Hoffman Institute engages in educational research to address West African water crisis

In February 2013, Hoffman Environmental Research Institute staff member and graduate student Jonathan (Joneo) Oglesby journeyed to Niger, West Africa, to conduct preliminary thesis research with the Songhai people. The focus of the trip was to gain a better understanding of how the Songhai cope with the water cycle, sterilization of water, water sanitation, and water hygiene. Mr. Oglesby conducted surveys and interviewed workers in remote villages along the Niger River. The data acquired will be used as the foundation for future thesis work that will include the creation and dissemination of water education materials for the Songhai. The goal is their eventual dissemination to other Least Developed Countries in the region and around the world, including to a second study site at Gales Point, Manatee, in Belize starting this summer. Through his research, Joneo is working with his advisor, Dr. Leslie North, to develop and evaluate successful avenues for informal education practices in improving water education in these communities to promote sustainability and water resource protection, as well as to improve economic and educational opportunities through capacity building. He will use data visualization techniques incorporating science and art to cut across culture, language, and geography to teach these communities about water sanitation and conservation.

Women fetching water from a community well in Bouban village, shared by people and animals alike.

Women fetching water from a community well in Bouban village, shared by people and animals alike.

Niger is a landlocked state of West Africa located mostly within the Sahara desert. It relies heavily on foreign aid to maintain sustenance, existing in one of the harshest political and environmental climates in the world. Pneumonia, malaria, and diarrhea, coupled with malnutrition and food insecurity, give rise to high mortality rates. “I want to empower groups in developing nations, in particular the women and girls of the Songhai, by educating them about water,” Mr. Oglesby said. “I’m passionate about water and passionate about the Songhai. I decided to start here and start now.”

 

Dozens of colorful water storage pots near the outskirts of a village. These are for sale, but rarely seen in homes due to their high cost.

Dozens of colorful water storage pots near the outskirts of a village. These are for sale, but rarely seen in homes due to their high cost.

Many of the women Mr. Oglesby interviewed during this initial research trip spoke of the daily arduous task of carrying water to and from the river to their homes, often starting before dawn and not finishing until after dark. Some even explained it’s as if they never stop.  Most gather water from sources that are heavily used and negatively impacted by people and animals. The water is then used without any treatment for consumption. For many communities in Niger, water collection takes up so much time that women and children are often unable to find time to go to school or work to support their families.

Joneo interviewing the Songhai people at another well to learn about water usage.

Joneo interviewing the Songhai people at another well to learn about water usage.

Mr. Oglesby will return soon to continue his work and envisions a positive, if audacious, endeavor: “I can’t change the world,” he noted. “But I hope I can change the quality of it, one person at a time.” He is starting a website, www.fofohari.org, as the foundation for an organization to address water education for developing countries. The educational tools developed and created for this research will be disseminated through this site, and it will be used to further communicate techniques for water education in developing areas.

Dr. North, Associate Director of the Hoffman Institute, commented that “Joneo’s research embodies the true spirit of integrating science and education to make a difference in communities. The geography of water education is understudied, and certainly of pressing importance as water resources diminish in the face of population growth and climate change.” She further noted, “This will be a great step in working to develop and study effective informal education tools aimed toward understanding how to overcome these spatial and cultural differences.”

Geography and Geology Department Head, Dr. David Keeling, noted “Faculty and students in the Hoffman Institute exemplify the WKU spirit of international reach, with active research projects underway across the planet. Science is of little use practically unless it can change people’s lives for the better.  Joneo’s research is a wonderful example of how addressing a resource such as water, that we take so much for granted here in the U.S., in a developing country like Niger can literally save lives and boost the capacity of women and children to build sustainable communities for the future.”

For more information please contact: Mr. Jonathan Oglesby (jonathan.oglesby@wku.edu) or Dr. Leslie North (leslie.north@wku.edu).

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WKU Researchers Participating in Mammoth Cave Symposium Feb. 14-15

“Celebrating the Diversity of Research in the Mammoth Cave Region” is the theme of a research symposium Feb. 14-15 at the Rotunda Room of the Mammoth Cave Hotel.

