Breaking The Drought

Picture of the United States Geological Survey's California Water Science Centre, San Diego

By Simon Jankowski, 2017 Fulbright Western Australia Postgraduate Scholar

My Fulbright program at the United States Geological Survey (USGS) California Water Science Centre has been an incredibly enriching experience both personally and professionally.

I have been focused on a regional hydrologic assessment utilising aquifer replenishment techniques to improve drought tolerance within California’s Central Valley. This research is particularly prescient in a state with the most variable precipitation and streamflow in the U.S., a changing climate and a chronic groundwater overdraft of 0.6-3.5 cubic kilometre per year. This combination of factors is not unique to the U.S., unsustainable water practices and climate change define huge challenges for water availability in Mediterranean climates across the world. Managed Aquifer Recharge (MAR) represents a key tool to allow groundwater banking as a buffer against droughts in California and across the world.

My unique position as a foreign Fulbright Postgraduate Researcher within this federal agency afforded me privileged access to leading expertise across hydrologic, environmental and geologic fields. I worked between the Sacramento and San Diego offices allowing me the opportunity to collaborate and socialise with these professionals on a daily basis (and get in the occasional surf), in order to build a methodology for testing MAR’s potential to mitigate land subsidence within USGS hydrologic models.

I have tried to meet as many people as possible on this scholarship year to learn about U.S. perspectives, promote sustainable water practice and provide the research findings for best impact. I networked with professionals from across the sector at conferences and water education events both from a Californian and Australian system perspective and have spoken on panels at conferences on Managed Aquifer Recharge.

One of the most rewarding experiences has been delivering ‘brown-bag’ presentations to groups throughout the year. One was skyping to kids across the U.S. and Canada on World Water Day via the ‘Explore by the Seat of your Pants’ program, who were fascinated by Australia’s outback wildlife!

Beyond the focused world of Californian water, my personal and professional networks were enriched by a Fulbright entrepreneurship workshop at the University of Utah, and at an interdisciplinary Complexity Systems Summer School at the Santa Fe Institute in New Mexico.

The summer school at the Santa Fe Institute was an eye-opening and career-defining experience: working with a group of extremely bright interdisciplinary scientists and graduate students from around the world in an intensive four-week introduction to complex behaviour in mathematical, physical, living and social systems. The international speakers that came to present were inspiring and I deeply valued the opportunity to think more broadly about how my own scientific research can be enhanced with a multidisciplinary approach.

I collaborated on developing novel research in two projects: “Modelling Intergenerational Epigenetic Manifestations from stress” using an agent-based modelling approach and “Automated Opinion Analysis of Online Conversations” using deep learning tools. For anyone interested in investigating the wacky nonlinear and chaotic aspects within their research; the complexity school is a MUST-DO!

I am deeply grateful and humbled by the experience of the Fulbright Scholarship. I have been on an exponential growth journey and words actually can’t articulate how fulfilling and enriching this experience has been for me. I have made a lifetime of contacts, friends and connections over a short-period in the U.S., have three ongoing project collaborations and I look forward to nurturing and sharing these networks with colleagues within Australia.

On our last day in Sacramento, my long-suffering partner (who commuted from Sydney five times throughout the year) and I tied the knot. The coriander bouquet was a throwback to the first time we met, at the fresh produce section of a Perth supermarket.

Simon Jankowski and his partner decided to get married on their last day in San Diego -- pictured here with a bouquet of coriander Simon Jankowski and his partner decided to get married on their last day in San Diego -- pictured here with a bouquet of coriander