For the month of March, 2016 we are interviewing Kimberly Novick.  Kim is an assistant professor at the Indiana University – Bloomington. She is one of the principal investigators of the Morgan Monroe deciduous forest site (US-MMS), one the longer AmeriFlux sites that was set up by Sue Grimmond and HaPe Schmid in the 1990s.  Before coming to Indiana, Kim earned her PhD at Duke with Gaby Katul and did a postdoc at Coweeta with Jim Vose.

 

What was your path towards measuring fluxes between land and the atmosphere?

My work on land-atmosphere interactions began in 2001, when I was an undergraduate research assistant performing leaf-level gas exchange measurements in the Duke Forest FACE site.  I returned to my alma mater for graduate school, focusing my attention to ecosystem-scale flux observations in the Duke Ameriflux sites. Since then, as a post-doc and now assistant professor, I’ve had the opportunity to get to know several other flux towers, including a new tower situated in the complex terrain of the Coweeta Hydrologic Lab in the southern Appalachian mountains, and the long-running Morgan-Monroe State Forest Flux tower in southern-central Indiana, which my lab now manages.

My interest in studying land-atmosphere interactions has been sustained along the way by the generous and capable support I’ve received from my mentors and colleagues. Also, as my career advances, I’ve become increasingly appreciative of the collaborative environment that is enabled by our flux communities and networks.  When you can leverage expertise and data from scientists working all over the world, ecosystem science becomes a lot easier, and a lot more fun.

What are some of the challenges you are facing keeping a flux system operating and collecting defensible data in your environment?

Each site seems to come with its own unique set of operational and analytical challenges.  For towers installed in the late 1990s and early 2000s (like the Duke Forest and Morgan-Monroe towers), observations can be challenged by outdated instruments and data management systems.  In areas of complex terrain like the Coweeta Hydrologic Lab, data quality control is made difficult by contributions from horizontal and vertical advection.  And our efforts to manage towers remotely, while enabled greatly by enhancements to 3G and 4G networks, will always be challenged by the fact that instruments tend to break and malfunction, usually at the most inopportune times.

One challenge that strikes me as consistent across all sites is the tough job of staying on top of data management and processing  With some sites producing >2 GB of high-frequency data each month, it’s very easy to fall behind.

What is your unique niche with regards to Fluxnet? In other words, what additional or distinct ideas, skills or measurements to you bring to the community to add to our intellectual diversity and breadth of data?

My lab couples our tower-derived flux observations with a suite of eco-physiological observations, including sap flux, leaf-level gas exchange, leaf water potential, and tree ring observations of historic growth and water use efficiency.  Together, these data allow us to derive a species-specific understanding of the mechanisms by which ecosystems respond to variable climate conditions.  While a lot of this work happens at the site level, we are beginning to extend these insights into network-level syntheses and modeling activities.

What are some of the most exciting findings from your work so far?

Lately, my lab and our collaborators here in Indiana have been very excited about drought.  In 2012, the Morgan-Monroe State Forest Ameriflux site experienced an exceptional drought event…one of the worst in decades.  The drought starkly reduced net and gross carbon uptake, which is not particularly surprising.  But what was interesting was the response of individual species.  Our biometric data revealed that some species (isohydric maples and tulip poplar, for example) experienced sharp declines in carbon uptake and water use in response to the drought; however, other more anisohydric oak species experienced almost no change in physiological functioning, even during the peak of the drought!  These results have driven several empirical and theoretical studies from our group exploring the links between leaf-level behavior, whole-plant hydraulic functioning, and belowground processes.  We’re looking forward to eventually tackling the hard job of incorporating our new mechanistic insights into ecosystem models.

As an early career scientist and professor, what advice do you have for younger scientists and students?

Nurture and grow your network of collaborators. Our field requires interdisciplinary perspectives to answer the hard questions, so having a strong collaborative network makes our work more impactful.  At the same time, inevitably we will be puzzled and frustrated by some aspects of our jobs, particularly during that critical post-graduate school transition period.  It’s been my experience that having a trusted team of colleagues to knock heads with makes that transition a lot easier.

Some great networking opportunities for early career scientists in our field include:

  • Attending small workshops and skills-based courses like Flux Course (www.fluxcourse.org).
  • Writing grant proposals with new collaborators
  • Engaging in cross-site flux synthesis work, particularly when done in collaboration with data providers

Running a lab, what is your style of leadership and mentoring?; and how have past mentors influenced this?

Mentoring a lab certainly falls into the category of “things I didn’t learn how to do in graduate school.”  I’ve found it to be one of the most rewarding yet challenging aspects of my work as an academic, and one that is best approached with some flexibility.  I’m fortunate that my own mentors, including my dissertation advisor Dr. Gaby Katul and my post-doc advisor Dr. Chelcy Miniat, were wonderfully generous with their time.  Their example helps me remember the importance of prioritizing interactions with members of my own lab.  In my case, I’ve found that organizing one-on-one meetings around written documents summarizing new results or proposed ideas helps to keep our work focused and productive.

Finally, what is life like outside of the lab? Hobbies, family, etc that you may want to share.

I spend a lot of time hanging out with my 6-year-old son.  We especially enjoy playing soccer and trying not to kill the tomatoes, peppers and green beans we plant in our garden each spring.  Together with my husband, I like to listen to, experience, and occasionally create, live music.   I’m rarely happier than when my nose is buried deep in a good novel.

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