1266 Enhancing Meteorology Engagement in the Geosciences through NSF's GeoPaths EXTRA Program

Wednesday, 15 January 2020
Hall B (Boston Convention and Exhibition Center)
Lisa A. Doner, Plymouth State Univ., Plymouth, NH; and E. P. Kelsey, A. Villamagna, R. Lyons, M. Earick, and D. Evans

NSF and atmospheric researchers recognize a continuing need to bridge disciplinary boundaries and address knowledge gaps around integrated earth processes like hydrometeorological-hydroclimatic-ecohydrological systems (i.e. Dirmeyer et al., 2014; ). Research at the interface of hydrology and atmospheric science, for instance, often encounters disciplinary silos that limit experiential learning by meteorology students on topics that are traditionally the realm of the geosciences, such as hydrogeology and terrestrial hydrology. Through NSF’s GeoPathways program, we tackle this issue head-on, employing a problem-based, field-intensive, interdisciplinary science approach. We target first year meteorology and environmental science students, add field training and research engagement in watershed hydrology to their existing curricula, and cap it with internships in geoscience-related projects. Besides engaging students in experiences that purposely develop STEM and geoscience skills, this program also aims to improve interdisciplinary geoscience awareness for faculty mentors.

With growth of developed lands and climate change creating large pressures on watersheds around the world, watershed management and planning has become a major need in water resource and flood protection or mitigation. Therefore, this project uses watershed research as a high value activity to engage students and build critical cognition and technical skills that open up career pathways and partnerships with the geosciences. The Lake Watershed Geosystems Project (LWGP) introduces first year students to watershed monitoring instrumentation, data and research designs. Participants collect, measure, operate, analyze, and report out applications of hydrology data from lake watersheds, integrating concepts from meteorology, hydrology, geology, soil science, chemistry and limnology. Their experiences include operation and maintenance of sensors measuring air and water temperature, dissolved oxygen, turbidity, particle-size, barometric pressure, pH, alkalinity, precipitation, specific conductivity, and stream height. They develop stream rating curves using flow and cross-sectional area measurements under varying flow regimes; maintain data logging equipment, download, transfer and archive data; collect water samples for chemical, physical and biological analyses; and assess data using quality control and exploratory data analyses, time series and spatial cross system comparisons, data visualization with simple plots, tables, and ArcMap (GIS software), weather visualization software, and geospatial analysis using geological and hydrological models.

Eight to ten students participate each year, with prioritization of students from under-represented groups. The broader outcomes of these field and laboratory experiences serve to: 1) introduce geoscience principles, systems thinking and skill development at the onset of student university experiences; 2) increase student retention and success in non-geoscience degree programs that serve as pathways into geoscience fields; 3) foster strong cohort identification, and 4) apply knowledge and skills gained by students in this project to enhance their future work experiences, education goals and career objectives. At the same time, real scientific needs are met as students learn to monitor watersheds and gather and analyze essential hydrologic data about the watershed system. Their work generates new knowledge about watershed systems, creates geospatial maps of system relationships and case histories that track hydrologic events from the time of precipitation in the watershed to the time of sediment deposition in the lake basin.

Participating students enroll into a newly created introductory problem-based course that develops critical thinking about hydrology and water resources. Throughout the students’ first academic year we engage them in extracurricular field- and lab-based research that spans the major components of watershed systems, including atmospheric deposition, surface runoff and lake basins. These experiences feature high level integrative skills such as experimental research design, building and use of environmental sensors, assessment of scientific results, data analysis and visualization, interdisciplinary teamwork and science communication and specific training in hydrology and watershed systems. During their rising-sophomore summer, participating students enter into pre-arranged internships that leverage their newly acquired academic and extracurricular training. Alumni of this first-year experience are recruited to mentor and help train subsequent, new participants, as an independent study elective available in both Environmental Science and Atmospheric Science degree programs. The internships provide participants with early work experiences that utilize their applied knowledge and prepare them for continued work on interdisciplinary hydrology projects.

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