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SESYNC
The National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center (SESYNC) is dedicated to accelerating scientific discovery at the interface of human and ecological systems. We support new interdisciplinary collaborations that pursue data-driven solutions to pressing socio-environmental problems. SESYNC features a range of services from project inception through results dissemination, including supporting the team science process, meeting planning and facilitation, travel and logistical support, and cyberinfrastructure resources. SESYNC is funded by an award to the University of Maryland from the National Science Foundation. Learn more about SESYNC.

ESA 2015

Join us for a reception at the Ecological Society of America (ESA) annual meeting in Baltimore, Maryland

Advancing the Role of Psychology in Environmental Sustainability

June 25, 2015

Figure: Mechanisms of climate change impact on human well-being. Reproduced with permission from ref. 98, © 2014 APA and ecoAmerica.

Figure: Mechanisms of climate change impact on human well-being. Reproduced with permission from ref. 98, © 2014 APA and ecoAmerica. doi:10.1038/nclimate2622

by MELISSA ANDREYCHEK
Communications Coordinator

Scientists, management agencies, and a broad spectrum of leaders across many aspects of society caution that global changes in climate—such as increasing temperatures and shifting precipitation patterns—can no longer be ignored. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions; safeguarding our agricultural economy and food supply; building stronger, safer water infrastructure; and preparing for climate-related public health crises are at the forefront of discussions and debates worldwide.

But the fields traditionally associated with climate change research—such as geophysics, oceanography, and paleoclimatology—only reveal part of the picture. The natural sciences can’t answer questions about how cognitive processes and social relationships influence the public’s understanding of and engagement with climate change science.

In a new paper published in Nature Climate Change, a team of researchers makes the strong case for the role of psychology in responding and adapting to climate change. Individual behavior ultimately drives social change, the researchers explain, including the adoption of new technologies and support for policies. But research focused on factors that influence decisions and behavior at the individual level hasn’t received the attention it deserves in the debates on climate change.

Susan Clayton, a professor of psychology at the College of Wooster and lead author of the paper, says that psychology is critical to understanding cognitive and emotional tendencies and how they affect human behavior. Integrating psychological research into climate change discussions can help decision makers avoid misunderstandings about human behavior that can lead to ineffective or misguided policies.

“Public perceptions of climate change are affected more strongly by social identities, belief systems, and motivational biases than by scientific knowledge about the topic,” she said. “The psychological perspective is uniquely placed to understand individual factors of human interactions with a changing climate.”

Clayton points out that we’re at a transformative moment for thinking about how human values influence responses to climate change. It’s an important opportunity for psychologists to “lean in” to the climate change dialogue.

“Psychology has more to contribute to the conversation about climate change than has been fully realized,” she says. “Our team encourages psychologists to expand their engagement with important environmental issues through multiple research approaches in order to further their understanding of human behavior, contributions to human well-being, and relevance to other disciplines and to society.”

This work was supported by the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center (SESYNC) under funding received from the National Science Foundation DBI-1052875.

The paper, “Psychological research and global climate change,” Susan Clayton, Patrick Devine-Wright, Paul C. Stern, et al., was published online June 24, 2015, in the journal Nature Climate Change.

The National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center, funded through an award to the University of Maryland from the National Science Foundation, is a research center dedicated to accelerating scientific discovery at the interface of human and ecological systems. Visit us online at www.sesync.org and follow us on Twitter @SESYNC.

Urban Flow

New paper from SESYNC fellow: the timing of a city's peak growth sets the stage for high-flow events and floods for decades to come

Linking Changes in Stream Flow to Urban History

June 11, 2015

by MELISSA ANDREYCHEK
Communications Coordinator

Ask any long-term resident of Baltimore, Boston, or Pittsburgh: a lot has changed over the past 60 years. Streets have spread and buildings have blossomed, covering each city with more and more of the hard, impervious surfaces that lead to surges in rain and snowmelt runoff.

Past research has shown that urbanization of a landscape significantly changes the streams that flow through developed and developing areas. But studies that look at how urbanization has impacted a stream over time are rare. After all, long-term datasets on stream flow can be hard to come by.

New research published by SESYNC postdoctoral fellow Krissy Hopkins and co-authors takes a temporal approach to understanding the urban stream syndrome in six study sites throughout Baltimore, Boston, and Pittsburgh. The researchers found that the timing and magnitude of hydrologic changes are driven by the timing and intensity of urban development. In other words, the timing of a city's peak growth sets the stage for high-flow events and floods for decades to come.

