Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Eric E. Small
As climate changes and global temperatures rise, we are faced with unique new challenges to our land, ecosystems, livelihood, and infrastructure. One way of dealing with the impacts of climate change is to build climate resiliency – or the ability to resist or recover from climate change-driven disturbances. This dissertation explores two avenues for building climate resiliency in a warming world. Chapters 2 and 3 focus on the physical earth and creating resilient landscapes through the natural impacts of beaver damming. Chapter 4 focuses on building a more diverse geoscience workforce to creatively tackle the challenges presented by climate change.
In Chapter 2 I investigate one potential consequence of beaver-related water storage in the landscape – drought buffering. Using remotely sensed Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) and modeled evapotranspiration (ET) data, I compare riparian areas with beaver to riparian areas without beaver on two creeks in semi-arid Nevada during both seasonal and multiyear droughts. The beaver-dammed riparian areas had ET and NDVI signatures more similar to that of irrigated cropland than to riparian areas without beaver. This suggests that the drought-buffering is likely stemming from the unique storage and distribution of water in beaver-dammed landscapes.
In Chapter 3 I push the bounds of beaver-driven climate resiliency determine whether or not beaver wetlands are uniquely resistant to wildfire. To do this, I use remotely sensed NDVI data to quantify the riparian vegetation response during five large wildfires along creeks that have variable amounts of beaver damming. Through comparison of NDVI before, during, and after fire in riparian areas with beaver damming to riparian areas without beaver damming, I show that beaver-dammed riparian areas are uniquely resistant to wildfire.
In Chapter 4 I explore a different approach to building climate resiliency and focuses on the people solving climate issues, not the impacts of climate change on the physical earth. My research establishes that even infrequent training on accessibility and inclusivity can measurably change undergraduates’ feelings of inclusion and connection to their academic department. That inclusion and connection is an integral component of retaining these students throughout their undergraduate careers.
Fairfax, Emily, "Building Climate Resiliency in a Warming World: from Beaver Dams to Undergraduate Education" (2019). Geological Sciences Graduate Theses & Dissertations. 161.