Environmental Studies and Sciences News & Events
Tuesday, Oct. 14, 2014
Scientists have long debated the topographic and climatic history of Asia. What were the forces behind the creation of expansive arid regions? How and when did the uplift of Asia’s great mountain ranges occur? While the Himalaya and Tibetan Plateau have received much attention in the tectonics and paleoclimate communities, the history of mountain ranges and deserts to the north of Tibet have remained largely overlooked. Hari Mix and his colleagues at Stanford University and Rocky Mountain College set out to examine the evolution of Mongolia’s Gobi Desert, Hangay and Altai Mountains. In order to track changes in aridity and uplift over the past 80 million years, the team collected and analyzed the chemistry of hundreds of ancient soil, stream and lake sediment samples.
Many previous explanations for the origin of an arid Central Asia invoked the uplift of the Himalayas and Tibetan Plateau over the last 45 million years. By examining the carbon isotope composition of these ancient sediments, the team was able to quantify the productivity of ancient plants, and in turn the amount of ancient rainfall. These data point to the importance of moisture from the west, not Tibet to the south, as the dominant control on the climate of Mongolia. Sediments from central and southern Mongolia document a 50-90% decrease in rainfall over the past 30 million years. The group’s findings, published in this month’s American Journal of Science, suggest that the uplift of Mongolia’s Altai and Hangay Mountains created rain shadows leading to the expansion of the Gobi Desert. Hari hopes to return to Mongolia and Kazakhstan to continue examining the evolution of moisture transport in Asia
You can find the article at: http://www.ajsonline.org/content/314/8/1171.abstract
Monday, Sep. 15, 2014
Hari comes to us from Stanford University, where he received degrees in Geology (B.S.) Environmental Earth System Science (PhD). Hari reconstructs ancient continental environments analyzing isotopes in soil, river and lake sediments. His research addresses questions involving the topographic evolution of mountain ranges, the role of plants in continental water vapor recycling, and the response of the climate system to elevated atmospheric CO2 concentrations.
At SCU, Hari will teach courses in climate science, introductory earth science, and GIS, and conduct research on the topographic and climatic evolution of the Alaska Range, western US and Central Asia. He is establishing a laboratory facility to measure stable isotopes in water, with the intent to study a range of topics in modern climate change and the hydrologic cycle. Hari is passionate about the mountains. His adventures have taken him on numerous expeditions to the high peaks of the greater Himalaya, but he finds himself most at home in California’s High Sierra.
ESS is delighted to have new assistant professor Hari Mix on board the faculty team!
Friday, Aug. 15, 2014
ESS Assistant Professor Virginia Matzek has won a highly competitive NSF grant to travel to Australia and research how people value ecological restoration projects. Ecological restoration, in addition to its potential benefits to biodiversity, is increasingly called upon to provide benefits to humans, such as halting soil erosion, improving water quality, or removing atmospheric CO2. Globally, Australia is a leader in providing incentives for restoration for the purpose of enhancing or preserving these valuable ecosystem services.
However, there are many approaches to restoration, and they are not all equal in providing ecosystem services. Moreover, in different regions, people care more deeply about different kinds of benefits—perhaps soil erosion here, perhaps recreational access there. What if the services that scientists and land managers are trying to maximize in a restoration project are not the ones that people value most highly?
Matzek’s project, a new collaboration with scientists at the Australian Centre of Excellence for Environmental Decisions, seeks to understand if there are mismatches between the services expected from restoration projects and what various groups of stakeholders would prefer. With Marit Kragt (University of Western Australia) and Kerrie Wilson (University of Queensland), she will survey scientists, land managers, policymakers, and the general public in Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth.
Friday, Jun. 13, 2014
Graduating seniors Jack Bird and Nick Leasure will be recognized at Santa Clara University's 2014 Commencement.
The Nobili medal is presented to the male graduate who is judged to be outstanding in academic performance, personal character, school activities, and constructive contribution to the university. This year's winner is Environmental Science and Political Science major, Jack Bird.
The Peter-Hans Kolvenbach S.J. award is given to graduating seniors who exemplify the ideals of Jesuit education, especially being a whole person of solidarity in the real world and having the courage and faith to build a more just and humane world. This year's winner in Environmental Studies and Economics major, Nicholas Leasure.
Thank you, Jack and Nick, for your contributions to the community, the Department of Environmental Studies & Sciences, and the University, Congratulations to you both!
Tuesday, May. 20, 2014
Established to honor the memory of Lucky Hinkle, longtime University staff member who worked diligently to promote recycling on campus, this award is given to the graduating senior with a declared major in Environmental Science or Environmental Studies who, in the judgment of the ESS faculty, has made the most significant contribution to promoting a culture of sustainability at Santa Clara University and beyond.
