Lead Instructor Heather Leslie is interested in understanding the drivers of ecological and social processes in marine systems, and how to more effectively integrate science into marine policy and management. As a professor in Ecology & Evolutionary Biology and Environmental Studies, her research areas include coastal marine ecology and the design and evaluation of marine conservation and management strategies. Before arriving at Brown in 2007, Heather received an A.B. in Biology from Harvard University and a Ph.D. in Zoology from Oregon State University. In her free time, she enjoys cooking, hiking, and reading. Heather lives on the East Side of Providence with her husband, Jeremy and children, Isaac (5 1/2 years old) and Eva (almost two!).

Co-instructor Martha Downs is Associate Director of the Environmental Change Initiative, an ecosystems ecologist, and science writer. She has studied carbon and nitrogen cycling in temperate forests throughout the Northeast using natural abundance and enriched stable isotopes.  Marty has written for Science, the Chronicle of Higher Education, Technology Review, NPR, Small Times Media, and Women’s E-News and has served as a communications professional in environmental, public health, emergency preparedness, and higher education organizations. She is particularly interested in the relationship between scientists and the media and how it facilitates (or distorts) public engagement with science and public understanding of risk. Marty has a Master’s degree in science journalism from Boston University and a Bachelor’s degree in Natural Resources from Cornell University.

Caitlin Brisson: I am investigating the effects of shifting flow and primary productivity regimes on the recruitment, abundance, and growth of the common acorn barnacle, Semibalanus balanoides, at four sites in Narragansett Bay. I hypothesize that recruitment, abundance, and growth will be greater at sites characterized by higher water flow, primary productivity (often associated with anthropogenic runoff), or a combination of the two. With future climate change, extreme heat events may become more intense and frequent. Such events may confound the effects of land-based pollution and water flow. Understanding the cumulative effects of factors linked to important bottom up processes is important for developing effective management strategies. I hope this class will help me better understand how to navigate research, media and policy.

Bridgette Black: Coastal systems provide a host of ecosystem services to their surrounding communities. The most pertinent to the Narragansett Bay region are Food Production, Recreation, Conservation and a Sense of Place. These services are under stress and vulnerable to many changes both environmental and social. Thus, it is important to consider the consequences of different management decisions in this context. My project focuses on the implementation of a wind farm off the coast of Block Island in Narragansett Bay. This management decision has many implications, both positive and negative, for the provision, value, and conservation of ecosystem services. It is important to display a list of benefits and tradeoffs associated with the project in order to best inform stakeholders and beneficiaries of the Bay’s services. I am extremely excited to be part of this class because I think science communication, despite its challenges, is essential, particularly in a changing environment.

Veronica Clarkson: Agricultural clusters are geographical areas in which many producers generate the same type of product, contributing to a regional identity.  These clusters can be characterized by inter-firm linkages, knowledge spillovers and other factors extending beyond mere proximity.  For this project, a part of the Brown Agricultural Resilience Initiative, qualitative and quantitative research was used to assess the economic viability of the artisanal cheese cluster in the Driftless region of southern Wisconsin.  Preliminary results indicate that the cluster contributes economic, social, and environmental benefits to the area. The information collected and analyzed for this project can ideally be used to influence US agricultural policy so that farmers have more freedom to allocate subsidy funds toward products that are most culturally and environmentally appropriate, rather than to only large commodity-type production.

Marcy Cockrell: The rocky shore is a coastal ecosystem that is valued for its diversity, fisheries, and recreational uses. Like many others, this system is likely to experience dramatic ecological shifts with climate change, coastal development, and increasing human use. I am investigating the impacts of anthropogenic nutrient inputs on the Northeast rocky shore. I’m studying community composition, species’ interactions, and processes such as reproduction and succession. I focus largely on the acorn barnacle (Semibalanus balanoides) and the blue mussel (Mytilus edulis) because they are foundation species, and are often the harbingers of ecosystem change. The ultimate goal of my work is to inform management of this highly valued ecosystem. Through ENVS1965 I hope to learn the skills and tools to effectively interact with decision makers and the media, become an active voice in the policy-making process, and communicate my work – and science in general – to a broad audience.

Spencer Fields: Originally from Pittsburgh, PA, Spencer Fields is currently a senior in the Center for Environmental Studies at Brown University.  Dual concentrating in Hispanic Studies and Environmental Studies, Spencer’s interest lies with environmental issues that affect communities in Latin America.  His research with Brown’s Climate and Development Lab focuses on the effect that foreign investment in extractive industries has on environmental policy in Bolivia and Chile, and the consequences of those policies for communities where the investment occurs.

