Pair of Western Graduate Students Awarded Northwest Climate Center Research Fellowships

  • WWU graduate student Caroline Walls measures the depth of a poll behind an engineered log jam designed to provide refuge and cool water for spawning salmon.
    WWU graduate student Caroline Walls measures the depth of a poll behind an engineered log jam designed to provide refuge and cool water for spawning salmon.

Western Washington University graduate students James Robinson and Caroline Walls were both recently awarded research fellowships through the Northwest Climate Adaptation Science Center (NW CASC) based at the University of Washington.

The NW CASC allows fellows to conduct research with regional natural resource managers to assess climate change impacts. In addition, fellows receive training through monthly cohort calls, seminar courses and other activities.

Robinson said he became fascinated with water and natural systems when he was growing up on the St. Croix River in Minnesota, a fascination that he has pursued in his thesis.

“The area was prone to flooding,” Robinson said. “My family and I spent many spring evenings filling sandbags and stacking them around our home to minimize flood damage.”

Robinson plans to use the funding provided by the fellowship to concentrate on his thesis research project focused on the Stillaguamish River watershed, about 40 miles south of Bellingham.

“My project involves developing a numerical model to predict how the Stillaguamish will respond to the latest meteorological predictions through the year 2100,” Robinson said.

WWU Professor of Geology Robert Mitchell, the faculty advisory for Robinson, described him as an independent worker with an exceptional skill set.

“His work falls in the realm of actionable science,” Mitchell said. “His outcomes will inform city officials, water managers and the salmon restoration efforts of the Stillaguamish Indian Tribe.”

Walls worked as a park ranger at the Olympic National Park in the summer of 2010 during the Elwha River dam-removal project, aimed at restoring wild salmon runs to the Elwha.

“During work, the removal project is all I talked about,” Walls said. “I grew so interested and invested in the story of salmon that I began to look for work on the research side of things.”

Walls’ fellowship research focuses on the effectiveness of engineered log jams (ELJs) to help improve and restore salmon habitats.

“I’m using data from 24 ELJ restoration sites throughout Washington state, including Whatcom County,” Walls said. “The data shows that ELJs improve the habitat, but the fellowship funding allows me to continue to research and analyze the juvenile salmon’s responses to these physical habitat changes.”

Wall’s faculty advisor, Huxley faculty member James Helfield, praised the work she has done thus far as a graduate student.

“Caroline has extensive field experience which allows her to really understand the data she has collected,” Helfield said. “More importantly, she is remarkably determined and never takes the easy way out.”

Walls’ work will help guide future restoration efforts and to sustain salmon populations in the face of climate change.

For more information, contact the Western Washington University Office of Communications at (360) 650-3350.

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Tuesday, February 4, 2020 - 11:05am

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