2012 Environment Initiative Grants

Below is the list of Environment Initiative 2012 Grant Recipients. Please scroll down the page to find descriptions of each project.

“Translating Science into Practice: Collaborating to Reduce Harmful Chemical Exposures”

Professor Paul Roepe, Department of Chemistry
Professor Laura Anderko, School of Nursing and Heath Studies

“Partnership with the North American Bird Phenology Program (NABPP) to Study Long Term Patterns of Bird Migration in North America”

Professor Ali Arab, Department of Mathematics and Statistics

“Developing Academic Partnerships and Collaborations to Help Policymakers Plan for and Adapt to Our Changing Climate”

Professor Vicki Arroyo, Georgetown Climate Center of Georgetown University Law Center

“Russian Environmental History: A Pilot Workshop in St. Petersburg”

Professor Catherine Evtuhov, Department of History

“Testing for Ecological Impacts on Intraspecific Genetic Variation in Tulip Poplar in a Forest Regeneration Experiment”

Professor Matthew B. Hamilton, Department of Biology

“Jökulhlaups in the Modern World: Environmental and Policy Implications of Catastrophic Flooding”

Dr. Douglas A. Howard, Program in Science, Technology, and International Affairs, Georgetown University School of Foreign Service

“Public Attitudes on the State and Federal Role in Climate Change Policy”

Professor David Konisky, Georgetown Public Policy Institute

“Chemistry In and On Water”

Professor Bahram Moasser, Department of Chemistry

“Tritrophic Interactions and the Temporal Stability of Host-Use by an Oligophagous Herbivore”

Professor Martha Weiss, Department of Biology

“Creating Locally, Connecting Globally: Using Art to Raise Awareness and Communicate about Climate Change”

Professor Caroline Wellbery, Georgetown University Medical Center, Family Medicine

“Environmental Investments and Justice in Washington, DC and Baltimore City”

Dr. Ali Whitmer, Associate Dean, Georgetown College Dean’s Office

“Do Altered Species Interactions Drive Population and Community Responses to Habitat Fragmentation?”

Professor Gina Wimp, Department of Biology
Professor Ali Arab, Department of Mathematics and Statistics

Project Abstracts

“Translating Science into Practice: Collaborating to Reduce Harmful Chemical Exposures”

Professor Paul Roepe, Department of Chemistry
Professor Laura Anderko, School of Nursing and Heath Studies

The Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), the nation’s primary chemical safety law, has been criticized for not meeting the health and safety needs of Americans. Historically, TSCA grandfathered 62,000 previously marketed chemicals and never required the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to review their safety. The law creates such large burdens that EPA has only been able to require about 200 of those chemicals to be tested, and has partially restricted only five. The challenge is to bring this issue and related into the public forum in a way that will transcend politics, while addressing the needs of the consumer. The federal government, scientific community, and health providers have not yet found the most effective ways to communicate harmful chemical risk to the public, particularly the most vulnerable. Conversations between two collaborators on this proposal, Drs. Anderko and Roepe, highlighted that recent experiences of Georgetown researchers in both conducting and communicating science related to perchloroethylene (PCE) exposure were emblematic of this much larger issue. Simply put, the public generally assumes that what is in the public sphere is generally safe or it would not be there in the first place. We will work to recommend how to best address that oversimplification.

 

“Partnership with the North American Bird Phenology Program (NABPP) to Study Long Term Patterns of Bird Migration in North America”

Professor Ali Arab, Department of Mathematics and Statistics

Climate Researchers are increasingly interested in analyzing spatial and temporal patterns for environmental processes that are viewed as “Bioindicators” of climate change (e.g., changes in bird migration patterns, changes in intensity and frequency of extreme events). However, one of the main challenges in this task is lack of long term data. The North American Bird Phenology Program (NABPP), housed in the U.S. Geological Survey Patuxent Wildlife Research Center and run almost entirely by volunteers, provides a unique opportunity to establish the largest and most geographically extensive phenological data set in the world. The NABPP, active between 1880 and 1970, was a network of volunteers who recorded information on first arrival dates, maximum abundance, and departure dates of migratory birds across North America. It exists now as a historic collection of six million migration card observations, illuminating almost a century of migration patterns and population status of birds. Recently, the program has been revitalized by a worldwide network of volunteers where the records are being scanned and compiled electronically. The research comprises partnership with the North American Bird Phenology Program NABPP to compile and analyze this unique and mostly forgotten set of historic records on migration patterns of migratory birds in North America. The partnership between Georgetown University and the NABPP provides a rare opportunity to generate the most comprehensive database on bird migration in North America and investigate the statistical association between temporal and spatial patterns of bird migration with climate events over the last 130 years.

