RATC Board Meeting

PROGRAM:  Prof. Kathy O’Neill, Roanoke College:Climate, conservation, and the Earth’s critical zone”

We all know that industry and automobiles release a lot of greenhouse gases.  Yet, there is more than three times as much carbon in the soil and vegetation as there is in the atmosphere, making conservation management a key part of an effective climate strategy.  This presentation will address some of the potential impacts of climate change on Virginia’s AT with an emphasis on how conservation management of soils and forests (the Earth’s ‘critical zone’) can contribute to offsetting greenhouse gas emissions and promoting increased resilience in the face of a changing climate. 

Prof. O’Neill’s research and teaching links ecosystems, soils, and human management to address the interconnections between land use and the ecosystem services that support human well-being (e.g., carbon sequestration, water quality, food and timber production). Prior to arriving at Roanoke in 2008, she served as a federal research scientist for the USDA Forest Service and Agricultural Research Service where her work included developing and implementing a national soil quality monitoring program, co-authoring sections of the U.S. Forest Service’s National Report on Sustainable Forests (soil quality), and leading an interdisciplinary rhizosphere ecology team in the development of sustainable agricultural management practices for Appalachian farming systems.

Her work and teaching at Roanoke also build upon her graduate training and research with the U.S. Geological Survey (U.S. Global Carbon Program) which integrated field and lab measurements with models and satellite imagery to evaluate the potential impacts of warmer climates and increased fire frequency on greenhouse gas emissions from permafrost soils in Alaska and Canada.  She is currently an investigator at the National Science Foundation’s Calhoun Critical Zone Observatory charged with developing educational materials based on emerging research into historical land use practices and the ways in which the legacy of severe soil erosion in the southern Piedmont have, and continue to, impact processes within the Earth’s Critical Zone.