Environmental Studies – UROP Spring Symposium 2021

Research Discipline(s): Environmental Studies

Civic resilience and neighborhood resilience projects and hubs.

Anthropogenic climate change is one of the most threatening challenges facing the world today. As global temperatures continue to rise over the course of the next century, a host of issues including dramatic sea level rise, dangerous storm systems, widespread drought and wildfires will impact every facet of American life. Cutting carbon emissions is the most effective short term solution to curb adverse effects, but we must also develop resiliency in our governments, in our communities and in our neighborhoods if we are to successfully mitigate climate change. This research project attempts to build resiliency through understanding and awareness in localized communities to prepare for both short and long term consequences of climate-related issues. A comprehensive compilation of behavior patterns, relating to neighborhood-scaled physical and structural adaptations, are included in this document to help neighborhoods prepare for these climate events. It is meant to be self-directed, so that individuals, neighborhoods, and civic organizations can decide which tools are necessary for local adaptation. A neighborhood, for example, in reasonable proximity to a floodplain will have a very different set of useful patterns compared to one exposed to seasonal wildfires. Neighborhoods that adhere to climate resilient programs will be less vulnerable to the threat of climate events, and will be more likely to sustain themselves in the future.

Political and Financial Power as Determinants of International Adaptation Assistance: An Analysis of Households in Madagascar

Climate change is one of the great threats that humanity faces today. It is imperative that policymakers and governments provide their citizens with the tools necessary to handle potential natural disasters and slow-onset crises. The United Nations (UN) Paris Agreement of 2016 attempted to address the issue of climate insecurity by allocating funds to countries in need. Among the countries particularly vulnerable to climate change and in need of funds for adaptation is Madagascar. Madagascar, along with my other countries, is vulnerable due to its low capacity to adapt with weak government management and infrastructure. This study analyzes how effectively the UN and Malagasy government have implemented a climate adaptation program in rural Madagascar, where many households are vulnerable to climate crises both financially and physically. The study analyzes 600 household surveys collected in three intervention sites of a UN adaptation project, including both participants and non-participants in the program. Relevant survey data consists of banking access, land ownership, religion, food security, total household assets, political connectivity, and quantity of benefits a household received from the program. Qualitative data were given numerical values and imported into R statistical software to uncover any trends regarding correlations between financial security, political connectivity, and a household’s benefits. Multivariable and single variable regressions were conducted to find correlations between household characteristics and project benefits. The study hypothesizes that the allocation of funds favored households that have political connections and are already more financially secure. The implications of this study are very important for the international community and policymakers. If the hypothesis is correct, that the world’s most vulnerable are not getting the funds they need to adapt, it is a critique of international policy and a representation of the larger problem of corruption within leadership bodies.

Assessing Climate Adaptability in Madagascar Through U.N’s AFRice Program

Adaptation to climate change has become an important topic in recent years as climate impacts have become increasingly severe. Discussion of adaptation is particularly important in low-income countries, which are more susceptible to changes in climate. One of the recipients of the UN’s adaptation funds, Madagascar, provides an example of how conflict of interest among governmental institutions prevent their citizens from being able to adapt. One of UN’s funding programs, AFRice, attempts to prepare rice farmers within the Alaotra-Mangoro region through a series of training seminars and workshops, rewarding participants with agricultural tools and seeds. In order to understand how efficient the AFRice program was in its goals, a survey was conducted on 600 households (among both beneficiary and non-beneficiary households) to understand the living conditions that could attest to the success of the AFRice program. The collected survey data was analyzed for descriptive statistics in the statistical program R. Three variables were used to determine differences in the adaptive capacity of beneficiary versus non-beneficiary households: Adaptive Capacity, Long-Term Coping Strategies, and Food Security. During the analysis, the averages were determined for each variable, and an ANOVA test conducted in order to understand significant differences between the two groups. It is hypothesized that households that participated in the project will have higher adaptive capacity, rely on fewer coping strategies, and will be more food secure than households that did not participate. These findings would indicate the effectiveness of the UN AFRice project and contribute to better practices of future UN projects that can aid other vulnerable countries as they face climate impacts.

Revitalizing Northeast Detroit through data base research

Northeastern Detroit has long been a historical focal point in Michigan. It has a rich history that stretches back over a century, however, for much of its history it’s been utilized in an industrial manner. While this industry has brought its benefits to the area, these were not without consequences. These consequences are more apparent now than ever with the struggles of truck traffic, environmental concerns, and industrial encroachment. The goal of our research was to tackle some of these concerns and promote the true needs of the diverse community. Whether through land use hearings or research on the property and zoning use of an area, our community engaged research covered all arrays of public policy advocacy.

Revitalizing Northeast Detroit through data base research

Northeastern Detroit has long been a historical focal point in Michigan. It has a rich history that stretches back over a century, however, for much of its history it’s been utilized in an industrial manner. While this industry has brought its benefits to the area, these were not without consequences. These consequences are more apparent now than ever with the struggles of truck traffic, environmental concerns, and industrial encroachment. The goal of our research was to tackle some of these concerns and promote the true needs of the diverse community. Whether through land use hearings or research on the property and zoning use of an area, our community engaged research covered all arrays of public policy advocacy.

