I worked with a fellow GMU student, Ali M. Rezaie, to create a video highlighting his researches on how marshes help decrease flood damage. I didn’t know anything about flood modeling before this video. It was super interesting to learn about, and the GMU Flood Hazards Research Lab had some really great Gopro footage they kindly let us use.
This is a short video I made highlighting undergraduate research conducted on the Potomac River in the summer of 2017. I premiered this video at the VA Sea Grant Graduate Symposium on February 9, 2018.
I recently wrote a blog post for the 5th International Marine Conservation Conference.
Everyone loves the sea. Each year, millions of people all over the world flock to sandy beaches. When digging toes into the warm sand, listening to the waves crash over the ocean, how may people feel connected to the ocean? And how many people take that connection home with them, often far from the coast, and impossibly far from the open sea?
Our connection to the sea, no matter how far inland we may live, runs deep. Snow from the mountain tops melts, running off our roads and lawns into rivers, before eventually emptying out to the sea. With much of that run off comes pollutants, chemicals from our pesticides and sediment from agriculture. These pollutants threaten our health and fisheries, as cans of tuna line grocery store shelves.
New blog post at PEREC. This one is about one of my favorite labs. Every fall, we take students to two local streams and they determine the health of the river using aquatic invertebrates.
How do you tell the health of a river? This is a question that scientist all over the world struggle to answer. A common method for determining stream health is the Stream Bioassessment.
What is a “Stream Bioassment”?
Because you can’t ask a stream how it’s feeling, we use indirect measures of health for an ecosystem. One way we do this for a stream is by identifying what types of organisms live there. In particular, we look at benthic macro-invertebrates, or the bugs that live in the stream bed.
I have another blog post up at PEREC!
Each year, researchers and graduate students from PEREC gather data on Gunston Cove, located just downriver from the Norman M. Cole Jr. Pollution Control Plant. This study has been used to determine the health of the Potomac River for over three decades.
How is a river’s health determined?
The health of an ecosystem can’t be measured directly, however, you can make an educated guess by gathering information on the flora and fauna found in an ecosystem. For a river, that often involves looking at benthic macro-invertebrates, or the small animals that live on the bottom of a river.
The bottom of the Potomac is not just mud, but is a complex ecosystem of organisms that include benthic macro-invertebrates, fish, and submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV). Many “bugs” found in the Potomac begin their lives as larvae that live under the water’s surface. For example, midge larvae (Chironomids) are quite commonly found at Gunston Cove, where they provide food for the fish that swim in the river. Freshwater clams (Corbicula) and snails (Gastropods) are also very common, and their shells are commonly found in the shallow waters near docks.
My previous blog post was about my love of Environmental History.
In researching that blog post, I found that I’m not alone in my fascination. There’s a whole Forest History Society and Environmental History Journal! The Forest History Society even has a really cool book about the history of North American Forests. Continue reading “Environmental History Anyone?”
Every Fall and Spring I participate in this really cool program, Meaning Watershed Education Experience (MWEE for short). Each program is slightly different, catering to the needs and resources of the specific area, but they are generally geared towards students in 6th-8th grade.
It is no secret that I am a rather negative person. Specifically, I have been characterized as an “over-aggressive, condescending, Debbie-Downer”.
People have a lot of beliefs that aren’t true
As someone who is obsessed with sharks, I spend a lot of time listing for people the things that are more likely to kill them then a shark.
What I find bizarre about these conversations, is that no one who asks me, “Aren’t you afraid to swim with sharks??” has ever seen one in the wild.
I often return the question. “Aren’t you afraid of riptides?”
Here’s the thing: Almost everyone who is afraid of sharks knows someone who has had a drowning scare, if they haven’t themselves.
That’s kind of weird, isn’t it? You are 132x more likely to drown then be attacked by a shark. Collapsing sand is more likely to kill you! (Though honestly that’s a really terrifying thing- and still more common then shark attacks!).
But people aren’t just terrible at risk assessment when it comes to nature. Some experts think that 9/11 caused an uptick in car travel. This was likely due to a fear of flying (even though it was and still is the safest form of travel). An increase in people on the road, led to an increase in accidents. One expert estimates almost the same number of people killed in 9/11 were killed in the increase in accidents (Just in the increase in accidents, according to the CDC cars kill ~16x more people then 9/11 each year).
And people have a very pessimistic view of the world we live in, even though, by almost every measure, it’s improving. Poverty is at an all time low, and we are currently in the least violent time in all of history.
Do you know why so many people die of cancer now? They live long enough to get it. People have stopped dying of communicable diseases and in general have more access to health care. That’s a pretty big deal, that we generally take for granted.
Okay, but we all know humans are terrible at risk assessment…
The problem that I have with poor risk assessment is not that people don’t know these stats or have irrational fears, but that poor risk assessment leads to poor choices.
Let’s get political for a second and go back to our fear of terrorism. Here in the USA, we have a pretty strong fear of terrorism, even though it’s still pretty unlikely to kill us.
That fear, while understandable, can create counterproductive results that increase the likelihood of terrorism. It creates a feedback loop.
And let’s go back to that car crash stat from the CDC. Why do people find that number acceptable? Why don’t they demand that we make changes the way we travel? Especially when mass transit is greener and safer. It’s because people largely feel that mass transit is less safe then driving, even though the complete opposite is true. This means people are still dying from car accidents at unacceptable rates. This is also counterproductive to a growing cultural desire to cut our carbon footprint (or in my case nap on the way to work).
And that fear of sharks I mentioned? That leads to shark culls in Australia, which often catch threatened species, and rarely catch the few species responsible for attacks. This also takes funding and attention from more pressing issues. For instance, there isn’t a lot government funding dedicated to combating the epidemic of drunk individuals drowning. If the goal is to truly project people from water-related threats, drum lines don’t make sense. That’s a lot of money to not save a lot of people.
While I can empathize with people’s irrational fears (I’ve certainly got my own!) it’s completely irresponsible to base any policy on these fears or to support people who feed that irrational fear.