Environmental analysis offers a wealth of topics for students to dive into via research projects. Below is a list of recent Summer Undergraduate Research Projects by environmental analysis students. 


A Look into Aphantasia and a Blind “Eye”

Reina Hernandez ’20; Advisor: Char Miller

Coined in 2015, aphantasia is the inability to consciously synthesize senses in the “mind’s eye.” For example, someone with aphantasia cannot create a quasi-sensory experience of a beach in their mind, but they know its details and that they are thinking of it. Despite the condition’s lack of research, Adam Zeman’s current study, “The Eye’s Mind,” focuses on visualization extremes of aphantasia and hyperphantasia. Online forums and sites also host platforms for people identifying with aphantasia to discuss shared experiences. In doing so, the community acquires a further grasp of aphantasia’s varied dimensions and individual impact. “A Look into Aphantasia and a Blind Mind’s Eye” explores various points on the visualization spectrum, its nature, and implications on our understanding of mental imagery. I conducted literature reviews, fieldwork, interviews and surveys to define mental imagery, identify individuals with aphantasia, discover aphantasiac thought processes, and compare experiences. Literature reviews on the mental imagery debate and case studies reveal the brain’s complexity, allowing for variation in quasi-sensory experiences per person. The project survey also demonstrates that vividness of imagery varies not only per person, but also in the types of mental imagery and tasks involved. With these findings, the project has led me to question what we imagine to be the sharp line between “normal” and aphantasiac experiences.
Funding Provided By: Frank G. Wells ’53 Endowed Fund in Environmental Analysis

Carbon and Nitrogen Storage in Native Sage Scrub and Non-Native Grassland Soils Along a Coast to Inland Gradient in Southern California

Collaborators: Lauren Hartz ’18, Alondra Soto ’19 and Tal Caspi ’18, SC; Advisor: Wallace Meyer

Assessing how plant invasions influence carbon (C) and nitrogen (N) storage is important in determining regional nutrient budgets. California sage scrub (CSS), the native low-elevation shrub-dominated habitat of Southern California, is listed as endangered (85-98% lost) by the United States Geological Survey. Increased fire frequency, urban development, and climate change have facilitated widespread type-conversion of CSS to non-native grasslands (NNG) dominated by European Bromus spp. and at times Brassica spp. dominated non-native forblands. Our study examines how type-conversion to both NNG and forblands, as well as other environmental factors (e.g. soil properties and temperature humidity regimes) influence regional soil nutrient concentrations (% C and N) and quantities (total C and N) at nine sites along a coast to inland gradient (Santa Monica Mountains to Yucaipa). We sampled CSS and NNG at each site to minimize confounding variables. We collected a soil clod for soil density analysis and a loose soil sample for % C and N analysis from six sampling locations within each habitat. We found that type-conversion negatively impacts C and N storage in Bromus-dominated sites, but found evidence that non-native forblands may store more C and N than CSS. Our results suggest that the effects of plant invasions on nutrient dynamics are species specific, and if we intend to accurately model nutrient storage across the region, we must include plant community type in our analyses.
Funding Provided By: Schulz Fund for Environmental Studies

Policing, Prisons and Pollution: Visions for Safe and Sustainable Communities in San Antonio, Texas

Ki’Amber Thompson ’18; Advisor: Marc Los Huertos

How are policing, prisons, and pollution connected? How might prison abolition be used to transform our social and ecological landscapes? This project reconsiders toxicity, focusing on toxics from policing and prisons rather than solely from chemicals and emissions. This project shifts the focus to theorizing and producing change in communities and prisons through an environmental justice lens. Through interviews with formerly incarcerated people, it investigates the intersection of policing, prisons, and pollution, assessing potential for coalition building between prison and environmental justice activists and discovering visions for safe and sustainable communities. Based on the interviews, coalitions can be built around food insecurity, climate change, and parks. Participants discussed the lack of preparedness in Texas prisons for major climate events such as heat waves or flooding. Additionally, food insecurity in prisons is comparable to and more intensified than food insecurity in the participants’ communities. All participants discussed the significance of parks in their communities, not prisons, as spaces of safety. Using abolition as a framework, prison abolition could look like building and sustaining community parks. Prison abolition as a goal requires re-imagining and re-structuring of society and environment, and thus, is concerned with creating more just breathing spaces and landscapes.
Funding Provided By: The Edwin W. Pauley Foundation SURP Fund