Kelsey Baker is this year's Lucky Hinkle Sustainability Award recipient.
Kelsey was instrumental in bringing the Think Outside the Bottle campaign to SCU. She worked with Associated Student Government (ASG) to get over 40 donated bottles to product test with ASG student senators.
Kelsey crafted a pledge so students could voice their passion for SCU to become bottled water free. More than 1,000 students have taken this pledge.
In recognition of her efforts on our campus, Kelsey attended a conference at the national Think Outside the Bottle headquarters this year.
Kelsey has been a huge part of OCEANS club and an active member of GREEN club and SCOOPS. She also has volunteered at the Marine Mammal Center.
According to a classmate who nominated Kelsey for this recognition, Kelsey “embraces and propagates a culture of sustainability and encourages others with a positive attitude and passionate explanations for all of her sustainable behaviors.”
Perhaps Kelsey’s most lasting effect on the culture of sustainability at SCU and beyond will stem from her efforts to get single-use bottled water eliminated from commencement.
Thanks to Kelsey, 2014 will be the first SCU commencement without disposable bottled water!
Kelsey spearheaded this effort which will eliminate the use of over 3,000 bottles over the Undergraduate & Graduate Commencement Weekend in June and Law School Commencement in May.
Kelsey convinced SCU’s Director of Sustainability, Lindsey Kalkbrenner, that this was an effort worth pursuing. Kelsey even threatened not to "walk" at commencement if plastic single-use bottles were used.
Kelsey was instrumental in bringing together event planning, dining services, auxiliary services, alumni office, risk management, environmental health and safety, and facilities as stakeholders in this monumental process change for the University's largest event.
And Kelsey’s efforts will have a huge and lasting effect on SCU’s culture. Every senior will receive a keepsake bottle that has the mission sustainable logo on it!
As Kelsey leaves SCU and our department, she takes our hearts and our warmest congratulations with her.
Sunday, Mar. 30, 2014
Most of the world's food insecure people live in marginal rural environments. A recent study with coffee producers in northern Nicaragua’s highlands helps explain this "hungry farmer paradox." These small-scale farmers experienced an average of three months of seasonal hunger over the year studied. Although cash income helped alleviate food scarcity, households that produced more subsistence crops, especially corn and tree fruits, reported still shorter periods of food scarcity. Meanwhile, farmers that used several commonly promoted environmentally friendly farming practices reported no discernible impacts on seasonal hunger.
Researchers, including Chris Bacon (ESS), Bill Sundstrom (Economics), and two recently graduated ESS students Ian Daugherty (now with the United Farmworkers) and Rica Santos (now with the National Council for Science and the Environment), concur with previous studies finding that several factors influence farmer food insecurity, including: (1) annual cycles of precipitation and rising maize prices during the lean months; (2) inter annual droughts and periodic storms; and (3) the long-term inability of coffee harvests and prices to provide sufficient income.
This work identifies the need for balancing coffee production with food production and improving exchange systems to protect farmers from adverse seasonal price fluctuations. It also considers a participatory initiative that uses fair trade cooperatives to increase rural food access through the re-localization of food distribution networks, sustainable agriculture training, and improved food storage. Although crop loss from coffee leaf rust contributes an additional challenge, these and other integrated strategies hold the potential to reduce threats to food security, livelihoods, and biodiversity.
Bacon, C. M., Sundstrom, W. A., Flores Gómez, M. E., Ernesto Méndez, V., Santos, R., Goldoftas, B., & Dougherty, I. (2014). Explaining the ‘hungry farmer paradox’: Smallholders and fair trade cooperatives navigate seasonality and change in Nicaragua's corn and coffee markets. Global Environmental Change. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2014.02.005
Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014
ESS's John Farnsworth, Michelle Bezanson, Chair of SCU's Department of Anthropology, and Professor Lyn Baldwin of Thompson Rivers University in Canada recently co-authored a paper just published in the Journal of Natural History Education and Experience. The paper, a study of best practices for assigning and assessing field journals in collegiate natural history courses, can be found here.
Saturday, Feb. 1, 2014
Hunger in Silicon Valley: Bringing healthy food to poor communities is a challenge
Posted: 01/02/2014 10:00:00 AM PST
Updated: 01/22/2014 01:18:46 PM PST
Santa Clara County, once known as Valley of Heart's delight due to its abundant fruit and vegetable production, has lost almost half of its farmland, much of it to sprawling urban development with little access to healthy foods
This pattern of urbanization has disproportionately affected low-income communities where convenience stores and fast-food restaurants, rather than supermarkets, dominate the food landscape.
