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Rural Poverty and Health Summit to Feature UC Merced Health Leaders

UC Merced health experts will join other Central Valley medical leaders on Friday, Nov. 22, for the Rural Poverty and Health Equity Summit in Delano. Professor Nancy Burke, chair of the Department of Public Health at UC Merced, is a featured speaker and will be part of the event’s opening panel discussion on building strong partnerships. Public health Professor Sandie Ha will join a panel discussing the impact of air quality on health; health psychology Professor Anna Song, director of UC Merced’s Nicotine and Cannabis Policy Center, will join a discussion on substance use; and Dr. Thelma Hurd, UC Merced’s new director of medical education, will be on a panel looking at the impact and implications of rural health. “...

Researchers Look to Wetlands to Increase Delta Water Quality

UC Merced Professor Peggy O’Day hopes to improve water quality in the California Delta by studying local wetlands. O’Day is leading a new three-year study of Merced County wetlands that drain into the San Joaquin River and eventually the Delta. “The Delta is sort of the heart and lungs of Northern California,” said O’Day, a geochemistry professor, founding faculty member and former chair of the Department of Life and Environmental Sciences in the School of Natural Sciences. By looking at how to manage levels of salt, mercury and nutrients heading into the San Joaquin River, researchers are aiming to boost water quality and reduce impacts on fish and other aquatic life in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. The Delta forms...

Water Yield from Forest Thinning Depends on How, Where and How Much

Even a little forest management significantly increases water runoff in the Central Sierra Nevada and other semi-arid regions, while drier forests need more extensive treatments, according to a new study published recently in the journal Ecohydrology. “The result is more runoff to downstream water users,” said UC Merced Professor Martha Conklin , who led the study. Founding faculty and School of Engineering professors Conklin and Roger Bales, recent Ph.D. graduate Philip Saksa, now the director of research at Blue Forest Conservation, and collaborators conducted the study. They looked at the fuel-treatment strategies — such as prescribed burns and thinning — applied across overstocked forests in California to reduce the...

UC Merced Named a Top “Green College” by Princeton Review

UC Merced has been named one of the best schools for environmental sustainability and quality of campus life, placing 20th on The Princeton Review’s list of top 50 “green colleges.” Nearly 700 schools with strong commitments to green practices and programs were evaluated for the list, published Oct. 22. Criteria included how well each prepares students for green careers; whether a school’s policies are environmentally responsible; and whether the quality of student life on campus is healthy and sustainable. Among California campuses, UC Merced ranked third, following Stanford (No. 10) and UC Berkeley (No. 14). “We are pleased the campus has received this recognition for its demonstrated leadership in sustainability efforts,...

Berhe Named to Endowed Chair in Recognition of Her Work in Soil Sciences

Soil biogeochemistry Professor Asmeret Asefaw Berhe has been named the Ted and Jan Falasco Chair in Earth Sciences and Geology. “The Falasco family is engaged in construction and development, so they have an intimate connection with and an understanding of the earth beneath our feet,” Berhe said. “Not only are they generous with their hard-earned resources, they are investing in a worthy cause for the Valley. They appreciate how invested we all should be in the land and the Earth.” In her Soil Biogeochemistry Lab, Berhe and the six graduate students, two postdoctoral researchers, an international visiting student and undergraduates she mentors study the ways soil regulates the composition of the Earth’s atmosphere by...

Symposium Explores How Biogas Could Fuel California

Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas with a global warming potential 104 times greater than carbon dioxide. But what if the methane could be turned into energy? The topic of using waste for power is a hot one, both literally and figuratively, for the San Joaquin Valley. Biogas — the gases naturally produced from the decomposition of organic waste — can be a useful byproduct. If harnessed correctly, greenhouse gas emissions could be reduced and dairies and wastewater managers could capture added value by creating, using and selling natural gas. UC Merced Professor Sarah Kurtz is leading a workshop that seeks to answer questions about how to convert biogas production sites that currently flare the biogas into ones that can take...

Aldenderfer Discusses Humans’ Deep History at International Mountain Conference

Archaeology Professor Mark Aldenderfer ventured to the Austrian Alps recently to deliver a keynote address at the International Mountain Conference in Innsbruck. Aldenderfer’s presentation, “ The Deep Prehistory of the Human Presence in the World’s Highest Mountains and Plateaus,” traced the expansion of our hominid ancestors into high-elevation environments some 1 million years ago to the settlement of humans in mountainous terrain within the past 40,000 years. To successfully thrive at elevations beyond 3,000 meters required behavioral as well as genetic adaptations, he said. Things we take for granted — fire and clothing — were critical...

RadioBio Breaks Down Science Through the Airwaves

Audio has become a top form of entertainment over the past several years, in large part due to the rising popularity of podcasts. UC Merced graduate students are seizing the opportunity to help improve science literacy. A group of Quantitative and Systems Biology (QSB) graduate students started RadioBio, a science podcast that discusses biology topics, in 2016. The podcast sparked from a discussion between the students and Professor Fred Wolf during a graduate professional skills development course. “We wanted to develop as people who can communicate science to people outside of our fields by breaking down what we do and helping others understand why it’s important,” founding member and former president of RadioBio Kinsey Brock said. “We also wanted to get...

Biodiversity Study Indicates Large and Small Organisms React Similarly to Environment

Bacteria and starfish have more in common than people might think. A new study published today in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences shows that both single-celled (microbes) and multi-celled organisms (every other living thing) in marine lakes share similar reactions to changes in their environment. “Significant transitions in environmental factors such as oxygen concentration and salinity drive large-scale change in the communities of most, if not all, marine organisms,” lead author Giovanni Rapacciuolo said. Rapacciuolo worked with UC Merced professors Michael Dawson and Michael Beman when he was a postdoc in Dawson’s lab. They wanted to understand...

