People of the SW CASC is a series of profiles that highlight the important work and unique life experiences of staff members of the Southwest Climate Adaptation Science Center.
The Southwest Climate Adaptation Science Center (SW CASC) welcomed Nicole Herman-Mercer as a U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Research Social Scientist in July 2023. Nicole’s work is focused on furthering the understanding of resilience in underserved communities through participatory methods, the integration of different knowledge systems and disciplines, with the goal of supporting decision-making and adaptation.
Nicole joined the SW CASC from the USGS Water Mission Area (WMA) where she focused on applying social science theories, methods, and analytical techniques towards increasing understanding of social-ecological systems, including the social impacts of climate change on Indigenous communities across Alaska. Nicole’s experience conducting research in Alaska has been especially formative in her career. “I just feel so privileged to have been able to go to Alaska as many times as I have and to be welcomed into peoples’ communities and homes to do interviews and talk to them about things that are sometimes hard to talk about,” Nicole said.
During her 14 years with the USGS WMA, Nicole also served a detail with the USGS Office of Tribal Relations as an Indigenous Knowledge Coordinator, was a co-convener of the American Geophysical Union Chapman Conference on Solving Water Availability Challenges Through an Interdisciplinary Framework, and was the Acting Chief for the WMA Decision Support Branch. Prior to her career with USGS, Nicole received her Bachelor’s degree in Anthropology and Master’s degree in Social Sciences (Society and the Environment focus) from the University of Colorado.
Fourteen years ago Nicole was hired by USGS Hydrologist Paul Schuster as a graduate student to work on a Traditional Ecological Knowledge Climate Change project in Alaska and the Yukon River basin. The opportunity to work on this project as a student was a big deal for Nicole, and opened the door to involvement in other projects and initiatives around Indigenous Knowledge. Paul was incredibly important in Nicole’s career and she holds the work they did together in high regard. “Paul believed in me so much and really supported me,” Nicole said. “But then he passed away pretty suddenly last November and I just feel like I owe so much to him.” As Nicole continues her work on Indigenous Knowledge, she hopes Paul was aware of the positive impact he had on her as well as many others.
Nicole’s research has given her a lot of hope for the future as she sees interest in Indigenous Knowledge research as a big step towards inclusion within USGS. “Through this broadening of inclusivity and understanding of different world views, I see the potential for change coming and of how we do science and how we think about science,” Nicole said.
Currently Nicole is working on a SW CASC project that will engage with Tribes in the Colorado River basin. Nicole, SW CASC staff members Anissa McKenna and Cynthia Naha, and other project partners such as the USGS Rocky Mountain Region, USGS Southwest Region, and the South Central CASC, will host Open Houses and Listening Sessions in the region in order to hear from community members and better understand their climate adaptation needs. “We want to figure out if we can find points of collaboration and see if we can find scientists that want to work on developing a project together with the Tribe so that it's really collaborative from the beginning,” Nicole said. The Tribal Engagement Series: Drought in the Colorado River Basin hosted the first Open House on September 26, 2023 in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The next Open House will take place on October 16, 2023 in Tucson, Arizona. Join this event to meet USGS scientists working on understanding drought impacts, learn about previous work with Tribal communities, and get involved in future activities.
Nicole describes herself as passionate, driven, and thoughtful, which are all traits she employs in her professional and personal life. Outside of work Nicole enjoys hiking and attending concerts with her family. She’s a regular in the Denver, Colorado punk and jam band scenes and has passed the love of music onto her two almost-adult children.
Nicole has been an important addition to the SW CASC as a whole, and to the growing SW CASC Tribal Engagement team. Going forward, Nicole is eager to emphasize participatory and actionable science, and to produce research in a way that makes change.