr. Carr says. “So, if any of the WyCEHG or other researchers on campus want to do geophysical work on any of their sites, basically we’ll make sure they have the equipment and they know how to use it.”
While SSHL helps provide researchers with equipment for surface work, FINSE provides the equipment for the sub-surface. Some of the equipment for FINSE is already in use, but the acquisition phase is not over yet.
“We’re still in the process of getting more equipment,” says Dr. Carr. “There is a certain set of geophysical tools that people apply in the near surface, mainly seismic, resistivity, radar, electro-magnetic and magnetic. Right now we’ve accumulated most of tho
se tools, but we’re still ordering some.”
When studying the shallow sub-surface, there are two general levels: the very shallow, which is up to 30 feet in depth, and the more traditional “near-surface”, with is usually defined as between 30 and 10,000 feet in depth. Each of the tools is ideal for certain depths and for certain measurements. For instance, radar works best at very shallow depths, where it yields high detail images, while seismology and resistivity work better at deeper levels, as they are broad-scale tools.
All of these tools work in different ways, but they all yield images which describe the subsurface. Seismology, for instance, uses sound to make its measurements.
“In the near surface for seismology, we tend to use refraction seismology, where somebody hits the ground with a hammer and we measure the seismic velocity distribution of materials in the subsurface,” Dr. Carr explains. “That can tell you how strong the subsurface is, how consolidated it is (whether it’s rock or soil), and sometimes it can be used to tell where parts of the ground are more saturated.”
When studying ground water, however, resistivity tools tend to provide more direct in-situ detection.
Some of the resistivity equipment used by WyCEHG.
“With resistivity, we’re mapping at how easy or hard it is for electric current to flow in the materials below us.” Dr. Carr says.
Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) is an electromagnetic method that gives us very detailed images of the sub-surface, ice or snow pack thickness.
GPR yields high detail images in the upper sub-surface. These images are ideal for understanding what the sub-surface looks like at that exact location, whereas resistivity and seismology are provide less detailed information over a greater area. All of these instruments are useful for the main levels of the subsurface, but WyCEHG is also going to look a little deeper. To do this, FINSE will purchase a surface Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) system.
“Really, what NMR is look for at is deeper (greater than 1000 feet) aquifer studies,” Dr. Carr says.  NMR is a useful tool for mapping regional watershed, which WyCEHG will be doing throughout the next few years.
Part of keeping people interested in the center, is introducing them to the tools. Already, FINSE equipment is being used in UW classrooms, and this summer, it will be used extensively by researchers in the fields and during WyCEHG’s two summer camps. This way, people from a variety of backgrounds and disciplines are studying, understanding, and predicting the amount of water in Wyoming for the future. And, water, especially from snow, is everything in our high and dry environment.

By Kali S. McCrackin
Photo courtesy of Dr. Brad Carr

Friday, April 5, 2013

Field Day: Snow sampling and the coming of spring

Don’t sink. Don’t sink. Don’t…sunk.

We’re floundering around in waist deep snow, our snowshoes buried and our packs throwing us off balance. The snow mixing bucket and data clipboard in our hands add to the struggle of regaining our footing, but we could not be more thrilled. The sky is blue, the sun is warm and spring is on its way. The snow melting and soaking into our boots and clothes makes that clear. One more week, and our outing would have been almost pointless. Collecting snow samples with no snow would be impossible.

We scramble to our feet, the wet snow helping us to slide down the slight slope to the road. We could not have asked for a more perfect day.

Wil Chapple mixes a snow sample.
This field day is part of a WyCEHG project focused on the isotope signatures of snow to help determine where snow melt is actually going. Does the runoff end up in streams and watersheds, like Libby Creek, where we are today, or is it stored in the ground and later used by trees? This is one of the questions Dr. Dave Williams and EPSCoR Undergraduate Fellow Wil Chapple are trying to answer. To do so, snow samples at specific sites, picked because of their soil structure, must be methodically collected. Today, our team of four heads to the Snowy Range Mountains, west of Laramie, to measure and collect the snow Wil needs to continue work on his project and which will be used to inform other aspects of WyCEHG’s work.

