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US-Mexico Border Land Use Impacts on Evaporative Fraction and Rainfall

by | Jul 28, 2017 | Uncategorized

This post is part of a series of blog posts written by incoming and second-year graduate students in the Early Graduate Fellowship Mentoring Program. Students were asked to provide a brief description of their research interests and how they came to those interests. 

Some days it seems as if the United States is the entire world and all the other countries are fictitious places or, at best, political pawns for our own great nation to toy with. New Jersey may be home to a diverse populace with a multitude of origins, but with no international border for hundreds of miles, it can feel like an island apart from the rest of the world. This is not true when you live on the border with Mexico. Mexico is only one of our two neighboring countries, but the differences in culture, wealth, religion, and politics is in much greater contrast to us than our Canadian neighbors. Americans embrace Canada like a sister country, almost an extension of ourselves. Mexico, on the other hand, is a source of wonderful variety and differences that are embraced by many, but also feared and mistrusted by some, which makes international academic and political cooperation challenging. This border region is where I was born and raised and ultimately spent the first twenty five years of my life.

Growing up I was always made hyper aware of humanity’s deleterious impacts on our Mother Earth, so much so, in fact, that I turned away from environmental studies because they were so fraught with stress and angst for me. I went into the physical sciences where I made a career for myself. I read a lot, and listened to people talk a lot, and eventually knew myself well enough to come back to environmental science, now specializing in atmospheric science. I am particularly interested in understanding how the different earth systems, ocean, land and atmosphere, interact to influence weather and climate.

I chose to study at Rutgers because of the opportunity to combine my interests in US-Mexico collaboration and the border region with the study of land-air-ocean interactions. My research looks at the triggering feedback strength of morning evaporative fraction on afternoon rain during the North American Monsoon in the Sonoran Desert of Mexico. The North American Monsoon (NAM) region covers parts of California, Arizona, New Mexico and northern Mexico including the Sonoran Desert. Throughout much of the region, precipitation in the late summer provides much of the yearly rainfall.

My current research involves the analysis of existing soil moisture, surface flux, and precipitation observations from the NAM region to calculate diagnostics of land-atmosphere coupling. During the 2017 monsoon season I will be participating in collaborative field research with colleagues from Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico (UNAM) to assist with data collection (such as surface flux measurements) and to gain a better understanding of hydrometeorological measurements. Following this field work I will be exploring the application of a high resolution regional climate model (such as Weather Research and Forecasting (WRF) model to assess how changing patterns of land use, including agriculture, irrigation, and urbanization may have impacted land-atmosphere interactions.

My goal for this research is to improve understanding of how agricultural and urban land use impacts rainfall on adjacent land parcels. This information could be utilized to maximize land use planning across the border region. My intent is to ultimately be able to advise political campaigns and state and city planning boards in California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas and to work collaboratively with communities and governments on the Mexico side of the border to improve the quality of life for all parties.

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