Exploring Grand Canyon and making connections - Heather Kerkering

Aloha.  I am the only USGS employee joining from the Hawaiian Islands, where I am the Science Coordinator for the Pacific Islands Climate Adaptation Science Center (PI CASC).  While most of my life and career has focused on ocean and coastal science, I strongly connect to John Powell’s drive to explore and discover through both adventure and science. Like Powell, I have allowed my passions to drive my career and have led a few expeditions on the way, as well. I grew up by the James River in Virginia, an area and a river that played an incredibly influential role in our nation’s history. It wasn’t until I saw an aerial image in a National Geographic magazine of fog rolling into Monterey Bay toward the Aquarium that I decided to focus on ocean science, move West, and work at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Of course, sailing, surfing, and ocean swimming were key to that decision. I ended up working at the Monterey Bay Aquarium and the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute for a decade before moving out to the islands.  It felt good to accomplish that dream. Along my path, I spent a few years serving as an expedition guide and educator for trips throughout the U.S. and the world. I have been out on 40+ day expeditions in the wilderness, but this will be my longest river trip.

Now with PI CASC, I sit at the University of Hawai‘i-Mānoa surrounded by beautiful scenery and an incredible mix of culture, innovation, and inspirational people. Along with the beauty come many challenges, specifically environmental challenges.  As a member of the Expedition, I hope to make connections between the cultural and environmental importance of the Pacific region and the Canyon region.  How can climate science in the Pacific region relate to or advance science in the Canyon? Or vice-versa? What cultural and climatic impacts are these regions experiencing that are similar, and how can we learn from each other?

I feel so honored to be selected for the Sesquicentennial Colorado River Exploring Expedition.  It thrills me to think about the adrenaline rush of the rapids and the knowledge I will gain from the eclectic mix of participants, from scientists to artists and writers.  I know we will have many adventures, important conversations, and an incredible story to tell.  I look forward to collecting data for USGS and applying our scientific observations to the Canyon story. Although I will miss my family for the two-week period, dozens of people have told me that my river section is “life changing.” I am psyched to be part of the celebration that will take place when we raft into the final destination, Lake Mead.