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Predicting when and where salt water rises to the surface in the Great Lakes could help agriculture and human health, according to research by ESPP Summer Research Fellow Zachary Curtis.

Zach Curtis, Civil and Environmental Engineering and Environmental Science and Policy doctoral student, is working to understand water sustainability in the Great Lakes.

Editor’s note: This is the third in a series of articles highlighting the summer research activities of Michigan State University doctoral students, funded in part by ESPP’s Summer Research Fellowship program. To learn more about the program, go to

Zach Curtis is in his final year of his PhD study in Environmental Engineering at MSU. This summer, he is both developing and testing different methods for modeling complex human-groundwater systems in hopes of understanding water sustainability. In particular, he hopes to understand water sustainability in Michigan and in the Great Lakes region.


His research investigates a serious yet relatively unknown problem for Michigan called “brine upwelling.” Brine upwelling is where salt water (which is unfit for human consumption and for agricultural purposes) is pushing up towards the surface and pushing out the freshwater in low-lying areas that is fit for human consumption. Salt water also has the ability to be detrimental to both the environment and the fragile ecosystems that are dependent on groundwater.


Curtis wants to be able to predict both accurate and operational changes via a simulation of a larger groundwater system due to both climate change and human activity by estimating the pumping levels at different locations, for different types of wells, and at different times in the future.


“This is actually the continuation of a previous 4 year study of groundwater sustainability in southern Michigan which included several analyses of both quantity and quality of the groundwater,” Curtis said.


Curtis’ adviser, Shu-Guang Li, Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering, believes that Curtis’ research is the first step in water sustainability for Michigan.

“Zach’s  dissertation  research represents  the  first, holistic,  system-based  investigation  to  characterize,  across  multiple  scales, the  integrated  groundwater  quantity  and  quality  dynamics  associated  with  the brine upwelling  process.”



Saving seabirds from energy development and climate change is the goal of ESPP Summer Fellow Matt Farr (ESPP and Integrative Biology)

Editor’s note: This is the second in a series of articles highlighting the summer research activities of Michigan State University doctoral students, funded in part by ESPP’s Summer Research Fellowship program. To learn more about the program, go to


Matt Farr is a doctoral student in the Department of Integrative Biology and the Environmental Science and Policy Program. This summer, he is studying “Impacts of offshore energy development, oceanographic features, and climate change on seabird distributions.”

Matt Farr is a doctoral student in Integrative Biology and Environmental Science and Policy. He is spending his summer studying the way energy structures and climate change impact seabirds in the Gulf of Mexico.

In the Gulf of Mexico, seabirds must contend with energy structures from oil and gas platforms to wind turbines. In addition, they are impacted by changes in ocean features and ongoing climate change.

Matt is using aerial seabird data from the Gulf of Mexico Marine Assessment Program for Protected Species to develop models that estimate and predict the effects of offshore energy development, oceanographic features and future climate scenarios on seabird distributions in the Gulf of Mexico.

He hopes the results from the analysis will aid in the conservation of marine and energy resources, inform energy regulation and seabird conservation.

Dr. Elise Zipkin is Matt’s advisor and professor of Integrative Biology.

“Matt is developing innovative methods to address some of the most challenging questions in environmental and conservation ecology,” Zipkin said. “He has a keen interest and a great deal of intuition about the development and analysis of ecological and biodiversity models.”



How can microbes in the soil affect greenhouse gases and mitigate climate change? An ESPP Summer Research Fellow hopes to find out.

Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of articles highlighting the summer research activities of Michigan State University doctoral students, funded in part by ESPP’s Summer Research Fellowship program. To learn more about the program, go to

Di Liang is a doctoral student in the Department of Plant, Soil and Microbial Sciences. This summer, he is working to identify the soil microbial sources of the greenhouse gas nitrous oxide. It is his hope that knowing how these microbes contribute to N2O fluxes can offer additional greenhouse gas mitigation options.