Valley Fever the Focus of Public Event

UC Merced is offering the opportunity for Valley residents to learn what clinicians and researchers know about Valley fever, an airborne fungal infection that can have serious, even fatal, consequences for people across California and the Southwest. A multi-campus Valley fever summit in the California Room at UC Merced on Oct. 25 is free and open to all who reserve seats online by 5 p.m. Oct. 15. In addition to a talk by a Valley fever patient, UC clinicians and researchers from Merced, Davis, UCLA, UCSF, UCSF Fresno, Berkeley and Irvine will share their understanding about Valley fever. Documented cases of Valley fever rose 11 percent in 2018 — a preliminary total of 7,886 cases compared to 7,090 cases for the same period in 2017, according to the California...

Alumna Tackles Eco-Evolutionary Research on the California Coast

Lauren Schiebelhut credits the support and opportunities afforded to her at UC Merced with opening the door to her research career. Schiebelhut — a first-generation transfer student from Fresno — earned a bachelor’s degree in biological sciences from UC Merced in May 2009 but was uncertain about her future. The last semester of her senior year, she took an evolution course with Professor Mike Dawson and her standout performance prompted him to offer her a lab manager position. She was involved in a California rocky shore project that played a pivotal role in jumpstarting her passion for research. “I was able to participate in that project and I just fell in love with trying to solve the mysteries in marine systems,” she said. “It...

TED Audiences get the Dirt on Soil and Climate Change from Berhe

Soil is one of the foundations of life on Earth and could be an important part of the solution to climate change, if only we can stop treating it like dirt. That’s the message Professor Asmeret Asefaw Berhe shared with a global audience when she became the only current UC Merced researcher to give a TED Talk at this year’s annual TED conference. The video of her discussion “What’s Soil Got to do with Climate Change?” is available today (click the link to see the video). TED — which stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design — is a nonprofit devoted to spreading ideas, usually in the form of short, powerful talks. Each year’s conference features a dazzling array of experts, which puts UC Merced’s Berhe in the company of global...

Researchers Use Monkey Flower to Study Climate Change

California’s drought was hard not to notice — the dry lawns, fallowed fields and hot temperatures were evident across the state. To better understand how the drought affected the natural ecosystem in which we live, biology Professor Jason Sexton and his graduate students conducted a study on a California plant known only from the Sierra Nevada — the cut-leaf monkey flower. Sexton, a botanist by trade, studies plant adaptation affected by major ecological changes. To study the influence of the most recent drought that lasted roughly from 2011-2017, Sexton drew upon his seed collection, which he started during his graduate work at UC Davis. Among his gatherings were seeds from the cut-leaf monkey flower plant, which he started collecting in 2005....

Media Creates False Balance on Climate Science, Study Shows

The American media lends too much weight to people who dismiss climate change, giving them legitimacy they haven’t earned, posing serious danger to efforts aimed at raising public awareness and motivating rapid action, a new study shows. While it is not uncommon for media outlets to interview climate change scientists and climate change deniers in the same interviews, the effort to offer a 360-degree view is creating a false balance between trained climate scientists and those who lack scientific training, such as politicians. “It’s not just false balance; the numbers show that the media are ‘balancing’ experts — who represent the overwhelming majority of reputable scientists — with the views of a relative handful of non-experts,” UC...

Humanities Grad Students Drive Community Engagement, Public Understanding Through Research

Since his undergraduate days in Environmental Studies at Humboldt State University, Ivan Soto has aspired to produce research with a positive impact on the public — not just to benefit the academic community. As a doctoral student in the Interdisciplinary Humanities at UC Merced, Soto is doing just that by producing humanities data that could influence and inform future water board decision-makers to understand the need for systemic change in California’s water monitoring for human health. His research examines the power dynamics of infrastructure and water politics through an environmental history of southernmost California’s Imperial Valley along the U.S.-Mexico...

UC Merced Cultivates More Ag-Food-Tech Expertise with New CITRIS Hire

Leigh Bernacchi, Ph.D., has officially joined UC Merced’s Center for Information Technology in the Interest of Society (CITRIS) and Banatao Institute as the program director. “Leigh has worked at the intersection of ag and water for several years and will provide valuable support for CITRIS in growing in the ag-food-tech space,” CITRIS Director Professor Joshua Viers said. As one of four campus branches, Merced’s version of CITRIS is focused on agriculture, computer science and the San Joaquin Valley, and growing programs that focus on agriculture, computing and women in the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields. Before joining UC Merced in 2015, Bernacchi coordinated web and education components...

Physicist Researching Materials Chemistry to Build Better Solar Cells

Durable, reliable, affordable solar power is the future of energy, and UC Merced computational physicist Professor David Strubbe is diving into a new area of science to answer the call. Strubbe’s new project aims to understand why two organic materials — that are cheaper and easier to produce than the prevalent silicon-based products — don’t last as long, and explore how to improve them. He developed a new computational method to apply a physics approach to what is really an organic materials chemistry problem — searching for answers at the atomic level to understand why buckyballs in organic solar cells and perovskites degrade in sunlight. His project, entitled “Theory of Light-induced Structural Changes in...

New Field Station Hosts High School Student Internship Opportunity

Sixteen Tulare County high school students have completed the inaugural internship program through UC Merced’s partnership with the Tulare County Office of Education (TCOE). Late last year, the university partnered with TCOE to establish the UC Merced/SCICON Field Station in the Sierra Nevada foothills, with the goal of exposing students to higher education opportunities while studying the land for research on environmental issues. The students began the process of mapping Circle J-Norris Ranch, the site of the new field station last week. Led by Circle J lead teacher Nancy Bruce and faculty and staff and faculty from UC Merced — including Professor Jessica Blois, faculty director of UC Merced’s nature reserves —...

Multi-year Drought Caused Massive Forest Die-off in Sierra Nevada

The most extreme drought event in hundreds of years caused a catastrophic die-off of the Sierra Nevada’s mature trees in 2015-2016. A study published today in Nature Geoscience details how UC Merced Professor Roger Bales and his colleague Professor Michael Goulden from UC Irvine tracked the progress of the devastation caused by years of dry conditions combined with abnormally warm temperatures. The researchers warn that matters are expected to get worse as global mean temperatures increase. “Parts of the Sierra Nevada reached a ‘tipping point’ in 2015, where annual precipitation plus stored subsurface water were not enough to meet the water demand of the forest,” Bales said. The trees in California’s mixed-conifer mountain...