The symposium, the 10th in 22 years, will feature more than 60 presentations (posters and talks) covering a variety of natural resource, cultural, historical, archeological, educational and social science research activities from the Mammoth Cave area.

The event is sponsored by the Mammoth Cave International Center for Science and Learning, the Cave Research Foundation, and WKU’s Hoffman Environmental Research Institute, and is hosted at Mammoth Cave National Park.  The event is free and open to the public.

“Twenty-four universities will be represented, and five federal agencies,” said Dr. Chris Groves of the Hoffman Institute. “Western Kentucky University faculty, staff and students contributed to 17 of the presentations.”

The Mammoth Cave International Center for Science and Learning is a partnership between Mammoth Cave National Park and WKU.

“We are very pleased to be able to host an event of this caliber,” said Sarah Craighead, superintendent of Mammoth Cave National Park. “Mammoth Cave is thought to be the most studied karst area in the world, but there is still much more to learn.”

For a complete listing of symposium presentations, email shannon.trimboli@wku.edu.

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WKU team tackles Caribbean climate change challenges with international collaborators

At the beginning of January, a group of faculty from WKU’s Department of Geography and Geology visited Belize for a two-day meeting hosted by the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre (CCCCC), which included members of Cuba’s meteorological organization INSMET (Instituto de Meteorología) and the Belize National Meteorological Service. The CCCCC serves as the regional information clearing house and advisor for climate change policy and guidelines for the Caribbean Community Member States (CARICOM). The Centre is recognized by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), among other international agencies, as the focal point for climate change issues in the Caribbean.

Front (L-R) Chalsay Gill, Dr. Kenrick Leslie, Kendra Clarke, Dr. Xingang Fan; Back (L-R) Ronald Gordon, Dr. Ulric Trotz, Carlos Fuller, Abel Cenfella, Harrison Cooper, Timo Baur, Dr. Jason Polk, Arnoldo Bezanilla and Dr. Josh Durkee (photo by Tyrone Hall/Josh Durkee).

The team included Dr. Xingang Fan, Assistant Professor of Meteorology, Dr. Josh Durkee, Assistant Professor of Meteorology, and Dr. Jason Polk, Associate Director of Science for the Hoffman Environmental Research Institute and Assistant Professor of Geoscience. Collectively, the WKU group’s expertise ranges from paleoclimate reconstruction and extreme event forecasting to downscale climate modeling, all of which are necessary for creating a framework by which long-term climate change impacts can be studied and understood for real-world applications.

Drs. Xingang Fan, Jason Polk, and Josh Durkee in front of the CCCCC building in Belmopan, Belize.

Drs. Xingang Fan, Jason Polk, and Josh Durkee in front of the CCCCC building in Belmopan, Belize.