The SNCC Office in New York

Jawuan Walters ’20; Advisor: Char Miller

The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, commonly known as “SNCC,” was a civil rights organization formed in the 1960s in response to racism and segregation in the United States, particularly in the South. Working along with other civil rights organizations, SNCC utilized the nonviolent practices, such as protests and sit-ins, to challenge systemic racism. However, unlike other civil rights organizations, SNCC's membership immersed themselves into the South. During their time in the South, SNCC members created schools to educate black youth, integrated public facilities and registered people to vote. To fund these programs, James Forman, SNCC’s Executive Chairmen, created a vast fundraising network, opening a number of SNCC offices, the most important of which was located in New York City. At its peak, the New York office provided over 40 percent of SNCC’s budget, totaling $350,000. The SNCC office was able to raise most of their funds through parties or gatherings that were hosted by celebrities. Usually when discussing civil rights organizations, we neglect to uncover the methods of how leaders of each organization gathered the funds to run their campaigns. In this project, it was my goal to understand the process of acquiring money to run a civil rights organization. By searching through original SNCC documents, and reading the memoirs of SNCC workers, I was able to discover the significance the New York SNCC office and others like it had.
Funding Provided By: Frank G. Wells ’53 Endowed Fund in Environmental Analysis

Translating Interviews of Escapees Who Left Mainland China

Justin Lee ’20; Advisor: Angelina Chin

Waves of escapees from the People’s Republic of China (PRC) from Liberation up to and including the Reform and Opening-up Period left because of the worsening economic and social conditions. A common destination was the then British colony of Hong Kong, where most of the interview subjects settled down. Professor Chin interviewed several such individuals in July and August of 2016. I translated the interviews conducted in Cantonese Chinese into English, paying special attention to people’s lives prior to their escape, their escape journeys, why they decided to remain and settle down where they did, and how they viewed the Nationalist Party of China (KMT) and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). In many cases, escapees had negative experiences because of the CCP’s economic policies. The subjects differed in the routes they took to escape, which include riding wooden boats across maritime borders or hiking across land borders. Subjects also differed in socioeconomic class, though many expressed that the only regret they have in leaving the mainland was due to their relatives in the mainland, who are better off than they are in the present day. The results of this research may be affected by selective memory and exaggeration, especially because many subjects had left the PRC in their teens or early 20’s, whereas the interviews were conducted much later in their lives when said interviewees had already retired.
Funding Provided By: General SURP Fund


Between a Tall Rock and a Hard Place: Climbers, Native Americans, and Bear Lodge/Devils Tower National Monument

Anna Kramer ’16; Mentors: Char Miller and Harmony O’Rourke (PZ)

Bear Lodge/Devils Tower, an arresting igneous monolith in northeastern Wyoming, is a lightening rod for controversy. The tower is a sacred site for over twenty Native American tribes, but since 1906, the National Park Service has managed it primarily as a geologic wonder and more recently as a rock-climbing site. Debate over the appropriateness of climbing erupted in the mid-1990s, when the NPS implemented a climbing management plan that included a voluntary climbing closure during the ceremonially important month of June. A few climbers filed lawsuits, challenging the legality of the new practice of also managing the tower as a sacred site. Arguing against Native American concerns about climbing on the tower, they countered that rock climbing is an important historical activity at the tower, dating back to the first known ascent occurring in 1893. The climbing management plan for the tower attempted to balance the competing claims by climbers and Native Americans; as it nodded to the Native American beliefs about this sacred space, it granted climbers nearly total freedom to pursue their rights to this public land. Using archival resources and oral histories from rock climbers and NPS

employees, this study demonstrates how Bear Lodge/Devils Tower is yet another example of how the NPS and the general public have ignored Native American historical and current ties to our public lands.
Funding Provided By: Faucett