“Cities, and the streams affected by urban development, are in a constant state of change. But our research pinpoints periods of time that are critical to understanding the health of an urban stream, because the data show that the most intense period of historical growth is the primary driver of the timing of stream flow changes we observed,” Hopkins said.

The authors explain that this is most likely because the time at which peak development took place determined the dominant type of stormwater infrastructure built. For example, developments built in Maryland prior to 1985 were not required to install management practices that reduce polluted runoff. In these older developments, stormwater is piped directly to local streams without treatment. With the passing of Maryland’s first Stormwater Management law in 1982, developments constructed after 1985 are required to install practices that treat the “first flush”—i.e., the first half inch of runoff from impervious surfaces.

The researchers' results underscore the importance of understanding the dynamic development patterns of individual cities to improve predictions of future impacts on stream ecosystems. Context is king—and knowing the unique history of a city can help explain major hydrologic events such as high flows and floods.

Hopkins points out that these insights are only possible with the kind of long-term data studies her team used, and she stresses the value of retrospective research to understand the drivers of change to urban streams. So what’s the next step? Hopkins says the six watersheds have different development patterns, stormwater infrastructure, and even natural landscape features that make direct cross-comparisons difficult. But a closer look at how these areas stack up against one another could help city planners develop effective water management strategies as urban areas continue to expand.

This work was supported by the Long-Term Ecological Research program’s Network Office (NSF #0832652 and #0936498) via an Urban Aquatics Working Group; the Central Arizona–Phoenix (NSF #1026865), Baltimore Ecosystem Study (NSF #1027188), and Plum Island Ecosystems (NSF #1058747) LTERs; and the University of Pittsburgh.

Above image (click to enlarge): Time lapse of development in the Gwynns Falls watershed, Maryland, courtesy Kristina Hopkins/SESYNC.

The research paper, “Type and timing of stream flow changes in urbanizing watersheds in the Eastern U.S.,” Kristina G. Hopkins, Nathaniel B. Morse, Daniel J. Bain, et al., was published online June 11, 2015, in the journal Elementa: Science of the Anthropocene.

The National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center, funded through an award to the University of Maryland from the National Science Foundation, is a research center dedicated to accelerating scientific discovery at the interface of human and ecological systems. Visit us online at www.sesync.org.

Follow SESYNC on Twitter at @SESYNC and Dr. Hopkins at @kghopkin.

Top photo: An aerial view of Baltimore, Maryland, courtesy David Wilson via Flickr/Creative Commons.

Associated SESYNC Researcher(s): 

Welcome, Summer 2015 Interns!

June 3, 2015

Above photo: Taste testing honey at the University of Maryland's Honey Bee Lab during the intern lab tour day, summer 2014.

The National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center (SESYNC) looks forward to the start of the 2015 SESYNC Undergraduate Internship Program on Monday, June 8!

This summer, 19 undergraduate students will join us for a unique experiential internship. Our program provides interns with opportunities to develop professional skills, meet people working on environmental problems, and deepen their understanding of socio-environmental issues. More specifically, interns will:

  • Obtain an authentic research experience and contribute to their mentor’s research program.
  • Enhance their understanding of the complex nature of socially-relevant environmental problems and the research approaches used to address them.
  • Enhance their understanding of how scientific evidence may be used to inform decision-making and policy with regard to environmental problems.

We will provide updates on the 2015 SESYNC Undergraduate Internship Program at the SESYNC blog and on our Twitter and Facebook channels. Stay tuned!

Our 2015 Interns and Mentors are:

Aaron Aber

  • Major: Environmental Science and Policy: Concentration in Politics and Policy
  • Mentor: Sacoby Wilson, Maryland Institute for Applied Environmental Health, University of Maryland

Alisha Chan

  • Major: Civil and Environmental Engineering/Project Management
  • Mentor: Kristina Hopkins, SESYNC

Annibel Rice

  • Major: Environmental Science and Policy: Concentration in Politics and Policy
  • Mentor: Melissa Kenney, Earth System Science Interdisciplinary Center (ESSIC) and Cooperative Institute for Climate and Satellites Maryland (CICS-MD), University of Maryland

