Jessica is a Masters student in the Earth Sciences department at UNH.
Her research is focused on changes to local vegetation created by a warming climate in the northern arctic. Because the region is so vast, large scale study of its ecosystems is practical only with remote sensing. While satellite imagery is available from the 1970s on, the resolution from early images is poor by today's standards -- only about 30m per pixel -- and unfortunately that scale makes comparison with modern data sets difficult. However, as the planet has warmed, it has become ever more necessary to understand what's happening in the arctic and make reliable comparisons over decades. Jessica is currently comparing vegetation changes over a sample area in Sweden, with four years of data gathered via drones she flew as part of the Northern Ecosystems Research for Undergrads (NERU) program. In contrast to the 1970s satellite data, the drones yield a 3cm resolution, allowing for much more precise measurements of changes to local vegetation, which in turn can yield better forecasts of expected changes as the temperature warms.
Why is this important? Huge reserves of methane and other greenhouse gases have been locked up for millennia in arctic permafrost. With ever warmer temperatures in the arctic, the permafrost is thawing and releasing those reserves into the atmosphere. Scientists have long warned that this will create a feedback loop that warms the climate further, and indeed the data has begun bearing this out. As the permafrost below thaws, plant life on the surface changes in response, often becoming degraded if temperature-based succession doesn't happen quickly enough to keep up with local changes, so by studing ground cover, ecologists will be able to determine the extent of the thaw and thereby extrapolate changes to emissions to determine methane budgets.
Jessica has an undergraduate degree in Environmental Science: Ecosystems, and will finish her Masters in Geochemical Systems/Earth Science in May, 2018. She will also receive a Geospatial Science certificate. She would like to continue her work in remote sensing as it applies to climate change, and is hoping to find a job in a local research lab.