Multiyear Drought Caused Massive Forest Die-off in Sierra Nevada

The most extreme drought event in hundreds of years caused a catastrophic die-off of the Sierra Nevada’s mature trees in 2015-2016. A study published today in Nature Geoscience details how UC Merced Professor Roger Bales and his colleague Professor Michael Goulden from UC Irvine tracked the progress of the devastation caused by years of dry conditions combined with abnormally warm temperatures. The researchers warn that matters are expected to get worse as global mean temperatures increase. “Parts of the Sierra Nevada reached a ‘tipping point’ in 2015, where annual precipitation plus stored subsurface water were not enough to meet the water demand of the forest,” Bales said. The trees in California’s mixed-conifer mountain...

Sierra Seedlings Illustrate Effects of Climate Change on Next Generation of Forests

Climate change is bad news for forests, and a new study by UC Merced Professor Emily Moran demonstrates one aspect of that news. Higher summer temperatures hurt tree seedlings’ growth and survival. But whether that is entirely bad depends on the degree of change in the number of young trees. “One of the reasons we’re so concerned about forest fires is because of forest density,” she said. “If there are somewhat fewer seedlings and saplings, there’s less fuel for big destructive fires. On the other hand, if there are too few seedlings there won't be a next generation to replace adult trees when they die.” Besides providing wood and habitat for wildlife, trees are extremely good at sequestering...

Field Station Planned for UC Merced's Vernal Pools and Grassland Reserve

At the northern tip of the UC Merced campus, an unremarkable aluminum gate leads into a field that extends, seemingly, into infinity. Perpendicular to the gate, the LeGrand Canal, drawn from Lake Yosemite, snakes around campus into the emerald pastures, through farm rows and almond orchards across the highway. It’s the rainy season and bulbous cumuli foreground the rippled line of the Sierra Nevada that slices across the open sky. This is no ordinary field or pasture. The UC Merced Vernal Pools and Grassland Reserve, or MVPGR, is the 39th of the 41 reserves in the University of California Natural Reserve System. NRS reserves serve as living laboratories and outdoor classrooms for students and researchers at...

UC Solar Projects Bringing Lower Costs, Renewable Energy to Industry, Commerce and Homes

Three big UC Solar projects are poised to be the next big breakthroughs in low-cost, accessible sustainable commercial and residential energy in California and far beyond. Researchers are building working models of one project developed through a grant from the California Energy Commission for a solar unit that can provide electricity and heat to commercial and residential buildings. “It would drive down the cost of solar for homes and other buildings because you’d only need one installation so you get both heat and power production for the same price,” said UC Merced Professor Roland Winston, director of UC Solar and member of the School of Engineering and the School of Natural...

Lengthy Study Shows Value of Soil Health and Forest Restoration after Damaging Events

A nine-year experiment by a UC Merced Department of Life and Environmental Sciences professor and his colleagues is illuminating the importance of soil carbon in maintaining healthy and functioning ecosystems because of its influence on the microbial communities that live in soil. These communities’ health can help researchers understand the effects of climate change. Professor Stephen C. Hart and graduate student Nicholas Dove published a new paper entitled “ Carbon Control on Terrestrial Ecosystem Function across Contrasting Site Productivities: The Carbon Connection Revisited ” in the prestigious journal Ecology this week, showing that reducing the carbon plants input into...

UC Merced Receives Collaborative Grant to Improve Equity in STEM Education

At UC Merced, research and education are inextricably intertwined – in the lab and in the classroom. Professors continually refine and advance their teaching methods and curriculum to convey knowledge, and to build the critical thinking skills that last throughout a lifetime. Supporting these aims, the California Education Learning Lab has awarded a collaborative grant to UC Merced, CSU Bakersfield and Bakersfield College for “Improving Equity, Accessibility and Outcomes for STEM Gateway Courses.” The grant, “California Challenges in STEM Energy Education,” will serve as a testbed for teaching strategies that reduce large educational equity gaps in STEM fields too often experienced by Hispanic and other...

One Key to Climate Change Could Be Stuck in a Shark’s Tooth

Most people wouldn’t think sharks can teach researchers about the planet’s distant past and its more immediate future. UC Merced paleoecologist Professor Sora Kim isn’t most people. There’s a connection between data in fossilized shark teeth and climate change, and thanks to a grant from the National Science Foundation, she aims to use that information to better understand climate change. The research route she’s navigating might seem as circuitous as the Antarctic Circumpolar Current — which is itself a key part of the links between fossils and the future, but follow along the journey: Kim will examine stable isotopes in shark teeth to glean data about environmental and ecological changes to shark communities over time that...

UC Merced Leads Way in National Park Leadership through NPI Seminar

Conservation and leadership of the country’s national parks and natural resources is ingrained in the UC Merced’s DNA. To reinforce the concentrated efforts surrounding sustainability of the nation’s gems, the university recently hosted its prestigious National Parks Institute Executive Leadership Seminar. The 10-day event brings park leaders and renowned experts from around the globe to discuss topics affecting the future of natural lands and cultural heritage. The National Parks Institute (NPI) is headquartered at UC Merced, but is the culmination of more than 15 years of collaboration between the campus, Yosemite National Park, and the National Park Service’s national office. The seminar began last week at Cavallo...

Grad Student Represents Valley at Global Food Security Symposium

Graduate student Vicky Espinoza shared the plight of some San Joaquin Valley families with a wide audience this spring in her role as a Next Generation delegate to this year’s Chicago Council on Global Affairs Global Food Security Symposium, entitled “From Scarcity to Security: Managing Water for a Nutritious Food Future.” The second-year Environmental Systems graduate student under Professor Joshua Viers was one of 22 chosen by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs from more than 600 applicants from all over the world to participate in the meeting in Washington, D.C. “My research focuses on addressing water scarcity, food security and environmental inequity issues, and the San Joaquin Valley is in the heart of it,”...