Water runs in little rivers down Barber Lake Road where we pull off. The snow banks that usually cover the road until May are melting in a hurry. Our collection sites are half a mile and a mile up the road. Elizabeth Traver (ET), manager of the Surface and Subsurface HydrologyLab (SSHL), and Wil accompany Dr. Williams and me to the first site, to show us how to correctly measure the snow and collect the samples. We are using GPS units and snow core samplers to pinpoint our locations and determine the snow water equivalents (the depth of liquid water of the snow at a spot). The snow core sampler is comprised of a scale with a hook and a long metal tube with centimeters marked on the side and a sharp, slightly pointed end for digging into the ground.  In addition, we have a clipboard with data sheets, plastic sampling bottles, a 100 meter measuring tape, a stake, a bucket and a trowel.

The snow core sampler.
We start by poking the stake firmly into the snow, attaching the measuring tape and walking it 50 meters across the top of the slope we have decided to work on. This terrain was created from rock and sediment deposited during the Bull Lake Glaciation period, approximately 140,000 years ago. Because of its age, this site has a different soil structure, texture and chemistry than that on nearby hills which were created during the much more recent Pinedale glacial event. Our goal at this site is to stay within this soil type during our measurements, because Dr. Williams and Wil believe that soil type affects water movement in this basin. In order to understand this dynamic, all of our measurements must be within the same soil.

After Dr. Williams walks the tape measure out 50 meters, we measure the weight of the long metal tube: 0.71 kg. ET then pushes the tube down vertically in the snow until it hits the ground below. We take note of the snow depth: 42 centimeters. With gloved hands, so as not to warm the tube, ET pushes down on it. This digs the sharp metal end of the tube into the ground. When she pulls the tube out, there is no dirt in the bottom. This means we didn’t hit the ground enough, so our measurements are not accurate. We have to try it again.

This time the snow depth is 46 centimeters and when ET pulls the tube out, deep brown dirt is clumped into the bottom. Perfect!  We can take our next measurement, which is the compressed depth snow: 22 centimeters. Carefully, ET digs the dirt out of the bottom of the tube, trying not to scrape her fingers too much on the sharp edges. Once all the dirt is out, we measure the weight again: 0.81 kg. This final weight will allows us to calculate the snow water equivalent and snow density. Every ten meters we will take these same measurements. At 0, 50, 100, and 150 meters we will collect a snow sample for isotope analysis.

To do so, we dump the snow in the tube into our mixing bucket and Wil stirs it around with the trowel. The snow we collect in the tubes is from different storms, all with slightly different isotope signatures. If we just scoop snow off the top of the bank, we only get a signature for that layer of snow. So, to get a bulk isotope signature for that exact spot, the layers must be mixed together. Once mixed, we stuff it into a properly labeled plastic bottle.

With the method down, Dr. Williams and I head 10 meters down the line while ET and Wil slide their way back to the road to go further up into the mountains to visit two other sites, one in Pinedale glaciation terrain and one in pre-Pinedale glaciation terrain.

A measurement site where one snow sample was taken
By the end of the first 50 meters, we have a system down. Dr. Williams take the measurements, I record the data, and we sink through the snow to our next spot. At meter 50, we collect another sample, and then it’s time to take measurements down slope. This time, Dr. Williams measures 100 meters down, making as straight of a line as possible. The aim is for our measurements to be taken in an L shape, with 50 meters across the slope and 100 meters down the slope.

As we slip and slide down, our measurements become more varied. Whereas the snow depth across the slope was similar at each measurement point, down slope the snow depth ranged from almost 70 centimeters to just 12. This snow was wet and in many places it had already collapsed significantly before we took the measurements. Dr. Scott Miller, Co-Principle Investigator for WyCEHG, told us this would be the case. There is more heterogeneity down than across a hill.

At 100 meters down (and 150 meters total), we are almost out of snow. Large patches of soil, covered with pine needles expose the impact of the warm weather over the last few weeks. For some Laramie-ites, tired of the winter, this may be a welcome sign of summer to come, but for watershed and water resource managers this is an alarm bell going off. The snowpack, according to the Water Resource Data System at UW, is at only 82% for the entire state. With warm weather moving in already, this could be an ominous sign for the coming summer. It is hard to tell if the snow melt from this winter will be enough to keep wildfires at bay and water flowing down the streams. This is why WyCEHG’s work is important. Without a complete understanding of the water system, making accurate estimates about seasonal conditions, water availability and water in general is difficult. With WyCEHG’s data and research, water resource managers can be armed with the tools they need for more accurate predictions about the seasons to come.

One site down, one site to go. Dr. Williams and I head up the road to take measurements from a site formed during the Pinedale glaciation event.

By Kali S. McCrackin
Photos by Kali S. McCrackin