Prior to enrolling in Appalachian’s geography graduate program, Heather Guy’s work experience involved computer modelling — an activity that kept her in front of a computer screen all day.
Guy ’18, of the United Kingdom, who graduated from Appalachian in 2018 with a Master of Arts in geography, wanted to stay in research but longed to be doing fieldwork in remote locations. Appalachian provided that opportunity.
As a graduate research assistant with Appalachian’s Department of Geography and Planning, Guy served as a team member on multiple fieldwork campaigns to the remote high Andes in Peru and Bolivia, which she said improved her fieldwork skills and “gave me the experience that I needed to apply for similar jobs in the future.”
She was also able to attend and present at international conferences, visit and work with collaborating institutions, and write her own paper for submission to an academic journal.
“At Appalachian, you get a very personal experience, and you can form relationships with the faculty, which, in addition to making your time here enjoyable, can open doors to new opportunities and allow you to personalize your degree,” Guy said.
Guy’s research at Appalachian involved precipitation patterns in the high tropical Andes — examining precipitation measurements and samples collected by a network of citizen scientists living at elevations above 13,000 feet.
Her hope, she said, is that her research may inform others’ understanding of precipitation processes in the high Andes — how they have changed in the past and how they might change in the future — so that people there, many of whom rely heavily on precipitation and glacial meltwater for farming, tourism and hydroelectric power, can prepare and adapt.
Heather Guy ’18, an alumna of Appalachian’s geography master's program, explains how studying ice core samples can help reconstruct past weather patterns, informing both researchers and citizens of changes in store.
Heather Guy: So, we work with observers like Philippe all over this region — the Cordillera Vilcanota in Peru. We also work with observers in the Cordillera Real in Bolivia. We have about 13 observers right now, and about three of the observers have been taking observations for four years and the rest of them just this most recent year.
So, they’re each collecting simultaneous samples of precipitation every day, every day there is precipitation. So, this gives us a really good record, spatially and temporally, of what the precipitation is doing in this region.
As well as that, we collect these samples every year we come down here, and we analyze them for their isotopic content. And what we’re looking at when we’re analyzing them for different isotopes is the different flavors of oxygen atoms and hydrogen atoms that have very slightly different weights. This is an atomic scale. And that can tell us some more about where the precipitation has come from, what type of precipitation it is and the kind of weather systems that are producing this precipitation.
And the reason that we’re trying to do that, is that these glaciers on some of these mountains over here, they’re recording, every year, the precipitation. And that isotopic content of each of those precipitation events is preserved in the ice. So, what we can do is drill down into the ice and extract an ice core, and then we can use the isotopic content in those ice cores to reconstruct the weather in the past, and some of these ice cores are thousands of years old.
And so, if we can understand at such a small daily resolution today what weather systems are corresponding to which isotopes, and where the moisture is coming from, then we can reconstruct what happened in the past, how it’s changed and that knowledge is really useful for us trying to understand how it might change in the future, and therefore, how these people need to prepare and adapt in order to make sure they maintain their water supplies.
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About graduate education at Appalachian
Appalachian State University’s Cratis D. Williams School of Graduate Studies helps individuals reach the next level in their career advancement and preparedness. The school offers 70 graduate degree and certificate programs in a range of disciplines, including doctoral programs in education (Ed.D.) and psychology (Psy.D.). Classes are offered at the main campus in Boone as well as online and face-to-face at locations around northwestern North Carolina. The graduate school enrolls nearly 1,800 students. Learn more at https://graduate.appstate.edu.
About the Office of International Education and Development
The OIED is responsible for spearheading the internationalization efforts at Appalachian. The internationalization mission of Appalachian is to develop awareness, knowledge, appreciation and respect of cultural differences in both domestic and international contexts in its students, faculty, staff and the surrounding communities. The university is also dedicated to creating a campus environment that builds the theoretical and practical skills needed to interact effectively in a global society. Learn more at https://international.appstate.edu.
About the Department of Geography and Planning
The Department of Geography and Planning promotes the understanding of the spatial dimensions of human behavior within the physical and cultural systems of the earth, and the role of planning in achieving improvement in those systems. The department offers degrees in geography and in community and regional planning. Learn more at https://geo.appstate.edu.
About the College of Arts and Sciences
The College of Arts and Sciences is home to 16 academic departments, one stand-alone academic program, two centers and one residential college. These units span the humanities and the social, mathematical and natural sciences. The College of Arts and Sciences aims to develop a distinctive identity built upon our university's strengths, traditions and unique location. The college’s values lie not only in service to the university and local community, but through inspiring, training, educating and sustaining the development of its students as global citizens. There are approximately 6,100 student majors in the college. As the college is also largely responsible for implementing Appalachian's general education curriculum, it is heavily involved in the education of all students at the university, including those pursuing majors in other colleges. Learn more at https://cas.appstate.edu.
About Appalachian State University
As the premier, public undergraduate institution in the state of North Carolina, Appalachian State University prepares students to lead purposeful lives as global citizens who understand and engage their responsibilities in creating a sustainable future for all. The Appalachian Experience promotes a spirit of inclusion that brings people together in inspiring ways to acquire and create knowledge, to grow holistically, to act with passion and determination, and to embrace diversity and difference. Located in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Appalachian is one of 17 campuses in the University of North Carolina System. Appalachian enrolls more than 19,000 students, has a low student-to-faculty ratio and offers more than 150 undergraduate and graduate majors.