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Virginia Tech News / Articles / 2018 / July 

Virginia Tech researcher receives ASLO Early Career Award

August 2, 2018

Cayelan Carey
Cayelan Carey

Cayelan Carey, an assistant professor of biological sciences in the College of Science, received the ASLO (Association for the Sciences of Limnology and Oceanography) 2018 Yentsch-Schindler Award.

Carey, an expert in freshwater ecology, studies how human activities, land use, and climate change alter water quality in freshwater lakes and reservoirs. She is an affiliate of the Fralin Life Science Institute and the Global Change Center at Virginia Tech.

The Yentsch-Schindler Early Career Award honors an early-career scientist for outstanding and balanced contributions to research, education, and society. Carey is the 2018 recipient for her contributions to research on cyanobacterial blooms, science training, and broader societal issues, such as lake and reservoir management, drinking water policy, and public education. The award was presented at the ASLO Summer Meeting in Victoria, British Columbia, in June 2018.

Carey was surprised and honored when she heard that she had been nominated for and received the award. “It’s very humbling when you think about all the scientists across the globe who are doing such amazing research in the areas of limnology and oceanography,” said Carey.

A highly productive researcher, Carey has already made substantive contributions to the understanding of the ecology of reservoirs and their implications for drinking water, landscape limnology, and the coupling of lake water quality to human activity and climate. In the past year alone, she’s published 18 papers and been awarded three new National Science Foundation (NSF) grants. Carey obtained her Ph.D. from Cornell University in 2012 and has been in her current faculty position at Virginia Tech since August 2013.

Carey’s research into harmful algal and cyanobacterial blooms began in 2004 at a local lake in New Hampshire when she was an undergraduate at Dartmouth College. Local lake association members noticed an algal bloom and brought it to the attention of researchers. Since then, engagement with local stakeholders has been at the core of Carey’s research program.

“I see collaboration with local stakeholders as a theme throughout my undergraduate, graduate, and faculty research. It is so important to have local partnerships,” said Carey.

Currently, Carey is the principal investigator on a new project to use environmental sensor networks, modeling, and real-time ecosystem forecasting techniques to adaptively manage drinking water quality, which benefits the local water authority in Roanoke, Virginia. Another current collaborative project investigates linkages between humans and lakes and how feedbacks among land-use management decisions, water quality concerns, and the actions taken by the public can alter water quality.

Researchers take water samples.
Cayelan Carey, an assistant professor of biological sciences in the College of Science (center), works with graduate students Jonathan Doubek (left) and Ryan McClure (right) to filter water samples at Falling Creek Reservoir in Roanoke, Virginia.

Carey has played a leading role in the development and growth of the Global Lake Ecological Observatory Network (GLEON), a global network of lake researchers. Carey co-founded and was the first chair of the Graduate Student Association (GSA) within GLEON. Colleagues credit Carey with “shaping every detail of the GSA,” which is now “being held up as a model globally for network training and science.” GLEON now connects more than  700 scientists and monitors 153 lakes around the globe; Carey monitors reservoirs in Roanoke as part of the GLEON network.

Since her own days as a graduate student, Carey has excelled at teaching and mentoring. As a graduate teaching assistant, Carey developed new labs, which she later developed with colleagues into an NSF-funded effort (Project EDDIE, Environmental Data-Driven Inquiry and Exploration) to collaboratively produce publicly available learning modules that teach students ecology by analyzing long-term and high-frequency sensor data.

Carey recently received a $299,992 Early Career Award from the NSF to fund a macrosystems science training program called Macrosystems EDDIE, which builds on the original Project EDDIE to develop undergraduates’ simulation modeling, distributed computing, and collaborative skills. Ecologists are increasingly using computer models, involving extensive observations obtained through environmental sensor networks, to study changing ecosystems.

“Conducting this modeling, as well as understanding the model results, requires skills in data analysis, quantitative reasoning, and computing. However, modeling and computational skills are rarely taught in undergraduate classrooms, representing a major gap in training students to tackle complex environmental challenges. This project will develop a training program that teaches the foundations of macrosystems ecology through simulation modeling to thousands of students across the U.S.” said Carey.

As part of the training program, the students will share their results with GLEON scientific working groups to advance ongoing macrosystems research.

Carey’s mentorship abilities are excellent as well, as evidenced by her 2017 Virginia Tech Department of Biological Sciences Graduate Advising Award. In only five years at Virginia Tech, Carey has advised numerous undergraduates and had three masters’ students and one Ph.D. student complete their degrees; she currently has three Ph.D. students and one postdoc in her lab.

“Carey’s nominators noted that her ‘fundamental ecological research ties naturally and seamlessly to both her pedagogical interests and to her outreach to environmental managers.’ This integrative and balanced approach to science is what the Yentsch-Schindler Award is all about. Carey is an excellent example of an early career researcher who excels in all aspects of her career. We are thrilled to acknowledge her accomplishments with this award,” said ASLO President Linda Duguay.