Aaron Carr Introduction: Dipping into Undergraduate Research

Greetings!  My name is Aaron Carr and I am a rising senior who has been interested in sustainability for as long as I can remember. My early exposure to the Pitt Sustainability Community as a Green Team member my freshman year soon guided me to declaring my major as Environmental Science.  By my sophomore year I had begun my pursuit of certificates in GIS and Sustainability while beginning to serve efforts in campus housing as one of the first Eco-Reps.  I also joined Pitt’s environmental honors fraternity, Epsilon Eta Delta, that year.  Since then, much of my non-academic time is devoted to the Pitt Sustainability Community.  My junior year I once again served as an Eco-Rep and helped expand the growing program’s presence.  Going into my senior year, I will continue to do so as an Eco-Rep Leader alongside the SOOS.  Additionally, I’ll be serving as Transportation Coordinator for Pitt’s Food Recovery Heroes chapter as we reintegrate into the region post-COVID.  In my free time I like to go bowling and I look forward to joining my first league this summer.

Attending Students for Zero Waste 2019 Conference in Philadelphia alongside fellow Pitt Student Sustainability Workers.

This summer I am conducting a research internship under the advisement of Dr. John Gardner, the support of the Pittsburgh Collaboratory for Water Research, Education, and Outreach, as well as the guidance of Pitt Honors’ Community Research fellowship.  For my project I will be utilizing a workflow developed by Gardner et al. to pull water color distributions from satellite data as far back as 1984 in the rivers surrounding the Greater Pittsburgh Area (2).  From this data, I will determine points in time and space in which there are shifts and outliers in the distribution of color in local river-lengths.  Using this information, I will map the river-lengths of interest to my partner organization, Three Rivers Waterkeeper, with expected river color for their River Watch manual.  Additionally, I will construct a dataset of expected colors, events, and sites that caused outliers or shifts in the trend.  I feel that this research is important for a number of reasons.  First, color, in its qualitative nature, serves as a relatively emotionally-appealing means of capturing the public’s attention and imagination in regards to water quality.  There is a strong reliance on our waterways; over 90% of residents in Allegheny County pull their drinking water from the rivers surrounding our city, yet substantial quality issues, such as combined sewer overflows, persist (1).  How can river color be used to introduce, supplement, and improve the relationship between communities and their rivers?  Second, the utilization of the workflow of Gardner et al. will apply a localized and specialized approach of their work to a region experiencing relevant issues of water quality.  I hope to make use of this resource through the lens of a community-focused application.  

My academic goals are to finish out this summer and my senior year engaged in GIS and remote-sensing focused work.  After graduating I plan to seek my masters in these fields.  Ultimately, I hope to support NASA’s earth science efforts which strongly revolve around these facilities.  I am grateful for the resources and mentorship this research opportunity has offered me as it allows me to escalate my involvement and knowledge in the tools I seek a higher education and career in.

The workflow developed by Gardner et al. allowed them to analyze river color through satellite imagery in major rivers across the United States (2).  On this scale, they have identified seasonal shifts, as well as common colors and trends.  For my research I am taking a localized approach to this workflow by identifying how color has changed over time within relatively short river lengths and the causes associated with those shifts.  This undertaking interested me because it utilizes applicable techniques to determine and construct benefits for our region.  This localized approach will give full attention to the Greater Pittsburgh Area through a workflow originally applied to a nationwide scale.  Additionally, this research interested me because I am able to continue my engagement with water issues in Pittsburgh, which is something I have pursued through hydrology courses and extracurriculars such as the EPA’s Campus RainWorks Challenge.  I am very excited to increase my technical knowledge so that I can improve my ability to face water-related issues in the region.

[1] ALCOSAN. (2016).  About the Wet Weather Issue. 3 Rivers Wet Weather.  http://www.3riverswetweather.org/about-wet-weather-issue

[2] Gardner, J. R., Yang, X., Topp, S. N., Ross, M. R., Altenau, E. H., & Pavelsky, T. M. (2020). The Color of Rivers. Geophysical Research Letters.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. staciedow says:

    Great first post, Aaron! This is such important work for the future of Pittsburgh residents and I am excited to see where it goes after this summer.

  2. jacksonfilosa says:

    I learned so much just from your first post about the environmental issues facing Pittsburgh- for instance, that 90% of Allegheny County residents use surrounding rivers for drinking water. Really grateful to have people like you and your community partners working for environmental sustainability!

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