Nicole M Herman-Mercer


I am a Social Scientist in the Decision Support Branch of the Integrated Information Dissemination Division of the Water Mission Area.  I began at the USGS in 2008 as a Student Intern in Support of Native American Relations (SISNAR), a program funded by the USGS Office of Tribal Relations.  As a SISNAR I completed a case study of Indigenous Observations of Climate Change in a rural Alaska Native Village in the Yukon River Basin while completing my master's degree in social science at the University of Colorado, Denver.  My work explores the interactions between different knowledge systems regarding human dimensions of landscape change and water resources in rural Alaska Native villages. Currently my focus is on the co-production of knowledge utilizing community-based and participatory methods in the Arctic and sub-Arctic to form a better understanding of environmental change and impacts on the populations of this region.  This includes implementing an extensive community-based environmental monitoring program in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta region of western Alaska where scientific instruments and local observations are used to produce an increased understanding of change in this region. Methods used in this work include semi-structured interviews with community experts, participatory mapping, and focus groups as well as community and K-12 classroom outreach, workshops, and community meetings.


University of Colorado, Denver             Anthropology                B.A. 2005

University of Colorado, Denver            Social Science              M.S.S. 2010

Current Projects:

  • Indigenous Observation Network

The Indigenous Observation Network (ION) is a collaborative community-based project between the USGS, Yukon River Inter-Tribal Watershed Council, and Yukon River Basin Communities.  The project began as a community-based water-quality project in 2005 with community members collecting surface water samples from the Yukon River and majority tributaries in their home communities.  Samples are analyzed at the USGS laboratories in Boulder, CO and that data is shared between the USGS, YRITWC, the participating communities, the scientific community, and the public.  In 2009 the project was expanded to include a permafrost monitoring component.  Fifty meter by 50 meter grids were established in several communities across the Yukon River Basin where the depth of the active layer is measured annually.  Additionally, soil temeperature, air temperature, and soil moisture data are collected from each site on a continuous basis year round.  

  • Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta Berry Outlook

This project utilized cultural consensus surveys, participatory mapping, and exsiting ecological data to increase understanding of the environmental factors influencing berry productivity, abundance, and location in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta region of western Alaska.  Berries are extremely important to human and wildlife communities in Alaska, and in some locations abundance has decreased significantly in recent years.  The results will provide important information on the relationships among climate, land use changes, ecosystems, and village subsistence systems, in formats that can be used to address the implications of possible futures with local and regional decision makers.Local residents and other stakeholders will be able to prioritize areas forecasted to transition into good berry producing habitats for acquisition during land exchanges, or preventing these areas from being traded away in land exchanges, developing habitat vulnerability assessments for shorebirds and waterfowl, and understanding of berry abundance-climate relationships for wildlife conservation.

  • Water, Ice, and Landscape Dynamics (WILD) Sites

In collaboration with the USGS Alaska Sciene Center, US Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Chevak Traditional Council, and Kotlik Tribal Council remote, automated weather stations have been installed in the communities of Chevak and Kotlik as part of a growing network of long-term ecological monitoring sites established in this rapidly-changing region.  The weather stations and monitoring sites will be used by local villages to monitor changing environmental conditions relevant to subsistence activities.  The sites are co-located with Indigenous Observation Network Active Layer Network grid sites where permafrost monitoring has taken place since 2009.  These sites will allow researchers to relate changes in vegetation, permafrost, erosion, wildlife habitat, and other landscape attributes to changes in seasonal weather patterns and long-term climate.  Data will then be used to build models to project further changes to landscapes, subsistence resources, and communities in the coming decades

  • Landscape Change on the Outer Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta

In collaboration with the USGS Alaska Science Center and the Chevak Traditional Council a series of workshops focused on landscape change in the region were held in September 2017.  Workshop participants ranging in age from 18 to 86 described observed landscape changes and identified the impacts of those changes to subsistence, health and safety, infrastructure, and the local economy.  Additionally, participants identified the location of specific landscape changes such as erosion, permafrost thaw, and changing vegetation on maps.  These workshops allow USGS researchers to document slow moving changes that cannot be identified through traditional methods as historical baseline data and imagery is sparse in this region.  The findings from these workshops will allow researchers to investigate causes of landscape change and make recommendations to the Traditional Council and the community about anticipated future changes as well as identify gaps in existing data in order to implement future data gathering activities

Previous Projects

  • Strategic Needs of Water on the Yukon (SNOWY)

Strategic Needs of Water on the Yukon (SNOWY) was a multi-discplinary, National Science Foundation funded project that took place in four lower Yukon River and Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta region communities in 2014.  The goal of SNOWY was to create a holisitc understanding of climate change in the region by combining scientific data collection with maps and stories created by the communities impacted by the changes.  Water samples were collected from under the ice in five locations and snow depth and snow water equvilancy measurements were made.  Additionally, more than fifty semi-structured interviews were conducted and several seasonal subsistence maps were created.  The results of semi-structured interviews and participatory mapping workshops found that perspectives of climate change varied among generations and that the vulnerability of subsistence resources to climate change impacts were localized, but may be increasing due to changing winter weather patterns that make travel to fall and winter subsistence harvesting locations more difficult.