Cultivating Resistance: An Exploration of Alternative Food Pathways Forged by Chicago Residents

Ida Kassa ’16; Mentor: Char Miller

Through interviews with community organizers about their experiences with food access, growing food, and food justice, I have found that for those creating alternative food pathways, food has become more than just sustenance. Interviewees described our present day food system as undeniably rooted in a history of enslavement and exploitation of Black and Brown bodies; they regard food justice work by communities of color as an important source of empowerment as it not only is an act of survival, but also an act of reclamation of spaces they’ve long been historically denied. For them, community gardens are safe spaces for neighbors of all ages to congregate, discuss issues happening in the neighborhood, and ultimately keep the community alive and healthy; they are transformative spaces for community building, learning, and collective healing. Residents become better stewards to the earth, as well as to each other. Ultimately, community-led urban agriculture has the power to transform urban communities and their relationship with food, land, the environment, and each other. Ineffective public health initiatives often fail to sufficiently historicize and contextualize the relationship between social factors, unhealthy urban landscapes, and poor health outcomes. By placing the agency of the affected community at the center of public health research, however, we might better understand the relationship between positionality, health outcomes, and our efforts to improve it.
Funding Provided By: Richter

Effects of Grid Discretization in Coastal Aquifer Model Results

Katie Li ’18; Mentors: Tzu-Yi Chen and Holly Michael (University of Delaware); Collaborator: Kaileigh Calhoun (University of Delaware)

Understanding coastal aquifer processes is imperative for management of freshwater resources, as <1% of seawater makes freshwater undrinkable. Seawater intrusion (SI), the landward movement of seawater marked by the location of a freshwater-saltwater interface, has been exacerbated by increased freshwater pumping and sea level rise.3 Submarine groundwater discharge (SGD), or solute inputs from the seafloor, is significant to both ocean chemistry and nutrients budgets. Due to the large spatial and time scales of groundwater processes, numerical models are often used to study coastal aquifers. However, the goal of any modeling exercise is to produce results that are grid-independent. Computational time is significantly increased with a finer (more discretized) grid, but with modified methods, this study improved the runtime an estimated 400%. Overall location of the freshwater-saltwater mixing zone was not significantly changed with grid size, but patterns and the length of the bottom of the interface were impacted. Saline circulation and freshwater recharge increased with finer grids, indicating greater flow in the system. Thus, a grid-independent set of results will require running additional simulations at higher discretization, necessary to validate the accuracy of experimental results.
Funding Provided By: National Science Foundation (University of Delaware)

Evaluation of the Larvicidal Efficacy of Crude Aqueous Extracts from Azadirachta indica and Lantana camara against Anopheles coluzzii

Maria Pettis ’17; Mentors: Marc Los Huertos, Andres Kudum (University of Cape Coast, Ghana) and Benjamin Mensah (University of Cape Coast, Ghana)

The World Health Organization reported 200 million recorded cases and 564 thousand deaths in 2013. With over 3.3 billion people worldwide are at risk for Malaria, developing cost effective controls is one of the most important public health issues facing the world. In Cape Coast, Ghana, Anopheles coluzzii mosquito vectors transmit malaria, elephantitis and other blood borne diseases. Conventional mosquito control is often expensive, impractical and polluting. Because the adult stage of mosquitos are mobile and modify their behavior to avoid conventional controls, targeting larval stages using plant extracts may be an alternative strategy. Two plants, Azadirachta indica (Neem) and Lantana camara (Wild Sage) contain known phytochemicals with larvicidal properties and are prevalent in Ghana. We predicted that both Neem and Wild Sage would have similar larvicidal efficacies and could reduce A. coluzzii larvae survival. The use of crude aqueous solutions from ground Neem and Wild Sage leaves at varying dilutions as larvicides in field-like conditions on field collected A. coluzzii in instar 1 and 2 is novel. Bioassays were conducted by WHO standards and deaths were recorded and results pooled across 3 trials. A more than 1,800 larvae were collected and assayed for 288+ hours and data was analyzed with a X2 test using R and XL-stat. Time was a significant factor; in 24 hours there was no difference between Neem and Wild Sage but in 48 hours neem had a greater efficacy (X2 =33.771; df = 1; p-value < 0.001). Among concentrations, mortality was greater in the Neem extract at lower concentrations (5%, 7%), but mortality in higher concentration extracts (9%, 13%) were indistinguishable. We believe both Neem and Wild Sage have potential as an inexpensive and effective bio-control methods of Anopheles mosquitoes, however, more extensive studies and field trials are necessary before this strategy can be adopted.
Funding Provided By: Schulz Fund for Environmental Studies/National Science Foundation (University of Washington and Lee/University of Cape Coast, Ghana)

