Weekly Update: Awards, Speakers, Staff Achievements and more....

January 18, 2017
Hi everyone, 

The celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day at the Duke Chapel on Sunday was a source of inspiration at the start of a week when the reins of U.S. power will pass from a president who has written powerfully, in Science no less, that “the urgency of acting to mitigate climate change is real and cannot be ignored” to one who as a candidate advocated withdrawing from the Paris Climate Accord.

Keynote speaker Philip Freelon, lead designer of the National Musuem of African American History and Culture, remarked that “we are living at a special time in history, yes, one of uncertainty and fear, but also optimism and opportunity.” Among the uplifting images he showed of the new museum was an interior court that features one of Dr. King’s famous quotes, “We are determined to work and fight … until justice runs down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream.” Although a degraded environment is not the only challenge facing humanity, it’s one that we at the Nicholas School have a special responsibility to work and fight to address.

Kevin Sowers, president of the Duke University Hospital and one of the speakers who preceded Freelon, referred to kintsugi, the Japanese art of making a new and more beautiful object by using gold to reconnect the shards of broken pottery. Similarly, working collectively to address environmental challenges provides an opportunity to help heal the fractures in our society. None of us is immune to the harm caused by environmental degradation, and all would benefit if our field included a better representation of the human diversity that enriches the U.S. and the globe.

Our 25th anniversary makes this a special year for our school. It’s past time, however, for us to create a more diverse and inclusive school community. This is the perfect moment to reaffirm our commitment to that goal—and to move beyond words, to actions.


