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Recent Environmental Science Graduate’s Erosion Study Headed to American Meteorological Society Conference

MEDIA CONTACT: Eric Bryant (518) 629-8072
FOR RELEASE: Immediate, Thursday, Dec. 12, 2013

Class of 2013 graduate Joseph Cleveland is currently studying Environmental Science at the University at Albany. This past year, he was recommended by Hudson Valley faculty member Daniel Capuano to help with a GIS study in the Albany County town of Berne. His work, researching erosion hazards after major flooding events, led to an abstract that he will present at the 2014 national conference of the American Meteorological Society in Atlanta.

You graduated with honors from the Environmental Science program last spring? What were your goals heading into that program and what do you hope to do now as you continue your studies?

I took a long break from my studies and was several years into a career as a union carpenter here in Albany. I lost interest in that career and always wanted to pick up where I left off with college.

It was the perfect time to make the move, so I did. I decided if I was going to take my education seriously I was going to study something that was near and dear to me. The Environmental Science program at Hudson Valley is very appealing, and I knew it would be a great start. I was not disappointed.

My professors and instructors were well-read, cared about what they were teaching, and made it both enjoyable and challenging.

I am now continuing my studies at UAlbany, ultimately hoping to receive my B.S. in Environmental Science with a concentration in geography (as well as their undergraduate GIS certificate). Although it would be ideal to land an environmental career right out of UAlbany, I intend on pursuing my master’s in Environmental Science as well.

These days it is tough to compete in the job market without a professional level degree. I am really interested in water resource management, and would like to one day work for the USGS Water Science Center, NYS DEC Water Division, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, or a consulting firm that deals with water resource quality/management.

What specifically were you doing in Berne this summer? Are places like the Hilltowns particularly susceptible to flooding?

The project I worked on focused on locating existing and potential erosion hazards within the Town of Berne. In August of 2011, Berne was one of the many local hill towns devastated by the effects of Hurricane Irene. The immediate aftermath of Irene left Berne with roads completely cut off from rescue services; some were completely washed out and the town’s infrastructure was dealt a heavy blow. The town Conservation Board requested that the Town Board look into better preparing for future events of such magnitude.

I worked under the direct supervision of the town’s Conservation Board to design and implement the project. I had to research current erosion hazard assessment and mitigation practices, and determine the best methods to apply them towards Berne’s specific geography, land-usages and developed areas. Hill towns are especially susceptible to the fallout from major water events such as Hurricane Irene. It isn’t necessarily flooding that causes the most damage in places like Berne; erosion can have more negative effects. The fast moving waters that follow heavy and frequent precipitation can quickly and dramatically change the landscape, and when development is caught within the heavy runoff or flood zone, nature usually comes out on top.

I drove every mile of town and county road within Berne, visually assessing each stream crossing, culvert, roadside ditch and gravel surface. Using the research I compiled and the methods most commonly used to assess erosion hazards, I completed written assessments and plotted GPS data for each hazard site.

Once I completed my assessments, I used Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to plot those sites on town maps, created models to determine which sites should be addressed first and helped propose future precipitation detention areas. The latter involved working with local agencies such as the Albany County Soil and Water Conservation District to compile GIS data (like existing wetlands and hydric soil maps) to create new maps showing these potential detention areas.

Tell us about the abstract you put together for the American Meteorological Society conference in Atlanta. Are you going to be attending the conference?

I have to thank Kathy Moore, Berne’s Conservation Board chairperson, for encouraging me and helping get an abstract together to present at the American Meteorological Society’s annual meeting. She is responsible for submitting the abstract to the AMS, and along with another supervisor from the Conservation Board, Jon Kusler, will be co-authors of the abstract.

I plan on going to the conference, but it depends on my finances. Attending conferences can be expensive and difficult for adult students with bills and other obligations.

I am scheduled to present a poster of the project. Specifically, I will be presenting at the Second Symposium on Building a Weather-Ready Nation: Enhancing Our Nation’s Readiness, Responsiveness, and Resilience to High Impact Weather Events. I find that my abstract is particularly relevant to the symposium. Sharing my findings will be important for other small municipalities across our nation to prepare for more frequent high impact events like Hurricane Irene and Sandy.

I may choose to continue researching this project, and possibly use it as a master’s thesis in the future. One thing that I am proud of is that my abstract was accepted into the general conference, not just the annual AMS student conference. I will actually be presenting amongst professionals, which is a great opportunity for someone like me still early on in my degree/career.