Using social media, Dr. Melanie Harrison-Okoro hopes to engage readers on topics of environmental science including areas like water pollution and invasive species.
As part of her job as water quality specialist and aquatic invasive species coordinator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration she combines her experience in water resources and environmental science to monitor the health of rivers in California, Idaho, Oregon, and Washington.
Studying biology as an undergraduate at Johnson C. Smith University, she spent the summer after graduation working at the Baltimore outpost of the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies and spent long hours in the streams and rivers around the city looking at the dynamics of nitrogen hot spots. The connections she made into the scientific community of the area, including her mentor at the University of Maryland Baltimore County, would make a change in her career path.
Intending on becoming a medical doctor, she was working in a research lab when she got a call about a new program at UMBC that would allow her to earn a doctorate in urban ecology. Returning to studying nitrogen in the water ways, Harrison-Okoro found evidence that local urban wetlands can absorb a significant amount of agricultural nitrate runoff which in turn prevents it from reaching the Chesapeake Bay. In a paper published in the Journal of Environmental Quality she, along with four co-authors, presented a case that with proper management urban wetlands could play an even larger and more effective role in denitrification.
After graduation she moved to northern California and out of the urban environment, and while these changes present challenges she sees it as an opportunity to take two things she loves to talk about, fish and water quality, and incorporate these into her work. As an early career scientist on the Council of the American Geophysical Union she actively promotes diversity and engagement in the sciences. She is also a passionate advocate for science, technology, engineering, art, and math, and speaks on the topic to various audiences and works with non-profits like SEM Link to help provide opportunities for students in STEAM fields.
Written by Angela Goad