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eNews January 2022

Meet the Researcher, Caitriana Steele, Coordinator, USDA & Associate Professor, New Mexico State University

Meet the Researcher, Caitriana Steele, New Mexico State University

by Jeanette Torres, NM WRRI Program Coordinator

Our researcher for this month is Caitriana (Caiti) Steele, coordinator for the United States Department of Agriculture Southwest Climate Hub and college associate professor in the Plant and Environmental Sciences Department at New Mexico State University (NMSU). She teaches two classes (GIS for Natural Resource Scientists, and Advanced Spatial Analysis) and has mentored several students as their faculty advisor. She regularly serves on student committees supporting her students’ geospatial research. In her role as coordinator for the Climate Hub, Steele is responsible for coordinating partnerships and outreach across the Southwest Climate Hub region, which includes New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, Nevada, Hawaii, and the U.S. Affiliated Pacific Islands. Steele states that the most important aspect of her role is staying on top of the most recent scientific findings of how climate change is impacting the region and making sure that information is being shared with stakeholders.

Steele has an extensive history with the New Mexico Water Resources Research Institute and has worked with its current director, Sam Fernald, on multiple projects since 2008. Projects have included the National Science Foundation’s Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research project, Climate Change Impacts on New Mexico’s Mountain Sources of Water, and more recently a project by The University of California Merced titled, Securing a Climate Resilient Water Future for Agriculture and Ecosystems Through Innovations in Measurement, Management, and Markets, funded by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

Steele is involved in several different research areas, including climate change engagement and communication, water resources and snowmelt hydrology, and spatial technologies for rangeland ecology, management, and research. Several of her tasks involve leading research investigations, training her colleagues in climate adaptation practices, GIS support, remote sensing, and helping to develop collaboration opportunities for her team. At the moment, Steele is beginning a review of the challenges of adapting southwestern water systems to climate change. She states that many individuals are “familiar with the ways in which water can be used more efficiently in rural and urban areas, but there are institutional, economic, social, and cultural challenges and barriers that prevent people from adopting water-efficient practices.”

Steele earned her BS and PhD degrees in Geography from the King’s College in London, United Kingdom (UK). She has previous professional experience as a post-doctoral fellow and as an assistant administrator for the University of Southampton, UK. During her time as an undergraduate, Steele states that she was inspired by the work of geomorphology professors, Denys Brunsden and John Thornes. “Professor Brunsden brought the physical world to life for me, and I became fascinated by the processes driving landscape evolution and vegetation change,” Steele states. “It was because of Professor Brunsden that I decided to [pursue] a PhD.”

Steele has co-authored over 35 peer-reviewed journal articles along with several book chapters containing her extensive research. Her latest collaboration was on a study now published in the Journal of Arid Environments earlier this year and is titled, Movement, activity, and landscape use patterns of heritage and commercial beef cows grazing Chihuahuan Desert rangeland. In the last five years, Steele has participated in 50 outreach efforts as a keynote speaker, presenter, and co-organizer for meetings associated with climate change, drought, and agriculture. She has also been invited to several grant-review panels. Steele has provided her expertise as a peer-reviewer for journals including The Journal of Applied Remote Sensing, Fire Ecology, Water Resources and Rural Development, and Transactions in Geoscience and Remote Sensing.

In regards to her future goals, Steele hopes to be able to look back on her career with the Climate Hub and with NMSU and see she made a difference. Steele mentions that she wants to “continue helping people learn about climate change, what they can do to adapt to climate change impacts, and how they can act more sustainably to reduce our human footprint on our planet.” With respect to teaching, she would like to continue helping students with their GIS and remote sensing research. She looks forward to any additional opportunities to work with NM WRRI, NMSU, and other universities on topics involving building resilience in agriculture, water systems, and southwestern communities. For those looking to join the research field, Steele had this to say: “where you end up isn’t always where you planned you would be. Listen to your heart and your head — and an inspirational professor or two.”