Sensing climate at the ends of the earth: Michael SanClements joins Real Scientists

As we come to the end of Climate Change month here at Real Scientists, we bid farewell to Corey Bradshaw and welcome our final curator Michael SanClements. Mike is a forest soil scientist and biogeochemist and the Deputy Director of Terrestrial Instrument Science at the National Ecological Observatory Network & and as an Assistant Professor Adjoint at the Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research at the University of Colorado Boulder. He’s also recently written his first book, Plastic Purge: How to use Less Plastic, Eat Better, Keep Toxins out of your Body and Help Save the Sea Turtles! We asked Michael our usual set of introductory questions so he can tell you all about himself.

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Why/How did you end up in science?

There are three things I’ve always loved: the outdoors, books, and soil. I know it’s funny to say you’ve always loved soil but I have. My Dad owned an excavating company so I grew up driving backhoes and excavators. He is also a big gardener and I was always helping in the garden too. As long as I can remember I was playing and working in the dirt. From the moment I realized I could study the environment, specifically soils, I had my major picked. I’m also a fierce book nerd which has led me to my writing career in the popular press.

Why did you choose your current field/what keeps you there?

Two reasons really. Firstly, all of society–the economy, food production, recreation etc. exists within and relies upon the our environment. I think understanding our relationship with the natural world is critical to sustaining civilization. On a more personal level I love the creativity that scientific research affords me. I also love to write and the further you progress in a scientific career the more of that you have to do. I also love traveling to the extreme latitudes and my job entails some of that. Above 65 degrees latitude the light becomes magical and otherworldly. It’s so gorgeous.

Tell us about your work?

I currently lead the Terrestrial Instrument Science team at the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON) in Boulder, CO. NEON is a 30 year continental wide ecological monitoring program funded by the National Science Foundation. This position entails a lot of management, science design and then implementation to get thousands of sensors deployed at sites across the continent. It’s incredibly challenging and also very rewarding. All the data collected by the project is openly available to the scientific community.

I’m also an affiliate faculty member at the Institute of Artic and Alpine Research at the University of Colorado Boulder where I have graduate students and keep a grant or two going at a time. I’m a bit spastic in my science will study or pursue anything that piques my interest. By training I’m a soil biogeochemist but I’ve also studied glacial ecosystems in Antarctica, and temperate lakes and streams. Currently, I’m wrapping up a project looking at changes in stream carbon as a result of the Clean Air Act. I’m also lead-PI on a 5 year NSF Macrosystems Biology grant looking at soil carbon stabilization and vulnerability in light of climate change.

I also write books. My first one is about Plastic and Human Health and the environment. It was published by St Martin’s Press last year and was even a finalist for the 2014 Books for Better Life Awards.

Motivation: why should the lay public care about your research/work?

Everyone should care about climate change because no one is going to escape it. It doesn’t matter what your priorities, are you are going to have to deal with the consequences. More people less resources and a more stressed environment means we need to be smarter about how we manage and allocate those resources if we want to leave a hospitable place for our kiddos. That’s the big picture and bottom line.

Do you have any interesting external/extracurricular obligations?

I have a 20 month old daughter named Hadley. She’s my biggest and most favorite obligation.

I’m also working on the proposal for my second book now.

Any interesting hobbies you’d like to share?

I love to ski, trail run, backpack, read, travel and play with Hadley.

How would you describe your ideal day off? (Scientists are people too!)

I’d wake up, drink coffee and work on my book a bit. Then there would be mountains–either running them or skiing down them. Follow that up with a stint in the sauna then a seafood dinner and maybe going to see some live music. Ideally this would all be in a country I hadn’t visited before and with Hadley who would behave ideally the whole time.

Welcome Mike, from all of us here at Real Scientists HQ!


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