Di Liang (Plant, Soil and Microbial Sciences) is researching the net ecosystem of soil nitrification under a Climate-Food-Energy-Water framework.

Because soil nitrification converts ammonia to nitrate (NO3) and releases greenhouse gas N2O as a byproduct, it is an ecological process that directly influences agriculture ecosystems and links to climate-food-energy-water (CFEW) interactions. This nitrate  is readily available for crop uptake, which supports food production. But it– is also a water pollutant that can be easily leached out and negatively affects water quality, Liang said.  Additionally, N2O has a global warming potential 300 times higher than CO2.

“I review the ecological importance of soil nitrification and propose a new research to assess the net ecosystem services of soil nitrification,” Liang said.

This has a huge potential because one third of the anthropogenic greenhouse has emissions are from agriculture – specifically food production, fertilizer manufacture and food storage and transportation. Additionally, the use of synthetic fertilizer has been proven to be the main cause of the increased atmospheric nitrous oxide, the third most important anthropogenic greenhouse gas in the atmosphere.

“To better mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, understanding the linkage between microbial processes and water-energy-microbes interaction is critical,” Liang said.

Liang’s adviser, Dr. G. Phillip Robertson, a University Distinguished Professor at the W.K. Kellogg Biological Station, believes Liang’s research could lead to changes in the interactions of the microbes that could mitigate climate change.

“Di’s findings are contributing to our ability to acquire bioenergy funding. They also have, in aggregate, policy implications for agricultural greenhouse gas abatement,” Robertson said. “I believe his work has and will advance MSU’s efforts in environmental science.”

Where the science came from? Let’s meet others! by Hogeun Park (Urban and Regional Planning, ESPP)

We, researcher, always asked ourselves about When did science begin? and Where the science begin?  I firmly believe that the science came from a mixture of arguably debates and nonsense discussion. There are no such references to empirically prove this statement. Believe me. The conference is the place where we, researcher, can make chitchat on all every scientific idea (i.e., the thing your family never want to discuss with you). In this spring semester, I attended the 2018 American Association of Geographers’ Annual Meeting. I met and communicated many people like me or at least like my research topic.

Hogeun Park (Urban and Regional Planning and ESPP) presented his research at the American Association of Geographers Annual Meeting.

Thanks to ESPP funding, I did convene the session about Climate Change and Agrarian Adaptation in the Global South, which cannot be a conversation topic in your family dinner. During 100 minutes of the session, we—other presenters, I, and audiences, interactively made an in-depth discussion on this topic. The presenters exhibited various research across Peru, Senegal, Colombia, Nepal, and India. Given the complexity of agrarian adaptation mechanisms, understanding of adaptation strategies in different nations are not comparable. However, through our in-depth discussion, we discussed similarities and differences of adaptive behaviors in response to the different context of socioeconomic and environmental settings. It is an eye-opening moment for me in order to understand the complex system of climate adaptation behaviors. We also spent our extra break time to discuss these divergent trajectories of climate adaptation in Global South and research gaps we need to focus.


Particularly, my presentation “How do farmers adapt to climate change? Using Agent-Based Modeling (ABM) to understand decision-making processes of agrarian farmers in the Indo-Gangetic Plains.”, got fairly good attention to discuss the further avenue to move forward. In my research, my colleague and I discovered that the agrarian adaptation behaviors in Bihar region are fairly based on coping strategies under the profit maximization and are influenced by neighborhoods (i.e., social capital). In particular, our model indicated that the farmers’ behaviors can be explained by social capital (49%) and profit maximization motivation (40%). These two divergent results also linked our study to the discussion of “Hardin’s the tragedy of common vs. Ostrom’s critique” has long been discussed. The audiences and I also discussed several points. While we did not espouse any side of this debate as of right now, this result indicated the remaining challenges and research direction.


In a nutshell, come and enjoy the conference, you will meet people like you. Believe me. You are not the only one who studies your specific research topic. There are many!