Audrey Vogel

  • Major: Environmental Science and Policy
  • Mentor: Kim Ross, National Center for Smart Growth Research and Education, University of Maryland

Elisheva Mittleman

  • Major: Environmental Science and Policy
  • Mentor: Ariana Sutton-Grier, Earth System Science Interdisciplinary Center (ESSIC), University of Maryland and National Ocean Service (NOS), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

Erica Brown

  • Major: Bioengineering/Sustainability
  • Mentor: Jon Froehlich, Computer Science and Information Studies, University of Maryland

Frederick Bergen

  • Major: Biochemistry
  • Mentor: Brian Needelman, Environmental Science and Technology, University of Maryland

Gabe Almario

  • Major: Environmental Science and Policy/Microbiology
  • Mentor: Karen Lips, Biology, University of Maryland

Heetaek Lim

  • Major: Chemistry/Sustainability
  • Mentor: Donald Milton, Maryland Institute for Applied Environment Health, School of Public Health, University of Maryland

Jonathan Coplin

  • Major: Environmental Science
  • Mentor: Cerruti Hooks, Entomology, University of Maryland

Lindsey Wright

  • Major: Environmental Science and Technology/Government and Politics
  • Mentor: David Hawthorne, SESYNC and Entomology, University of Maryland

Miracle Okoro

  • Major: Biological Science
  • Mentor: Mintesnot Jiru, Natural Sciences, Coppin State University

Moli Karsali

  • Major: Biology/Global Poverty
  • Mentor: Kate Tully, Plant Science and Landscape Architecture, University of Maryland

Morgan Folger

  • Major: English/Environmental Science and Policy
  • Mentor: Lea Johnson, Plant Science and Landscape Architecture, University of Maryland

Nikia Brown

  • Major: Biology
  • Mentor: Mintesnot Jiru, Natural Sciences, Coppin State University

Samantha Leap

  • Major: Economics: Minor in Sustainable Studies
  • Mentor: Mike Smorul, SESYNC

Sarah Turner

Sydney Han

  • Major: Elementary Education
  • Mentor: Paul Leisnham, Environmental Science and Technology, University of Maryland

William Boudhraa

  • Major: Biology
  • Mentor: Kelly Hamby, Entomology, University of Maryland
Associated SESYNC Researcher(s): 

Understanding Place: A Multidisciplinary Symposium

June 1, 2015

by MELISSA ANDREYCHEK
Communications Coordinator

The human experience of and within a landscape guides our sense of place. “Place” can be the political or social boundaries shaped by geography; the activities and livelihoods framed by the environment; the cultural values or affective bond that link a community to a physical setting.

Within a scholarly context, place “informs and structures the ways we teach, undertake, research, and communicate about environmental problems,” explain Brandn Green, Director of the Place Studies Program of the Bucknell Center for Sustainability & the Environment, and Kristal Jones, Food Systems Research Fellow at the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center (SESYNC), in the introduction to a special issue of the Journal of Environmental Studies and Sciences (JESS).

The special issue—“Understanding Place: A Multidisciplinary Symposium”—was born of a semester-long lecture series at Bucknell University and two sessions at the 2014 Association for Environmental Studies and Sciences (AESS) conference. Lecture and session participants were recruited to contribute to the special issue, a diverse collection of essays on place as a descriptive and analytical concept.

One of the essays, “Hot and dry: stability and simplicity in dormancy and austerity” authored by Jones, explores how the human experience of heat can provide insight into the persistence of human systems as temperatures rise. The essay reflects on the characteristics of hot, dry places that help to illuminate unique elements of human–environment interactions within them. Jones writes with a particular focus on dormancy—which, she says, characterizes “the rhythm of life in hot, dry places.”

Jones says the goal of the special issue was to investigate how place functions in different disciplinary traditions or in different research programs.

“We were interested in exploring how using ‘place’ as a conceptual or analytical framework moves forward someone’s research agenda within environmental studies and sciences,” she says. “For example, hot is a scientific characteristic of the climate or physical environment. But hot places are what people make of them—a combination of the physical environment and human interactions with that environment.”

The print edition of Understanding Place: A Multidisciplinary Symposium will be available in September 2015. Online access to essays is available through the journal website.

The National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center, funded through an award to the University of Maryland from the National Science Foundation, is a research center dedicated to accelerating scientific discovery at the interface of human and ecological systems. Visit us online at www.sesync.org and follow us on Twitter @SESYNC.

