What is your job?
Research Environmental Engineer, Integrated Ecological Modeling team at the Engineer Research and Development Center, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. I translate my research to biology and engineering teams so that natural ecosystem services are central to rather than bolted onto brick-and-mortar projects.
How are you helping cool the planet?
For flood risk management, coastal infrastructure like mangroves or dunes are often more resilient, flexible, and climate-friendly than concrete, steel, or even earthen levees. Natural options are also excellent ‘carbon sinks’ — some more than others. For example, salt marshes and mangroves can absorb one hundred times more carbon than the same area of forest; their loss from sea level rise or erosion releases the outsized carbon they hold. Valuing and bolstering these ecosystems — today ACE does this with sediment dredged to clear waterways for boat traffic, sediment it would normally discard — is critical to preserve these ecosystems and their defensive and absorption functions. We’re starting to see a sea change on that. If marshes are deemed to be worthy at managing flood risk, the government will put money towards maintaining them in the future.
What most surprised you about your job?
That we all speak slightly different scientific languages. I started as an odd duck, as the only engineer amid a bunch of biologists and soil scientists. I translate engineering principles to them — and their work to coastal and traditional hydraulic engineers in our ACE Districts as well as our Coastal and Hydraulics Laboratory. One of our team members is an applied mathematician.
What can we do to get more young people into public service?
We have to better communicate that our work is as exciting as that in academia. Also, in the government, you have more freedom to do what interests you, unlike in engineering consulting firms where you take what comes across your plate. You can craft your own research. After a few years as a junior researcher, you can make your own program, develop your own portfolio, and get proposals funded.