HomeNewsEarth Day 2023: IonE community shares excitement from the past year

Earth Day 2023: IonE community shares excitement from the past year

Earlier this week, IonE Director Jessica Hellmann kicked off Earth Week with a blog post reflecting on how far we’ve come in the conversation on climate change and thoughts on the work needed to confront the challenges ahead.

The time leading up to Earth Day is an opportunity for the Institute on the Environment to reflect on and celebrate the work, research, and collaborations that have happened within the past year. It’s also a time for us to think of hope and what’s to come in the future.

Over the next few days leading up to Earth Day, we will be sharing responses from the IonE community on different topics ranging from recent projects and emerging research, to what’s exciting and gives us hope in the coming years.

For today, we asked individuals to respond to the question: What was the most exciting thing to happen in your field over the past year?


Craig Hill headshotThe past year for marine renewable energy was a year for scaling up and thinking big! Work continued on the first full-scale wave energy test site, plans were formulated to develop a full-scale tidal energy test site, and competitions attracted developers focused on using marine energy to produce freshwater or power ocean observation equipment. We started seeing more technologies move beyond the laboratory to operable, field-scale systems to demonstrate marine energy converter capabilities and answer uncertainties about environmental interactions. There was a lot of emphasis focused on engaging a broader community into this new and exciting form of sustainable energy. Not only did we see increased emphasis on workforce development, the industry embraced interdisciplinary development, bringing in environmental scientists, social scientists, economists, engineers and scientists from diverse backgrounds to address challenges. It truly has been an exceptional year to watch excitement flow towards this emerging industry!

Craig Hill (he/him) is an IonE Associate and Assistant Professor in the Mechanical and Industrial Engineering Department at the University of Minnesota Duluth. 


Deepak Ray (he/him) headshot

Interest in sustainability has gained wider traction, with funds for research related to climate change and land use and observation gaining urgency as it should.

Deepak Ray (he/him) is a Senior Research Scientist in Global Landscapes as part of IonE’s Knowledge Initiatives team.


Robin Sehler (she/her) headshotAs a doctoral student interested in soil moisture since my master’s program, what’s been most exciting for me is to learn how important soil moisture is to the soil carbon cycle. The most fascinating research I’ve come across this year has been by Katherine A. Heckman et al. (2023), examining the role of soil moisture in the abundance and persistence of mineral-associated organic matter (MAOM), which makes up roughly 60% of global soil organic carbon(1). The team of scientists conducted radiocarbon and molecular composition analyses of 400 soil core samples from across the country. They initially expected soil mineralogy and temperature to drive factors regulating MAOM, but, instead, they observed soil moisture to be the dominant factor. In a phys.org article, lead author Dr. Heckman offered the following reflection about the team’s research: “My hope is that this study encourages a lot of our science community to examine the role of moisture in the terrestrial carbon cycle,” and that is exactly what this study has done for me.

(1) Katherine A. Heckman et al, Moisture-driven divergence in mineral-associated soil carbon persistence, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (2023). DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2210044120

Robin Sehler (she/her) is a Graduate Co-Leader of IonE’s Agricultural and Climate Cohort. She’s a Graduate Research Assistant and PhD Student in the Land and Atmospheric Science Program in the Department of Soil, Water and Climate (SWAC) at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities.


Nat Springer (he/him) headshotThe recent growth of interest in sustainable financing (i.e. environmental, social, and governance, or ESG, space). It’s entering the mainstream, which brings a host of additional challenges, but ones that need to be solved to avoid greenwashing and make sustainable investing a trustable norm.

Nat Springer (he/him) is a Research Scientist in Economics and Sustainability as part of IonE’s Knowledge Initiatives team.


Suby Sharma (she/her) headshotClimate research has undergone a significant shift in epistemology from an objectivist perspective to a constructivist one. Objectivist approaches to research assume that knowledge is objective, universal, and independent of human experience, whereas constructivist approaches argue that knowledge is socially constructed and shaped by human experience. This shift has led climate researchers to consider not only the physical aspects of climate change but also the social, cultural, and political factors that shape our understanding of it. As a result, interdisciplinary research has become more important than ever, with organizations like the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) hiring more social scientists to work alongside natural scientists. This interdisciplinary approach recognizes that understanding and addressing climate change requires an understanding of the complex social, cultural, and political factors that contribute to it.

Dr. Suby Sharma (she/her) is a Postdoctoral scholar in Climate Resilience as part of IonE’s Knowledge Initiatives team.

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