Student Research

Environmental Studies supports active engagement in research, both in the field and the laboratory.  Students with a vast array of interests work with faculty in the many disciplines engaged in environmental work.  Faculty-student collaborations take many forms from action research within courses to summer projects supported by research grants. Below are a sampling of some of these projects.

Provenance and Paleogeography of the 25-18 million year old Rainbow Gardens Basin in southern Nevada

Researcher:  Malia Foster (Geology and ENVR major)

Supervisor: Lisa Lamb 

Malia Foster conducted fieldwork in southern Nevada in order to determine the geometry and chemical composition of an ancient basin. The basin was the site of ancient rivers and lakes and is part of a project to determine the geography and climate of the Lake Mead region 25-12 million years ago.  This will help refine climate models and understand geological and landscape changes that have occurred in this region.  She examined sedimentary sequences, collected samples and analyzed them under the microscope to characterize their composition and determine their source areas. This in turn helped constrain the location of ancient mountains and valleys.  Malia recently accepted an environmental consulting job in Bismarck, South Dakota, where she will help monitor oil shale operations, oversee cleanups and help enforce environmental regulations.  She will begin this job immediately after graduation.

Aboveground Carbon Potential in Deforested Minnesota Lands

Researcher: Renee Huset

One way for institutions to offset carbon emissions is to replant forests on degraded land. The ability of Minnesota’s landscape to sequester carbon dioxide varies widely -- some areas are already heavily forested while others have limited potential to support future forests. Thus, reforestation will not be a viable offset project in some parts of the state. This project was focused on targeting optimal sites for reforestation by using data on aboveground biomass, Geographic Information Systems technology, and geographically weighted regression. To target areas with the greatest potential for carbon absorption, processing was focused on creating a model that best predicts aboveground carbon in currently-forested land using both physical and human variables. After applying the same model to deforested land, residuals were used to calculate the amount of carbon that should be found in the landscape according to the model and locate areas containing considerably less carbon than expected. These findings were then used to analyze the amount of land that would need to be reforested to offset the carbon emissions of the University of Saint Thomas.

Energizing the Campus: The Future of the University of St. Thomas' Electrical System

Researchers: Robert Fisher, Emily Horth & Meghan Taffe

This document, done as a semester-long group capstone project, focuses on the future and alternatives to the conventional electrical system within the United States. To provide context to the future of electricity the history and rhetoric of the electrical industry are explored, following with a discussion of emerging alternatives. The alternative energy industry is discussed along with the most cost efficient and viable energy alternatives. This information is then applied to the University of St. Thomas (UST), in the form of a pilot electricity audit that looks at student consumption in one of the University dorms. Recommendations for more efficient electrical use at UST are provided along with suggestions for further research on energy alternatives and efficiency, and a large-scale audit at UST.

Biofuels: A Viable Alternative to a Real Crisis

Researchers: Chris Kramer & Sam Toberman

The global community has become engulfed by the power of petroleum. Oil has served as a catalyst for technology as well as political and social instability throughout the producing countries. Those instabilities, together with negative health effects and the inevitable fate of a depleting and non-renewable resource have led the United States, among other nations, to the path towards a biofuels society. The primary replacements for gasoline and petrol diesel stand as ethanol and biodiesel.

Minnesota Prairie Restoration with the Nature Conservancy

Researchers: Renee Huset & Amy Schmelling

Minnesota once boasted 18 million acres of the world’s largest prairie, but agriculture and development has significantly decreased the amount of prairie in the state to under 1 percent of its original acreage. With this in mind, efforts intended to bring back prairie land must seek to both preserve land that is currently native prairie as well as restore lands that have remnants of the prairie grasses that once grew there. Working with data provided by the Nature Conservancy (TNC), this project utilizes Geographic Information System (GIS) tools including zonal statistics and times to target prime locations for prairie restoration projects with considerations for private, unpaved land, proximity to existing preserves and developed land, land quality for prairie restoration projects, and land enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). Using GIS and spatial analysis, this project identifies the top locations for future TNC prairie restoration projects in the state.