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Researcher Spotlight – Nathan Schunk

2023-24 Global Change Research Fellow

PhD Student, Department of Forestry and Environmental Resources
Advisor: Justin Baker
Every year the Southeast Climate Adaptation Science Center funds a multi-disciplinary cohort of Global Change Research Fellows representing colleges across NC State University. Here are some highlights about 2023-24 Fellow, Nathan Schunk and the applied research he’s conducting.

About You

What do you study?
I study the effects of phosphorus management on socioeconomic and ecological systems using both systems dynamics modeling and economic modeling approaches.

What (or who) influenced you to go into this field of study?
Dr. Meghan MIllea at ECU, Dr. Raymond Smith at ECU, Dr. Jaime Kruse at ECU, and Dr. Justin Baker at NC State. I have been blessed with fantastic advisors and mentors throughout my academic career and they have all influenced me in very different and important ways including introducing me to economic applications to hazards, systems dynamics modeling, writing proposals and IRBs, and working in the forestry and environmental space. 

What do you think is the most pressing issue related to global change?
Rising temperatures. This has cascading effects which impact local and global economies as well as devastating ecosystems. 

About Your Research

Schunk (red shirt) in Altenahr, Germany, doing research on post flooding recovery.

What results are you finding?
Storm surge associated with coastal hazard events such as hurricanes increases the volume of ghost forests which changes wetlands from a nitrogen and phosphorus sink into a source leading to increased eutrophication.

Who will benefit from your research?
Policy makers will be able to make informed decisions about watershed and phosphorus/nitrogen management which will help local economies that depend on fisheries, forests, and wetlands.

How would you describe your research to a 3rd grader?
Drinking ocean water doesn’t taste very good for us and some trees agree. If they drink too much salt water then they die and release these chemicals that make the plants in the water grow super fast. When those plants die and start to decompose that uses up too much oxygen in the water which makes it so the fish can’t breathe. If the fish die then we can’t catch them to eat.

About Your Global Change Research Fellow Experience

How do you expect the SE CASC Global Change Research Fellows Program to impact you and your work?
It has already affected my work. At the Fellow’s retreat I was introduced to ghost forests which led me to pursue the connections between hazards, ghost forests, and phosphorus.

What advice would you give to a student that is interested in getting involved in your field?
Start making connections with faculty early on. They love to see someone that is interested and motivated and they will do everything they can to help you succeed if you’re willing to put in the work.

What has been the most rewarding part or your favorite part of being a SE CASC Global Change Research Fellow?
Meeting so many interesting people and cultivating lasting personal and academic relationships.