What do you know about Texas’ forests?

Did you know that East Texas has 675,000 acres of forest and grasslands? Did you know that Texas boasts some of the most ecologically significant forests in the U.S.? When I started my internship with the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club in January, I didn’t know either of those facts. The U.S. Forest Service manages approximately 675,000 acres of forests and grasslands known as the Forests and Grasslands of Texas (NFGT). The NFGT includes four national forests: Sabine, Davy Crockett, Sam Houston and Angelina National Forests and one grassland: Caddo-Lyndon B. Johnson (LBJ) National Grassland. My job this semester is to research the importance of the NFGT and what threats it is facing. This information will be used to inform Sierra Club visitors and volunteers of what needs to be done to conserve the NFGT for the future.

Acoustic Biodiversity Monitoring in Wild Basin

For my internship, we are using Wildlife Acoustic sound recorders (SM4) to collect data on the bird and anuran community in Wild Basin.


Wild Basin is a 227 acre wilderness preserve located off 360 in Austin. The preserve is well monitored and maintained, however, the surrounding regions are quickly growing and becoming more and more urbanized. This increased urbanization affects and will continue to affect the anuran bird community. It is our objective of this project to find out to what extent. Our primary objectives are 1. monitor and quantity the bird composition 2. investigate how changes in biodiversity are related to the changing landscape 3. collaborate with local biologists and land managers 4. share results with a larger community


To accomplish this, we are using GIS to make maps and speculate the best places within Wild Basin to place the recorders. We are also using Sound Level Meters to quantify the decibel levels of these locations, so we can pick 4 different locations that have different natural sound levels. Next, we will set up the recorders and use the software Kaleidoscope to help manage and sort through the data. This project is in its infancy and will continue on for several years in Wild Basin. Please review to the Wild Basin blog page for more continuous updates if you’re interested in the project or more information


Myself and another intern using the recorders and measuring tape to test the distance of sound collected

Policy Intern with the Conservancy of Southwest Florida

Since January 18th, I have been the Estuaries Program Conservation Associate at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida  in Naples, FL. So far I have really enjoyed this experience and have learned so much about environmental policy in Florida.

My main job is to work on the Estuaries Report Card,  a snapshot of the health of our regional estuaries in Southwest Florida. This is an extensive, 300-page document that has been in production for over a year and a half. I’m coming into this process towards the end, so my main responsibilities have been to edit the document based on what our peer reviewers suggested, as well as work on ways to make the Report Card understandable to the general public.

In order to do this, I will also be creating three different Esri Story Maps using ArcGIS Online to go along with the launch of the 300-page Estuaries Report Card. Such an extensive and complicated document does not lend itself well to the general public (i.e. the people who live within the 10 watersheds the Report Card focuses on), yet that is the major audience we are trying to reach through this Report Card. In order to make the information presented in the Report Card understandable and accessible to the general public, we must create a more succinct and interesting compilation of the information.

To see some great examples of story maps, click the links below:  http://amazonteam.org/maps/sarayaku-en/  http://kygeonet.ky.gov/StoryMaps/KyNationalLandmarks/

My internship is 6 months long, so at the moment I have not started on the maps. I am in the process of outlining what should go into each story map and working with the policy and marketing team to make the maps as user-friendly and understandable as possible.

I have several other responsibility at the Conservancy, including researching environmental issues and advocating for the Conservancy’s positions on a local, state, and/or federal level. Additionally, I assist with the creation of comment letters, presentations, and handouts, and sit in on and participate in relevant meetings. As the Estuaries Program intern, I mostly work with water quality and water conservation issues and have attended several meetings and workshops on these issues. March is the beginning on legislative session so we will be very busy advocating for water issues (and other issues, such as a ban on fracking state-wide) for the next several months. I even get to attend Everglades Action Day in the state capitol of Tallahassee!

The Conservancy offers several different internships, including Environmental Education, Wildlife Rehabilitation, Science, and Turtle Conservation. Also, they offer free housing and a small stipend. If you are looking for a long-term internship, I highly recommend this place.

Air Quality in Costa Rica

The following entry is something I wrote during my second weather balloon launch from Costa Rica. Because launches happen weekly every Friday morning, I have now participated in four launches here, going on five tomorrow morning.

January 27, 2017

The above picture was taken during my first ozonesonde launch here in San Jose, Costa Rica. I have participated in launches of ozonesondes before in Austin, as a member of the first team to launch balloons from St. Edward’s. A quick explanation of what we are launching is an instrument that is used to measure ozone attached to a weather balloon filled with helium. There is also a radiosonde attached which has a built in GPS and transmits the data back to the receiving antenna. More details beyond this rough introduction of what ozonesondes are and  where ozonesondes have been launched can be found at physics.valpo.edu/ozone/ or ir.stedwards.edu/natural-sciences/ozone. Here in Costa Rica, they have been doing this for years, and they have these launches down to a science!

I didn’t have an opportunity to take any pictures at today’s launch. Due to the windy conditions, it was all 6 hands on deck to ensure the balloon didn’t hit the grass during gusts. With the strong winds present today, the balloon was bouncing all over the place. As the balloon was being filled, we also had a black bird with a bright yellow tail come swooping in awfully close to the balloon, which could have been bad if it had hit the balloon. (Due to the bird calls I heard in the background and recognized from our field course here in Costa Rica, I believe it was a Montezuma Oropendula- in case any bird enthusiasts were wondering). Maybe I’m exaggerating a tad, but the bird sure did seem very close to one of our heads. Even with the winds, we were able to successfully get the balloon and ozonesonde payload up into the air.

At my time of writing, the balloon is still ascending, already having observed a sharp notch in low ozone at less than 5km. This notch is a proxy for showing when there is a high spike in sulfur dioxide. Therefore today we can assume the balloon traveled through a plume of volcanic ash. (Below is the ozone profile from the launch). This directly relates to a large part of the research project I am conducting (which originated as research by Kelsey Larson, as a part of the Tropospheric Ozone Pollution Project). The research is aiming to determine whether high concentrations of sulfur dioxide are a result of a nearby active volcano or local/industrial pollutants. More to come in the future on this research and activities happening here in the lovely Costa Rica!

Ozone profile 2017-01-27

-Kelsey Emmons