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Dawn Hatfield: Mapping the Environment

Dawn Hatflied headshotDawn Hatfield is an Environmental Studies major who enrolled in IAS after a family move brought her from Indiana to Washington state.  She is a mother of four children ranging in age from 13 to 24, including her oldest son, Sgt. Tayler Hatfield, a C-17 Crew Chief in the US Air Force.  In IAS, she has discovered a passion for muddy boots and GIS mapping.

“I’ve always been interested in landscapes and how they change over time,” Dawn says.  Taking a geomorphology course with Robert Turner and a geographic information system (GIS) course with Santiago Lopez  helped focus those interests. As a method, GIS provides powerful ways to document, track, and understand the impact of conservation and restoration efforts on the ground.

UW Bothell provides a perfect living laboratory for such study: the North Creek Wetlands, one of the largest and most complex floodplain restorations in Washington State. Begun in 1997 with campus construction, the project is transforming previously converted pastureland into a sustainable, functioning ecosystem within an urbanizing watershed.  Faculty, staff, and students participate in the ongoing monitoring, maintenance, and management of this unfolding project.

One example of this is the UW Bothell Geo-Database project, under the direction of the cross-campus Geo-Database Working Group.  The Wetlands Geo-Database will allow independent research projects to benefit from each other’s research in planning and executing investigations, analyzing data, and tracking change in the wetlands spatially and temporally. It will contribute to interdisciplinary knowledge about the wetlands, while providing students with hands-on capstone research experiences.

The Geo-Database project offered Dawn the perfect opportunity to combine her interests in geomorphology and GIS.  Beginning in fall of 2015, she worked with Environmental Science major Jacob McDermott and UW Bothell’s Director of Undergraduate Research, Charlotte Rasmussen, to secure a dedicated GIS server that would support their efforts to map the wetlands and combine data from the numerous studies that have been carried out over the years.  Since then, Dawn has combed through years of historical data, inputting and referencing the data on the maps.  The resulting maps will soon be released to the campus community, allowing students and faculty to enter, access, and reference data across independent studies.

That makes the new database and server a powerful tool. “On the Bothell campus there are at least five different independent studies trying to understand the impact of the crows on our wetlands and their behaviors,” says Dawn, referring to the thousands of crows that roost nightly in the wetlands during the non-breeding season, with unforeseen environmental impact.  “As a result of the new server, the groups can access the maps and data from other studies, without having to recreate the work that has already been done.  They can add to the overall picture of what is happening in the wetlands in general, and with the crows in particular. Eventually the goal is to hook our UW Bothell database to other regional geodatabases.”

Dawn collaborated with another UW Bothell student Sarah Verlinde (’15, Biology) to digitize the original historical paper maps of the wetlands created by the Army Corps of Engineers before the restoration project began at UW Bothell.  Beyond helping to set up the database for future researchers, and inputting data from previous studies, Dawn also carries out her own research, mapping the vegetation layer in collaboration with other students, Alyssa Branca, Tahira Nurjaman, Ashley Shattuck, and Janice Jap.

Dawn learned a lot through the process of collaboration with Jake, and highlights the complementarity between their respective majors, Environmental Studies and Environmental Science:

I view Environmental Studies as having a wider view of the issues, as opposed to a focus on specific points of data. Jake’s work is very quantitative.  He likes to know the numbers, the pH levels, the exact speed the stream is flowing. For me, it’s enough to see that the stream is flowing and that it’s causing erosion, it’s causing cut banks – all these are natural processes.

 The hydrology research that Jake does – measuring stormwater runoff and things like that – ties right into my own inquiries.  As the stormwater runs off, it erodes the land and changes the landscape as a system.  I’m interested in the overall effects on the system that Jake’s measurements point to.

Dawn will graduate at the end of Winter Quarter 2016 as a UW Bothell Founder’s Fellow for Research. While she is a strong advocate for the crucial value of the database and mapping work, she is seeking to build a career that will keep her out in the field, collecting her own data and more mud on her boots.  She passionately hopes that more students will take up the work that she has been doing in the North Creek Wetlands.  Beyond the Geodatabase Project, Dawn simply hopes that more people become involved in this unique resource.

UW Bothell students who want to get involved with the Geo-Database Project – or anyone who wants to know more about it – are invited to contact Charlotte Rasmussen.