COLSA student studying methane emissions abroad

Wednesday, May 30, 2018
Kathryn Bennett '19

Studying abroad was not in Kathryn Bennett’s plans. In fact, it was pretty much the opposite. But things change. Opportunities present themselves. For Bennett ’19, the latter led to the former and now she’s headed to Abisko, Sweden, a small village north of the Arctic Circle, to spend the summer studying methane emissions from melting permafrost.  

“This really came out of nowhere,” the Medway, Massachusetts, resident says. “I didn’t think I wanted to study abroad, but this is such an incredible opportunity that I couldn’t say no.”

An environmental sciences and sustainability dual major, Bennett will spend 10 weeks in Sweden, thanks to the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship she received from the Hamel Center for Undergraduate Research. The project involves examining gas samples released from a system of area ponds.

Bennett will stay at the Abisko Scientific Research Station, where research that includes observation, monitoring and experimentation has been conducted for more than 100 years. Part of Bennett’s work will have her learning to fly a drone that will take photos of the ponds.

“We’ll be able to track their size,” Bennett says. “As permafrost thaws, the carbon stored there is released and ends up in lakes and ponds. Our research will be combined with data from the last four or five years and help inform how the system works.”

“My advisor, John Aber, has been so supportive of me. He’s one of those people who sees more in you than you do and keeps pushing.”

The Sweden trip is actually Bennett’s second study abroad experience. Her first came during the January term when she took a sustainable agriculture and ecology course in Costa Rica. But she began honing her research skills at UNH with the Sustainability Institute when she helped calculate UNH’s nitrogen footprint for 2016. A 2017 Social Innovation Internship took her to Portland, Maine, where she worked in the corporate sustainability department at Thornton Tomasetti, a worldwide engineering consulting firm known for its sustainable practices. There she tracked emissions tied to specific projects. She has twice presented at UNH’s Undergraduate Research Conference.

“I’ve been very impressed with the opportunities I’ve had at UNH for hands-on research experiences,” Bennett says. “My advisor, John Aber, (professor of natural resources and researcher with the N.H. Agricultural Experiment Station) has been so supportive of me. He’s one of those people who sees more in you than you do and keeps pushing.”

Growing up, Bennett spent a lot of time outdoors, which she says made her “passionate to help preserve the land, the globe, for others.” Throughout her college career she has pursued interests that could help her answer the question: How can we protect the planet on a large scale?

“What can you and I do that will make a difference?” Bennett says. “That’s what I love about research — the process, the conversations, working through problems. And then turning that into tangible results. I really like the idea of working on research that can improve policy.”