Kelly Siman


Cleveland Water Alliance
ODNR Office of Coastal Management

My Projects are

  • Coastal Resilience
  • Social-ecological coastal risk and vulnerability modeling
  • Systems analysis
  • Water governance
  • Climate change adaptations and solutions
  • GIS

I like

  • Hiking
  • Cycling
  • Scuba Diving
  • Biophilic architecture
  • Community volunteering
  • Mentoring girls in STEM


I have had a mix of educational and professional experience before I found the right PhD program to work on nature-based climate change adaptation and mitigation solutions here at Akron. Educationally, I have a B.S. in Aeronautics from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and a M.Sc. in Geography from the Virginia Tech College of Natural Resources. Professionally, I have worked in Antarctica, Singapore, New Zealand, and Hawaii – in government, academia, and the non-profit sectors - all around environmental governance, traditional ecological knowledge, and climate change with a focus on the Asia-Pacific region. The Biomimicry program in Integrated Biosciences at UA provides a platform for me to leverage my diverse experiences and work at the nexus of academic theory, innovative nature-based approaches, and practical solutions to climate change and policy. These applications and solutions are operationalized in coordination with my PhD sponsors: The Cleveland Water Alliance in partnership with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, Office of Coastal Management.

PhD Projects

Historical political ecology and regime shift analysis of the Maumee River Watershed

The Maumee River Watershed is a highly engineered and altered social-ecological system. The now ~80% industrial agriculture landscape was once known as The Great Black Swamp. Yet shifting from swamp to agriculture comes with some persistent, unwanted ramifications. Namely, harmful algal blooms (HABs) in the western basin of Lake Erie have been an increasing threat to Ohio’s drinking water and public health. Using the historical political ecology methods and framework to highlight additional social-ecological system regime shifts, I put forth lessons learned from the past to help manage the watershed and HABs in the future.

DIY Spectrometer

My research was first aimed at understanding watershed resilience. However, a common theme was that there were not enough spatio-temporal data points to understand long-term nutrient loading and social-ecological resilience trends in our watersheds. Some reasons include that the current equipment is expensive, needs trained professionals, or is extremely complicated to use. Collaborating with another PhD student, Banafsheh Khakipoor, we decided to put a team together to eliminate these barriers by creating our own device. The objective was to create a low-cost, open source DIY spectrophotometer that can analyze phosphates and nitrates in the watersheds via smartphone image analysis. This turned into our company, Erie Open Systems (EOS) ) aimed at citizen scientists that are looking to contribute meaningful data that scientists and policy makers can use. Other EOS team members include Dr. Hunter King , Dr. Adam Smith , and Dr. Jiansheng Feng.

Ohio Lake Erie Shoreline Socio-Ecological Coastal Vulnerability Index – Erosion at the County Scale

Numerous studies have been developed using well-known geophysical and/or socio-economic risk and models to climate change and sea-level rise at the county scale. The majority of these models and applications are developed for the maritime coasts. However, while the Great Lakes do not experience sea-level rise, climate change has increased the variability of weather patterns and water levels. I translate the well-developed maritime models into a lacustrine model using Lake Erie specific socio-economic and ecological variables to risk and vulnerability.

Ohio Lake Erie Shoreline Socio-Ecological Coastal Vulnerability Index – Erosion and Flooding at the Census-Tract Scale by season and decade.

This project continues the work of the developed Ohio Lake Erie shoreline lacustrine social-ecological coastal risk, vulnerability, and resilience model and adds higher resolution in space, time, and bringing in seasonal variation. In the model, we can see how risk and vulnerability has changed over time and can shift in the same space seasonally. Working with my sponsors, I analyze the quantitative model data in GIS to make policy and priority management area recommendations.

Select Papers and Presentations

A 3D-printable dual beam spectrophotometer with multi-platform smartphone

Low cost, open-source analytical instrumentation has the potential to increase educational outcomes for students and enable large-scale citizen science projects. Many of these instruments rely on smartphones to collect the data, mainly because they can effectively leverage a dramatic price-to-performance ratio of the optical sensors. However, several hurdles need to be overcome for these devices to be more widely adapted. In this communication we focus on visible spectrophotometers, which are common in chemistry labs because of the day-to-day need for quantifying concentration. To make smartphone-based spectrometers practical for wider use, we have designed a 3D-printable spectrophotometer with a dual-beam optical geometry. This geometry allows for sample and reference data to be collected on the same photograph and thus improves the signal to noise ratio and reproducibility of the spectra. A universal mounting system was also developed to allow for a wide variety of smartphone form factors to be coupled to the spectrophotometer. To demonstrate potential applications of this device, two assays are reported. The first is a simple illustration of the Beer-Lambert Law with common household dyes. The second is a colorimetric nitrate assay, which shows a quantitative relationship between absorption and nitrate concentration. Kinetic data is also shown for the nitrate assay, which illustrates the long time-stability of the spectral data acquired from the device.

Social-Ecological Network Structures of Lake Erie Water Quality Management
June 18-22, 2018
Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Despite more than 40 years of decision-making by Lake Erie water resource managers' across state, provincial, tribal/first nation/métis, federal, and international borders, and countless “random acts of restoration,” Lake Erie remains the most polluted Great Lake. Effective management strategies, that build towards Lake Erie's long-term resilience, need to better account (consider) for social-ecological system interactions at the landscape level. Using social-ecological network analysis (SENA) to conceptualize the cross-scale relationships between water resource managers (governance actors) and ecological processes (ecological actors), our research explores the underlying SENA structures that exist among decision-making bodies of Canadian and United States regions of Lake Erie. Differences in network structures can inform measures of learning and leadership that relate to natural resource management outcomes. To inform our SENAs, we evaluate ecological management decisions at the HUC-8 watershed level made between 2007 and 2017, under the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement (GLWQA). This project investigates: 1) SENA structures of Lake Erie coastline management and 2) how SENA structures changed in response to the 2012 amendment. Through this applied approach, our research informs social network and water resource resilience literature by beginning to unravel the complex relationships between and among social and ecological actors