Master of Environmental Management students Tay Holliday and Cassidy White worked with the National Parks Service on a regional climate exposure assessment as part of their Master's Project (MP). The resulting model estimates how water balance parameters are expected to change under future climate scenarios. Using this method, and Yosemite, Sequioa & Kings Canyon National Parks as case studies, a water balance approach for identifying vegetation types was created and can be subsequently used by National Park managers in the future.

Duke Environment recently corresponded with Holiday and White to discuss the key findings of their MP and some of the skills they'll carry forward into their careers.

What are the key findings of your MP?

Actual evapotranspiration (AET) models
Actual evapotranspiration (AET) models

Vegetation in Yosemite and Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks is experiencing an increase in productivity (higher actual evapotranspiration, AET) and increased water and heat stress (increased water deficit) under the RCP 8.5 climate scenario. Under this scenario, these national park vegetation types are exiting the historic AET and Deficit domains.

How will having practical work experience in this project help you in your career?

A large part of this project was creating both visually appealing and understandable figures to interpret the impacts of climate change scenarios. Because climate change is such an intricate and complex issue, it can be challenging to show the significance of these changes. Moving forward in our careers, we will be faced with many complex problems and we will have to find creative ways to explain them to the everyday person. This project has helped us develop these communication skills that will be a major asset to us in the future.

What drew you to this project/client?

As two water resource management master’s students, we were immediately drawn to the concept of the water balance and the implications climate change upon it. We are also both avid hikers and wilderness explorers, so having the chance to work with the National Parks Service and the parks with which we have spent so much of our free time was an incredible opportunity.

The Master’s Project combines the academic rigor of a thesis with the practical experience of an internship, allowing students to apply the skills and knowledge they’ve acquired in the classroom to projects that tackle real-world environmental challenges.