Farmer’s Markets as a Lens for Disparities

Katharine Page ’17; Mentor: Richard Hazlett

The movement across the United States to accept Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits is an attempt to increase access to healthy foods and produce for consumers of low socioeconomic classes. Oftentimes farmer’s markets gain the reputation of being exclusive and of catering to a wealthy select group of the population. However, the introduction of SNAP into markets may allow access for another portion of the population. By surveying the consumers at Little Rock farmer’s markets that accept SNAP, I attempted to identify barriers to attending the markets. I also visited supermarkets in low-income and high-income areas to identify pricing variation and availability of produce, as well as to compare their pricing to farmer’s market pricing. Solely introducing SNAP into farmer’s markets may not necessarily increase the socioeconomic diversity among attendees because supermarkets still offer lower prices for most produce. However, I found that the consumers participating in SNAP at markets that offer double SNAP rewards, an offer in which the market matches the consumer’s SNAP benefits, were more willing to attend markets and reported few barriers to attending markets. Ultimately, it may require greater funding to continue the diversification of farmer’s market demographics or potentially the creation of an alternative system in which we increase food security while simultaneously provide a setting that affords inclusivity.
Funding Provided By: Schulz

The Construction of Nature and the Displacement of Indigenous Peoples in Yosemite National Park

Aidan Orly ’16; Mentor: Char Miller

The separation between people and nature in United States society is perhaps most obvious in our National Parks. These remote areas are preserved to protect them as wilderness, relying on mandated minimal use of these iconic landscapes. To guarantee this restricted use, however, indigenous peoples were routinely displaced. When Ah-wah-nee and its surrounding areas (also known as Yosemite) was first declared a State Park in 1864, a militia of gold miners had already swarmed into the Park and forced the removal of the Ah-wah-nee-chee and other indigenous peoples to a reservation in Fresno to guarantee white domination and “protection” of Yosemite. To this day, the idea of nature as separate from human society restricts the Southern Sierra Miwok, Paiute, and Mono people from using their ancestral territory, making them dependent on the Park Service for access to what had been their homeland for millennia. As the idea of national parks continues to be exported globally, indigenous peoples are being displaced from areas that are designated protected from human use. One key way that the U.S. National Parks can address this environmental injustice is to deepen their relationships with the historical stewards of the land by changing their mission to reintegrate Native Americans and offer them greater management of the Park. This will be a significant step toward revising the idea that nature as inherently separate from humans.
Funding Provided By: Schulz

The GHG Footprint Associated With Your Strawberries: How much better is organic?

Isaac Medina ’16; Mentor: Marc Los Huertos; Collaborator: Neha Vainganker (SCR ’16)

Increasing evidence suggests that small, diversified organic farms have biodiversity that serves to protect and enhance ecosystem services. For example, there is good evidence that organic farms increase pollination services and promote stable beneficial arthropods. However, few studies have assessed organic diversified farms in terms of greenhouse gas emissions. In this study, we measured the flux of three important greenhouse gases (CO2, NO2, and CH4 ) from 27 organic strawberry farms along the Central Coast of California. Pairing the measurements of GHG fluxes with soil texture size and available nitrate, we demonstrate how the physical properties and available nitrate influences Greenhouse gas fluxes.
Funding Provided By: Schulz