Top image: Arid soils in Mauritania, West Africa, courtesy Pablo Tosco/Oxfam via Flickr/Creative Commons.

Associated SESYNC Researcher(s): 
Audience: 

Team Science

Postdoctoral fellowship to research the practices and processes of interdisciplinary team science when applied to socio-environmental research

The Writer’s Job is to Make the Reader’s Job Easy

May 27, 2015

by PAUL LAGASSE
Guest Contributor

Dr. Josh Schimel is a Professor of Ecosystem Ecology in the Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Marine Biology at the University of California, Santa Barbara and the author of Writing Science: How to Write Papers That Get Cited and Proposals That Get Funded (Oxford University Press, 2011). Recently, Josh led a two-day writing workshop at the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center (SESYNC) for the center’s postdoctoral fellows. I sat down with Josh after the workshop to discuss what scientists, particularly those who work in interdisciplinary fields, need to know about writing well.

Paul Lagasse: At the beginning of your book, you have a quote: “As a scientist, you are a professional writer.” You then go on to say that being a professional writer is not enough; you also need to write something that’s “sticky,” that grabs people. Can you say more about what you mean by that?

Josh Schimel: Part of being a professional writer is thinking about your writing as more than just filling in the boxes of an IMRAD structure. It’s the writer’s job to make the reader’s job easy. You need to think about the reader and how they’re going to respond to your work. Scientists are not trying to be literary when we write for our peers, but I argue that we should be using literary tools to do a better job of writing science.

PL: Do scientists who conduct interdisciplinary research face unique challenges in terms of their writing compared with those who write for someone in a single discipline?

JS: In science, we often borrow words from other fields and assign different meanings to them. Take the term “resilience,” for example. To an engineer, it means the ability to return to a stable state following a single perturbation, whereas ecologists use it to mean the ability to absorb constant disturbances without changing fundamental processes.

But nature doesn’t do disciplines; humans create them to simplify how we think about and address questions and problems. We need to recognize that scientists in different disciplines may both be working on the same issue, although they may have defined it differently. The writer’s role is to craft language so that whoever’s reading it can see that and recognize both sides.

PL: Do you see self-publishing as the future of science scholarship, and if so, what would that mean for peer review? When you’re dealing with an interdisciplinary topic, I imagine that finding a suitable journal might be more of a challenge.

JS: Some people in the sciences have been arguing about why we even need journals anymore. But I think that writers need someone to help with editing and quality control, and to put an imprimatur on what’s worth paying attention to. Many people tend to think that the purpose of peer review is just to filter out the garbage, but it also polishes the not-garbage. It provides critical outside input that really helps make the science better.

PL: The role of peer review, in that sense, becomes analogous to the role of the editor in fiction. But a lot of fiction authors have a reluctant relationship with their editors; is it the same in the sciences?

JS: Absolutely! It’s a love–hate relationship, and a negotiation.

PL: In your book, you mention the distinction between rules and principles. Can you tell me about how you perceive the difference?

JS: I argue that principles are fundamental concepts that, if you violate them, your writing will suffer. The most important principle is to write with clarity and energy. Now, there are many rules of grammar that can be applied to modulate clarity and energy, some of which are useful and some of which are kind of marginal—such as never starting a sentence with “and,” “but,” or “however.”

That said, no rule in the English language was created just to be evil. They all have their uses, and sometimes, breaking those rules have their uses, too. If you break a rule well, people won’t notice that you did the very thing that they said not to. Writing well is its own kind of science, because it takes practice and effort. It’s also its own kind of art, because your reader should never be aware of the effort behind it—only the message that it carries.

Note: parts of this interview have been edited for readability and clarity.

The National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center, funded through an award to the University of Maryland from the National Science Foundation, is a research center dedicated to accelerating scientific discovery at the interface of human and ecological systems. Visit us online at www.sesync.org and follow us on Twitter @SESYNC.

Top image courtesy Eric Heupel via Flickr/Creative Commons.

Climate Change Debate Fueled by ‘Echo Chambers,’ New Study Finds

Photo courtesy Daniel Mennerich via Flickr/Creative Commons

College Park, Md and Annapolis, Md — A new study from researchers at the University of Maryland (UMD) and the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center (SESYNC) demonstrates that the highly contentious debate on climate change is fueled in part by how information flows throughout policy networks.

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