Hogeun Park is a doctoral student in Urban and Regional Planning and Environmental Science and Policy. His trip to New Orleans was funded in part by ESPP’s Interdisciplinary Conference Travel Grants. For more information on the grants and how to apply, go to

Life lessons learned in New Orleans by Rebecca Minardi (Community Sustainability and ESPP)

Rebecca Minardi (Community Sustainability) traveled to New Orleans to attend the AGU conference.

I walked onto the plane headed to New Orleans and braced myself. The flight attendant looked a little startled and said, “Congratulations! Um so, how far along are you?” You see, you can’t fly past 36 weeks pregnant (apparently, delivering a baby thousands of miles in the sky is not included in flight attendants’ duties). I was nearing 34 weeks.  I was safe but just barely. The attendant let me on board, and I buckled in. I was headed to the American Association of Geographers Annual Meeting, and I was certainly going to make the most of it. Who knew when I’d be flying again!

When we landed, I stepped outside to catch an Uber and was immediately blasted by the sun. Warmth! This past Michigan winter made me forget what it even felt like. I knew then that it was going to be an amazing week in New Orleans. I made it to my hotel and immediately checked into the conference. It. Was. Huge. With over 8000 attendees from all over the country, I was excited to meet new people, attend myriad sessions, and learn more about my own research interests (the impact of large hydroelectric dam construction on communities, of course!). But first… coffee. I met my three friends from MSU at Café du Monde for three piping hot beignets drenched in sugar and a café au lait. You can’t attend a conference on an empty stomach, especially when super pregnant.  It just won’t do.

Since I wasn’t presenting until the last day at the last time slot (I was prepared to be happy if just one person showed up), I settled in for many sessions and workshops. My favorite workshop was “Walking the Tightrope: Practical Advice for Women on Exercising a Leadership Mindset.” As women still struggle to climb the academic ladder compared to their male colleagues based on a continued systemic culture of sometimes implicit and sometimes outward bias, I was excited to learn more tips and tools to combat this problem.  I’ve experienced meetings where the women literally sit in the back of the room, where women are cut off or not given eye contact when speaking, and where their ideas are subtly undermined. In this workshop, we practiced speaking and listening skills, developed our personal ideals for what positive leadership entails, and shared ideas on how we can change the problems we see at our own institutions.

The rest of the conference went well, and I’m surprised and happy to report that people did attend the session my MSU colleagues and I presented in. It was the biggest conference I have presented at, but I enjoyed the process including the feedback and questions I got from the audience (always the most unnerving part for me). I worked on practicing some of the skills we discussed in the leadership workshop and reminded myself that though I wasn’t an expert on dam resettlement communities yet, I was working hard to become one. We celebrated ourselves by going to Commander’s Palace for one of the best meals ever (and honestly, the bread pudding soufflé with whisky cream is not to be missed).

Rebecca Minardi (Community Sustainability) presented her research on “Understanding Resettlement Caused by Dams: A Global Review” at the American Association of Geographers Annual Meeting.

Though I was sad my trip to New Orleans was coming to an end, I was happy with what I learned. As I reflected back on the workshop on women in leadership, I realized it was especially timely for me. Throughout the semester I had been thinking a lot about balancing a new family with the rigors of academia while being afforded the respect I deserved. Being pregnant in grad school is not common. I was working hard to remind others that it didn’t mean that I was going to be any less of a scholar and student. As I continue to hone my research skills, I won’t forget to also practice my leadership skills especially in light of the fact that other female students are going through the same life changes and experiences as I am. I look forward to sharing these stories from when I was in school with my son or daughter someday. I’ll remind them that with hard work, anyone can be a leader and scholar, from the man in the prime of his academic career to the new mother working on her dissertation while getting to know her baby.

New Orleans offered Rebecca Minardi (Community Sustainability) with more than research presentations.