Morgan Ivens-Duran: Salt marshes are common coastal ecosystems that connect terrestrial and marine ecosystems and provide important ecosystem services such as carbon sequestration, storm erosion prevention, and wildlife habitat. Along the East Coast, Spartina alterniflora is a foundation species, and crucial to the development and maintenance of salt marsh systems. Yet many aspects of its lifecycle are still unknown. For my Voss Environmental Fellow’s project and senior thesis, I transplanted culms of S. alterniflora between sub-habitats of a salt marsh on Prudence Island, each characterized by different environmental conditions, to examine the impact of those parameters on the flowering phenology of S. alterniflora. Through ENVS1965, I want to learn how to communicate my research to a more diverse set of audiences; not just fellow marine community ecologists, but other scientists, government agencies, policy makers, conservation groups, and the general public. I hope to leave this class more confident in my ability to craft a compelling story and message, and with the tools to share my science broadly.

Kara Kaufman: My thesis research focuses on the intersection of Judaism and the environment in order to better understand the role this religious community can play in the environmental movement. In New England, groups like Interfaith Power and Light are calling for religious communities to place climate change at the forefront of their agendas. Meanwhile, environmental policy groups like Clean Water Action have identified the power of religious communities in lending support to environmental policy. Key areas of exploration in my research include the links between Jewish laws and environmental stewardship, and the actions that Jewish organizations have taken within the environmental movement. I will analyze texts from Genesis and oral sources of Jewish environmental law, as well as interview transcripts and survey results, for quantitative and qualitative data. The research has the potential to increase mutually beneficial collaboration between Rhode Island Jewish and environmental organizations.

Lee Stevens: In order to create effective policy and protocols on how to deal with invasive species, we must know the effects that they are having on native plants and their immediate environments, and how this compares to the effects of natives of a similar type. To do this, I compared the effects of two different invasive exotics – Typha x glauca and Phragmites australis – on soil nutrients, available understory light, plant diversity, and health of plants growing in their understory to two different native competitive dominant emergent plants, Cephalanthus occidentalis and Schoenoplectus acutus. These effects were then also compared to patches of water free of these species. These measurements were taken in six different ponds of varying sizes and species composition located within the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore as a part of the Miller Woods pond system.

Shae Selix: The contribution of automobiles to urban air pollution has long been recognized, but only recently have academia and government agencies began studying the acute effects of this pollution on areas less than 500 meters from major roadways.  Rhode Island has yet to act on this problem, and that leaves the state’s children and elderly at risk, as these groups are the most susceptible to the adverse health effects of automobile pollution.  Vartan-Gregorian Elementary School is located 50 ft from I-195 in Providence, and parents at the school have been concerned about the air pollution there for many years.  I am investigating the levels of ultrafine particle, NOx, and Ozone pollution both outside the school and inside two of the classrooms, to determine to what extent the pollution from I-195 determines the indoor levels.  In addition, I have installed wall mounted air filtration systems in both classrooms and are measuring how effective they are at significantly diminishing the indoor particle counts. My final report will display our findings in regards to the levels of pollutants and examine the various options the school has to diminish future risk of exposure to these pollutants.

Carmen Tubbesing: I am analyzing the biogeochemical effects of intensive agriculture in an area of the Amazon that is undergoing rapid change. Expansion of soy in Brazil represents one of the major deforestation, and therefore climate change, threats in the world. However, it also produces a high output of food, so it is important to take a closer look at whether this type of farming could be “worth it.” I hope to place biogeochemical research into the context of economic and social drivers of deforestation, assessing the pros and cons of intensive soy agriculture in this region and whether it has the potential to expand or decline in the future. Tropical deforestation is a huge issue that draws from many different fields; I hope this class helps me communicate the issue clearly and concisely without ignoring the diverse factors at play.

Kara Woo: My research focuses on the integration of natural and social science data and tools into the Massachusetts Ocean Management Plan. This work is intended to be the first step toward building a more robust comparative framework for several case studies of marine ecosystem-based management (EBM), an strategy that considers entire ecosystems, including their human components, rather than focusing on single sectors or species. Earlier work on EBM attempts in New England has resulted in well-documented case studies but relatively underdeveloped frameworks for comparison, making it difficult to understand how best to implement EBM. Massachusetts has been making strides toward an ecosystem-based approach to marine management and is a particularly relevant case study given the richness of natural resources and the variety of human uses present in state waters. This semester I am looking forward to learning how to better communicate with policymakers and members of a public that is increasingly (and troublingly) skeptical of science.