For my first postdoctoral position I worked with Dr. Rebecca Ryals and had the opportunity to join my interests in ecosystem science and sustainable development via a collaboration with the internationally-recognized NGO Sustainable Organic Integrated Livelihoods (SOIL) Haiti. SOIL’s work continues to serve vulnerable communities in Port-au-Prince and Cap Haitien, employing community members and offering an ecological sanitation service that sanitizes waste into compost. I will continue to update this blog in the coming months as we work towards publications from this project.
The Biogeochemistry of Sanitation
Together with Rebecca Ryals (UC Merced) and Matthew Reid (Cornell University), I convened a session at the 2018 American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting in Washington DC focused on the biogeochemistry of sanitation. In a field historically dominated by environmental engineers, we are excited to bring together researchers interested in the ecological and biogeochemical dimensions of human waste, from water, carbon and nitrogen flows, to energy consumption – we want to understand how human sanitation systems interact with global biogeochemical cycles. Our poop-loop group had a busy Monday morning poster session at the conference, where we go to discuss sanitation with scientists, students, reporters, and development and aid agency representatives. In our research for this session we identified over 35 scientists working at the interface of sanitation and biogeochemistry and I hope we can continue to build a community around this work.
Mountains Beyond Mountains: Ayiti to Alaska
The defining EcoSan principles of nutrient recycling, safeguarding water resources, and waste diversion are universal, though implementation varies depending on local needs. This month, I wrote a sustainability column for a Juneau newspaper and took it as a chance to learn a little about the state of sanitation in Alaska. Despite the differences in climate, I found rural Alaskans face some of the same sanitation issues as urban Haitians, especially as related to water scarcity and health impacts on children. Read the full scoop here.
The SOIL Met Station: Data from Year 1
The SOIL meteorology station went live on November 12, 2016 and is performing very well, recording data every minute throughout 99.97% of the first year. We now have more than one full year of temperature, rainfall, humidity, pressure, and wind data to look back at and start to investigate how local weather interacts with the composting process. Check out my latest post on SOIL Haiti’s website. Don’t miss the link to the weather almanac post which contains the data from Year 1!
The Microbial Revolution
The thermophilic phase of composting is key to ecological sanitation (EcoSan) and transforms pathogenic organics into sanitary compost. But what are the biogeochemical conditions that support this transformation? In the last phase of our SOIL Haiti collaboration we set up arrays of sensors to measure temperature and oxygen across our experimental piles. More information about this work can be found at the SOIL Haiti blog.
The Climate & Compost Fellows
With a generous donation from John Wick and Peggy Rathmann of the Marin Carbon Project we started a new Stajyè Klima ak Konpòs (Climate and Compost Fellows) program as part of our research with SOIL Haiti. This new program will help support research interns and a laboratory technician at the Cap Haïtien office and composting site in northern Haiti.
The interns are fully integrated into the SOIL research team. They will be trained all our laboratory methods, participate in the field collection of greenhouse gas emissions and solid compost samples, and help us manage, analyze, and communicate the data. Read more about this new program and meet the first group of interns at the SOIL Haiti blog.
The SOIL Met Station
Haiti has scarce coverage of reliable meteorological data, despite weather records representing a valuable knowledge resource that we often take for granted. In November 2016 we set up a weather station to start recording temperature, relative humidity, rainfall, wind speed and direction, and atmospheric pressure at the composting site at Mouchinèt – SOIL’s offsite composting location near the northern city of Cap Haïtien.
The meteorological data collected by the station will help us understand the interaction between the tropical climate and composting processes we are studying while also capturing data on extreme weather events, seasonal anomalies, and, looking further forward, inter-annual trends. Check out the current and past weather conditions at Mouchinèt at this dedicated website.
The new station was also featured in a post by Julie Jeliazovski on the SOIL Haiti blog.
The First Blog Post
In academic circles, we regularly discuss sustainability in the context of long-term climate, biodiversity, or other global change scenarios. My current post-doctoral research has given me the chance to join my training as an ecologist to much more immediate public health issues of sustainability in the global south. This first blog post is a vignette of the personal story behind that transition.