 

“Developing Academic Partnerships and Collaborations to Help Policymakers Plan for and Adapt to Our Changing Climate”

Professor Vicki Arroyo, Georgetown Climate Center of Georgetown University Law Center

In November 2011, the Georgetown Climate Center (GCC) launched the initial version of the Adaptation Clearinghouse (www.georgetownclimate.org/adaptation/clearinghouse), a unique online community and database that helps states and localities plan for and adapt to climate change. This groundbreaking new tool enables policy-makers, planners, and academics to share and search for adaptation resources – including reports, plans, and analyses – by geography, sector, resource type, and climate change impacts like drought, sea-level rise, extreme weather, and urban heat. It also positions Georgetown as a leading institution in the development of climate change solutions, and allows Georgetown to feature the work of its scholars and programs. The system has already been utilized by more than a thousand people, referenced in media stories, including Scientific American, and has been featured at the American Association of Law Schools conference. It will also be highlighted at the upcoming conference for the American Public Health Association (APHA). Funding for development of the Adaptation Clearinghouse ended last year. GCC will be developing additional partnerships in the public health and academic communities to enrich the Clearinghouse, expand its online adaptation community, and provide policymakers greater access to the legal and scientific resources found at Georgetown and other academic institutions.

 

“Russian Environmental History: A Pilot Workshop in St. Petersburg”

Professor Catherine Evtuhov, Department of History

The group (loosely speaking), consisting of historians across the US, UK, and Russia dedicated to creating a discipline of Russian environmental history, is engaged in research on, first, the crucial role the territories of Russia and the former Soviet Union have played throughout history, in providing the world economy with natural resources; second, on the significant cases of ecological catastrophe in human history, from the dramatic to the banal, particularly in the Soviet period; third, on the highly advanced scientific research on the environment that was undertaken inside Imperial Russia and the Soviet Union. It is scheduled to be a series of workshops, held in ecologically significant sites of what we are defining as “lands that have been ruled by Russia,” that will culminate in a carefully-composed edited book, with an indepth programmatic introduction, presenting and publicizing ongoing research on the history of nature, the environment, and environmental science on the territories of Russia and the erstwhile Russian Empire and Soviet Union. The ultimate goal is to establish a scholarly field and to disseminate information about current research.

 

“Testing for Ecological Impacts on Intraspecific Genetic Variation in Tulip Poplar in a Forest Regeneration Experiment”

Professor Matthew B. Hamilton, Department of Biology

It is commonly assumed that genetic variation among individuals of one species has limited impacts on ecological processes. Recently, such intraspecific genetic variation has received renewed attention from ecologists. The research group will utilize an on-going forest experiment at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center (SERC) designed with treatments to exclude deer as herbivores, remove all non-native plants, as well as the combination of these treatments. The specific focus will be on the tulip poplar tree (Liriodendron tulipifera), a native of the Eastern U.S. that is commercially valued for wood. The group plans to sample seedlings from plots representing all treatments as well as reproductively mature trees in the area around the experimental plots. Seedling phenotypes such as leaf characteristics, and growth rate and mortality will be measured over two field seasons and compared among treatments. We will genotype the seedlings for 12 microsatellite loci to compare allelic richness and genotype diversity among the experimental treatments. We will also determine if GIGANTEA, a gene involved in light sensing in some plants, is variable. If it is, we will genotype all seedlings to test for genetic associations with experimental treatments. We will also utilize the microsatellite loci for a parentage analysis of the seedlings to determine if the parental source of seeds is uniform among treatments. This work will help reveal if there are ecological impacts on genetic variation among seedlings in the context of a forest regenerating from disturbance.

 

“Jökulhlaups in the Modern World: Environmental and Policy Implications of Catastrophic Flooding”

Dr. Douglas A. Howard, Program in Science, Technology, and International Affairs, Georgetown University School of Foreign Service

Catastrophic floods (jökulhlaups) originating from melting glaciers have devastated earth’s landscape and human populations in their paths. Documented recent catastrophic floods in lowlatitude glacial terrains are primarily due to climate change; however, catalysts for prehistoric flooding may also be earthquakes, volcanic heat flow, and landslides. Their research goals are first to establish a time sequence of jökulhlaups that occurred along the Jökulsá á Fjöllum channel in Iceland and second to correlate these with climate change events over the last 12,000 years. Dr. Howard and collaborators will map earth surface (geomorphological) evidence related to modeled flood hydraulics to develop a model to study similar locations where catastrophic flooding is also a great risk, such as in the Tsangpo and Siang Rivers of Tibet and Northeastern India. They will use our hydraulic flow model along with other geospatial methods to map the boundaries of past floods and collect rock samples for cosmogenic nuclide age-dating of the sequence of floods. They will also develop a database of historical evidence to correlate geological and cultural evidence and study human impacts. Georgetown and George Mason University faculty and students will collaborate to assemble data and scientific justification for a larger project to be proposed to the National Science Foundation. The principal environmental factor is that climate change is warming mid- to low-latitude glaciers around the globe. Moreover, modern jökulhlaup occurrences will increasingly affect human populations and their surrounding environment. A benefit to society will be to better understand how jökulhlaups relate to climate change and other factors for the near future. Any advancement may provide valuable practical information for future land use planning activities, emergency response, and hazard escape and mitigation planning.

 

“Public Attitudes on the State and Federal Role in Climate Change Policy”

Professor David Konisky, Georgetown Public Policy Institute

This is a joint project between faculty at the Georgetown Public Policy Institute (Main Campus) and the Georgetown Climate Center (Law Center). The project will examine public opinion about climate change, focusing on attitudes about the appropriate policy roles for state and federal government. Specifically, Professor Konisky’s team will develop an original survey instrument to analyze Americans’ attitudes about different policy interventions, which will be administered during the summer of 2012 through a contract with the online survey firm, Knowledge Networks. The project will result in scholarly publications, and will further the efforts of the Georgetown Climate Center to advance the role of state governments in addressing the problem of climate change.

 

“Chemistry In and On Water”

Professor Bahram Moasser, Department of Chemistry

Sustainable chemistry processes consider all energy and materials utilization into their designs as part of an integrated approach to minimizing environmental impact. A critical target of sustainable green chemical technology is the elimination of volatile organic solvents (VOC’s). Replacing VOC’s with an environmentally cleaner and reusable resource such as water will eliminate organic solvent waste disposal and reduce energy utilization (distillations). There are a growing number of examples of reactions of water-insoluble organic compounds that are in contact with water. These reactions are referred to as “on water” and exhibit considerable rate enhancements relative to reactions performed in organic solvents. The chemical mechanism giving rise this special reactivity is poorly understood. It is proposed that the immiscible two phase systems form a reactive interface. The group will undertake a kinetic study of the reactions of hydrophobic reactants in immiscible water/organic systems. By varying the organic phase, Professor Moasser and his team will obtain comparative reaction rate constants for a series of immiscible solvent systems. This will form the basis for a phenomenological kinetic scale for quantifying the effect of the organic solvent phase in “on water” reactions. The practical benefit of this proposal is in facilitating the transformation of reactions that are currently performed in hazardous and wasteful organic solvents to cleaner “on water” processes. The intellectual merit of this proposal is insight into the structure and properties of water at its interfaces with other phases and an improved mechanistic understanding of a new class of chemical transformations that occur at the oil/water interface.

 

“Tritrophic Interactions and the Temporal Stability of Host-Use by an Oligophagous Herbivore”

Professor Martha Weiss, Department of Biology

Explaining extant patterns of host plant associations in insect herbivores is a primary goal of insect ecologists. Both plant nutritional quality and the susceptibility of the herbivore to enemies while on the plant can influence host plant suitability. However, the relative importance of these factors, as well as the temporal stability of their interaction, is poorly understood. Professor Martha Weiss and investigators are examining the ecological factors underlying the recent host expansion of a widespread butterfly, the silver-spotted skipper (Epargyreus clarus), to include several novel non-native plant species. Their proposed investigation, which involves multi-year experimental field manipulations of caterpillars and predators, surveys of plant nutritional quality and predator abundances, and modeling of the parameterized results, will be the first comprehensive investigation of temporal variation in both plant-based (bottom-up) and enemy-based (top-down) measures of fitness for a non-specialist herbivore. The grant helps them to 1) address important basic questions related to patterns of host plant use, which also have practical application to biological control of invasive plant species; 2) collect data necessary to submit a nearly-completed manuscript; 3) provide critical pilot data that will improve their NSF grant proposal; and 4) strengthen long-term collaborative ties between their laboratories and institutions, which together are spearheading educational and research efforts on plant-insect interactions in the DC metro area.

 

“Creating Locally, Connecting Globally: Using Art to Raise Awareness and Communicate about Climate Change”

Professor Caroline Wellbery, Georgetown University Medical Center, Family Medicine

The proposed project will engage a community of students, mentored by environmentally-engaged faculty and local Washington, D.C. artists, to create and exhibit artworks expressing their concerns about pollution, sustainability and climate change. Students will be challenged to identify the university community’s role in creating and resolving environmental stress and to represent their findings artistically. Art is the chosen medium to showcase environmental concerns because it challenges viewers, invites dialogue, and raises awareness about serious societal concerns. The project will use the methodology of arts-informed research. The questions driving this project include: What do students learn about their environment by creating works of art? How well does art engender discussion about controversial issues? Can art contribute productively to a broader effort to communicate effectively about climate change? To address these questions, students will create their artworks and keep reflective journals. The process will also be captured by video documentation. Students’ poster presentations will integrate their science-based observations with their ethical and spiritual quests and artistic discoveries. After recruitment, students will be oriented at a formal session, scheduled to conduct their investigations under guidance of a faculty mentor, and create their artworks under guidance of an artistic mentor. Works and posters will be displayed at a celebratory event. To formalize this final exhibit, a panel will be convened on communication about climate change. The role of art as a means of communicating about climate change will be one topic for the panel.

 

“Environmental Investments and Justice in Washington, DC and Baltimore City”

Dr. Ali Whitmer, Associate Dean, Georgetown College Dean’s Office

Shifting reliance from ageing gray infrastructure to green infrastructure is a key strategy for urban sustainability. In addition to benefits that include things such as storm water management, air quality improvement, carbon storage, public health benefits, livability, improved property values, and aesthetics, green infrastructure can help relieve existing and persistent environmental inequities in cities. The push for sustainability is driven in part by the need to look after future generations. Changes in the way people think and act can be motivated by the idea that they should leave an environment that can support our children and grandchildren. However, sustainability is also founded on the principle that profound disparities in the current generation is not only wrong, but can also undermine the abilities of societies to achieve inter-generational equity. For more than a quarter century, environmental justice scholars have demonstrated that racial and ethnicminorities and low-income populations tend to reside in neighborhoods with a disproportionate burden of environmental bads, such hazardous waste facilities, and relative lack of environmental goods, such as parks or clean air. When balanced with environmental and economic considerations, reducing such inequities is central to urban sustainability. This project proposes to examine environmental justice in the Washington, DC – Baltimore megaregion as it is related to urban tree canopy plans andinvestments. This work will form the basis for long-term research partnerships between Georgetown, ASU’s School of Sustainability, and the US Forest Service, as well as other collaborators.

 

“Do Altered Species Interactions Drive Population and Community Responses to Habitat Fragmentation?”

Professor Gina Wimp, Department of Biology
Professor Ali Arab, Dept. of Mathematics and Statistics

Species responses to habitat edges have interested ecologists for seventy years; however, only within the past several years have we begun to form predictive models to understand why species increase or decrease in abundance along the boundary between two habitats. While predictive models are essential for understanding species responses to habitat edges, current models do not consider the response of multiple trophic levels and feeding groups to habitat edges, even though interactions among species may exacerbate or attenuate a species’ response to edge habitat. The intellectual merit of this proposal lies with the use of a Hierarchical Bayesian Model that will allow Professors Wimp and Arab to explicitly examine the role of species interactions and community context in predicting individual species responses to habitat edges. Specifically, they will be examining the way in which predator/prey interactions modify individual species’ responses to habitat edges. They will also examine the way in which positive or negative associations with the rest of the arthropod community impact focal species responses to the habitat edges or modify the interaction between predators and prey. Such an understanding of species responses to habitat edges is essential because as natural habitats become more fragmented, the unique dynamics found in habitat interiors are lost and edgemediated effects begin to dominate trophic dynamics and community composition. The broader impacts of this study therefore extend beyond ecological theory to habitat conservation and restoration efforts where loss of habitat is now one of the most important factors driving species extinction worldwide.