Antarctic Atmospheric Rivers

Atmospheric Rivers (ARs) are long and narrow areas of concentrated moisture found within the first few kilometers of the atmosphere. When they make landfall, this moisture is released in the form of rain or snow, at times transporting moisture from the tropics or subtropics. Due to their impacts at landfall, there has been an explosion of interest in characterizing ARs. However, the AR definition is largely qualitative and relies on regionally specific case studies from the North Pacific, therefore, a number of AR detection algorithms exist. I will be focusing on the region of Antarctica because there is little studied from that region, and there are large differences between algorithms when applied to that region. The Atmospheric River Tracking Method Intercomparison Project (ARTMIP) aims to identify and quantify the uncertainty in AR science due to algorithm choice. The focus of this project is on a set of AR catalogues from ten algorithms run on MERRA-2 reanalysis (1 hour time intervals and 0.5 degree latitude and longitude intervals). This project seeks to understand and quantify the differences between regional and global algorithms when applied to the region of Antarctica by examining how the number of AR events changes with algorithm and comparing algorithms along transects in Antarctica. We can cross analyze the output of each of the detection algorithms to identify areas of inconsistency in atmospheric river detection and understand the nature and source of those inconsistencies, which is the goal of this UROP project.

The effects of fragmentation on avian vocal behavior

As avian habitats across the globe face increasing fragmentation, the resulting consequences on behavior are not fully understood. One potential outcome is a change in vocal behavior, as fragmentation may decrease opportunities for social learning among birds. We examined how fragmented landscapes affect avian behavior, and using this data, I analyzed the effects of fragmentation on vocal behavior. The data was collected by conducting behavioral assays of birds inside a novel environment and recording behavioral components such as latency to enter, movement frequency, perches visited, and vocal behavior. Using the data collected on vocal behavior, I determined the the frequency (pitch), amplitude, and complexity (number of syllables) of bird song using Audacity. I then analyzed patterns in these components and their relationship with fragmentation in R. As increasing fragmentation may result in increased isolation of birds, it may promote a decline in song learning. This is because passerines primarily learn birdsong from other tutors, and increased isolation may limit the amount of tutors birds are exposed to (Hart et al., 2017). The decline in the exposure to tutors may decrease the number of vocal components birds are exposed to, consequently reducing the number of vocal components within the population (Hart et al., 2017). Thus, I predict that increasing fragmentation will result in decreasing diversity of song. The relationship between fragmentation and vocal behavior is an important component of bird conservation, as avian vocal behavior is essential for mare choice, territoriality, predator avoidance, foraging and group cohesion (Catchpole & Slater, 1995). As song diversity may indicate a population’s viability (Laiolo et al., 2008), it is vital to examine the effects of fragmentation on avian vocal behavior in order to inform future conservation strategies.

The role of sex and stress response on exploratory behavior of Wood Thrush living in fragmented landscapes

As climate change worsens and humans continue to modify habitats, it will be increasingly important to understand how organisms respond to these changes both through behavioral and physiological adaptations. Both exploratory behavior and corticosterone (CORT) levels in birds are impacted by habitat fragmentation (Cornelius et. al, 2017, Kluen et. al, 2014); however, there are mixed results on how these effects vary based on sex (Schuett and Dall, 2009, Atwell et. al, 2012). We captured Wood Thrush living in highly and minimally fragmented habitats in Southern Indiana to investigate the relationship between sex, exploratory behavior, and corticosterone. We recorded Wood Thrush for twenty minutes while they explored a portable enclosure with five perches. We then quantified exploration behavior according to the methods in Huang et al (2016).

Activity of squirrels and rabbits to domestic cats in Detroit, MI

Domestic cats are known invasive predators on small mammals and birds in urban areas. Due to domestic cats’ presence, concerns have raisen given the detrimental impact these pets can have on the local wildlife of metropolitan cities. In this study, we analyzed the temporal avoidance of squirrels (Sciurus niger, Sciurus carolinensis) and cottontail rabbits (Sylvilagus floridanus) to the presence of domestic cats (Felis catus) in Detroit Michigan.

The Resilience Project: Measuring, Modeling, and Resilience to Hurricanes along the Eastern Seaboard

Hurricanes are massive storm systems that have major impacts on the human environment, especially infrastructure and the economy. It is imperative that we assess and measure recent patterns toward greater resilience to these powerful events, by minimizing the destructive potential that hurricanes will continue to bring in the near future. This undergraduate research study analyzes historic hurricane data, including their recurrence and magnitudes, as well as resilience measurement models that assess levels of impact to occurrences. Special focus is on southeast Florida which will continue to experience major impacts of storm patterns, especially coastal flooding from winds and storm surge. Five main results are found. First, Florida has the highest yearly frequency of hurricane strikes of any state on the U.S. Mainland. Second, the average frequency of mainland US hurricanes strikes since 1850 is 2 per year, and has not increased; however, the frequency of Atlantic hurricanes from 1985-2020 has nearly doubled. Next, the storm intensity of these strikes has slightly increased since 1850 (category 4 and 5 storms). Lastly, hurricane damage cost has increased by 100-1000 times; these rapidly growing costs reflect damage-prone societal infrastructure. It is also found that hurricane damage costs make up the significant majority of all weather event damage costs. The study offers strategies on a community level and on a regional level for increasing resilience, based on recent patterns of activity and the potential of enhanced storm activity in the near future.

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