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Caroline Vickery ’22 publishes paper in Environmental Management

Caroline Vickery ’22.

Last updated January 10, 2024

By Tina Underwood

It’s not every day that an undergraduate student is listed as first author in a scientific journal. Caroline Vickery ’22, a Furman Earth and Environmental Science graduate, is among the young scientists who got the chance. She and coauthor John Quinn, associate professor of biology and director of environmental studies, published a paper about climate change and land use in Environmental Management.

In the paper, Vickery found that rainfall amounts, which are intensified by climate change, impact Upstate residents to a greater degree than urbanization. In other words, ecosystem services – or the benefits we receive from nature – are more vulnerable to climate change-induced precipitation than development despite the Upstate region’s surging population. Specifically, Vickery looked at forests and other habitats and how soils respond to increased erosion or nitrogen runoff to waterways.

Vickery conceded that there’s little we can do about rainfall patterns, but she said the data show that reforestation is the best strategy for moderating anticipated changes in ecosystem services.

“We have already seen fluctuations in precipitation patterns and intensity in the Upstate due to climate change,” she said.

And as climate change ramps up in concert with development, Vickery said we can expect to realize more detrimental effects on nutrient flows and carbon storage.

“With increased precipitation, we anticipate greater incidence of nitrogen and phosphorus running off into our water systems, which can create algal blooms and anoxic environments downstream,” Vickery said. “And with expanding urbanization, the Upstate loses significant carbon storage capacity, preventing the natural cycling of carbon out of the atmosphere into trees and soils.”

Meantime, Vickery believes the study will be useful to conservation groups like Upstate Forever, SC Conservation Bank and Sustain SC, or regional policymakers and agencies like Greenville County Commission and the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, among others.

white woman poses in front of mountain range

Vickery finished a stint in December 2023 as a geology teaching assistant for Swiss Semester in Zermatt. Now stateside, she’s working on a master’s in forestry.

After two years working on the research with Quinn, Vickery, who is now working on a master’s in forestry at Virginia Tech, is proud to see her senior thesis published. “I was so pleased to see the project through from conceptualization to publication. It made me feel more qualified and legitimate to call myself a scientist. I’m so thankful John guided me through the whole process to make it possible.”

Quinn said giving undergraduates agency in their research is a strength of Furman’s mentoring program in the sciences.

“In environmental science and ecology, first authorship is typically given to the member of the team who conceptualized the idea and/or led the research and writing,” he said. “In this case, Caroline did all of the above. It’s a credit to her ability to synthesize what she learned in classes with the knowledge to address a gap in the literature,” Quinn added.

Note: The link above to Environmental Management directs users to an abstract of the paper. Furman ID holders may access the full text on databases located at Furman University Libraries.

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