|50th Anniversary of Earth Day and the UW-Madison Nelson Institute
Making Water Sustainable for Humanity
Turner set her sights on Wisconsin and UW-Madison Nelson Institute to pursue her studies as a way to impact environmental issues of today and
“There are a lot of crucial issues that we’ve caused and need to address,” Turner said. “Right now, I think going to UW-Madison was a good fit for me
because it’s a great place to study the untouched environment and a lot of protected areas in Wisconsin. It’s a great outdoorsy place. In that sense, it
was a good move.”
Turner is studying wetlands in northern Wisconsin adjacent to Trout Lake, just south of Lake Superior. She has only visited the wetlands a couple of
times, but stays plugged into what goes on there on a daily basis courtesy of a cellular service.
“We use a covariance flux,” Turner explained. “It measures the covariance of the wind and how the wind changes every second. You can estimate
how much gas is coming to or leaving the wetlands. The reason we have so many measurements per second is you can average over a half hour and
then subtract the each of those seconds from the half-hour and that will get you the flux, which is the change in gas. From that, we can determine,
‘Okay, our wetland is soaking up 150 grams of carbon per square meter per year.’ And that is pretty accurate.”
While some may picture wetlands deep in natural areas somewhere, the Madison area actually has wetlands dispersed throughout the Madison area.
And our urban area is co-dependent on the wetlands.
“The floods that happened the first year I moved here brings up the fact that wetlands can really help prevent frequent flash flooding like the flash
floods we had,” Turner said. “There are a lot of natural areas around the highways that I’ve seen in Madison. On the broad scale, I am aware of how
wetlands could offset carbon emissions, lower surface temperatures for surrounding areas or encourage plant growth. They are critical in Madison,
Even in urban areas, wetlands are home to diverse wildlife and plant life. They preserve a diversity of life that lends and ecological stability to the
“The more diverse the wildlife is in a wetlands, the better resilience it is going to have towards climate change,” Turner said. “Some people study
how different species will or are adapting to climate change. We’ve got these things called invasive plants. They are exotic plants. These plants are
really good at adapting to weather extremes or a changing climate. The more species you have in an area, the more likely it is to do well or fare better
with these disturbances in climate.”
April 22, 2020 marked the 50th anniversary of Earth Day and the founding of the UW-Madison Nelson Institute. While the COVID-19 pandemic dampened
the observance of Earth Day, there are still things people can do in their individual lives that can make a difference in Madison’s — and the world’s —
“This Earth Day is different than all others because we can’t go outside that much,” Turner noted. “I think it is a good time to increase your own
awareness of environmental issues and be environmentally conscious by educating yourself on what is going on in the world. The Internet is right at
our fingertips. It’s a good time use that to try and learn something new. Last year, I didn’t have a club or a group to go do stuff with, so I just went out
in my backyard and picked up trash. It’s a time to reflect on the current situation of the planet and just try to give back like picking up your
neighborhoods and try to make them the best that they can be.”
Turner will stay in Madison to complete a Ph.D. As her studies have progressed, Turner has been encouraged to look more at the impact of climate
“For my Ph.D., I’m looking more to get into water and maybe look at aquatic chemistry kinds of things,” Turner said.
While she understands the limitations of government agencies and how they can be changed as the political winds change, Turner is committed to
working within the environmental system to effect change.
“I would aim for working for an environmental organization, probably like The Nature Conservancy or the Environmental Protection Agency,” Turner
said. “I think those can use science to solve social and environmental problems.”
While national policies do impact environmentalism, Turner feels that environmentalism is also local and so Madison needs to take control over its
own ecological destiny.
“I think Madison adopting a more renewable energy focus would be really awesome for the city,” Turner said. “I think Madison does a pretty good job
with protecting its green areas. There are a lot of things we can do. We need to try to reduce the amount of runoff that we have like road salt and
fertilizers coming from the cities or agriculture in the areas upstream.”
The environmental movement is growing strong as members of the millennial generation like Jess Turner devote their focus to solve tomorrow’s
environmental issues today. We are in good hands.
By Jonathan Gramling
One would think that growing up in upstate New York would be filled with memories of glistening lakes and fresh air
until one remembers that the beginning of America’s industrial revolution had its beginnings there. There was no
such thing as pollution control and natural resources were seen as something to be used up and disposed of in any
manner one pleased to dispose of it. And that usually meant in a body of water.
“I grew up in Syracuse, New York, which is right next to one of the most polluted lakes in America, the Onondaga
Lake Super Fund site,” said Jess Turner. “It’s a lot cleaner now than it was in the 1960s. Growing up, I couldn’t go
swim in my neighborhood lake and fish there. People in Syracuse don’t really think about it. Obviously you don’t go
swimming in the lake. If you see someone swimming in the lake, it’s an unusual sight. People don’t think about it. We
get our water from a couple of towns over. People still ride their bikes along the lake and nobody really thinks much
of it. But there is a lot of history there.”
Nonetheless, Turner did develop an interest in the environment through camping trips and visits to Niagara Falls. She
went on to study environmental engineering, particularly water treatment, solid waste treatment, and soil remediation,
as an undergrad at the University of Buffalo. They didn’t have to go far to find sites to study.
“I learned about Love Canal,” Turner said. “It was the first Super Fund site ever. It started the U.S. building this fund
for remediating sites that were full of toxic wastes from the industrial era. That was something we definitely learned a
lot about and used examples of like the brownfields and other sites of Buffalo in our classes as how you would
remediate something like that.”