As a result of the meeting, the group agreed to work together to launch an exploratory climate modeling project that will cover Bahamas, Jamaica, Belize, and the Eastern Caribbean using the Weather Research and Forecasting Model (WRF v3), a modeling tool developed by the National Center for Atmospheric Research and the United States’ National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The use of WRF v3 to facilitate climate modeling in the Caribbean marks a major positive shift, according to Dr. Trotz, Deputy Director of the Centre. He says WRF will allow for downscaling regional climate projections to regional resolutions as high as 9 x 9 and 3 x 3 km, compared to existing regional efforts that produce 25 x 25 km resolution modeling output and even more obscure global resolutions that are as low as 300 x 300 km. The team says the higher resolutions will allow regional climate change modeling experts to better project the likelihood of extreme weather events, coastal and water resource vulnerability, food security and agricultural issues, and forestry management challenges. These projects will in turn provide a more solid basis on which to make policy recommendations and develop societal and engineering solutions.
The January meeting complements a previous meeting held in December, when Dr. Leslie North, Associate Director of Education for the Hoffman Institute and Dr. Polk visited Belize to meet with the CCCCC regarding a collaborative education and outreach initiative to address communication and education about climate change in the Caribbean. Planned activities include an infographic, short video, and several children’s activity books about climate change in the Caribbean and risk management. These projects complement well  the future modeling efforts, which will inform what information is necessary to communicate to stakeholders and the general public with regard to future climate and weather scenarios.
The high-resolution modeling has evolved from previous research conducted by Dr. Fan in conjunction with NASA, and illustrates the international recognition of research being conducted at WKU and the potential for future applications. Dr. Fan commented, “This modeling effort is innovative and WKU/CCCCC will be one of the first to attempt such high-resolution climate projections for the Caribbean. Having these model projections and applying them to real-world issues will help in policy- and decision- making efforts by stakeholders.” Dr. Durkee added, “In addition, we will be using novel technology, like the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM) satellite, to help verify the model simulations and predict extreme weather and climate events in poorly monitored areas, particularly over the ocean and isolated island nations.”
“Our continued international collaboration with the CCCCC and other regional partners provides us the opportunity to engage our students and faculty in projects that provide vital information in dealing with future climate change scenarios in the region.” commented Dr. Polk. “The CCCCC is a well-respected international organization, and it is a privilege to work with them to address such an important issue as the future well-being of the nations of the Caribbean in the face of climate change,” he added.
Building this collaborative relationship with the CCCCC is a strong demonstration of WKU’s commitment to international reach and working to educate and engage its students in critical global issues, such as climate change and water resource vulnerability. The Hoffman Institute and Department of Geography and Geology continue to strive to provide applied research experiences for their students and faculty, and to develop cutting-edge research and international cooperation to address global issues.
Geography and Geology Department Head Dr. David Keeling noted “this is an excellent example of WKU’s growing international reach, with research by WKU geoscientists and collaborators on the cutting edge of “big” science that will change people’s lives in positive ways.”
Content and text modified from CCCCC News and Mr. Tyrone Hall. For more information please contact: Dr. Jason S. Polk (jason.polk@wku.edu)

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Hoffman’s Dr. Jason Polk featured in Florida Springs Expose

The Hoffman Institute’s Dr. Jason Polk was featured in a recent news expose on “Florida’s Vanishing Springs” by environmental journalist Craig Pittman in the Tampa Bay Times. See below for an introduction:

“Deep beneath the ground we stand on, below the strip malls and the condos and the lush green of the golf courses, runs a river of water that makes life in Florida possible. The underground aquifer rushes through Swiss cheese caverns, its hidden flow bubbling up to the surface in Florida’s estimated 1,000 springs — the greatest concentration of springs on Earth.

A century ago Florida’s gin-clear springs drew presidents and millionaires and tourists galore who sought to cure their ailments by bathing in the healing cascades. Now the springs tell the story of a hidden sickness, one that lies deep within the earth.”

Jason Polk and Gary Schindele in a dry cave that once was water-filled in west-central FL.

To read the rest of the article, please click here: http://www.tampabay.com/specials/2012/reports/florida-springs/index.html

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Geography faculty members present research at regional conference

The annual conference of the Southeastern Division of the Association of American Geographers (SEDAAG) convened in Asheville, N.C., this past weekend, with several faculty and students from WKU’s Department of Geography and Geology in attendance.

Dr. Tom Bell explains the intricacies of urban rock music as part of a poster presentation titled “Making a Scene: The Geography of Modern Rock Music Performance in U.S. Metropolitan Areas.”

Kyle Mattingly of Owensboro, a graduate student at the University of Georgia, presented his WKU undergraduate meteorology honors thesis research, supervised by Dr. Josh Durkee, in a poster titled “Large, Long-lived Convective Systems Over Subtropical South America and Their Relationships with Atmospheric Teleconnections.”

Department Head Dr. David Keeling, Dr. Peggy Gripshover, Dr. Leslie North and Dr. Tom Bell all participated in a panel presentation and discussion on “The Care and Feeding of Journal Editors, or Why your Manuscript was Rejected.”

Adjunct Professor of Geography Dr. Tom Bell presented a poster titled “Making a Scene: The Geography of Modern Rock Music Performance in U.S. Metropolitan Areas” with colleague Dr. Ola Johansson.

Dr. Jason Polk with several co-authors presented “Understanding Drought and Water Resource Issues in Belize: Case Studies using Rural Karst Landscapes from Past to Present.”

Dr. Leslie North and Dr. Jason Polk with several co-authors presented “Under our Feet:  Avenues for Promoting Karst Groundwater Awareness and Sustainability.”