Rebecca Minardi is a doctoral student in the Department of Community Sustainability and the Environmental Science and Policy Program. Her trip to New Orleans was supported by an ESPP Interdisciplinary Conference Travel Grant. For more information on how to apply for a grant, go  to


Networking, researching and more in The Big Easy by Nafiseh Haghtalab (Geography)

New Orleans, the “Big Easy” city is one of the most beautiful cities located on the Mississippi River in Louisiana. It was my first time in NOLA and It was awesome. Especially when a huge conference is happening there. I could kill two birds with one stone. Thanks to ESPP travel funding that made it possible for me to travel down to NOLA and enjoy the city, weather, and the conference. AAG (American Association of Geographers) is one of the biggest gatherings of scientists in multidisciplinary fields like social science, atmospheric science, agriculture, and even history and economic. It was great opportunity for me to attend this conference, present my research and communicate with other experts in my field. The paper I presented at AAG2018 was about interannual variability of rainfall and rainy season over eastern Africa. In this paper I found that the rainy season is very variable, and it has shifted forward meaning that the season has been started later and ended later which was statistically significant.

Nafiseh Haghtalab is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Geography, Environment and Spacial Sciences. She traveled to New Orleans with assistance from ESPP>


Besides, I met some researchers and professors from all around the World. I talked to them and we shared our research ideas and current results. It was great networking opportunity. The exhibition halls were great as well. I talked to Elsevier agents, and I learnt how to find the best fit journal for my papers to publish and how to recognize fake journals from the real ones.

Besides, NOLA is a beautiful city which never sleeps. People are up all the time around-the-clock. The time I was there it was the same time with the French Quarter Jazz Festival. You could hear Jazz songs all around the Quarter. If you plan to travel to NOLA, keep in mind to try southern fried chicken, all amazing sea food like Red Fish, Mussels, clam, and even you can try fried alligator.

All in all, this trip was very informative for me. It was my first time being in Louisiana.  I got to know new culture, see amazing French style architecture, and delicious food. Besides, I met a lot of scientists and made a great network. Again, thanks to ESPP to provide me travel money, otherwise I would not be able to go there and have such a great experience.


Nafiseh Haghtalab is a PhD. Candidate in the  Department of Geography, Spatial Science, and Environment, Michigan State University.

Advancing Healthy Communities through Environmental Engineering and Science by Khang Huyn (Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering)

Khang Huyn is a doctoral student in the Department of Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering. He presented his research at the Association of Environmental Engineering and Science Professors.

Within one hour drive from East Lansing, Ann Arbor-home to the University of Michigan is my destination for a recent conference organized by the Association of Environmental Engineering and Science Professors (AEESP).  The theme of this year conference was “Advancing Healthy
Communities through Environmental Engineering and Science” which emphasized a transdisciplinary program that highlighted the traditional disciplinary skills but in new ways and in collaboration with complimentary disciplines and tools, such as: systems analysis, public health, governance and policy, economics, and social sciences. Thanks to the ESPP travel grant, I had an opportunity to present my research on the environmental fate of emerging contaminants in agricultural settings. To me, the AEESP conference was a great experience, where I could share and discuss ideas in a forum with distinguished professors, engineers, researchers, and policy makers. Three days of the conference were full of interesting workshops, talks, poster presentations as well as coffee-break networking. I found myself diving in an ocean of new research ideas/directions that are relevant to my current research topics, which I had never thought about prior to this conference.

Khang Huyn is a doctoral student in the Department of Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering.  Their travels to the Association of Environmental Engineering and Science Professors conference were assisted by an Interdisciplinary Conference Funding grant from ESPP. For more information on student travel grants, go to


We love water (and football)!! by Chelsea Weiskerger (Environmental Engineering)

Chelsea Weiskerger (Environmental Engineering) presented her research thanks in part to an ESPP travel grant.

We love water (and football)!!

Here’s a riddle – what do football and water quality have in common? Probably not a whole lot, but during the week of November 6, 2017, they shared Green Bay, Wisconsin.

