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How We Can All ‘Accelerate Change’ This World Water Day: Q&A with Professor James Dennedy-Frank

James Dennedy-Frank, associate professor of marine and environmental science and civil and environmental engineering James Dennedy-Frank, assistant professor of marine and environmental sciences and civil and environmental engineering, sat down to speak about World Water Day, which falls on March 22. Professor Dennedy-Frank leads the Water Resources Ecohydrology Lab at Northeastern — their work helps us understand the function of watersheds as they bring together meteorological forcing, geological settings, and ecological processes. They interact as a system and then feed into critical downstream water resources.


Q: What is World Water Day?

A: World Water Day has been set aside after the Rio 1992 UN meeting to highlight the importance of freshwater, particularly clean water, sanitation, and hygiene. All while raising awareness to try and improve this around the world.

Today, 2 billion people still lack access to clean drinking water, and 3.6 billion people lack safe sanitation, so that’s an important global issue that people should be aware of.

Q: What are some of the initiatives that have been inspired by World Water Day?

A: Every World Water Day has a theme, and there’s been a large variety of them. But one I would like to point out is ‘Women in Water.’ In many developing countries, women are the prominent people who must go and spend most of their lifespans getting water. By bringing attention to this issue, more initiatives have been created to help bring water resources closer to towns or villages to help reduce the load. Another theme was ‘Nature for Water,’ which enabled people to look closely at how to help with nature-based solutions.

This year’s theme is ‘Accelerating Change’ with the idea to push on Sustainable Development Goal 6, which is about ensuring everyone worldwide has access to clean water and sanitation by 2030. As you can see by those previous numbers I shared, we have a way to go in the next seven years to get us to where we need to be.

Q: How does World Water Day support places that do not have clean water, such as Flint, Michigan that suffers from lead in their water?

A: World Water Day is about raising our awareness, which is helpful because it’s a thing we take for granted. As we have water piped into our buildings, it’s a good time to step back and reflect on these challenges that can happen a state or two over.

Q: How is the Marine and Environmental Sciences (MES) team celebrating World Water Day?

A: The team in MES are doing a few things to celebrate World Water Day on social media. First, they highlight what they call “water heroes” on social media. A few weeks ago, they began the discussion of World Water Day during the Marine Science High School Symposium, where high school students could learn more about marine and environmental sciences and learn from local labs and centers that support the initiatives and values of World Water Day. And finally, next week, the Boston Harbor Ecosystem Network led by John Grabowski is having their spring Emporium about Belle Isle Marsh Reservation, which is in East Boston, and the essential water resources there.

Q: How can students (especially non-MES majors) get involved with MES?

A: We have courses that many students who are not MES are open to taking them. For example, I have many non-MES majors in my Water Resources course.

Co-op and summer internships are great ways to get involved. Our summer internship application closes this Friday, March 24, so interested students should consider applying. In addition, MES runs a seminar series that is open to all community members to help highlight the values of World Water Day.

Last week, I had the privilege of hosting my colleague, Max Berkellhammer, an expert on tree water use and the strategies vegetation uses to access water in different conditions.

Q: What is one thing we can all do to contribute to the values of World Water Day every day?

A: A lot of it is being aware of your water use. I want to highlight a few points: first, be aware of your direct water use – the most significant way people use water at home is landscaping, be thoughtful, and conserve where possible.

Think about your use of other resources; we do a lot of virtual water, which is embodied in the products we use and the food we eat.

Lastly, think about who you vote for. So many of the decisions are made at local and national scales, which can impact our reaching that goal of providing clean water and sanitization by 2030.

Q: Are there any on and off-campus initiatives people can participate in?

A: Just off-campus, the Back Bay Fens is undergoing a 90 million dollar restoration to help address flooding in the area, reduce contamination, and improve habitat. Muddy River — the river that flows through the Fens — helps tie it to World Water Day.

On campus, SEWERS (Students of Environmental and Water Resources Engineering Research & Sustainability) is a group whose goal is “to serve as an organizational vehicle for educational and social events for environmental graduate students, including student presentations, seminar guest presentations, outings/field trips, and networking with other universities.”

I would encourage folks to check both groups to see what they’re doing to improve our local and water environment.

March 21, 2023

California is once again being deluged by atmospheric rivers. What are they and will climate change make them worse?

California is once again being deluged by atmospheric rivers that have unleashed major flooding across the state, with river number 12 scheduled to dump more precipitation the week of March 19.

Experts from Northeastern explained in a story that originally ran in January what causes these flowing streams of vapor that causing the record rains and deadly floods that have put millions of people under an evacuation order.

They talked with Northeastern Global News about the science behind the weather events–and whether climate change and global warming will increase the intensity of rainfall associated with these rivers in the sky.

Read more of Northeastern Global News

Photo by David McNew/ Getty Images

March 17, 2023

‘We don’t have any theory for this.’ Breakthrough discovery in materials science challenges current understanding of photoemission

What exactly is light—and what is it made of? It’s an age-old question that dates back to antiquity, and one of the most important investigations undertaken by scientists looking to understand the nature of reality.

The question of what comprises light—a form of energy that, as it bounces off of objects, allows us to see the world—has led to such spirited debate and discussion in the scientific community that it gave birth to a whole new field: quantum mechanics.

Underlying the debate about the nature of light is yet another mystery. That is, does light behave like a wave, or a particle? When Albert Einstein in the early 20th century proposed that light is both particulate in nature (containing small particles called photons) and wave-like, many were satisfied, if slightly uneasy, about his findings.

Read more of Northeastern Global News 

Photo by Ruby Wallau/Northeastern University

March 13, 2023

‘We need blind scientists.’ Northeastern professor tells United Nations about her ‘unseen advantage’ in inspirational speech

The world needs more scientists with “the unseen advantage,” says Mona Minkara, assistant professor of bioengineering and affiliate faculty of chemistry and chemical biology at Northeastern.

Her inspirational speech at the United Nations about the advantages of including people who are blind or partially blind in science earned a standing ovation and an endorsement from President of the General Assembly Csaba Kőrösi on behalf of all 193 member states.

Read more from Northeastern Global News.

Photo by Ruby Wallau/Northeastern University.

March 07, 2023

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