In addition, Dr. Peggy Gripshover and Dr. Tom Bell served on the conference program committee and also served on the World Geography Bowl Committee as judges and moderators.

Contact: David Keeling, (270) 745-4555.

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Students, Faculty Attend Geological Society of America Meeting in Charlotte, North Carolina

The annual meeting of the Geological Society of America (GSA) was held last week (Nov. 4-7) in Charlotte, North Carolina. Geosciences: Investing in the Future was this year’s theme, focusing on training and sharing knowledge to build the future of geoscience disciplines. Students and faculty from the WKU Department of Geography and Geology attended the event, engaging in numerous activities, including poster and oral presentations, moderating sessions, and hosting a departmental expo booth. Students also attended paper sessions, explored graduate school and postgraduate career opportunities, and learned more about the professional side of the geoscience discipline.

The expo booth showcasing the Department of Geography and Geology and its programs was a great success, with dozens of prospective students and collaborators visiting it throughout the meeting to get information and to enter applications for scholarships offered by the Hoffman Institute’s Karst Field Studies program and Crawford Hydrology Lab. Several students and faculty from the Hoffman Environmental Research Institute also attended the annual Friends of Karst meeting that is held at GSA, where discussions on current and new directions of research in the discipline of cave and karst studies were led by some of the world’s top karst scientists.

 

An aerial view of the GSA meeting's activities for the over 6,000 attendees to enjoy.

Presentations by WKU faculty and students indicate the range of the Department’s geoscience research efforts as well as the numerous partnerships in which the Department is engaged:

▪        In Situ Time-Resolved Raman and X-Ray Diffraction of Rare Earth Element Ion Exchange in Nanoporous Sitinakite by undergraduate geology major Michael Powers of Bowling Green, with Dr. Aaron Celestian (WKU Advanced Materials Institute Director).

▪        Optical, Raman, and Morphological Characterization of Rock Thin Sections from the Arnold Pit Former Talc Mine Near Balmat, New York, for Asbestiform Minerals by Dr. Aaron Celestian, undergraduate geology major Melinda Rucks of Glasgow, and Mickey Gunter of the University of Idaho.

▪        Under Our Feet: Avenues for Promoting Karst Groundwater Awareness and Sustainability by Dr. Leslie North (Hoffman Institute Associate Director), Dr. Jason Polk (Hoffman Institute Associate Director), Hoffman Institute staff member and geoscience graduate student Jonathan Oglesby, and Dr. Chris Groves (Distinguished Professor and Hoffman Institute Director).

▪        Multi-Step Ion Exchange of Rare Earth Elements into Microporous Zorite by undergraduate Melinda Rucks of Glasgow and Dr. Aaron Celestian.

▪        Mapping Karst Springsheds in Fillmore County, Minnesota: Increasingly Nuanced Interpretations a poster by WKU geology undergraduate and REU participant Travis Garmon of Burkesville, Joseph Peters of Eastern Washington University, and Kelsi Ustapak and Dr. Calvin Alexander of the University of Minnesota.

▪        Water Resource and Climate Variability in Barbados Reconstructed from Cave Deposits a poster by geoscience graduate student Gilman Ouellette of Hawley, PA, and Dr. Jason Polk.

▪        Relationships Between Land Use and Water Quality of the Karst Aquifer Beneath Bowling Green, Kentucky, a poster by NSF REU undergraduate Emma Lord, Dr. Chris Groves, and Tim Slattery of the City of Bowling Green Public Works Department.

▪        Using Cave and Carbonate Deposits for Paleoenvironmental Research in the Karst Landscape of the Vaca Plateau, Belize by Dr. Jason Polk, Hoffman Institute staff member Benjamin Miller, and geoscience graduate student Nick Lawhon of Gallatin, Tenn.

▪        Capacity Building for Karst Water Resource Development in Southwest China’s Karst Region through Training and Education a poster by Dr. Chris Groves, Drs. Yuan Daoxian, Zhang Cheng, Cao Jianhua and Lu Qian of the Karst Dynamics Laboratory, Institute of Karst Geology, China, and Jiang Yongjun of Southwest University, China, and Hoffman Institute faculty Drs. Jason Polk and Leslie North.

