People - Faculty Profile: Sarah Nelson
Assistant Research Professor, Senator George J. Mitchell Center; Cooperating Assistant Research Professor in Watershed Biogeochemistry, School of Forest Resources
My research has included atmospheric deposition, surface water acidification, watershed mass balances, climate effects on water resources, and spatial geochemical modeling, with a strong focus on mercury fate and transport. My research tends to focus on multivariate, spatial problems, so I am as much a quantitative landscape ecologist as a biogeochemist. I use GIS and remote sensing data, but the core of my work has always been on-the-ground fieldwork in stream watersheds, lakes, and wetlands across the Northeast and occasionally nationwide – and the research always comes back to doing policy-relevant science. More often than not, it involves Parks and conserved lands – I have worked with the National Park Service continuously since my arrival in Maine, and was a Canon National Parks Science Scholar as a Ph.D. candidate.
I rely on high-quality data produced by laboratory collaborators like SECRL at UMaine, the Water Quality Analysis Lab at UNH, and Dartmouth’s Trace Element Analysis Core. I have been the data manager and quality assurance officer for US EPA-funded LTM data, BBWM, Acadia paired research watersheds (EPA-PRIMENet and subsequent NPS grants), and several National Park Service, NOAA, and state-funded projects for over a decade.
I have a strong focus on synergistic activities including convening a recent mercury workshop with scientists and managers representing a dozen local- to national-scale agencies, co-chairing sessions at scientific conferences such as the American Geophysical Union, and acting as lead scientist on citizen science research related to mercury.
Formal Science Education, Citizen Science, and Outreach
Working with partners at the SERC Institute, I helped to develop a program called “Acadia Learning”. Acadia Learning is a joint effort of the Schoodic Education and Research Center (SERC) at Acadia National Park, the University of Maine, and Maine Sea Grant. The program brings scientists, teachers, and students together in partnerships that result in useful research and effective science education. The Bear Brook Watershed in Maine is now a focus of Acadia Learning projects, in addition to projects regarding mercury in dragonfly larvae and effect of culverts on aquatic invertebrate communities.
An important thread underlying the teacher and student research is science data literacy, with funded research evaluating teacher approaches and student comfort with data, and providing teacher professional development in several Maine schools and in special summer institutes such as the Teacher Data Literacy workshop at BIOGEOMON 2012. Acadia Learning is supported with funds from the Maine Department of Education, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and private donors.
In an effort to increase public awareness regarding the mercury issue, a citizen science project was expanded in 2012 to collect dragonfly larvae for mercury analysis in national parks. Working with the NPS-Air Resources Division, we are piloting this project in 14 national parks across the U.S. This citizen science project engages students, teachers, and visitors in national parks. Moreover, the project supports the “Call to Action,” the NPS Centennial Initiative, by connecting people to parks and advancing the educational mission.
I am pleased to be a cooperating scientist in the Old Town High School Collaborative Research program, a novel initiative that brings scientists into the school and where teachers and students conduct cutting-edge research. Using student-designed mesocosms in the lab, students in Ed Lindsey’s collaborative group are raising dragonfly larvae from eggs, and will study mercury accumulation as nymphs grow, and in different geochemical settings and feeding regimes.
I also worked with the Quebec Labrador Foundation and an advisory board including SERC Institute, Acadia National Park, and the Frenchman Bay Conservancy, among many others, to develop the prospectus and design for the Acadian Internship in Regional Conservation and Stewardship.