Hildebrand Fellow Kimberly Huynh on Wetland Emissions & Climate Change

Kimberly Huynh

Kimberly Huynh is a current environmental engineering PhD student at UC Berkeley, and a member of the Environmental Fluid Mechanics and Hydrology research group. Originally from Chicago, she earned both a bachelor of science in Environmental Engineering and a master of science in mechanical engineering from Northwestern University through a combined degree program. Her research focuses on combatting climate change through better understanding of natural greenhouse gas sources; she presented preliminary findings at the American Geophysical Union (AGU) in 2016.

In Summer 2018, Kimberly received a Hildebrand Fellowship to support field research into greenhouse gas emissions from wetland areas near Vancouver, British Columbia. We checked in with her to find out more about that experience and what her research has uncovered.

What is your research about?

My research focused on refining new ways of measuring greenhouse gas emissions in wetland areas. Improving how scientists quantify and predict methane emissions from wetlands is important because of its implications on climate change. Methane is the second most important greenhouse gas, and wetlands are its largest natural source. Methane is produced in wetland soils by microorganisms as they break down organic compounds. This potent greenhouse gas is released from the soil and travels across the air-water interface through three main pathways: transport through the gas-filled tissue of plants, transport through bubbles, and water-driven (hydrodynamic) transport. Hydrodynamic transport, the focus of my research, is an overlooked pathway that may be very important in some places depending on conditions such as climate and local vegetation.

How has Canadian Studies supported your project?

Thanks to the Edward E. Hildebrand Fellowship from the Canadian Studies Program, I was able to research this topic firsthand in Burns Bog, just outside of Vancouver, BC, Canada in Summer 2018. I collaborated with scholars at the University of British Columbia to measure methane emissions from hydrodynamic transport in Burns Bog. I was interested in this site because its oceanic climate and heterogeneous vegetation was a stark difference from the humid Arkansas rice paddy I had researched the previous two summers. I was curious how hydrodynamic transport would differ at these two sites and what factors most influence the relative importance of this pathway.

With the funding I received, I prototyped several submersible, programmable cameras that could measure water velocity in very slow-moving wetland waters. Since these cameras automated water velocity measurements, I was able to collect several weeks of data in Burns Bog both in the morning and through the night. This was important because in some wetlands, there have been unexplained nocturnal spikes in methane emission. I wanted to learn whether there were any such spikes in Burns Bog and whether they could be linked to stirring in the water, such as water cooling and sinking during the transition from day to night.

What was your favorite part of your research experience?

As I look through the hundreds of videos and write code to extract velocity information, I am reminded of my fieldwork and feel grateful for the experience. Each day I was in the field, I had the rare opportunity to be in a wetland largely off-limits to the public and surrounded by hundreds of different animal and plant species, including a number of endangered birds. Through the Hildebrand Fellowship, I was given the freedom to explore a research topic of both deep interest and importance. I look forward to unraveling the story behind my rich dataset and appreciate the opportunities afforded to me by the Canadian Studies Program.