UC Merced Researchers Help Uncover Soil Biodiversity

A rigorous, first-of-its-kind global study provides new insights into the natural history of soil biodiversity and shows that changes in soil pH during soil development is a major driver of most of that biodiversity. Published recently in the prestigious journal Proceedings of the National Academy of the Sciences, the paper “ Changes in Belowground Biodiversity During Ecosystem Development ” — co-authored by two UC Merced professors and UC President’s Postdoctoral Fellow Fernanda Santos — details research performed by an international team. The paper reveals new information about ecological patterns driving the changes in soil biodiversity over millions of years and how they might apply to a drier, hotter world. Led by Manuel Delgado Baquerizo...

Grad Students Vie for Spot in UC Grad Slam Finals

UC Merced’s Graduate Division will host its Grad Slam competition on April 18 with graduate scholars presenting on topics ranging from Valley Fever immune response and antibiotic resistance to computer vision and mathematical methods for thermal collection. This year’s competition started in March with 30 graduate students in the qualifying round, from which the judges narrowed the field to the top 12. The campus’s 2019 Grad Slam semi-finalists are: Jourjina Alkhouri, Quantitative and Systems Biology, “Right Antibiotic, First Time, 3 hours” Shayna Bennett, Applied Mathematics, “A New Look at Modeling Invasive Species” Anh Diep, Quantitative and Systems Biology, “To Clear or Not to Clear: A Valley Fever Mystery” Mohammadkazem Ebrahimpour, Electrical...

Air Pollution Impacts Childhood Development, New Study Shows

Children who live near major roads are at higher risk for developmental delays because of traffic-related pollutants. That’s the major finding of a new study authored by UC Merced environmental epidemiology Professor Sandie Ha and colleagues. The study appears in the journal Environmental Research and is funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the UC Merced Senate Grant. The researchers, including scientists from NIH, the New York State Department of Health and the University at Albany show that young children who live close to major roads are twice as likely to score lower on tests of communications skills, compared to those who live farther away. Additionally, children born to women exposed to higher levels of...

Graduate Students Make a Case for Research at Capitol

Two UC Merced Ph.D. students took to the State Capitol yesterday with representatives from the other UC campuses to advocate for the importance of the research being done across California. Craig Ennis and Vicky Espinoza were accompanied by Vice Provost and Graduate Dean Marjorie Zatz to meet with state leaders during the UC’s 10th annual Graduate Research Advocacy Day. They met with assembly members Frank Bigelow (R-Madera) and Rudy Salas Jr. (D-Bakersfield) and Senator Andreas Borgeas (R-Fresno), as well as representatives from the offices of assembly members Heath Flora (R-Ripon), Joaquin Arambula (D-Delano) and Adam Gray (D-Merced) and senators Anna Caballero (D-Merced) and Melissa Hurtado (D-Sanger). “It was exciting to share some of the great...

Climate Change is Negatively Affecting Waterbirds in the American West

Climate change is having a profound effect on the millions of migrating birds that rely on annual stops along the Pacific Flyway as they head from Alaska to Patagonia each year. They are finding less food, saltier water and fewer places to breed and rest on their long journeys, according to a new paper in Nature’s Scientific Reports. The culmination of more than two decades of work in the six-state Great Basin, the study is a collaboration between researchers from UC Merced, Oregon State University, the U.S. Geological Survey and The Alliance for Global Water Adaptation (AGWA). Among the key findings: climate change has significantly reduced the amount of water flowing into wetlands in the Great Basin, reducing breeding...

Three Environmental Systems Graduate Students Receive Department of Energy Fellowships

Under the leadership of Professors Asmeret Berhe and Stephen Hart, three UC Merced Environmental Systems (ES) graduate students have been awarded fellowships from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to advance their doctoral theses. The DOE’s Office of Science Graduate Student Research Program (SCGSR) provides students with thesis research opportunities at DOE national laboratories. The fellowships are designed to allow science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) graduate students to utilize the resources available at national laboratory sites, such as equipment and the expertise of DOE laboratory scientists. Most fellows remain at a site for three to 12 months. In order to...

Three Environmental Systems Graduate Students Receive Department of Energy Fellowships

Under the leadership of Professors Asmeret Berhe and Stephen Hart, three UC Merced Environmental Systems (ES) graduate students have been awarded fellowships from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to advance their doctoral theses. The DOE’s Office of Science Graduate Student Research Program (SCGSR) provides students with thesis research opportunities at DOE national laboratories. The fellowships are designed to allow science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) graduate students to utilize the resources available at national laboratory sites, such as equipment and the expertise of DOE laboratory scientists. Most fellows remain at a site for three to 12 months. In order to...

Engineering Grad Programs Ranked Among Best in the Nation

UC Merced’s graduate programs in engineering had a strong showing in U.S. News & World Report’s 2020 edition of Best Graduate Schools, released today. Overall, UC Merced’s School of Engineering is ranked No. 134 in the nation, after debuting at No. 140 in 2015. “We are gratified by the growing national recognition for our engineering programs and the rapid progress we’ve made in our relatively brief campus history,” Vice Provost and Dean of Graduate Education Marjorie S. Zatz said. “It’s exciting to see the growing strength of our interdisciplinary graduate education model, as witnessed by our rankings from national publications and organizations. “The faculty of our three schools — Engineering, Natural Sciences, and Social Sciences,...

Study: Tiny ‘Ecosystem Engineers’ Are an Overlooked Source of Carbon Dioxide Emissions

It’s estimated that a leaf-cutter ant colony can strip an average tree of its foliage in a day, and that more than 17 percent of leaf production by plants surrounding a colony goes straight into their giant, fungus-growing nests. It’s no wonder these ants are considered the smallest recyclers on the planet and are referred to as "ecosystem engineers" by scientists because of the effects they have on the environment around them. That’s why Professor Thomas Harmon, a founding faculty member with UC Merced’s School of Engineering and chair of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, and Environmental Systems doctoral student Angel Fernandez-Bou are studying...

