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History major Claire Plagge '09, of Cape May Court House, NJ, was awarded a 10-week paid internship during the summer of 2008 to conduct research at the University of New Hampshire-Goddard Joint Center for the Earth Sciences, through its Research and Discover program.

Plagge worked on a project titled "Slash and Burn Agriculture: Incorporating Shifting Cultivation into a Global Land Use Model for Earth System Model Applications"; her advisor was Steve Frolking, of the UNH Climate Change Research Center.

"My project was based on modeling a form of agriculture that has not been modeled very specifically yet," Plagge says. "In shifting cultivation, also known as slash-and-burn, or swidden agriculture, a plot of forest is cut down, burned and allowed to dry before being cultivated continuously for several years, after which it is abandoned to revert to natural vegetation. Shifting cultivation is an important form of agriculture because it remains the livelihood of 200-500 million people and affects not only local vegetation growth, erosion rates and canopy cover in tropical forests, but also affects the global carbon cycle, and thus climate change."

Research and Discover summer internships are available to college students in their junior year with relevant coursework in the earth sciences (can include coursework in environmental studies, biology, chemistry, mathematics, geology and other earth sciences) and strong academic records, who want to experience advanced university research in Earth, ocean and atmospheric sciences. Participants receive room and board, as well as a stipend.

Plagge says, "The Research and Discover program gave me a chance to learn about a new field of study. I got the opportunity to not only create and complete my own research project, but also to take part in a larger study of land use and the global carbon cycle and climate change. I learned a great deal, not only about shifting cultivation, climate change and the process of scientific research, but also about computer programming and science in general. This summer really opened my eyes to the great possibilities in the field of science and taught me to take advantage of those possibilities."

Among the things that led Plagge to pursue the opportunity, she says, is the fact that interns are encouraged to apply for a second summer internship held at the NASA-Goddard Space Flight Center. "My interest in NASA and the space program was so strong in high school that I took an online course, from the University of Missouri, about aerospace history. This internship was an excellent introduction to NASA's work. I would love to fulfill my dream of working for NASA, but I have not yet settled on a career after college. I really enjoy looking at history - what has affected the world, and what will continue to do so? The intense scientific perspective and connections with distinguished scientists who care about the Earth offered through the program will help me in my studies and in choosing a career pathway."

The project is already leading to further scientific study for Plagge. She has submitted an abstract to the American Geophysical Union for consideration for its conference in San Francisco in December. "I will also be helping my advisor publish this project in a paper sometime within the next year," she says. "We are hoping that the conference will publicize our model a bit more and allow others to give their input or opinions on what we have done, or will do in the future."

Plagge is a member of the leadership honorary Omicron Delta Kappa and studied in Vienna, Austria, in the spring 2008 semester, through the University's International and Intercultural Studies program.

More: Research and Discover Web site

Posted: September 24, 2008

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