Featured C+Ser: Krista Jankowski

Krista Jankowski faced a choice. Discover the wonders of deep history or help preserve and heal the planet for this and future generations.

She chose the latter, forsaking dinosaurs to join the C+S program. Since then, she’s gone on to pursue a PhD focusing on sea level rise in Louisiana. Her work has the power to affect change in one of the most vulnerable places in the U.S.

It’s rare for someone to decide if they want to study what happened 65 million years ago or what will happen in the coming decades, but that’s where Jankowski found herself before applying to C+S.

On the one hand, dinosaurs. They’re amazing, their fossils a connection to a deep past that stirs the human imagination about our world. On the other, climate change. It’s less than amazing and could be the end of humanity as we know it if carbon pollution isn’t reined in.

“Both (were) great interests of mine, but only one of which had a clear connection to actually helping people,” she said.

That sense of working to assist others is what ultimately tipped the scales for Krista to come to C+S. It’s also a running theme throughout her story.

At the time she was considering graduate school, she was working as a high school biology teacher through Teach for America in Memphis. The summer prior to coming to C+S, she worked with the National Park Service.

And during C+S, she chose to do her summer internship with the Red Cross in Bangkok. While there, she created a series of workshops to help educate Red Cross staff about the impacts of climate change and variability across Southeast Asia.

The region has tens of thousands of miles of coastline, contains the ecologically stunning Coral Triangle and is home to some of the busiest ports in the world. As the oceans change, so do the fates of many of the 623 million people who call the region home.

In that light, Krista’s next move is unsurprising. After graduating from C+S, she moved onto Tulane University where she’s in the final year of a PhD program looking at Louisiana’s coasts.

A combination of rising seas and subsiding land mean the Gulf Coast is one of the rapidly disappearing coasts on the planet. The ecological treasures are vanishing into the sea with each passing year.

Krista recently published a paper in Nature Communications showing that the rate of sea-level rise in coastal Louisiana is more than four times higher than the global average, which leads to loss of wetlands and underscores the challenges the region will face to adapt in the coming years.

Rising seas and disappearing wetlands aren’t only a natural loss. As the Gulf of Mexico submerges wetlands, it also puts vibrant cities like New Orleans, Galveston and countless smaller communities increasingly vulnerable to perilous storm surge. Krista’s work is truly at the intersection of climate and society, and the program informs her efforts today.

“C+S prepared me to consider how changes in climate have and will continue to affect the natural systems I study,” Krista said. “The unique makeup of my C+S class allowed me to become familiar with talking and working across disciplines to reach common goals.”

You can still find a hint of Jankowski’s paleontology passion in 50 national parks, which use the Junior Paleontologist workbook she wrote for the agency. But it’s what she could do next to help threatened communities along the Gulf Coast that drives her today.

“I believe climate change is the greatest social, economic, and political challenge of my lifetime,” she said. “I am drawn to the field to be of service and to work with a variety of people toward a worthy goal — mitigation and adaptation in our changing world.”

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