▪        Influence of Karst Hydrology on Geochemistry of Muskeg Drainage and Spring Resurgences, Tongass National Forest, Alaska by graduate student Melissa Hedrickson of Presque Isle, Maine, Dr. Chris Groves, and Jim Baichtal of the US Forest Service. 

Emma Lord and Dr. Chris Groves displaying their research at a poster session.

Students attending the GSA meeting included Kort Butler, Veronica Hall, Kegan McClanahan, Travis Garmon, Laura Osterhoudt, Dan Nedvidek, Beth Tyrie, Gilman Ouellette, Nick Lawhon, Melinda Rucks, Michael Powers, Emma Lord, and WKU faculty members Dr. Chris Groves, Dr. Aaron Celestian, Dr. Leslie North, and Dr. Jason Polk.

For many of the student attendees, this was their first national scientific conference, including WKU geoscience graduate student Beth Tyrie. She noted, “GSA was a very productive conference for me. It gave me opportunities to develop eye-tracking and GIS concepts related to my thesis, attend talks pertaining to my thesis and WKU course topics, and allowed me to meet with PhD programs to find potential advisors.” Beth is completing a thesis on the use of eye-tracking to investigate learning outcomes of karst environment visualizations under Dr. Leslie North.

Visitors interacting with students and faculty at the Department's expo booth.

“The Department and Ogden College always provide strong support for faculty and students attending national and international conferences,” noted Geography and Geology Department Head Dr. David Keeling. “Professional experiences like this are great training for students and they provide faculty with opportunities to network, build research relationships, and promote the outstanding quality and international reach of our geosciences programs.”

For more information please contact: Dr. Jason Polk (jason.polk@wku.edu) or 270-745-5015.

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Scientist featured in Water Matters Magazine

Please visit the link below for a recent feature of Dr. Jason Polk of the Hoffman Institute in Water Matters Magazine from the Southwest Florida Water Management District in an article about Florida’s springs:

http://www.swfwmd.state.fl.us/documents/publications/watermatters/sep-oct2012/1.html

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WKU group makes progress in building a sustainable community and collaborative partnerships in Gales Point, Belize

In September, a group from WKU led by Dr. Bernie Strenecky, WKU Scholar-in –Residence in the Honors College, and founder of The $100 Solution™, traveled to Belize to work in the remote village of Gales Point, Manatee, located near the eastern coast. The team also included Dr. Jason Polk, Associate Director of Science for the Hoffman Environmental Research Institute, WKU Geography and Geology graduate student and Hoffman staff member, Mr. Jonathan Oglesby, Mr. AJ Strenecky of the Merritt Island Florida Rotary Club, and three faculty members from the University of Tennessee-Martin, Drs. Beth Quick, Terry Silver, and Prof Ruby Black. Collectively, the group had several goals during the trip, with the overarching theme of working with the local community in Gales Point. These goals included helping to improve its water supply, discussing and evaluating the school’s curriculum, and evaluating the karst geology and groundwater resources in the area. In addition, Dr. Polk and Mr. Oglesby conducted fieldwork in western Belize for a project investigating past climate change impacts on the Maya using cave deposits.

Map of Gales Point, Manatee, Belize.

Gales Point, Manatee, exists as an isolated community on a peninsula a few miles long and up to only a few hundred feet wide at some points. The peninsula is surrounded by a brackish lagoon just inland from the Caribbean Sea, yet offers little in the way of viable water resources due to its low elevation and karst geology. The primary means of reaching the community is by boat, and the secondary, less-reliable route is via a long, muddy gravel road that can be impassable at times, thus enhancing the difficulty of the community in accessing outside assistance and resources. The population at Gales Point is made up of a unique people group that originated from runaway slaves and settlers from Nigeria who began inhabiting the peninsula in the early 1800s. Gales Point is now one of the few, if not only, places in the world outside of Africa where this culture and its customs still exist and flourish. In addition to the unique population residing in Gales Point, the landscape that comprises the area is a national wildlife preserve, home to many diverse, and sometimes endangered, species of animals and plants, caves, and past Maya activity. The surrounding lagoon is home to multiple threatened or endangered species, including the hawksbill turtle, the goliath grouper, the West Indian manatee, and several exotic bird species.

