Santa Clara University

Department of Environmental Studies and Sciences

News and Events


Environmental Studies and Sciences News & Events

  •  Mono Lake will be further stressed by climate change

    Tuesday, Aug. 14, 2012


    California’s Mono Lake is already a fragile, water-limited ecosystem, but new research by SCU researchers suggests that global climate change will substantially aggravate problems in the Mono Lake Basin.

    SCU faculty members Iris Stewart-Frey (ESS), Ed Maurer (Civil Engineering), and Darren Ficklin (ESS) used downscaled climate models and hydrologic models to project the future conditions in the Mono Lake Basin. Their models suggest that by the end of this century, Mono Lake will likely experience a 15% decrease in annual streamflow, earlier peak snowmelt runoff (shifted from June to May), a decreased occurrence of ‘wet’ hydrologic years, and more frequent drought conditions.

    Under a 1983 ruling, the water diversions away from Mono Lake are carefully balanced with the ecological needs of the lake ecosystem. However, this balance has been struck without detailed consideration of the effects of global climate change. This new research suggests that both ecosystem health and water diversions may be affected by reduced water availability in the Mono Lake Basin by the end of the century.

    A paper describing this research has been accepted to the journal Climatic Change. 


    Mono Lake from
  •  ESS faculty & students reflect on experiential learning for food justice

    Wednesday, Jun. 20, 2012

    ESS faculty members Leslie Gray and Joanna Johnson have published an essay with undergraduate student Michelle Tang, alumnus Ann Thomas, and Americorps volunteer Nicole Latham in the Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development.

    Their essay reflects on Santa Clara University's forays into experiential learning around food justice through the Bronco Urban Gardens (BUG) program. BUG works with urban schools and a community center in San José, California, using a garden-based education approach. The authors discuss the motivations for experiential learning for social justice and its connection to food justice. They also explore the challenge of working with students and community partners where the interests of both groups must be served.

    Click here for the paper's abstract.

  •  2012 Lucky Hinkle Sustainability Awardees - Laughlin Barker and Tim Carlson

    Friday, Jun. 1, 2012

    The Lucky Hinkle Sustainability Award was established to honor the memory of Lucky Hinkle, longtime University staff member who worked diligently to promote recycling on campus, and 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. This year, the ESS faculty chose two awardees: Laughlin Barker and Tim Carlson.

    Laughlin Barker has been a leader of student environmental groups on campus. Most notably, he helped with the inception of B-LEJIT (Bronco Leaders of Environmental Justice Investigating Truth) and in his Junior year he co-directed B-LEJIT and saw the club through a successful transition into SCCAP (Santa Clara Community Action Program). Also in his junior year, Laughlin was awarded a grant from the EPA for research and design of Reversible Hydrogen Fuel Cells with the late Prof. Dan Strickland. This year, his Senior Design Project is the “Design of a Low- Profile Solar Tracker with Hybridized Control.” Outside SCU, Laughlin volunteers as an activist and trainer with several organizations committed to social and environmental issues.

    Tim Carlson has also been a leader of student environmental groups, including B LEJIT. Within B LEJIT he was involved in: Tunnel of Oppression (showing the human costs of e waste in 2010 and mountaintop removal in 2011); Toxics Tours in 2010 and 2011, which highlighted five toxic sites near SCU; a Chase bank mountaintop removal divestment campaign; campaigns (2010 and present) to have a fair trade/beyond fair trade coffee option on-campus. Like Laughlin, Tim also played a role in B LEJIT becoming a program within SCCAP. Tim is now in a mentorship position as Empowerment Department Coordinator for SCCAP. In addition, Tim completed a weekly B.U.G. placement at Gardner Middle School in Fall 2010, and has been involved with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers for the past three years, an off-campus food and labor organization which he brought to the Santa Clara Community through speakers and actions on their Trader Joe's campaign.

    Santa Clara University Seal
  •  Dr. Matzek awarded USDA grant to study carbon sequestration along Sacramento River

    Thursday, May. 24, 2012

    Dr. Virginia Matzek of SCU’s Department of Environmental Studies and Sciences has been awarded a multi-year research grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture program in Climate Change/Integrated Approaches to Adaptation and Mitigation in Agroecosystems.

    Farmers and ranchers along the Sacramento River face potential increases in flood severity and frequency due to ongoing climate change. As a result, they need options for earning income that are less vulnerable to climate change. Dr. Matzek’s study will entail measurements of carbon sequestration in forests along the Sacramento River, where restoration occurred on former farmland abandoned after severe floods in the 1980s. She will use these field measurements to inform an economic analysis of how carbon credits, conservation easements, and riparian habitat incentives might work together to provide stable rural income in addition to habitat value and climate change mitigation. The grant includes funding for collaboration with colleagues at Bowdoin College and UC Davis. The project is titled, “Riparian forests as ecological and economic buffers against climate vulnerability in flood-prone agricultural systems.”


  •  Sierra streamflow likely to diminish under projected climatic changes

    Thursday, Apr. 26, 2012

    ESS postdoctoral researcher Darren Ficklin, in collaboration with professors Stewart-Frey (ESS) and Maurer (Civil Engineering), has assessed the impact of expected 21st century climatic changes on mountain streams in the Sierra Nevada.

