Security matters

In this rapidly changing world, forward-looking Kimberley Miner wants to create solutions even before problems exist.


Kimberley Miner:
I look at legacy pollution in glaciers. Snow deposited these pollutants onto the glacier, and then they were stored in the glacier.

And now there’s large-scale melt events happening all over the world. So we’re seeing the pollution melting out of the glaciers.

Every day we have a bunch of chemicals that we uptake through different media and through different mechanisms, and this would be another source of pollution that the people downstream may be subjected to.

So it’s looking at whether or not it will have long-term impacts. And if so, on what scale? What kind of impacts for what kind of lifestyle?

I’m very interested in forecasting the impacts of changes to the environment that may have been not noticed, that may have been overlooked by science at large.

There is still an idea that glacial water is a very clean, pristine water system. In some ways, it definitely is. But it was interesting to me to do an in-depth look at what could potentially be inside of glaciers and what that would mean for the folks downstream.

I’m using an EPA risk assessment tool — Environmental Protection Agency risk assessment tool — that’s been developed over the last 40 years. It really is the gold standard for human risk assessment.

It is a screening level tool. We look at whether or not there’s any possibility for harm to the downstream humans. And if so, then further study would be necessitated on an individual level.

So this is the first time that anyone’s ever used this EPA risk assessment tool to look at glacial meltwater. I am finding that glacial water is not always as clean and pristine as we have assumed in the past, that there are processes atmospherically that distribute pollutants.

And oftentimes, these do end up on glaciers. Glaciers are part of a whole Earth system, so anything that happens on the planet stays in the planet system. That’s just as true for glacial water as it is for the oceans or for any other type of ecosystem.

I am actually very excited about getting ahead of problems and creating solutions. Maybe, even before problems exist. That is really important in today’s very quickly evolving world.

You see it in the technology field sectors. You see it in a number of different commodity sectors, but it’s not something that we really see in risk management as much as we could.

I am also funded by the SMART Program — the Science, Math, And Research Technology Program — out of the Department of Defense.

And so I will be working with them as well as I’m finishing up my Ph.D. and into the future to look at the potential issues with mission safety and different weather changes all over the world.

I always say that I’d like to run FEMA, eventually. So that’s still what I’m hoping. I’d like to be part of the team that continues to develop a more comprehensive understanding for risk assessment, human activity and adaptation, and environmental changes over the long term.

Just to make sure that all the people who may be impacted by certain environmental changes are safe and protected.

I have really loved being at UMaine. Being at a smaller graduate school where it’s very student-driven, very student-focused, has been wonderful for me. And it’s been really great to have so much support from such a wide breadth of professors in many disciplines, both through the Climate Change Institute as well as the Earth and Climate Science Program.

I’ve had a really excellent experience here.