Why developing countries have low willingness to pay for better environment

Boyu Liu (2016); Mentor(s): Bowman Cutter

Abstract: Environmental quality in many developing countries is poor and generates substantial health and productivity costs. However, existing measures of willingness to pay for environmental quality improvements indicate low valuations by affected households. In the paper "Envirodevonomics", Greenstone and Jack argue that this paradox is the central puzzle at the intersection of environmental and development economics, and propose four potential explanations. With cross-sectional data from China General Social Survey 2010 (CGSS), I tested some of their hypotheses empirically: (1) at low income levels, marginal utility of increases in income is higher than marginal utility of improvements in environmental quality, (2) relatively high marginal cost of environmental quality improvements, (3) corruption undermines efficient policy-making, and (4) poor market infrastructure such as weak property rights and missing capital markets drive a wedge between true and revealed willingness to pay for environmental quality. In the end, I discussed how more released data in the future can improve this preliminary result. 
Funding Provided by: Aubrey H. and Eileen J. Seed Student Research Fund

Innovation or Inundation: The Economics of Sea Level Rise in the San Francisco Bay Area

Nicole Quilliam (2015); Mentor(s): Bowman Cutter

Abstract: A significant proportion of California’s economic assets are located in the San Francisco Bay Area region. Climate change impacts and more specifically sea level rise are threatening communities in and around the Bay Area. Scientists have predicted that sea levels will rise an average of 16 inches by 2050 and 55 inches by 2100. This means that approximately $60 billion worth of infrastructure and other assets will become inundated within the next century. Two major ports, three airports, railroad infrastructure, local roads and highways, and other infrastructure are all at risk. This research examines the policy challenges of addressing sea level rise to minimize as many environmental, social and economic threats as possible. Assuming environmental costs are inherently negative externalities, planning for a future with higher sea levels inevitably becomes an economic decision. 
Funding Provided by: Pomona College SURP

Payment for Environmental Services in the Serra das Aranhas Environmental Protection Area

Jedrik Chao (2015); Student Collaborator(s): Mukhaye Muchimuti (2015 American University); Mentor(s): Richard Hazlett

Abstract: The Serra das Aranhas Environmental Protection Area (EPA) in southeastern Brazil spans 3800 ha and contains both sensitive habitats and farming communities. It has been given protection status by the Rosario da Limeira county government by virtue of its contribution to water resources and because it houses a significant area of biodiversity connected by corridors to the Serra do Brigadeiro State Park. Under Brazilian conservation law, EPAs are required to have a management plan outlining the degree to which they should be protected and how they contribute to revenues of the county. The Serra das Aranhas EPA currently lacks such a plan. Additionally, because Serra das Aranhas contains rich soils and bauxite deposits, Brazil’s agricultural and mining industries are pushing to use the land in ways that further threaten habitats in the EPA. The goals of this research are to delineate and prioritize habitats in the EPA most in need of protection or reforestation and to propose a compromise such that agriculture, mining, and biodiversity can thrive in Serra das Aranhas. It was found that areas containing high slope and near 1st order streams were in most need of protection or reforestation. In addition, the environmental services provided by Serra das Aranhas were valuated and government subsidies for its protection and reforestation by the agricultural and mining industries were proposed. 
Funding Provided by: Schulz Fund for Environmental Studies

Investigating Soil Pollutants in Urban Farms and Gardens in the Pomona-Ontario Area

James Gordon (2015); Mentor(s): Richard Hazlett

Abstract: The objective of this project was to develop a scientific report on the level of heavy metal contamination of soils being used by urban farms and gardens in the Pomona-Ontario area. Urban agriculture has become an increasingly popular activity in the United States because of its association with the environmental, social, and food justice movements. One obstacle to urban agriculture is the potential to encounter polluted soil, a possible consequence of growing food in an area with high levels of human activity. Potentially dangerous heavy metal contaminants include arsenic (As), lead (Pb), chromium (Cr), and zinc (Zn), among others. This project involved collaboration with Uncommon Good, a local organization that works to develop urban gardens in the Pomona- Ontario area and distribute produce to low-income families. A total of 18 soil samples were taken from 12 sites. Information about each site’s soil history, including local traffic patterns and environmental history, were documented. Samples were analyzed using Pomona College’s X-Ray Fluorescent Microscope (XRF) to measure heavy metal concentrations; each sample was measured twice to ensure accuracy. US EPA guidelines were used to judge whether concentrations had reached dangerous levels. It was found that none of the samples were polluted above dangerous levels, and, with the exception of one or two sites, each was well within safe levels. This suggests that urban pollutants do not necessarily pose an obstacle to the development of urban agriculture. Nonetheless, soil should still be tested as a precautionary measure. 
Funding Provided by: Schulz Fund for Environmental Studies

