Ground Water Sustainability and Climate Change
Living in Arizona, NASA Space Grant intern Luis Huizar has a keen interest in how climate change is affecting ground water levels. Reduced rainfall in high-population areas can lead to issues with ground water sustainability. Through his internship, Huizar is helping to ensure future generations have plenty of potable water.
In which NASA student opportunity projects did you participate, and how did you get involved in them?
My fiancée at the time, Martha Mosqueda, was a NASA Space Grant undergraduate intern. Through her internship experience, I had the opportunity to see the program. I then became interested. I was searching for an opportunity to brighten my future, strengthen my skills and, most importantly, establish my professional goals. I applied to the NASA Space Grant Undergraduate Research Internship and was accepted. I began to work with Dr. Kevin Lansey in the civil engineering department at the University of Arizona.
Explain the research you conducted through your NASA involvement and why this topic is important.
My research focused on climate change and ground water sustainability. In Arizona, as well as other states of the United States, there are many counties and cities with large population densities and limited amounts of potable water. We focused on two locations in Arizona, the San Pedro National Conservation Area and the Tucson Active Management Area. The cases were similar: Both have large ground water withdrawals and low water recharges due to smaller rainfalls, which have affected these areas. My work mainly focused on making mathematical models to predict possible outcomes given different scenarios. A scenario is the possibility for some event in the future to happen, for example, one-third less rainfall from average over the next 20 years.
What has been the most exciting part of your research?
In my research, I have learned about many new issues that affect the southwestern United States, primarily due to groundwater and climate. My research focuses on climate change and its effect on the Colorado River, which supplies water to seven states and two countries. I enjoy learning about policies and how local and state authorities work with engineers to tackle problems that affect us today. Out of all of this, the most exciting part has been planning and finding different scenarios that can affect Tucson and the Southwest, adding the scenario values to the model looking at prediction for ground water availability over the next 100 years. I find it very interesting when model outcomes are different than predicted and enjoy sharing my findings with others who study the same subject to compare findings.
What is your educational background, and what are your future educational plans?
I graduated high school in 2006 from a small high school in the southwestern corner of Arizona, Yuma Catholic High School. Then I enrolled at the University of Arizona, and graduated in December of 2011 with a Bachelor of Science in chemistry. Currently, I am working on my Master of Science in environmental engineering research with a focus on the effects of climate change on ground water in Arizona. I am open to the possibility of pursuing my Ph.D. in the future.
What inspired you to choose your education/career field?
I became aware of the water shortages in Arizona when I started taking classes at the University of Arizona. Since it was one of my main interests when I applied for the NASA Space Grant Undergraduate Research Internship program, I was paired with my mentor, Dr. Kevin Lansey, who works on water distribution systems. This was a drastic change from my field of study; I went from working in a chemistry laboratory to full-on computer modeling. I gave it a try and have liked it so far. I like this field because it is a problem that needs to be addressed today so future generations can have water. Potable water sustainability is interesting to me because I used to think that water coming from my faucet was abundant and it would always be there. I never saw it as a limited resource. Overall, my main reason for choosing this career field is so that future generations can have potable water just like we do today.
What do you think will be the most important things you’ll take away from your experiences with NASA?
Of the many things I have learned in my NASA Space Grant Undergraduate Research Internship, confidence in presentation, networking skills, leadership and friendships are some of the most important things I will take away from my involvement with NASA Space Grant. Above all, I wouldn’t be where I am at if I hadn't been involved in this amazing program.
How do you think your NASA involvement will affect your future?
My involvement with NASA has helped me advance in my professional career. It gave me the opportunity to start research in a professional setting. In many ways, it has already started to affect my future. It played a major role in the continuation of my education and acceptance in a graduate program. The opportunity provided by NASA has helped me show my true potential and has given me the confidence to publish my research for the world to see. The NASA Space Grant Undergraduate Research Internship set a platform and prepared me for larger world conferences. Before my involvement, I was clueless of my future and capabilities. It gave me the opportunity to fortify my strength and work on my weaknesses. I am confident that my involvement with NASA will continue to positively affect my professional career.
What advice would you have for other students who are interested in working with or for NASA?
At first, I was really intimidated to apply for the NASA Space Grant Undergraduate Internship. It is a BIG name and government agency. I then realized that there was no need to be intimidated. There are many different aspects to research that is conducted for NASA and any major or interest can usually be involved in some way; I used to think NASA means outer space only. The best way to get involved is to look for opportunities and ask questions about how people can get involved, no matter what field they are interested in.
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Mindi Capp/NASA Educational Technology Services