The Green Bay Packers played the Detroit Lions on Monday, November 6. Less than 24 hours later, over 300 water quality, beach, and Great Lakes researchers arrived for the Great Lakes Beach Association/State of Lake Michigan conference. Policy-makers, resource managers, students, professors, and government researchers came together to discuss issues surrounding the Great Lakes basin, including water quality, harmful algal blooms, invasive species, and moving forward with conservation management plans for Lake Michigan.

I found myself at the conference to present a poster titled “Using Water Quality Parameters to Predict Light Attenuation in Western Lake Erie”. This was the product of a summer research fellowship that I completed in conjunction with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory and Cooperative Institute for Great Lakes Research. It involved a lot of statistics, and can be really powerful in helping us understand feedbacks between sunlight and water conditions in the Great Lakes region. The end predictive framework can be used in bigger models to help predict water quality and safety for humans, without having to actually sample water.

While at the conference, I also got to talk with other researchers about ideas for my dissertation work. It was fantastic to bounce ideas off of the leading experts in the field, and solidify some of my experimental thoughts.

I have attended the Great Lakes Beach Association conference in years past, but this year was different – there was more of a focus on social aspects of great lakes management. One of my favorite discussions from the conference went beyond technical research, to evaluate the progress that the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) has made in the management and restoration of ecosystems in the region. The project analyzed transcripts from interviews with governmental managers, to determine whether the goals of GLRI are being met, seven years after its implementation. The talk drew a large audience, and sparked several follow-up discussions regarding how we can better manage great lakes systems for future use.

There were several football-related conversations at the conference too, stemming from the game on November 6. Researchers came from both Wisconsin and Michigan, so there was some healthy competition, and the football game provided a nice icebreaker for everyone.

I had a wonderful experience at the 2017 GLBA/SOLM conference, and I look forward to future similar conferences, where I can share my ideas and learn more about research and outreach in the Great Lakes.


Chelsea Weiskerger is a doctoral student in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. Her travels to the GLBA/SOLM conference were assisted by an Interdisciplinary Conference Funding grant from ESPP. For more information on student travel grants, go to





The most exciting moment in my PhD student life by Sanghoon Shin

What has been the most exciting moment of your PhD student life? For me, it is definitely the time presenting my research works and getting feedbacks on them; I was able to have such a great time at American Geophysical Union (AGU) 2017 Fall Meeting, held in New Orleans. While most of conferences/meetings are focused on a specific discipline, AGU Fall Meeting covers all disciplines related to Earth system science. AGU Fall Meeting embraces not only physical, chemical, biological, and ecological sciences, but also Earth environment related social and policy sciences. With the hope of communicating with other experts and scholars, I attended AGU Fall Meeting.

Sanghoon Shin (Civil and Environmental Engineering) presented his poster titled “High resolution modeling of reservoir storage and extent dynamics at the continental scale” at the AGU Fall meeting in New Orleans.

I presented a poster titled “High resolution modeling of reservoir storage and extent dynamics at the continental scale”.  In this study, we proposed the advanced reservoir operation and routing schemes applicable in regional and global hydrological models. The river-reservoir-floodplain storages are consistently and explicitly simulated at 5-km spatial resolution for contiguous US. The problems of existing reservoir operation rule are identified and resolved. The calibration feature and cost-effective calibration method are newly introduced on the reservoir operation scheme, and significantly improve the simulation of reservoir releases.

All critical questions and comments helped me to improve my dissertation. In addition, I was able to see the cutting-edge technologies in various fields and get an idea how to incorporate them to my research. I also had opportunities to network with people around the world. I really appreciate the support of ESPP for my travel. The experiences at AGU Fall Meeting will be very helpful for me to refine my research using a multidisciplinary approach.

Sanghoon Shin is a doctoral student in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. His travels to the AGU meeting were assisted by an Interdisciplinary Conference Funding grant from ESPP. For more information on student travel grants, go to