Stained glass from the Geography building at Clark

Undergraduate Research Profiles

Blaize Denfeld: Recent climate trends in the Kolyma River Basin and its potential influence on the carbon cycle

Blaize DenfeldThe vast amount of land surrounding Arctic rivers is a key component in determining the biogeochemical properties of the water entering the Arctic Ocean. Warming temperatures in the Arctic have caused changes to vegetation distribution and have increased permafrost thaw. Vegetation and permafrost (soil that has been permanently frozen for two consecutive years) distribution and dynamics play a role in determining the carbon content of nearby waters. Carbon from land enters the water in the form of dissolved organic carbon (DOC) but can later be released from the water to the atmosphere as CO2 and CH4, which are both potent green house gases (GHG). Therefore investigation between arctic ecosystems and global climate are critical to understanding the magnitude of current and future warming. My research aims to understand recent climate trends in the Kolyma River basin in Northeast Siberia and the potential influences these trends have on the carbon cycle. Using a geographic information system (GIS), temperature, precipitation and vegetation trends in the basin are assessed in association with each other to understand the potential changes to vegetation distribution and permafrost thaw.

Marie Anselm: Local organic farming in a globalized economy

Marie AnselmI examined how local organic farmers in Massachusetts may have been affected by the creation of a globalized organics industry. My background in economic and human geography provided me with a lens through which to view this phenomenon. As part of my research I collected primary data through interviews with local farmers and attended local organic conferences as well as an international food expo. The thesis highlighted fundamental differences between small- and large-scale organic farmers and offered insight as to where the two operations intersect. Doing an honors thesis was an enjoyable experience for me as it allowed me to immerse myself in my academic interests and taught me a lot about doing research as well.

Claire Griffin: Using satellite technology to characterize Arctic waters

Claire GriffinLakes, streams and rivers cover much of the Arctic, creating a landscape that is heavily influenced by water. The characteristics of these waters are largely unknown, leaving major gaps in our knowledge of the regional environment. Satellite technology now allows us to look at lakes and rivers that have never been directly observed by scientists in the field; however, before looking at unknown water bodies, we need ground measurements to interpret the satellite signals. I am measuring the clarity, color and chemistry of lakes and streams in the Kolyma River basin—properties linked to the amount of carbon in the water that could eventually be released to the atmosphere as carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas. If clarity, color, and chemistry of water bodies can be assessed from space, we will be able to study much larger areas than could ever be sampled on the ground. This could lead us to a better understanding of how the entire landscape functions and how it is responding to climate change.

David Hattis: Increasing residential energy affordability

David HattisFuel poverty and energy-inefficient housing are two separate but related problems. Fuel poverty is a condition in which a household cannot afford to adequately heat the home. Energy-inefficient housing requires a relatively large energy input to provide a given amount of heat and electricity. I assessed the impacts of energy-inefficient housing and fuel poverty and critically analyzed two policy responses to these impacts: subsidizing weatherization and subsidizing energy. The former reduces the energy burden by lowering the cost of residential energy-efficient improvements, while the latter helps low-income households pay their energy bills. To determine the effectiveness of these two policies, a model was created that quantified each policy’s impact on energy affordability and consumption. My results suggest that subsidizing weatherization is more effective at increasing energy affordability over the long run. Furthermore, the model found that subsidizing energy increased energy consumption, while subsidizing weatherization greatly reduced energy consumption.

Kaitlyn Sephton: Livestock and greenhouse gas emissions

Kaitlyn SephtonAccording to the U.N. Food and Agricultural Organization, the carbon footprint of the global livestock sector is greater than that of any other. Using life cycle assessment methodology, I explored the environmental impact on greenhouse gas emissions from swine production. In addition, I looked at the capture of methane gas through the use of biodigesters as a possible mitigation technology. My research shows that while greenhouse gas emissions from manure management systems is only a small contributor to overall emissions from the livestock sector, biodigester technology is effective in capturing the methane generated by swine manure in the United States, and could be helpful in reducing emissions from the production system.

Boyd Zapatka: The impact of forest fires in eastern Siberia on greenhouse gas emissions

Boyd ZapatkaEastern Siberian forests contain roughly a quarter of the world’s growing stock volume of coniferous species, making them an ecologically important resource and global carbon sink. Fire disturbance patterns and forest regeneration processes are important dynamics regulating carbon flux in the region. Despite the importance of eastern Siberia as a large carbon sink and large contributor to global forest fires, existing literature analyzing fire disturbance with SAR imagery has focused on boreal forest fires in Alaska and Canada, Central Siberia, and tropical regions. My research aims to detect, map and monitor burn scars in the lower Kolyma River basin in Eastern Siberia and assess how burns are affecting thaw and exposure rates of permafrost and the flux of methane and carbon dioxide to the atmosphere.