We asked Chris Lowry, UB assistant professor of geology, to tell us about his work in, and thoughts on sustainability.
What are you doing to help UB become more sustainable?
My biggest contribution at UB to building a sustainable environment is through the classes I teach. I teach both graduate and undergraduate classes in the department of Geology focusing on water resources. My goal is for students to become educated stewards of our water resources. We live in a very water rich state, however we still need to protect and manage these resources for the benefit for all. The way I can most easily protect our resources is by giving students the tools to understand and solve real world problems.
What kinds of sustainability related research/projects do you pursue at UB?
My research focuses on groundwater dependent ecosystems, which are basically wetland and riparian zones. I have been investigating the controls on wetland vegetation in high elevation meadows and the importance of groundwater during the dry summer months. This work has a restoration component, where we are able to simulate different restoration scenarios in order to see how to best support specific vegetation communities. I have also started a project where citizen scientists can make measurements of the height of water (stage) in streams and report these values using mobile phone text messages. These data are then published on the web and people can monitor changes in stream flow. By collecting these distributed measurements of stream stage we are able to better quantify seasonal changes in the movement of water within a watershed.
How are students involved in your sustainability work?
My students are conducting research on everything from new methods for monitoring groundwater discharge to managing water supply in regions of New York that may experience increased water demand. They use a combination of field observations and numerical models to quantify impacts from over pumping of aquifers and identifying source water to wetlands and ponds. I have undergrads working on identifying changes in water quantity and quality in streams and wetlands. These research projects are designed to answer both fundamental and applied questions that relate to maintaining and protecting water resources. The credit should really go to my students who are some of the brightest people I know and are literally going to change the way we manage and protect water resources.
What is the one thing you would like people to know that you do in your personal life to further sustainability?
I am a numbers guy and that is what motivates me to change my habits. My family decided that we were not walking as much as we should, so we got pedometers that wirelessly connect to our computers. Once I looked at the numbers I realized that I sit around most of the day. I now take the stairs to my office and try to walk to meetings and when running errands. The cool thing for me is getting to see the numbers everyday and now it has started to become a bit of a family competition. Take my word for it, don’t try to compete with a four year old on who takes the most steps in a day, you will lose every time.
How could UB improve its sustainability efforts?
I would like to see UB build a green roof on a section of Natural Sciences Complex that holds the large lecture halls. A green roof is a collection of plants, typically in an array of planter boxes, placed on top of an existing roof (a great example is City Hall in Chicago). A green roof would cut down on heating and cooling costs and reduce our CO2 footprint on campus. In addition, the vegetation would capture rainwater and reduce the amount of impervious surface. It would also be great if students could have access to the roof where there would be tables or some cool Adirondack chairs. A green roof NSC would have high visibility from three major building that look down at the site, including the administration offices.
Learn more about Lowry's research.