CCSI’s Melanie Mayes receives DOE SC Early Career Research Program award

May 24, 2016

The Climate Change Science Institute’s (CCSI’s) Melanie Mayes was one of four ORNL researchers to receive a 2016 US Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science (SC) Early Career Research Program research grant. The program, now in its seventh year, is designed to bolster the nation's scientific workforce by providing support to exceptional researchers during the crucial early career years, when many scientists do their most formative work.

Mayes’s proposal, “A Comprehensive Framework for Modeling Emissions from Tropical Soils and Wetlands,” selected for funding by the DOE Office of Biological and Environmental Research (BER), has as its goal development of a framework for modeling greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in tropical

A conceptual model describing the multiscale experimental and modeling project “A Comprehensive Framework for Modeling Emissions from Tropical Soils and Wetlands.” The project will measure soil respiration in tropical wetlands and wet soils and will link the type of gases released (CO2, N2O, CH4) to soil moisture, oxygen content, and the soil microbiome. A detailed small-scale model will encompass the transition from aerobic to anaerobic soils, and a simplified model will be developed for larger scales and longer time frames. Finally, the project will build an improved map of tropical wetlands and wet soils for model application at regional to global scales

regions that takes into account factors such as microbial traits and functions, soil characteristics, different microbial energy sources, and soil moisture. Tropical wetlands are important contributors to GHG emissions worldwide; however, tropical biomes are extremely complex, and many of the factors contributing to GHG emissions are poorly understood and thus poorly represented in models.

The award allows her to combine elements from three different projects—the Microbial Enzyme Decomposition Model developed as part of the Terrestrial Ecosystem Science Scientific Focus Area; her current Laboratory Director Research and Development (LDRD) project, which builds linkages between the genomics of soil microbes, phosphorus limitation, and GHG releases from soils; and her soil biogeochemistry work for Next Generation Ecosystem Experiments–Tropics—into a single, integrated program framework. The award covers half of her time for the next 5 years, which equates to an enormous amount of freedom, she says, in that she can fully commit her time to research on a single project, as opposed to being involved in many different projects. What’s more, she will be able to get greater staff support, which will enhance the outcomes.

While the Early Career Research Program awards are highly competitive, Mayes says this was probably the easiest proposal she has ever written because it takes things she is already doing and things she would like to do “and rolls them up into this neat little package.” After working on the three previously mentioned projects, she felt the need for this project was so clear, so straightforward, and so obvious that the proposal practically wrote itself.

Getting feedback is an important part of any successful proposal, and Mayes says she appreciates the reviews and support she received from her CCSI, Environmental Sciences Division, and Biosciences Division colleagues, including Scott Painter, Jay Gulledge, Eric Pierce, Stan Wullschleger, Rich Norby, Terry Hazen and Chongle Pan. Mayes also gives a lot of credit to the CCSI approach, saying “My research has transitioned phenomenally since the inception of CCSI in 2009. The CCSI paradigm brings together experimentalists and modelers, which is the embodiment of the DOE BER program’s vision for excellence in science.” She also credits ORNL’s LDRD program, which originally funded two of the three concepts in her proposal.  

The Early Career Research Program is funded through the various DOE Office of Science program areas: Advanced Scientific Computing Research, Biological and Environmental Research, Basic Energy Sciences, Fusion Energy Sciences, High Energy Physics, and Nuclear Physics. This year only 49 recipients nationwide, 22 from the national laboratories, were selected from roughly 720 proposals.

By VJ Ewing