Scientists Simulate Forest, Fire Dynamics to Understand Area Burn of Future Wildfires

Climate change and wildfire make a combustible mix with deadly and costly consequences. Scientists have been trying to understand that link for many years, studying the effects of climate and wildfire interactions in the Sierra Nevada. UC Merced Professor LeRoy Westerling and University of New Mexico Professor Matthew Hurteau and colleagues have analyzed data via simulations of Sierra wildfires, and what they found was surprising. They hypothesized that previous wildfires’ influence on vegetation, coupled with the changing climate’s effects on vegetation recovery after fires, would restrict the size of future wildfires. But their data analysis shows this “fuel limitation effect” doesn't...

Researchers Hope to Tackle Methane Emissions in Manure Through Use of Biochar

You can smell them a mile away; there’s no mistaking the smell of cows and their methane emissions. The odor, of course, comes from tons of methane-spewing manure. Thanks to a multimillion-dollar grant from the California Strategic Growth Council’s competitive Climate Change Research Program, Professor Gerardo Diaz and his interdisciplinary team of UC Merced faculty will look to subdue that stench while also caring for the planet. The Climate Change Research Program is part of California Climate Investments, a statewide initiative that puts billions of cap-and-trade dollars to work reducing greenhouse gas emissions, strengthening the economy and improving public health and the environment — particularly in...

New Project to Build Climate Resilience through Improved Land Management

A $4.6 million grant to UCs Merced and Irvine will help researchers develop new tools and methods for better managing the state’s forests, shrub lands and grasslands. The Innovation Center for Advancing Ecosystem Climate Solutions, a three-year program co-led by UC Merced Professor Roger Bales and UC Irvine Professor Michael Goulden, was selected through the Strategic Growth Council’s competitive Climate Change Research Program. This program is part of California Climate Investments, a statewide program that puts billions of cap-and-trade dollars to work reducing greenhouse gas emissions, strengthening the economy, and improving public health and the environment — particularly in disadvantaged communities....

Leaf-Cutter Ants Boost Carbon Dioxide Emissions from Soil

Humans are not the only animals to build elaborate housing and grow crops—or to add carbon dioxide (CO2) to the atmosphere through their industry. A new study shows that the leaf-cutter ant Atta cephalotes is also a master builder and cultivator and a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions. Found in ecosystems throughout the New World, Atta species excavate massive, several-meter-deep underground nests that include complex tunnels and chambers, exits, and entrances. The ants drag vast quantities of vegetation into the nests to feed their main food source: a fungus called Leucoagaricus gongylophorus. To maintain the proper concentrations of CO2 and oxygen belowground, the nests also...

Innovative Partnership Aims to Restore Sierra Nevada Forest Health

The French Meadows Forest Restoration Project, an innovative collaboration approved this week, aligns the expertise of the Sierra Nevada Research Institute at UC Merced, the U.S. Forest Service, the Nature Conservancy and other agencies and groups to focus on reducing wildfire risk in a critical municipal watershed. The project covers 30,000 acres of public and private land west of Lake Tahoe and is a public-private partnership that can serve as a model for increasing the pace and scale of ecologically based forest management and fuels reduction throughout the Sierra Nevada. The Sierra Nevada Research Institute is leading the project’s research on the link between healthy forested watersheds and water supply. “UC Merced...

Researchers Assess Western Forests’ Ability to Survive Next Drought

UC Merced researchers have evidence that California’s forests are especially vulnerable to multi-year droughts because their health depends on water stored several feet below ground. “Each year our forests, grasslands and shrublands depend on water stored underground to survive the dry summers, but during multi-year dry periods there is not enough precipitation in the wet winter season to replenish that supply,” said Joseph Rungee, UC Merced graduate student and lead author on a new paper published in the journal Hydrological Processes. Trees typically need about the same amount of water every year — more in hotter years. During a drought, that subsurface store of water is gradually depleted, causing stress to...

Environmental Engineers Devising Plan to Save Humanity

The Earth is changing, and humans face major challenges if they hope to adapt, survive and preserve any semblance of the world as it is now. Humans will need to create sustainable food, water and energy supplies; curb climate change; eliminate pollution and waste; and design efficient, healthy and resilient cities. To support these efforts, they will also need to enhance society’s ability and will to make informed decisions and act; and develop leaders who are prepared to address a sustainable future. The new “Environmental Engineering for the 21st Century: Addressing the Grand Challenges” report commissioned by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine features the work of nearly 20 of the country’s most prominent...

Anthropology Book Examines Early California and its Native Communities

A new book co-edited by Professor Kathleen Hull highlights nine studies exploring how Native people retained or reimagined their communities in California between 1769 and 1834. “Forging Communities in Colonial Alta California” was published by the University of Arizona Press and co-edited by Hull and John Douglass, director of Research and Standards at Statistical Research, Inc. in Tucson. They chose contributions that examine settlement, marriage patterns, trade and other interactions in the inland, central and northern parts of what is now California in relation to colonialism, missions and lives lived beyond mission walls during a tumultuous period. Hull, an anthropologist with the Department of...

Emergence, Extinction of Massive Ancient Shark to be Explored with NSF Grant

Forty million years after dinosaurs went extinct, one of the largest predators that ever prowled Earth’s oceans emerged, feeding the imaginations of modern scientists and the nightmares of modern movie audiences. Megalodon — the name means ‘giant tooth’ — appeared some 23 million years ago and reigned the seas for about 21 million years. In 400 million years of shark evolution, megalodon is the most massive shark species that ever lived, growing to 60 feet long, or three times the size of the largest of today’s great whites. But megalodon went extinct about 2.5 million years ago, and UC Merced paleoecology Professor Sora Kim wants to know why. Through a three-year project funded by a $204,000 grant from...