Chicago's Natural Hair Movement and Informal Environmental Education

Joyce Nimocks (2015); Mentor(s): Richard Hazlett

Abstract: The current natural hair movement in Chicago and its effects on women in the Black community are invaluable based on various interviews conducted with members of this movement. Black women all over the city of Chicago have expressed its positive impact on the overall awareness of certain hazardous chemicals in their hair products and other cosmetics, such as body lotions, deodorants, and facial cleansers. For example, ingredients used in commercial cosmetics such as parabens and phthalates, which are mostly used as preservatives and plasticizers, have been shown to disrupt hormonal balance in the body. Women have not only been taught to stay away from these chemicals through the informal databases of the natural hair movement, but are more informed about their potential detriments on the body through this steady flow of information. The women I interviewed are not only more informed about what types of ingredients to stay away from when making beauty product purchases, but are also knowledgeable about the properties of these chemicals without having any formal education on this subject matter. Social media networks such as YouTube, Facebook, and other blogging sites have created a wealth of information for women in the natural hair movement to learn from and teach each other about chemicals in the cosmetic industry in a way that formal education has never done for people in this community. 
Funding Provided by: Paul K. Richter and Evalyn E. Cook Richter Memorial Fund

A Voyage of Discovery: Recording Oral Histories of Environmental Activist Practice on British Columbia’s Discovery Islands

Naomi Bosch (2015); Mentor(s): Zayn Kassam

Abstract: In my research, I sought to explore the political and social dimensions of life on rural islands, with a particular focus on how island life can affect awareness of environmental issues. I interviewed current and former residents of the Discovery Islands in British Columbia about their perspectives on environmental activism, personal activist involvement, and reasons for choosing to live on the islands. Core themes that appeared among the interviewees’ thoughts on island life were a close emotional connection to nature, an extensive awareness of local environmental issues, a sense of interdependence between community members, and a desire to live in a space where they can live their personal values to the fullest. The negative effects of local logging were the most common environmental concern among islanders. Their responses to this issue have included protests, ecosystem mapping projects, the purchase of at-risk land, and the creation of a logging history timeline. 
Funding Provided by: Schulz Fund for Environmental Studies


Marine macroinvertebrates and greenhouse gas fluxes: effects of anthropogenic nutrient and temperature stressors on coastal filter feeders

Robert E. Ventura (2014); Additional Collaborator(s): Dr. Serena Moseman-Valtierra (University of Rhode Island); Melanie Garate (University of Rhode Island); Mentor(s): Frederick Grieman

Abstract: The current global warming situation has many origins in human activity. Anthropogenic stressors such as nutrient loading in Narragansett Bay, RI have been suggested to cause coastal marshes to become sources of greenhouse gases (GHGs). Although nutrient-stressed macroinvertebrates have been seen to release GHGs in laboratory settings, emissions have not yet been studied in their natural habitat. The project was conducted using blue mussels collected from a low-nutrient area of Narragansett Bay. Initial expectations for the results were that increased stress of nitrogen loading and higher temperatures would result in a larger amount of GHG emissions. Mussels were placed in mesocosms filled with sediment and raw seawater containing different concentrations of ammonium nitrate. The mesocosms were incubated in temperature-controlled chambers at 20 or 24°C and then sealed, with gas samples being taken at various times and analyzed for nitrous oxide, methane and carbon dioxide presence using a gas chromatograph. Levels of GHGs were seen to increase over the time period that the samples were taken, although further analysis and statistical tests are required before any solid conclusions can be drawn. If results conclude that exposure to nitrogen and higher temperatures increases GHG emissions in macroinvertebrates, this project will add to the knowledge of coastal GHG fluxes, supporting legislation concerning nutrient loading in Narragansett Bay and other coastal areas worldwide.
Funding Provided by: National Science Foundation; Department of Defense; ASSURE