Lagoon: The brackish lagoon surrounding Gales Point, Manatee at sunset.

Lagoon: The brackish lagoon surrounding Gales Point, Manatee at sunset, looking across at the karst hills.

The trip left little down time, with the group immediately starting on the night of arrival to work on the first major project of installing a UV water filtration and purification system for the local school and preschool. This system was provided by the generous donation of the Merritt Island Rotary Club and pioneered by AJ Strenecky, who spent over 2 years in researching, developing, and organizing the purchase and installation of the system. The system incorporates two filters to remove particulates, and an ultraviolet light tube that kills any harmful pathogens, leaving the water purified as it exits the small and efficient system, which is capable of treating three gallons of water per minute. The system now provides clean water for the entire school and preschool on a continuous basis, requiring little energy and maintenance for its long-term operation. The team worked with local Chairman of the Water Board, Mr. Kevin Andrewin, and community members to install the system and provide training on its operation and upkeep. Community leader Nancy Bailey, who owns Manatee Lodge located at the end of the peninsula, is working hard to develop and implement best management practices with support from the WKU team to help Gales Point become sustainable with respect to water, energy, and health. She noted, “I am really excited to see the things fall in place that I’ve been dreaming about for years! I look forward to continue working with the WKU team and I know great things can and will come out of it.”

Mr. AJ Strenecky shows Mr Anthony Flowers from the Ministry of Health how to check the filters on the UV water system installed at the local school in Gales Point prior to testing the system.

Mr. AJ Strenecky shows Mr Anthony Flowers from the Ministry of Health how to check the filters on the UV water system installed at the local school in Gales Point prior to testing the system.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The WKU team met with representatives from the Ministry of Health (Water Division), Mr. Anthony Flowers, and the Ministry of Rural Development, Mr. Martin Lewis, to discuss issues of water quality and sustainable development. Efforts are underway to develop training initiatives and programs to improve water quality testing procedures and local water infrastructure in rural communities. The Gales Point community serves as a pilot project in the joint efforts. The WKU team also had a follow-up meeting with the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre (CCCCC) to continue discussions on how to address climate change issues in the region, including Gales Point. This meeting was part of an ongoing collaboration to build partnerships between WKU and the CCCCC for long-term climate change science and education initiatives in vulnerable Caribbean communities.

Community members of Gales Point celebrate fresh, clean water from the newly installed UV water system

Community members of Gales Point celebrate fresh, clean water from the newly installed UV water system

Dr. Polk and Mr. Oglesby also performed reconnaissance and collected preliminary data regarding the environmental conditions and resources in Gales Point. They visited Ben Loman’s cave across the lagoon and inventoried features within the cave, which included many flora and fauna unique to the cave ecosystem, as well as signatures dating back over 150 years from past visitors. Dr. Polk began mapping the cave and also did a preliminary investigation of the hydrologic and geologic features of the area. He has submitted a collaborative proposal to perform a pilot study on the regional hydroclimatology examining relationships between extreme storm events, groundwater recharge, sea-level rise, and climate change.

Dr. Strenecky commented, “This trip was magic and is a testament to what can happen when a small number of people give of their hearts, minds, and skills to improve the lives of a forgotten people.”

Jonathan Oglesby and Kevin Andrewin at the entrance to Ben Loman's Cave.

Jonathan Oglesby and Kevin Andrewin at the entrance to Ben Loman's Cave.

Overall, this proved to be a busy, productive, and rewarding trip! The WKU team is planning to visit Gales Point again over the Winter break to continue working with the community on these initiatives, meet with government officials, and to begin collecting data on proposed research projects. Additionally, the team will be working with UT-Martin partners and local officials to integrate these efforts into the school curriculum, and to start an environmental education program designed to help study and preserve the socio-environmental linkages in the community.

Geography and Geology Department Head David Keeling noted, “this project is a wonderful example of meaningful collaboration across a number of constituencies and the results will have a lasting impact on the quality of life of the Gales Point community.”

