Friday, December 5, 2014

Grad students explain research, from tomatoes to permafrost

Natural resources management students in the fall graduate seminar gave short presentations highlighting their research Dec. 4.

From left, Bryant Wright, Todd Bentley, William Wilkins, Melissa Woodgate, Olivia Lunsford and Laura Starr presented about their research Dec. 4.
Todd Bentley is focused on growing tomatoes in hoop houses. "I'm excited about Estamino, a  new hybrid suited for the short growing season. It is resistant to pretty much every disease, but there is no hard science yet."

His plan entailed grafting several varieties of bush tomatoes to see which is the most profitable and  productive. "This also ties into climate change since pests and pathogens in the soil will increase," he said.

Bentley is considering transferring to the University of Tennessee so may not get to finish his research in Alaska.

Laura Starr talked about sustainable grazing for the Last Frontier. "I'm interested in enhancing sustainable livestock production in Alaska," she said. The three components of her work are a grazing study, an economic analysis of qiviut and grazing applications.

"Grazing is a disturbance but it's not often looked at that way," Starr said. "It degrades the ecosystem but can be improved through management. She is studying the work of Allan Savory, a Zimbabwean biologist and farmer.

Melissa Woodgate delivered her talk on permafrost via the Online with Libraries program from the school in McGrath. "It fits the humanistic part of natural resources management," Woodgate said. While in McGrath, she is working with teachers to develop a curriculum based on permafrost.

Woodgate has taken students into the field to get permafrost samples. "The kids were really into it," she said.

Her thesis is titled, "Vegetation Succession and Pedogenous on the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta Floodplain near St. Mary's, Alaska." Woodgate has done exploratory soil studies to assess permafrost, looked at soil organic carbon stores and sought relationships between the landscape and soil development.

She has been particularly intrigued by the carbon storage values. "It's pretty impressive how much carbon is in the soil here," she said.

William Wilkins' topic is "Environmental Assessment of Rural Alaska Solid Waste Management Systems." Solid waste disposal affects social welfare and health, the natural environment and ecological services, he said.

"The soil is being degraded by hazardous waste from old cars, refrigerators, plastic, rubber, diapers and medical waste," he said. He is using a life-cycle assessment system he learned in Denmark (EASETECH) and conducting interviews and economic assessments in hopes of finding solutions that are culturally acceptable and economically viable.

Olivia Lunsford, a Master's International student, won't know her research project until she gets her Peace Corps assignment, so she recapped the knowledge she has gained in the graduate seminar.

"I learned to never assume help is desired, study the web of connection, surveys are important and ways to reach out," she said. "I also learned to incorporate traditional ecological knowledge," she said.

"I hate surveys but I learned they can really benefit a study and can bring hope to people rather than fear."

Lunsford said she is being considered for Peace Corps service in Senegal and anticipates taking with her the skills she learned in this course. "What I will remember the most from seminar is 'influence the influential,' " she said.

Bryant Wright's presentation was about applying a community-based approach to recreation planning. He is inventorying recreation in the Fairbanks North Star Borough and the Interior. "The BLM is seeking partnerships to maintain community involvement," Wright said. "We are looking at user demand and connecting with the business community."

Wright is working with ExploreFairbanks to interview dog mushers and guides.

One half of the class presented Dec. 4 and the other half will do so Dec. 11 from 3:40 to 5:10 p.m. in Arctic Health Research Building room 183.

Contact Associate Professor Peter Fix for more information about the seminar.

No comments: