This is an exciting opportunity to undertake field work in the beautiful Sierra mountains while answering important questions related to freshwater sustainability and ecosystem carbon sequestration. An undergraduate research assistant will be involved throughout the entire research process, from experimental design to research analysis and the presentation of results. We will travel to Sagehen Creek Reserve in the Sierra once a month during spring and summer 2022 to collect hyperspectral measurements that can 'see' photosynthesis happening in real time. The research assistant will learn about ground-based remote sensing, ecosystem reliance on water, and how to conduct and design an experiment in the field.
Check out this short video about OCO-3, a satellite that can see photosynthesis from space. We will conduct an experiment using a ground-based sensor with similar instrumentation that can detect small energy emissions from plants as they perform photosynthesis. We will compare these data to satellite retrievals and determine how they change in response to environmental conditions. Specifically, we are interested in how water availability (in the soil and deeper groundwater) affects plants' ability to sequester carbon.
Vegetation relies on both soil moisture (held in the upper layers of the soil) and groundwater (deeper saturated soil water that flows downhill). Changes in water availability to vegetation may affect plant health, carbon sequestration, and reslience to disturbance, like fire. Furthermore, plant water use may affect the amount and seasonality of freshwater flow for human use downstream. Although forests in the Sierra rely on groundwater during drought, the timing and magnitude of their dependence on groundwater is still largely unknown. Our project will provide novel insight into this system by measuring photosynthesis rates over a growing season and leveraging other measurements at the site, including sap flow, groundwater, soil moisture and meteorological data.
The undergradute research assistant will be expected to join for field work in the Sierra once a month from March to May 2022 (staying overnight in UC Reserve cabins). They will help set up the instrument, collect images, and record ancillary data (field conditions) at the site. Between visits to Sagehen, the student and Sophie Ruehr, a graduate student in the Keenan Group, will analyze data collected in the field. The undergraduate research assistant will be involved in the research process from start to finish, with an option to conitnue fieldwork in to the summer and present at an academic conference in fall 2022.
Time committment will vary between weeks. On once-monthly trips, the student will be expected to be able to leave Berkeley on Friday afternoon and return on Sunday morning. At other times, the student will meet with Sophie once a week for 1-2 hours to analyze and interpret data. The student will also be expected to read relevant academic papers on the topic assigned to them to gain a deeper understanding of the project.
Field work requires attention to detail and patience. Although we do not require prior fieldwork experience, the research assistant should be enthusiastic, curious, and attentive. The undergraduate must have:
- Completed coursework in plant biology and physiology
- A basic understanding of ecosystem hydrology and remote sensing
- Coding experience (Python preferred)
- Availability to travel once a month and spend 1-2 nights in the Sierra throughout spring 2022
- Curiosity about ecosystem resilience to drought and climate change
- A valid driver's license (preferred but not required)
- Willingness to work outside in potentially cold or hot conditions with delicate equipment
The student will not pay for any expenses related to this project. All expenses (travel, room and board at Sagehen, conference registration) will be covered.
Students from underrepresented backgrounds in STEM are highly encouraged to apply.