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Air quality and energy development in the southwestern U.S.

We are looking for a student to join our multi-disciplinary and multi-institution team exploring the relationships between energy development and air quality in the southwestern U.S. This research provides an exceptional opportunity for students to explore the complexities of land use and ecosystem function, as well as experience the diverse work environments found within the federal government.

Link to PDF Version.

Project Hypothesis or Objectives:

The goal of this research is to help assess the potential air quality consequences of energy development in southwestern ecosystems. Projects could include quantifying air quality effects of energy development (e.g., assessing NOx, SO2, O3); determining how development inputs, geomorphology, and ecosystem type may interact to determine air quality consequences; modeling inputs, deposition, and/or ecosystem effects of air quality change; determining the biological implications of changes to air quality (e.g., effects on native and exotic plants and/or biological soil crusts), and research considering how air quality could be taken into account for restoration efforts. Because air quality is so important to human and ecosystem health, federal land management agencies are interested in how air quality is affected by a range of land uses, including energy development. This research represents a collaboration with the National Park Service (NPS) and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the student would work closely with multi-agency group to consider numerous aspects of development and land management using multiple research disciplines. This experience would also provide the student with an exciting opportunity to collaborate with scientists and managers from a range of federal agencies.

Duration: Up to 12 months

Internship Location: Moab, UT

Field(s) of Study: Chemistry, Geoscience, Life Science

Applicable NSF Division: AGS Atmospheric and Geospace Sciences, EAR Earth Sciences, MCB Molecular & Cellular Biosciences, IOS Integrative Organismal Systems, DEB Environmental Biology

Intern Type Preference: Any Type of Intern

Keywords: Air quality, biogeochemistry, ecosystem ecology, energy development, global change ecology, land use, southwestern U.S.

Expected Outcome:

This project will provide an opportunity for a student to work within the realm of complex resource management issues to offer new information about how we can balance the benefits of energy development and air quality. The research has a high chance of resulting in a scientific publication, as well as the likelihood of directly providing valuable information to resource managers via conversations, oral presentations, and the building of collaborations. Indeed, the experience would likely provide the student with lasting relationships with scientists and managers from a range of federal institutions. The USGS would also benefit from this collaboration because the work directly addresses information needs of our federal land manager partners and helps a bright early career scientist gain insight into our agency’s science and culture.

Special skills/training Required:

We are seeking an applicant with a background in air quality, biogeochemistry, ecology, and/or southwestern ecosystems, who is highly motivated and enjoys working independently as well as part of a group. The student should have quantitative skills, including the ability to conduct basic statistical analyses and manipulate/analyze data in spreadsheets. It would also be beneficial for the student to have experience in conducting literature reviews and in writing.


The student will work with scientists and resource managers to build their own project assessing aspects of energy development and air quality. Together with the collaborative team, the student can explore questions of energy development in the southwestern U.S., including drawing upon the fields of biogeochemistry, ecosystem ecology, plant physiology, and restoration science to name only a few. The student will have access to U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) staff and facilities not available at their home institution and can benefit from experience with agency approaches, infrastructure, and cultures. The team will help the student find a project that is tractable, related to the student’s skills and interests, and relevant to current resource management challenges. The student can lead the project design (or work within existing research) and will collect and interpret data, as well as interact with a range of scientists and resource managers.