Saguaro National Park: Discovering desert waters: Developing a water quantity model for Saguaro National Park

NPS Unit: Saguaro National Park
Location: Tucson, Arizona
Project Title:   Discovering desert waters: Developing a water quantity model for Saguaro National Park
Pay: Interns will be paid $12/hour for a total of 480 hours.
Position Description: This project will develop and begin testing and refining a model that will allow Saguaro National Park to evaluate trends in water resources that effect aquatic animals, terrestrial animals that require drinking water, riparian plants, hikers and campers. It will be based on nearly a decade of water monitoring data and >15 years of stream pool water data associated with monitoring of lowland leopard frogs. Although a desert park, Saguaro’s biological diversity is largely driven by scattered water sources that include intermittent streams, semi-perennial rock pools (tinajas), springs, and seeps. The intern will utilize the existing data to develop a conceptual model that will allow us to make predictions about water availability in Saguaro National Park.  The value of this model is that it will allow us to predict which remote water sources are likely to have water at any given time based on real-time well and stream data; support wildlife conservation, especially for vulnerable species such as leopard frogs; and develop a priority list of surface water sites based on their conservation value and potential threats. The intern’s specific tasks will include:

  1. Training, including safety training (week 1)
  2. Evaluating the existing data, setting specific modeling goals, and learning appropriate geostatistical software (weeks 2-3)
  3. Developing and testing initial conceptual model (weeks 4-6)
  4. Gathering additional field data to incorporate stream pool data (weeks 6-8)
  5. Refining the initial model and writing up results of project (weeks 8-10)
  6. Developing monitoring recommendations and interpretive material (weeks 10-12)
Learning goals: The intern will gain experience through applied climate change research in a national park. He or she will learn to utilize geostatistical tools and a large data set to develop a relatively simple model that has immediate and practical applications, especially in the field of climate change. In addition, he or she will learn about the value, dynamics, and threats to water in desert areas. He or she will learn about field safety and field techniques in hydrology, and will have the opportunity to write up his or her results in a scientific paper format and for the general public.In addition, the intern will be able to collaborate with a number of scientists, including hydrologists and biologists. He or she will work in the field as part of large student (Pathways) crew who also conduct water and leopard frog surveys. A major goal for all of our student employees and interns (see below) is to meet at with the park mentor at the beginning of the project period, and regularly throughout the period, in order identify and develop specific knowledge, skills, and abilities that will be helpful to our park and while helping them further develop their careers.
Mentoring: Don Swann, the supervisor, is a biologist who is the park’s lead on water resources and has been involved in water and aquatic wildlife monitoring at the park since 1996. The intern will be housed in the Resource Management building with Don and will meet with him regularly. The park has a formal student mentoring program that the intern will participate in, including development of an Individual Development Plan and Employee Performance Appraisal Plan. He or she will receive mentoring from Don and a regional hydrologist who is based in Tucson and staff from the park and Sonoran Desert I&M network who are involved in spring and seep monitoring in the park. The park’s existing student field crew is very diverse with a large number of minority and female staff ranging in age from high school seniors through graduate students.
Qualifications: The ideal candidate will be an advanced science undergraduate or graduate student who has a strong interest or background in applied statistics, especially geostatistics, and/or in a related field such as water conservation, hydrology, hydrogeology, GIS, or aquatic biology. Other useful skills will be the proven ability to work as a team member with a diverse group of people; field experience, especially in a desert setting; and strong communication skills in writing and speaking.
Position Dates: June 4-August 25 (very flexible, with part-time an option)
Housing Available: Not available
Vehicle/License Required: Vehicle or license not required.
Work Environment: This project will involve a mix of field and office work (approximately 75/25%). The office work is most important, so it would be possible to minimize the amount of field work if necessary. Field work in the Sonoran Desert in the summer is extremely challenging due to hot temperatures, rocky slopes, and environmental hazards such as rattlesnakes and spiny plants. For field work, the intern will be hiking with other park staff to sample stream pools, springs, seeps, and other water resources. For office work, the intern would be provided an office space, computer, software, and other resources.