    Sierra Nevada snowmelt and runoff is a key source of water for many of California’s 38 million residents. The researchers used output from 16 global climate models (GCMs) and two emission scenarios (which give an estimate of future concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere based on economic development and population growth) to drive a hydrologic model at the sub-watershed scale and analyze all hydrologic components relevant for streamflow, which had not been undertaken before. The results showed that by the end of the century, annual streamflow is likely to decrease and snowmelt is likely to come earlier by several weeks. In addition, the timing and amounts of evapotranspiration, surface water flow and soil water flow will likely be affected. Most notably, Spring and Summer streamflow will likely decrease by 25 to more than 75% (median estimate). Flow decreases of this magnitude would have substantial impacts on both the human water supply and aquatic ecosystems.

    A paper detailing the results of this study has just been accepted for publication in the Journal of the American Water Resources association (Ficklin DL, Stewart IT, Maurer EP, 2012. Projections of 21st century Sierra Nevada local hydrologic flow components using an ensemble of General Circulation Models, JAWRA, in press). It is part of a study investigating changes in streamflow and streamwater quality in mountain basins throughout the west that has been funded by the US Environmental Protection Agency.

    Projections of 21st century Sierra Nevada local hydrologic flow components using an ensemble of General Circulation Models, JAWRA, in press.
  •  Dr. Lisa Kealhofer promoted to Full Professor

    Thursday, Apr. 5, 2012


    Dr. Lisa Kealhofer, of the Departments of ESS and Anthropology, has been promoted to the rank of Full Professor.

    Dr. Kealhofer is an internationally recognized expert in the archaeology of southeast Asia and Turkey. Her scholarship demonstrates the power of interdisciplinarity to shed new light on long-standing questions. By combining methods ranging from chemical analysis of pottery shards to identification of phytoliths (tiny remains of plants sifted out of soils) to landscape analysis, Dr. Kealhofer is exploring how environment affects the development of civilizations and conversely how developing civilizations affect the environment. She has consistently published high impact papers in the best anthropological and archaeological journals, and her work is setting a new bar for archaeological studies. Archaeologists traditionally limit their work to a single site – archaeology is painstakingly slow work and to develop a detailed understanding of even one site can require many years. However, Dr. Kealhofer’s work is demonstrating that examining patterns across multiple sites within a region can shed new light on long-standing anthropological questions, particularly regarding the flow of materials, ideas, and practices between sites.

  •  Justin Covino receives SFS Distinguished Student Research Award

    Tuesday, Mar. 6, 2012

    The School for Field Studies (SFS) announced that Justin Covino (Junior, Environmental Science major) has been selected to receive an SFS Distinguished Student Research Award for Fall 2011. At the SFS Costa Rica field station, Justin assessed the effect of surrounding forests on the tree diversity of shade-grown coffee farms. The Distinguished Student Research Award recognizes Justin's excellence and diligence in research, as well as his teamwork and leadership during the semester. As you can see from this photo, he is also a sharp dresser who carries a machete. Congratulations, Justin, from the entire faculty of Environmental Studies and Sciences!

  •  SCU research shows how to control rangeland pest

    Monday, Mar. 5, 2012

    Invasive yellow starthistle (Centaurea solstitialis) is one of California’s most pernicious invasive species, causing millions of dollars in damages annually to ranchers. The thistle is unpalatable to cattle and toxic to horses, so its spread is a serious threat to grazing land in the state. Most ranchers use herbicides to control the plant, but this strategy raises the possibility of herbicide resistance in starthistle populations.

    New research from Dr. Virginia Matzek of Santa Clara’s Department of Environmental Studies and Sciences shows that mowing the plant in its flowering stage controls yellow starthistle and wipes out its soil seedbank, with no negative effects on annual or perennial forage species. Starthistle biomass was reduced 91-95% over three years in various mowing treatments, while the size of seedbank (which regenerates starthistle from year to year) was reduced by as much as 100% by mowing. The research, recently published in Rangeland Ecology and Management, recommends that ranchers and rangeland managers consider late-season mowing as an alternative to herbicides for yellow starthistle control.

    Link to article

  •  Dr. Peter Kareiva elected to National Academy of Sciences

    Thursday, Jan. 12, 2012

    In May 2011, the National Academy of Sciences elected Santa Clara University’s Dr. Peter Kareiva as a new member in recognition of his distinguished and continuing achievement in original research. Membership in the NAS is one of the highest honors given to a scientist or engineer in the United States. Dr. Kareiva was one of just 71 elected to the NAS in 2011, joining an elite group of just over 2,000 active members. Dr. Kareiva will be inducted into the academy this April during its 149th annual meeting in Washington, D.C.

    Over the course of his career, Dr. Kareiva has authored over 100 scientific articles in diverse fields such as mathematical biology, fisheries science, insect ecology, risk analysis, genetically engineered organisms, agricultural ecology, population viability analysis, behavioral ecology, landscape ecology and global climate change. In addition to being a vice president and the chief scientist for The Nature Conservancy, Dr. Kareiva teaches the Environmental Studies capstone course for Santa Clara’s Department of Environmental Studies and Sciences.

  •  SCU to host 2012 AESS conference

    Thursday, Jan. 12, 2012

    Santa Clara University will host the national conference for the Association of Environmental Studies and Sciences (AESS) from June 21-24, 2012.  AESS is a professional organization that seeks to strengthen teaching, research, and service in environmental studies and sciences, and to improve communication across boundaries that too often divide the traditional academic disciplines.

    In addition to standard conference fare such as keynote speakers, workshops, symposia, and poster sessions, the AESS conference will provide opportunities to visit local ecosystems and other sites of environmental interest. The conference will also include several events showcasing the contribution of the arts to environmental studies.

    To learn more about AESS or to register for the conference, please visit