At the American Geophysical Union’s fall meeting in December, judges considered presentations by undergraduate and graduate students in various focus groups. Only four winners were announced in the Ocean Sciences group, including Johanna Press ’15.
Press received an Outstanding Student Paper Award for her presentation titled “Modeling trace element concentrations in the San Francisco Bay Estuary from remote measurement of suspended solids.” Up against tough competitors, she did not expect an easy victory. “I was definitely surprised; there were PhD students presenting their theses alongside me,” Press said.
A geology & geophysics major, Press began her award-winning project last summer as a member of the NASA Student Airborne Research Program. She collaborated with water quality monitoring programs in the San Francisco Bay that annually collect trace element samples from fixed locations. Many of these elements are toxic metals from industrial pollution that can damage ecosystems and water resources. Press used optical measurements from satellite images to model the relationship between optical properties and in situ measurements of 12 types of suspended solids. Her results allowed her to predict trace element concentrations for the entire Bay, thus providing critical ecological information without necessitating expensive sampling of the entire area.
Since summer, Press has continued this research as her senior thesis. She is now using images from the U.S. Geological Survey’s Landsat 8 satellite, taken every 16 days, to enable better monitoring of seasonal changes in Bay area water quality. Press is thrilled about the prospect of more accurate, efficient review of ecological and environmental metrics. “It’s really exciting to me that this work has the potential to change and improve monitoring methods used in the Bay.”