Professor’s Novel Mercury-Mapping Project Wins State Grant

Civil and environmental engineering Professor Erin Hestir’s proposal for a unique system of mapping mercury in the waters of the San Francisco Delta has won her and her team of collaborators a $1.7 million grant from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW). The CDFW is dividing up almost $28 million generated by Proposition 1 bond sales, the result of the Water Quality, Supply and Infrastructure Improvement Act voters approved in 2014. Hestir’s three-year project is one of 24 Restoration Grant programs approved for this year. She and her colleagues at the U.S. Geological Survey in Menlo Park and the USGS California Water Science Center in Sacramento, are developing rapid, easy-to-use techniques to analyze the...

UC Climate-Change Research is One Focus of Global Summit, New Reports

California aims to lead the nation — and the globe — in climate change research, policy and action — in large part through climate-focused research conducted at University of California campuses and labs. Some of that research, including from UC Merced, will be on display this week as climate-change scientists, policymakers and trailblazers from around the globe gather in San Francisco for the 2018 Global Climate Action Summit . UC Merced School of Engineering professors Joshua Viers, LeRoy Westerling and Josué Medellín-Azuara and some of their graduate students will be there in support of the research they do, which is also recently highlighted in several prominent reports. The professors and second-year...

Understanding Why Designs Work — or Don’t — is Important

Just because a design works once doesn’t mean that the research and development is done. That’s why, Professor Sarah Kurtz argues in a new commentary in the prestigious journal Nature Energy , it’s important to do the quality assurance science that shows why products sometimes don’t work. “If people want to take their science to the next level, they need to think about the implications of what happens when their innovations go into production,” Kurtz said. “What comes off the manufacturing line isn’t always going to work the way it is meant to.” She cited a high-profile example of the problems that arose when quality assurance failed the Samsung company and it had to recall Galaxy smartphones because the batteries...

CAREER Award Will Help Professor Predict How Species Respond to Climate Change

Paleoecology Professor Jessica Blois recently became the campus’s 19th recipient of the National Science Foundation (NSF) Faculty Early Career Development Program (CAREER) award. The NSF describes as the CAREER as its “most prestigious award in support of early-career faculty who have the potential to serve as academic role models in research and education and to lead advances in the mission of their organizations.” The award provides Blois with $782,449 over the next five years to pursue an agenda that includes research and outreach. Blois will use the CAREER to study how species respond to climate change. Her ultimate goal is to develop models that allow scientists to predict how animals and the...

UC Solar Awarded $1.1M Grant to Build Solar-Powered Water Purification Systems

UC Solar received a $1.1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Energy Technologies Office (SETO) to develop solar-thermal desalination technologies that reduce the cost of creating fresh water from otherwise unusable waters such as seawater, brackish water and polluted water. UC Solar Director Professor Roland Winston will lead a team that includes professors Gerardo Diaz and James Palko, focused on developing low-cost, portable technologies that collect and store solar-thermal energy that can be used to power water-purification systems. The project was one of 14 selected to receive SETO funding as part of an effort to reduce the cost of solar-thermal desalination and help the...

Soil Can Sequester Planet-Warming Carbon. The Merced River is Helping Scientists Understand How.

Soils are carbon sinks, storing more planet-warming carbon than the atmosphere and all animal and plant life combined. But they can also release massive amounts of stored carbon into the atmosphere. Given carbon’s central role in climate change, understanding the forces that govern how soils absorb and release carbon is crucial. A new study shows that soil age and age-associated changes in mineral content may be the master regulators of carbon cycling in and out of soils and how soil responds to warming. The study was published in Nature Geoscience and is a collaboration between the research group of Professor Asmeret Asefaw Berhe, a group of European scientists and...

Merced River Helps Explain How Soils Capture and Store Planet-Warming Carbon

Soils are carbon sinks, storing more planet-warming carbon than the atmosphere and all animal and plant life combined. But they can also release massive amounts of stored carbon into the atmosphere. Given carbon’s central role in climate change, understanding the forces that govern how soils absorb and release carbon is crucial. A new study shows that soil age and age-associated changes in mineral content may be the master regulators of carbon cycling in and out of soils and how soil responds to warming. The study was published in Nature Geoscience and is a collaboration between the research group of Professor Asmeret Asefaw Berhe, a group of European scientists and the U.S. Geological Survey. Soil...

Following a Devastating Pandemic, California’s Sea Stars are Evolving

In 2012, Environmental Systems graduate student Lauren Schiebelhut was collecting DNA from ochre sea stars living along the Northern California coast — part of an effort to study genetic diversity in various marine species that serve as indicators of habitat health. She had no idea that just one year later, most of the sea stars would be dead. The culprit was sea star wasting disease (SSWD), a marine pandemic whose 2013 outbreak decimated sea star populations in waters up and down the west coast of North America. The disease, which turns the sea star’s normally rigid body into a gooey blob, claimed 81 percent of ochre sea stars along the hundred-mile stretch of coast just north of San Francisco where...

Berhe Selected by National Academies to Serve as “New Voice” for Science

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine (NASEM) just announced that they’ve selected Professor Asmeret Asefaw Berhe to serve as an inaugural member of the Academies’ newest initiative — New Voices in Sciences, Engineering and Medicine (SEM). Funded by a grant from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, New Voices seeks to build a “national network of exceptional young leaders who have demonstrated a commitment to leadership and serving the SEM community through science policy, communication, education, outreach, international or interdisciplinary engagement, leadership development and other activities.” Berhe was selected from a competitive field of several hundred candidates to...

Students Discover Cannibal Lizards on Remote Aegean Island

It reads like a mashup of Greek mythology and H.G. Wells. “The Odyssey of Doctor Moreau,” perhaps. Explorers find their way to a remote Aegean island and discover it’s inhabited by reptilian cannibals. They describe one encounter as follows: “[I]t began to run away, with the dead lizard torso and head still in its mouth. The cannibal continuously ran along the top of a wall and paused intermittently to thrash the corpse against the cement.” This grisly description isn’t from a horror story. Nor is it a macabre vignette from Greek mythology. It’s from a scientific paper authored by Kinsey Brock — Quantitative Systems Biology doctoral student and two-time Southern California Edison Fellowship recipient — and her undergraduate field...