For more information please contact: Dr. Bernie Strenecky (bernie.strenecky@wku.edu) or Dr. Jason S. Polk (jason.polk@wku.edu)

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Hoffman Institute founding member of international karst research academy

This week the WKU Hoffman Environmental Research Institute achieved a major milestone by joining 14 universities and research institutes around the world as an invited founding member of the newly created International Academy of Karst Sciences.

The International Academy of Karst Sciences will be housed at the world’s oldest karst research institute in Postojna, Slovenia.

The International Academy of Karst Sciences will be housed at the world’s oldest karst research institute in Postojna, Slovenia.

The Academy is a consortium of 15 research institutes from 12 countries in Europe, Asia and North America with goals to increase the understanding of unique principles and characteristics of the karst environment, to promote international education in karst sciences and to promote good practice in karst sciences and the management of karst. Karst landscapes are those formed in soluble rock such as limestone where caves, sinkholes and underground rivers are common, and are estimated to provide some one-fourth of the world’s population with water resources.

“This is an exciting and very prestigious opportunity for WKU to enhance common interests and resources with scientists in Israel, Russia, Switzerland and other countries across the globe,” said University Distinguished Professor Chris Groves, who directs the Hoffman Institute and who recently signed the agreement to join the Academy.

The Hoffman Institute has a long record of involving WKU faculty, staff and students in international research programs, with more than 15 years of close collaboration with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) International Geoscience Program. Through these efforts, WKU students have traveled across the planet for research projects and conferences, including to such countries as Vietnam, Greece, Switzerland, Italy, Slovenia and throughout the Caribbean.

In December, a group of six faculty and students will conduct fieldwork in China to study atmospheric CO2 dynamics. Plans are under way for visiting scientists from Ukraine, Iran and China to work at The Hoffman Institute in 2013. “Joining the Academy will do nothing but increase these opportunities,” Dr. Groves said.

The Academy will be housed in Postojna, Slovenia, at the Karst Research Institute of the Slovenian Academy of Arts and Science, the world’s oldest active institute focused on the study of karst landscapes.

According to the Institute’s Director, Professor Tadej Slabe, “It was natural for WKU’s Hoffman Institute to be invited to participate from the beginning of the Academy. This group is very active in relevant international research programs, and former students of the program are now leaders in the karst science community.”

Geography and Geology Department Head David Keeling noted that “this invitation to become a founding member of the IAKS is validation of the decades of hard work, research, and leadership in the karst sciences provided by our faculty and students, and is a testament to the leadership of Dr. Chris Groves. The Hoffman Institute indeed has become a leading American karst program with international reach!”

Contact: Chris Groves, (270) 745-5974.

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Hoffman grad students participate in “Girls in STEM” day

As a part of the Kentucky Girls STEM Collaborative outreach, Hoffman graduate assistants, Beth Tyrie and Veronica Hall, participated as female geoscience practitioners for “Girls STEM Day” held on October 13, 2012. The “Girls STEM Day” was geared towards 5th-8thgrade girls for the purpose of interactively introducing them to careers in STEM and STEM professionals. To kick off the event, Beth gave the keynote address describing her unconventional journey leading to her career in science. She engaged the girls with colorful cuttlefish, peacock flounder, scuba diving, brain, and cave exploration images motivating them that is possible to carve out their own STEM career path suited to their interests.

Beth Tyrie presenting her work.

After Beth’s keynote address, students chose two interactive STEM sessions to attend including sessions about chemistry, engineering, microbiology, mathematics, and geoscience. Veronica and Beth led the “What in the World” geoscience session. In their session, the duo combined themes from both of their interests in oceanography and paleoclimatology to create hands-on experiments for the girls using scientific instruments. For the first experiment, the girls made “miniature oceans” and were taught to analyze the salinity in seawater using a conductivity probe. For the second topic, the girls were introduced to the science of climate reconstruction using cave formations, specifically stalagmites. Next, the girls participated in an experiment to analyze the calcium carbonate concentration in freshwater sampled from Barren River lake, and to wrap up the session, Beth and Veronica introduced the girls to the vast array of career opportunities available in geoscience fields. The girls left the geoscience session with excitement, inquisitive questions, and new insight into their possible future STEM careers.

Veronica Hall teaching Girls in STEM

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