Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship

Designing a visual platform for exploring climate change impacts in coastal plant communities
(May 21st - July 27th)

Application Deadline: Application Deadline: February 28th, 2018
Apply here:


Dr. Timothy Whitfeld (Brown University)
Jennifer Bissonnette (Rhode Island School of Design)
Lucia Monge (Rhode Island School of Design)

Project Description

The 1950s represent a key inflection point for many measures of global climate change: temperature and the concentration of greenhouse gasses have increased since then and development across the state has intensified. These factors have all had dramatic impacts on habitats in Rhode Island, in particular those around the coast of Narragansett Bay. How these changes have influenced plant diversity is not clear: have coastal plants gone extinct because of the impacts of climate changes or habitat destruction? Are invasive species more abundant as development increases and the environment changes? These questions and others are difficult to address with any certainty because there is very little data in the herbarium record over the past 75 years.

This project will work to document 21st century plant diversity in dune and salt marsh habitats around Narragansett Bay in order to record changes resulting from climate change. We will collect herbarium specimens and create images of all field sites and species present, with the aim of comparing present day diversity to historical diversity records from online herbarium resources dating back to the early 1800s. Using a range of technologies and design strategies, we will explore the visualization and representation of changes in plant diversity and the extent of coastal dunes and marshes through time. This will serve as a case study for developing interactive, highly engaging data narratives with the goal of expanding public interest in and understanding of the effects of climate change in Rhode Island.

This project involves both field and lab work

Skills & techniques that will be learned/used as part of this project

• Identification of coastal plant species
• Techniques for making scientific collections
• Principles of visual communication
• Software platforms for computer-aided visualization of change through time of coastal habitats and species diversity.

Applicant required/preferred skills

Preferred skills:
• Field botany
• Data visualization
• An interest in fieldwork and willingness to be outdoors in potentially challenging conditions

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