Calling All Citizen Scientists!

Local community members are invited to serve as citizen scientists at UC Merced’s next CALeDNA BioBlitz, scheduled for Sunday, May 20, from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. at the Merced Vernal Pools and Grassland Reserve. It’s an opportunity to get up close and personal with the local flora and fauna while contributing to cutting-edge science. Ecology and genetics experts Professor Jason Sexton and postdoctoral researcher Dannise Ruiz Ramos will train and deputize citizen scientists, teaching attendees how to collect environmental DNA (eDNA) samples from soils on the reserve. EDNA provides scientists with a molecular tool that reveals what the eye can’t see. Plants and animals constantly shed DNA-containing cells, leaving behind  “molecular calling cards” everywhere they go. That DNA becomes part of...

Engineering Students Get an Inside Look at Wastewater Treatment

Three field trips this semester gave Professor Marc Beutel’s students an up-close understanding of biological wastewater processes used in treatment plants across the country. Most recently, they toured the wastewater treatment plant in Oakland, operated by East Bay Municipal Utility District. The plant treats sewage for more than 685,000 people in the East Bay using a process called “activated sludge.” Bacteria convert organic waste to carbon dioxide and bacterial biomass (aka activated sludge), and once the bacteria settle out, the result is clean, clear water. Students also got to see a process called co-digestion, in which that settled biomass is mixed with organic food waste from homes and treated in anaerobic digesters....

Shakespeare’s ‘Dream’ Delights Yosemite Visitors for Earth Day Weekend

“April ... hath put a spirit of youth in everything,” Shakespeare wrote in Sonnet 98. He might as well have been writing about this year’s Shakespeare in Yosemite production. With Friday’s premiere — attended by high school students from Mariposa and several children of park employees and El Portal residents and performed by a troupe of players ranging from those experienced and trained in Shakespeare to brand-new actors — the 420-year-old “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” seemed new again. This is the second year Shakespeare in Yosemite has showcased UC Merced’s special relationship with the park and highlighted Earth Day and Shakespeare’s birthday with plays adapted for Yosemite and directed by...

Billions of Gallons of Water Saved by Thinning Sierra Forests

There are too many trees in Sierra Nevada forests, say experts from UC Merced, UC Irvine and the National Park Service working at the National Science Foundation Southern Sierra Critical Zone Observatory (NSF SSCZO). This comes as a surprise to those of us who see dense, verdant forests as a sign of a healthy environment. After all, green is good, right? Not necessarily. When it comes to the number of trees in California forests, bigger isn’t always better. That’s in part because more trees means less water. Not only do trees use lots of water to carry out basic biological tasks, they also act like forest steam stacks, raking up water stored in the ground and expelling it into the atmosphere as vapor, where it’s inaccessible to humans...

Sustainable California Video Highlights UC Water Academy Experience

April is Earth Month. It’s also when UC Water Academy — an intensive course aimed at training the next generation of California water experts — starts its second year. To mark the occasion, UC Water released its second video for the UCTV Sustainable California channel. “Knowing Our Water — The UC Water Academy Journey” tells the Academy’s story from the perspective of students and faculty members who participated in the inaugural year, and gives viewers a glimpse into the inner workings of California’s water systems. Launched in 2017, UC Water Academy is a 12-week course open to undergraduate and first-year graduate students at all UC campuses. The course is led by UC Merced Professor Joshua Viers and UC Berkeley...

Feeling a Little Puckish? Get Thee to Yosemite for ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’

Desperate lovers, a fairy king and queen, a woman with a donkey’s head and a scamp with Cupid’s arrow in flower form are taking over Yosemite National Park on Earth Day weekend. Highlighting UC Merced’s special partnership with Yosemite, Shakespeare in Yosemite enters its second year with “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” adapted and directed by UC Merced Professor Katherine Steele Brokaw and Professor Paul Prescott from the University of Warwick in Coventry, U.K. “We have both performed in outdoor Shakespeare productions and know not only how enjoyable they can be, but how Shakespeare festivals can have transformative effects on communities and the lives of individuals,” Prescott said...

Los Cenzontles in Concert at UC Merced

Los Cenzontles (The Mockingbirds), an award-winning band heavily influenced by Mexican folk music, is coming to UC Merced on March 14 for a free concert and a music workshop. Both events are free and open to all. The workshop takes place at 2 p.m. in the Crescent Arch Room, and the concert begins at 7 p.m. in the Lakireddy Auditorium. To make sure there is space in the workshops for everyone, register online at bit.ly/Los_Cenzontles. “It is a thrill to know that these soulful voices are bringing their music and spirit to UC Merced. Los Cenzontles have performed with well-known musicians from around the world, and now bring the world to our stage,” Sierra Nevada Research Institute Executive Director Armando Quintero said. Los Cenzontles was founded in 1989 by Eugene Rodriguez as...

Campus Launches New Framework for Sustainable Practices

UC Merced has a new Sustainability Strategic Plan to help the campus further advance its sustainability goals. In 2016, the Chancellor’s Advisory Committee on Sustainability (CACS), and the Department of Sustainability (DOS) initiated a strategic planning process for the campus’ sustainability initiatives. The group participated in four workshops over the course of several months and was tasked with developing a consistent sustainability definition and identifying the committee’s charge, vision and mission. “We took a comprehensive approach to engage as many stakeholders as we could through the process to build a dynamic, robust plan,” sustainability Director Colleen McCormick said. From those workshops, the new Sustainability Strategic Plan...

