As part of the Carbon Neutrality Initiative, each UC campus has chosen Research Fellows to work on research projects related to climate neutrality. One of the Research Fellows here at UCSD is undergraduate student Laurel Brigham. She currently works in Dr. Elsa Cleland’s lab in the Department of Biological Sciences, and her project focuses on examining the effect of precipitation on the carbon storage capacity of soil at UC natural Reserves along the coast of California. This is important to study because the storage of carbon could offset the net impact of carbon emissions.
Brigham is interested in studying the effect of rainfall on California soil because of the current trends of decreased precipitation, which are likely to continue and become more extreme in the future. Brigham hypothesizes that drier soil in areas with lower rainfall will have smaller carbon pools as a result of decreased productivity. She also infers that grass-dominated areas will have smaller carbon pools, compared to shrub-dominated areas.
Brigham became interested in climate change research as a high school student. Through a UCSD extension program, Brigham worked under Dr. Joost van Haren in an Arizona rainforest biome to study effects of drought on the production of greenhouse gases by soil microbes. The experience sparked Brigham’s a passion for studying climate change. “My current work with soils is a product of that zeal for a deep comprehension of our changing world,” Brigham revealed.
Brigham’s favorite aspect of her research project is being able to answer questions through data analysis. She was able to collect soils on a sampling trip along the California coast, and has been working on sorting the roots and rocks, and quantifying the carbon content. The process is time-consuming but rewarding. “Being able to ask and then answer your own question using research methods is an incredibly beautiful thing,” Brigham expressed.
“I would like to expand this project by looking at soil microbial communities of the UC Natural Reserves that I have been examining,” Brigham stated, “so that I can compare their activity along a precipitation gradient and further my understanding of their importance on global carbon cycling.”
To learn more about Laurel and our other sustainability staff and students, click here.
By: Linda Tong, UC Carbon Neutrality Initiative Student Fellow