Tracking water changes
Ellen Ward, Earth System Science MS ’16, PhD ’19, has long enjoyed working on water problems. Having carried out paleoclimatology and oceanography research as an undergraduate, she chose hydrology for her graduate studies in part because of its links between freshwater and human welfare, as well as fauna and ecosystems more broadly.
“Water or a lack of water can have direct impacts on life and property, through fires and floods. It affects our day-to-day lives through weather. It’s essential to the health and wellbeing of all species. We also know that changes in freshwater distribution can have major impacts on natural systems,” she said.
In her current role as a water information specialist for the territorial Government of Yukon, Canada, Ward applies the technical aspects of hydrology and project management she learned at Stanford to freshwater issues at the high latitudes of North America. “It’s so rewarding to work on this set of issues in a setting where the bottom line is stewardship.”
Ward’s work spans analyzing snow survey data that helps forecast flooding and fire seasons to water quality impacts from mining projects in the Yukon. Beyond her specific projects, the region is an interesting place to work from a hydrological perspective, she said. Permafrost is thawing, glaciers are melting, temperatures are changing, and the distribution of water is changing rapidly.
“In terms of climate change, the North is heavily impacted and changing quickly. Our work helps us to get a handle on what is changing so we can adapt.”