Hopeful Hands, Healthy Plates: The Rise of Organic Farming in Taiwan

Gideon Salzman-Gubbay (2014); Mentor(s): Char Miller

Abstract: Taiwan, a tropical island located off the southeastern coast of mainland China, is venerated for its agricultural diversity. Unfortunately, 99% of Taiwan’s agricultural industry relies on synthetic pesticides and fertilizers that contaminate the environment and are harmful to human health. There is a growing acceptance among Taiwan’s middle-aged and younger generations that these environmental costs outweigh the economic benefits associated with industrialized agriculture. Because of this, Taiwan is seeing a small—but vigorous—rise in organic agriculture. This summer, I spent ten weeks volunteering on organic farms in Pingtung County, Taiwan, researching organic agricultural production and lifestyles. I divided this time between two farms, one commercial, the other orientated toward community education. I became fully immersed in Taiwanese farming culture, learning not only about organic growing methods but also the motivations behind committing to this relatively labor-intensive form of agriculture. While in Taiwan, I observed that organic produce is making its way into large supermarkets and organic farmer’s markets. Additionally, the Taiwanese government sponsors organic education programs that teach students how to grow organic produce in their gardens for personal consumption. Additionally, there are other opportunities across Taiwan for volunteers to work on organic farms and learn more about this healthier form of agriculture.
Funding Provided by: Schulz Fund for Environmental Studies

Examining Post-Depositional Alterations in the Deep Sea Coral, Desmophyllum dianthus to Assess its Viability as a Climate Proxy

Aleksandra (Sasha) Ponomareva (2014); Mentor(s): Branwen Williams; Maria Prokopenko; Jade Star Lackey

Abstract: In order to reconstruct past climatic conditions we rely on climate proxies, especially for times prior to record-keeping. Desmophyllum dianthus, a deep sea coral, may prove to contain reliable records of past ocean productivity because of the nitrogen stored in the calcite rings of its calcium carbonate skeleton. This nitrogen comes directly from the coral’s food source and likely reflects environmental nitrogen that controls productivity. However, prior to using nitrogen in D. dianthus as a proxy we must screen for significant skeletal alterations that would prevent it from storing nitrogen isotopic values that accurately reflect the nitrogen composition of its food source. Thus, the goal of this study was to screen for post-depositional alterations, or diagenesis, in D. dianthus and determine if alterations are significant enough to invalidate this species as a proxy. The scanning electron microscope (SEM) was used to examine crystal structure and bioerosion in both modern and fossil samples. There were no significantly “altered” crystal structures in the skeleton; however there was evidence of boreholes and burrows. No significant relationships were present among a preliminary comparison of ages, boring severity and δ15N values for all samples This supports D. dianthus use as a climate proxy. In continuing this research, geochemistry and δ15N value analyses of bored and unbored areas will be done to determine if borings alter nitrogen isotopic values.
Funding Provided by: Schulz Fund for Environmental Studies


Filtration of heavy metals in stormwater by bioswales in Portland, OR

Na'ama Schweitzer (2013); Additional Collaborator(s): Alan Yeakley*; Mentor(s): Robert Gaines
*Portland State University

