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Auburn University professor receives NCAR award

<p>Kelly Dunning talks the NCAR award and her hopes for the future.&nbsp;</p>

Kelly Dunning talks the NCAR award and her hopes for the future. 

Kelly Dunning, recipient of the National Center for Climate and Atmospheric Research (NCAR) Early Career Innovator Award, is an assistant professor in the College of Forestry and Wildlife at Auburn University.

Dunning teaches two courses at Auburn University: Conservation Planning and Human Dimensions of Wildlife and Natural Resources. She also teaches a graduate course called Surveying and Interviewing for Scientists.

According to Dunning, The National Center for Climate and Atmospheric Research is funded by a government agency that supports research and education, as well as advances the public good for all Americans. The NCAR Innovator Award allows scientists with different expertise to work together on the same project. 

“The NCAR Innovators Award lets me combine my expertise with other scientists at NCAR, including Dr. Melissa Moulton, (a coastal physical oceanographer), Dr. Joanie Kleypas (one of the world’s leading coral reef ecologists and geologists), and Dr. Kristen Krumhardt (an expert in marine phytoplankton ecology and biogeochemistry),” Dunning said. 

Dunning’s expertise lies in the management of coral reefs and how to care for their fragility. 

“Coral reefs are super important because you can find 25% of all marine species in reefs, and they cover just 1% of the ocean floor,” Dunning said. "They feed hundreds of millions of people with fisheries, and even provide the inputs for some of the most important pharmaceutical drugs.”

According to Dunning, coral reefs have been greatly affected by climate change.

“Climate change is really taking its toll on global coral reefs. In 2016, climate change-related coral stress killed about one-third of the Great Barrier Reef in Australia,” Dunning said. 

Her research focuses on how different communities are responding to climate bleaching or the way coral colors change depending on the sea surface temperature. 

“We are exploring the ways that coral reef managers are responding to climate bleaching episodes, specifically asking whether responses vary across low and high-income communities with coral reefs,” Dunning said. “We believe that coral reefs are an important part of marine global heritage and that financial resources should not prevent conservation.” 

A few of her mentors have led her to the place she is today. 

"I had really great mentors, specifically Dr. Larry Susskind at MIT where I did my Ph.D. and Dr. Porter Hoagland, at WHOI who supervised some of my research,” Dunning said. “Larry and Porter both convinced me that I was capable of working on really important issues like coral reef conservation in the face of climate change.”

Dunning said the NCAR Innovator Award brings excitement and importance into her life. 

“This all-women team enables me to work on what I consider to be the most important challenge in global conservation, bringing in the leading experts on the topic of coral reef science from NCAR,” Dunning said.

The award also provides funding for a graduate student's master's degree. For example, veteran Daniel Morris was able to complete his Masters of Science degree.

“Dan’s leadership all over the world is helping us conduct our research as an MS student, but it is also contributing to the high quality of an Auburn education for military service members, veterans, and spouses,” Dunning said.

Finally, Dunning expressed her hope for the future. 

“We envision a more equitable future, where policy responses are similar regardless of the income level of the community responding to climate change,” she said.

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Becca Benner | Culture Writer

Becca Benner, junior in public relations with a double minor in Spanish and marketing, is a culture writer at The Auburn Plainsman. 

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