Dr. Michael Palace
Research Assistant Professor, UNH Institute for the Study of Earth, Oceans and Space and UNH Department of Earth Sciences
Tell us about your research and how it advances sustainability.
My research involves tropical ecology, landscape ecology, and geospatial science, and ranges from field studies of forest structure to the use of satellite imagery in an effort to predict disease, understand forest dynamics, and find and interpret past human settlement patterns. All of these research topics are involved with an effort to understand our role in a sustainably managed ecological system. Because our influence on this planet is now seen as fundamentally altering ecology and biogeochemistry, a better understanding of environmental science proves vital in making informed decisions and appropriate managerial plans. For example, understanding how forest clearing and fragmentation impact local tick populations through changes in their host populations provides insights into Lyme disease. Much of my work takes place in the tropics, specifically Amazonia. This vast region has often been deemed undisturbed by humans, but current research is indicating that not only is much of this region previously impacted by humans prior to European colonization, much of the forested area may be a remnant or anthropogenic forest. Many researchers want it to be either pristine or highly impacted, but our current research indicates that the forest and human use were rather dynamic and spatially variable, providing a complicated picture of indigenous land use practices. With current deforestation and selective logging, regional and global climate change, and the influence that these have on the carbon cycle and biodiversity, the Amazon forest has become the focus of much scientific research and debate. If the forest was highly altered, it is either resilient or indigenous people sustainability managed their natural resources. If it is a pristine forest, extra care needs to be extended to preserve this forested region.
What do you do as a faculty fellow of the Sustainability Institute?
I am involved with the Ecosystem Task Force, which is involved with understanding the biodiversity on UNH managed lands, the carbon storage of forests maintained by UNH, and aids in the integration between local stakeholders and UNH in regard to water quality and water use planning decisions. Though much of my research is international, the Sustainability Institute provides a chance for me to apply some of my efforts examining local issues and problems.
What motivates you personally to be involved in sustainability?
I have kids and want to provide a better world for them to inherit. I know that is a pretty standard and not an interesting response at all, but it is true. Also, I am just intellectually motivated by the topics and the bright people I work with. My job is fun. I get to travel to unique places and see things many people do not get to see. I enjoy the creative aspects of my work. Many people do not see science as a creative endeavor, but my personal goal is to explain this to folks and describe how science works and why it is a productive and creative process. For example, production of electronic music and audio field recordings is a facet of my creative efforts, and I have recently integrated this into a collaborative research project that uses underwater microphones to understand methane release from wetlands. Understanding methane is important in our effort to better understand global carbon dynamics. Recently I gave a TEDx talk on this subject.