Large health disparities by income and race mean that low-income communities of color bear the brunt of our unhealthy food system; 14 percent of our county's population was "food insecure" in 2010, unable to reliably meet their daily food needs with their own or public resources.
Moreover, issues of access to healthy food resources affect many residents of Santa Clara County who consume fewer fruits and vegetables than recommended, with diet-related diseases such as obesity and diabetes reaching epidemic levels.
The Santa Clara County Food System Alliance believes that solving these problems turns on a robust, sustainable local food system that provides all of our residents with access to culturally appropriate, healthy food at affordable prices. In our recently released Food Systems Assessment, we put forward several solutions.
First, we need to bring healthy foods into low-income communities. One way would be to increase the percentage of existing retail food outlets that offer healthy, affordable food. Another lies in innovative programs. The new Green Cart program brings mobile produce vendors into low-income communities, providing both healthy food and jobs.
Community farms such as Veggielution provide low-income residents with affordable weekly boxes of fresh vegetables. More than half of our county's farmers markets now accept electronic benefit cards from CalFresh (formerly the Food Stamp program), leading a trend that we hope will involve all farmers' markets. Efforts to increase CalFresh enrollment would go a long way to help; only 52 percent of eligible individuals participate in the program.
We encourage city and county governments to adopt policies to increase urban agriculture within city limits. It can increase consumption of fresh produce, free some household food dollars for other expenses, provide exercise and mental relaxation and create safe, healthy, green environments in urban areas.
There is much unmet demand for places to grow food; while Santa Clara County has 28 community gardens, long wait lists persist. Underutilized land could provide new spaces for urban gardens and farms.
Finally, we believe that linking rural producers to urban consumers can increase access to healthy foods. Programs like the Community Alliance with Family Farmers connect Santa Clara Valley family farmers with local businesses.
Yet farmland is at risk; between 1984 and 2010, the county lost 45 percent of its farmland, and 55 percent of what remains is at risk of being developed over the next 30 years. We support policies that limit growth to urban boundaries.
We also need to increase public awareness of the challenges of farming at the urban edge, where friction can pose a threat to agricultural viability.
On Friday, Second Harvest Food Bank and Santa Clara University will host a forum spotlighting the levels of hunger and the cost of a healthy meal in Silicon Valley. Likewise, our food systems assessment highlights some of the solutions, linking rural producers to urban consumers, increasing food access among the most vulnerable populations and creating growth opportunities for our economy. We call on the people and governments of Santa Clara County to join us in this effort.
Friday, Jan. 24, 2014
On January 14, 2014, the San Jose Chapter of the American Society of Safety Engineers presented the Fall 2013 Scholarship Award to Kelsey Baker. The award included a $1500 check and one year paid membership. Kelsey is a senior at Santa Clara University, majoring in Environmental Science. Her main area of concentration is in Sustainability, and has led many related projects and organizations including "Think Outside the Bottle" and the OCEANS Club. Presenting the award to Kelsey is Steven Hochstadt, ASSE-SJ Scholarship Chair.
Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2014
A new study finds that even with very modest precipitation changes, water supplies in the upper Colorado River basin could significantly decline by 2100, with severe consequences for agriculture, urban supplies, and ecosystem health.
The Colorado River is widely considered the most important source of water in the western United States, providing water to 30 million people and large agricultural regions and generating 8 billion kilowatt hours of hydroelectric power annually.
Many previous studies have debated whether climate change will bring a wetter or drier future to the Colorado. In this paper, Researchers Darren Ficklin (now Indiana University), Iris Stewart (ESS) and Ed Maurer (CE) used the projections from established global climate models as input to a hydrologic model to forecast what is likely to happen to water flow and other hydrologic measures, such as evaporation and transpiration on a fine scale. Their findings show that the effects of highly likely warmer temperatures will be more important than either modest precipitation increases or decreases. Thus, even if the Colorado Basin will receive some more rain and snow in the future, warmer temperatures are forecast to lead to overall less water availability due to higher evaporation rates and a lot less snow that is melting earlier in the year. In addition, the higher evaporation could mean that soils in the basin will be dryer on average, such that the lower regions of the basin turn from semi-arid to arid conditions by the end of the century.
The full paper can be found at: Ficklin DL, Stewart IT, Maurer EP (2013) Climate Change Impacts on Streamflow and Subbasin-Scale Hydrology in the Upper Colorado River Basin. PLoS ONE 8(8): e71297. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0071297
Funding for this work was provided by the US EPA under a STAR (Science to Achieve Results) Grant.