Abstract: Bioswales are a sustainable solution for urban stormwater management, intended to capture stormwater accumulating on roads and infiltrate it back into the soil, thus preventing stream pollution and recharging groundwater. Understanding the effectiveness of bioswales in improving water quality is essential with respect to implications for groundwater recharge and the sustainability of the facilities over time. This project used simulated storms relying on the accumulation of pollutants on streets in dry weather periods to test the heavy metal retention efficiency of some of these facilities. Five two-hour tests were conducted at three different sites; samples were taken every nine minutes from the inlet of the facility and an outlet of a perforated pipe running through the bottom of the bioswale. Water flowed from a hydrant down approximately 200 ft of the curb, with flow rates modeled on a hydrograph typical for storms in the area. Instantaneous concentrations and composite loads of Cd, Cr, Cu, Ni, Pb, and Zn were compared between the inlet and outlet of each site, and retention and centroid lag times were plotted over time for each simulated event. Preliminary data analysis suggests a significant drop in concentration between the initial inlet sample and the initial outlet sample, indicating high retention efficiency of the facilities, and implying effective reduction of heavy metal loading in street runoff.
Funding Provided by: Schulz Fund for Environmental Studies; ULTRA grant; Pomona College Environmental Analysis Program

Economic and Carbon Sequestration Potential of Pyrolysis Biochar Systems

Ryan Higgins (2014); Mentor(s): Richard Hazlett

Abstract: Destructive agriculture and irresponsible use of fossil fuels have caused an excess of atmospheric carbon paired with a lack of soil carbon, threatening both climate stability and food security at once. The use of biomass to create sustainable energy and healthier soils through Pyrolysis Biochar Systems could prove integral to resolving this issue. Pyrolysis is thermal decomposition of biomass resulting in the creation of charcoal, which is known through scientific experimentation and ancient cultural knowledge to have agricultural value, along with the byproducts of syngas and bio-oil, both valuable sources of renewable energy. Biochar is incredibly porous and its addition improves soil properties; greater surface area, higher cation exchange capacity, better air flow, greater water retention, and lower bulk density are all observed benefits. Biochar also has a “coral reef” effect in soils, encouraging the growth of beneficial microorganisms, and therefore vegetation as well (Bates, 2010). The development of a farming system which implements biochar would allow farmers to increase soil fertility and decrease fertilizer use, while simultaneously sequestering carbon in their land in the form of highly recalcitrant charcoal (Lehmann et al., 2009). This report is an assessment of the economic potential of Pyrolysis Biochar Systems, and of the significance of opportunities for the advancement of biochar technologies and systems with the help of carbon finance.
Funding Provided by: New Zealand Biochar Research Center, Massey University; Pomona College Environmental Analysis Program

Changing Agriculture and Food Security on the Big Island of Hawaii

Nathaniel W. Yale (2014); Mentor(s): Richard Hazlett

Abstract: After the downfall of plantation agriculture in the mid-20th century, Hawaii faces intense food insecurity combined with natural resource and biodiversity loss. Put in sharp relief especially by the isolation immediately following the 9/11 attacks, these problems are now beginning to get addressed through government action as well as budding local food movements. A look into the current food production culture on the Big Island of Hawaii has revealed that organic farms and the proliferation of farmer’s markets have an immense potential to help build Hawaii’s food security in a sustainable manner. While this is already occurring in certain cases, the state still has far to go in allocating land for polycultural production and weaning itself off of mainland imports. The movement to build food security in Hawaii can serve as a template for developing agricultural sustainability nationwide in coming decades, especially as pressures mount against synthetic fertilizer and pesticide production, and environmental impacts clearly become more serious.
Funding Provided by: Schulz Fund for Environmental Studies

Sustainable Fisheries: Considering Community-Based Management

Charlotte Dohrn (2013); Mentor(s): Nina Karnovsky

Abstract: The purpose of this research was to understand the sustainable management of U.S. fisheries on the west coast. I conducted 26 interviews in Alaska, Washington and Oregon of scientists, policy makers, commercial fishermen and stakeholders to determine how people interact with fisheries management and understand sustainability. I learned how stock assessments are made to establish annual catch limits for fishery management plans. I visited organizations within fishing communities including Port Orford, Oregon, and Sitka, Alaska and learned about the impacts of access and allocation policies. These communities have worked to maintain their local fishing industries under changing management while also supporting clean fishing practices and designating geographically specific conservation areas. I found that community-based fisheries management with federal and state oversight has a unique opportunity, through localized knowledge and regulation, to demonstrate a model of biological, social and economic sustainability for small-scale fisheries.
Funding Provided by: Schulz Fund for Environmental Studies