  1. Sean Rowe, our new multimedia/web content specialist, was on hand Sunday to capture this video of the Collage Dance Company's performance at the Duke MLK Commemoration in Duke Chapel.
  2. Susan Lozier will receive the 2017 Joanne Simpson Mentorship Award from the American Meteorological Society on Jan. 25. She is being honored for establishing a nationwide mentoring program for early-career female physical oceanographers while also serving as a role model for the community.
  3. Mark your calendars for Jan. 31, when we’ll be bringing conservation icon Mamie Parker to the Nic School for a day of discussions and talks about leadership, diversity and inclusion in environmental fields. Parker was the first African-American woman to serve as head of Fisheries and assistant director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Students, faculty and staff will have the chance to meet with her in small groups during the day and attend a talk by her at 5:30 p.m. in Field Auditorium. Her visit is part of our Rising Tide program in diversity and inclusion. Watch for more details in coming days.
  4. Provost Sally Kornbluth has named Randy Kramer the Juli Plant Grainger Professor of Global Environmental Health in recognition of his outstanding contributions to interdisciplinary research and teaching in global environmental health. The newly endowed chair was made possible through an anonymous gift to the Nic School that qualified for matching funds from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Please join me in congratulating Randy on this richly deserved recognition.
  5. As large-scale palm oil production continues to spread – and spark concerns – in the African nation of Gabon, new research by PhD student Kemen Austin suggests that the environmental effects of the rapidly expanding industry could be minimized by placing high-carbon-stock forests and other areas with high conservation value off limits. Setting aside these lands would safeguard 90 percent of Gabon’s forest carbon stocks while leaving up to 4 million acres for oil palm production. Dean Urban, Brenna Forester, Prasad Kasibhatla and John Poulsen co-authored the research.
  6. Nic School IT staff member Deann Corum has completed Duke’s IT Security Academy, a series of courses to expand IT professionals’ knowledge of security fundamentals at the university and how those tools and techniques can be applied in their work. Fellow IT staffer Shawn Stevenson also recently completed a professional development course, the IT Lead Program, that teaches participants leadership skills for the IT sector. Kudos to Deann and Shawn for completing these programs.
  7. PhD Student Julia Burrows recently published the first chapter of her dissertation in the pages of Marine Ecology Progress Series. The research, co-authored by the Nic School’s Dave Johnston and Corrie Curtice, as well as alum Ari Friedlaender, details the effects of prey density and depth on the foraging behavior of humpback whales in Sitka Sound, Alaska. Congrats, Julia!
  8. Avner Vengosh and Erika Weinthal are leading a multi-year analysis of the potential environmental and human health impacts of using oilfield wastewater to irrigate crops in parts of California’s Central Valley. Their project was launched with seed funding from the Duke Energy Initiative and has recently been awarded a $500,000 USDA grant. Future findings could help inform policies and water-use practices in California and other water-scarce states and regions as well.
  9. The spread of green technologies must quicken significantly to avoid future rebounds in greenhouse gas emissions, a new study led by former Nic School postdoc Gabriele Manoli shows. Gabriele’s analysis, which he conducted with Marco Marani and Gaby Katul, finds that to meet the climate goals set by the Paris Agreement we must speed up the global adoption of clean technology by a full order of magnitude – or about 10 times faster than in the past. You can read more here.
  10. Kudos to staff members Anne Davis, Mel Adragna, Scottee Cantrell, John Robinson, Cindy Peters, and Jeanne Ryan for helping launch the Nic School’s first community food pantry. Located in the 1st floor Environment Hall and 2nd floor LSRC kitchens, the new Food Exchange stocks nonperishable items for any member of the Nic School community who, for reasons beyond their control, finds themselves temporarily without enough money to buy groceries. Cabinets will be stocked weekly. You can donate nonperishable foods on the tables outside of the Facilities Office, LSRC A140 and on the bench across from the 1st floor kitchen in Environment Hall.
  11. Nicolas Cassar set sail on Dec. 20 on an international research expedition circumnavigating Antarctica. Aboard the ship for the expedition’s first leg from South Africa to Australia, he led a study aiming to understand Antarctic phytoplankton communities and their impact on carbon cycling and climate change. Soon, one of his PhD students, Seaver Wang, also will set sail on a research cruise. He’ll leave Jan. 24 on a NASA research cruise to measure algae oxygen production in the North Pacific. You can learn more about the Cassar lab, and what other amazing things they’re up to, here.
  12. A new study led by Brian Silliman and postdoc Qiang He reveals that pressures from grazers can hasten ecosystem collapse from extreme drought. Their five-year study shows that uncontrolled grazing by herbivores can decimate drought-weakened plants and cause ecosystem recovery to lag by up to four years. The finding suggest that marshes, forests, mangroves and other ecosystems worldwide may be far more susceptible to drought than current models suggest. You can learn more here.
  13. Andy Read will head to the northern Gulf of California in coming months to take part in an international effort to save the vaquita porpoise, the world’s most endangered marine mammal. Fewer than 60 vaquitas remain in the wild, and their population continues to decline because of the deaths of many animals in poachers’ gillnets. Andy will help lead efforts to capture some of the threatened animals and place them in temporary sanctuaries until a newly announced gillnet ban can take effect.
  14. Jim Clark has received a U.S. Forest Service’s Chief’s Award for his leadership in editing a 2016 report assessing the impacts of drought associated with climate change on the nation’s forests and grasslands. The Chief’s Award is among the highest annual awards the Forest Service bestows in recognition of outstanding research and scholarship.
  15. Ram Oren has been awarded a prestigious Erkko Professorship from the University of Helsinki. The four-year visiting professorship is a summer position awarded to researchers studying the most pressing issues facing society today. It includes funding to support a PhD student and a postdoc. Ram will use his professorship to further his pioneering work on forest carbon balance and hydrology.
  16. Our new speaker series, the Grainger River Science Center Seminar Series, kicked off last week with a talk from University of Montana professor Brian Chaffin, who shared his expertise in Western water management and stakeholder negotiations. For more information on the series and future speakers/dates, go here. You can also watch a video interview with Chaffin here.
  17. As we head into the heart of student recruitment season, it’s a fitting time to acknowledge the contributions our staff, faculty and alums make in helping us recruit the best students. One great example of this is the work being done by Emily Blanchard in our undergraduate program. I’ve recently learned that thanks to Emily’s efforts to promote the Nic School to prospective students, a top high school senior from coastal North Carolina has applied and been accepted into Duke’s Class of 2021. Keep up the great work, Emily!

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