Thursday, June 27, 2013

Alumni spotlight: Evan Kane

Evan Kane
After earning a doctorate in interdisciplinary forest ecology at UAF, Evan Kane joined the faculty at Michigan Tech in 2009. He is an assistant professor in the School of Forest Resources and Environmental Science.

The woods of Alaska still beckon Kane occasionally, and he was here in June to continue his research.

“I’m still interested in carbon sequestration and this is where the soil carbon is,” Kane said.

“I am broadly interested in nutrient dynamics in terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems, particularly in hotspots of soil carbon storage,” Kane posted on his Michigan Tech web page. “As such, research has focused on belowground changes in northern peatlands, boreal ecosystems, and temperate forests, and the corresponding changes in dissolved chemistry. Ecosystem change is a pretty relative concept, but study designs incorporating experimental manipulation or natural disturbances can be particularly persuasive in learning an ecosystem's secrets.

“Natural disturbances offer great opportunities to determine how ecosystems reorganize, and wildfires in particular can dramatically alter how long carbon can stay in above and belowground components of an ecosystem. Besides, getting outside and seeing first-hand how disturbances such as flooding or wildfire have altered the functioning of an ecosystem is just really exciting.”

Kane, 36, grew up in Alpena, Mich., playing in the woods. He knew he wanted his work to involve the outdoors so he got a B.S. in ecology and environmental science and a master’s in forestry at Michigan Tech, then came north to UAF to earn a Ph.D.

When Kane took Professor Chien-Lu Ping’s summer field course examining soil-forming factors of the subarctic and arctic regions of Alaska, he found it to be “a real eye opener.” He also credited Professor David Valentine with greatly assisting his academic career.

“I think the most important thing I learned while working on my Ph.D. was an appreciation for how important a role the lab manager and support staff play in education and in just getting stuff done,” Kane said. “These positions are hugely important.” Kane was so impressed with the Forest Soils Lab team at SNRAS that he is using it as model at Michigan Tech. “I can’t say enough good things about Lola Oliver (lab supervisor) and her group and also about Dr. Valentine’s experience in the field.”

Credit also goes to the Center for Global Change. “That really jump-started my graduate research,” Kane said.

Working on a Ph.D. is not so much about course work, Kane commented. “It forces you to jump in without a safety net and get your hands dirty in the lab. If you mess up it’s your dime and your time. I messed up many times more than I succeeded.”

In teaching soils and wildfire classes, Kane tries to emphasize the importance soils play in governing the processes on which life depends. His one disappointment is that most of the time there is more computer time than days in the field. He is working with the Bonanza Creek Long Term Ecological Research station to seek funding for more fire research.

Driven by a passion for research, Kane enjoys biking and just being outside in his free time.

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