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My Road to Dendro

My name is Dr. Samantha Kerr, I am currently a term Assistant Professor in the Department of Geography & Environmental Studies at the University of Regina (UofR), Saskatchewan, Canada.

In 2010, I was introduced to dendrochronology through an online undergraduate course on climate change. At the end of the semester, I emailed the instructor about summer employment in the Tree-ring Lab – getting paid to look at trees, how cool was that?! After a summer of working in the lab, I started my MSc program with a focus in dendroclimatology. Most of my dendro work has been reconstructing streamflow from tree-rings throughout the Canadian Prairie Provinces, and the Northern Great Plains. I have been so fortunate to have had the opportunity to participate in, and lead, fieldwork excursions in Montana, North Dakota, Saskatchewan, Alberta, and Manitoba.

Towards the end of my MSc degree, I was contacted for an opportunity to lead a pilot project for the Boreal Watershed Initiative with the Saskatchewan Ministry of Environment. I spent 4 years creating a network of tree-ring chronologies throughout Saskatchewan’s Northern Boreal Forest, as well as a dendrochemical assessment of trees at our sample plots. During this time, I was pregnant – I remember being approached not to do fieldwork pregnant, and how it was dangerous. Being pregnant made zero impact on my ability to take or process field samples, and I’ll never forget this moment.

I completed my PhD in 2020. One of my biggest accomplishments during this time was the development the Canadian Prairies Paleo Drought Atlas (CPPDA). The CPPDA is a digital paleo-climate atlas of more than 55,000 grid points and 800 years of drought and excessive moisture events, assessed by the Standardized Precipitation Evaporation Index (SPEI), and inferred by more than 180 multiple species tree-ring chronologies throughout the agricultural zone of the Canadian Prairie Provinces. Timing, intensity, and spatial extent of major multi-year droughts and excessive moisture events were analyzed. The CPPDA will be fully released online in Fall 2022. For those of you who have been waiting, thank you for your patience, and please stay tuned!

Since 2019, I have had the opportunity of instructing field-based courses in Physical Geography at the UofR, where we focus on paleoindicators in the Qu’Appelle River Valley. This has been one of the most rewarding parts of my academic career. Instructing students about the theory and techniques of dendro, showing them how to sample trees, but then watching them take their new knowledge and create their own research questions.

I am excited for future dendro projects throughout the Canadian Prairies and collaboration with researchers in the dendro community. Thank you to Joe for creating this inclusive space.

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