Scientists Explain Mechanisms Affecting Runoff Levels During Drought

Scientists at UC Merced’s Sierra Nevada Research Institute (SNRI), UC Irvine, UC Davis and the USDA Forest Service have enumerated the mechanisms that serve as master regulators of streamflow and drought intensity by studying California’s 2012-15 drought. Their findings are detailed in a new paper published in Scientific Reports. Researchers used measurements from the Southern Sierra Critical Zone Observatory (CZO) in California’s Kings River Basin to pinpoint four distinct mechanisms responsible for regulating runoff levels during the recent drought. Runoff — water from precipitation, snowmelt and natural reservoirs that feeds into mountain streams and rivers — ultimately supplies much of the state’s water. “Long-...

Study: Climate Change, Drought Threaten Giant Sequoias

A new study published online in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Biogeosciences finds that the giant sequoia, a fixture of California’s Sierra Nevada forests for the past 2.6 million years, might be in jeopardy from the effects of drought and climate change. The iconic trees, which only grow in some 70 groves scattered over an area of about 55 square miles on the western slopes of California’s Sierra Nevada mountains, were spared the widespread tree mortality that recently occurred in California forests, claiming 102 million trees over a period coinciding with the state’s 2011-2015 drought.                      However, researchers from the Sierra Nevada Research Institute (SNRI) at UC Merced, the U.S. National Park Service, the Chinese...

Potential California-New York Partnership Highlights UC Solar Symposium

UC Merced Professor Roland Winston will announce a proposed solar research partnership between the states of California and New York at the 2017 UC Solar Research Symposium, to be held Oct. 13 at the California Public Utilities Commission Auditorium in San Francisco. “Achieving global sustainability is the defining challenge of our time,” said Winston, who serves as director of the University of California Advanced Solar Technologies Institute (UC Solar), headquartered at UC Merced. “The proposed California-New York Solar Research Partnership will bring together leading solar researchers in the two states most committed to developing and implementing solar and renewable energy.” The partnership will promote...

‘Energize Colleges’ Sustainability Internships Available

UC Merced’s sustainability office is seeking undergraduate students who are thinking about careers in energy to fill this fall’s Energize Colleges internships. UC Merced is one of 12 college and university campuses across California that offer undergraduate students internships through Energize Colleges, a workforce development and training program led by nonprofit Strategic Energy Innovations. Each intern will be required to work on special projects for about 8-10 hours per week and will earn $15 per hour. Positions will begin in late October. This fall’s Energize Colleges internships are in the following sustainability-related career pathways: climate communication, biochar, gears for electric motor (GEM), green labs...

NSF Grants Will Help Unravel Mysteries of Sea Stars, Jellyfish

The National Science Foundation recently awarded Professor Michael Dawson $900,000 to study some rather mysterious marine phenomena. Dawson received $700,000 — part of a three-year, $1.2 million grant awarded to Dawson and collaborators at UC Santa Cruz, the University of Georgia and Cornell University — to investigate the repercussions of the 2013 outbreak of sea star wasting disease (SSWD), a marine pandemic that killed 90 percent of ochre sea stars along North America’s Pacific coast. He received an additional $200,000 to collaborate with Professor Michael Beman to study the disappearance and enigmatic re-emergence of jellyfish in Palau’s Jellyfish Lake.

New Initiative Helps Students Explore Green Careers

When Chigoziri Ibechem attended her first planning commission meeting in downtown Merced last November, she had no idea where it might lead. After the meeting, the psychology major from Los Angeles was greeted by the city of Merced’s principal planner, who noticed her enthusiasm for the city’s Local Transportation project. He invited her to apply for an internship program UC Merced’s sustainability office launched earlier this year to give students education and applied learning opportunities in sustainability-related careers. Energize Colleges is a workforce development and training program led by nonprofit Strategic Energy Innovations. UC Merced is one of 12 college and university campuses across California that offer undergraduate students...

Water Documentary Featuring SNRI Researchers to Premiere in Merced

A full-length documentary highlighting the relationship between water, food security and, ultimately, global security, features UC Merced researchers and is scheduled to premiere Sept. 14 in downtown Merced. “Beyond the Brink,” a new film from accomplished writer, producer and director Jim Thebaut, aims to show the interconnectedness of water and food scarcity, climate change and national security. In it, he interviews researchers from around the state and the University of California, including UC Merced School of Engineering professors and water experts Roger Bales, Martha Conklin and Joshua Viers. “Who’s a more reliable source than the UC?” asked Thebaut, a graduate of UCLA and University of Washington, and the CEO of The...

Our First Campus Was a Castle

The University of California, Merced, was established in 2005 — or so the story goes. The main campus officially opened in September of that year, but that particular reading of history elides a more colorful backstory. UC Merced didn’t spring into existence when developers broke ground on the main campus. Its founding was a tremendous undertaking that required extensive planning. Most of that planning occurred before the official groundbreaking, and much of it took place on a former Air Force base. “Castle was the campus in every sense of the word,” said Vice Chancellor for Research & Economic Development Sam Traina, who joined the university in 2002 as founding director of the Sierra Nevada Research Institute. Located in Atwater, some 12 miles east of the main campus, the former Castle...

PG&E Funds Critical SNRI Work on Sierra Forest Resiliency

A team of UC Merced researchers was recently awarded $100,000 from Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) to identify ways to improve drought resilience and reduce the risk of wildfire in Sierra Nevada forests. Professor Roger Bales, who also serves as director of the Sierra Nevada Research Institute (SNRI), Professor Martha Conklin and SNRI Research Scientist Mohammad Safeeq will develop new approaches to accelerate the pace and scale of forest restoration in Calaveras County. "Research supported by this PG&E grant will provide land managers with a much-needed understanding of the forest-water-fire nexus. It will also provide the tools needed to increase forest resiliency in the Sierra Nevada,” said Safeeq, who also served as...

Campus Voices: Partnering With Parks for Our First Research Institute

UC Merced is the only university with a research station in Yosemite National Park, and we have the Sierra Nevada Research Institute (SNRI) to thank for that. Looking back, it’s hard to believe the campus’s signature research program got its kickoff in a UC Davis parking lot. Carol Tomlinson-Keasey, then the University of California’s vice provost for Academic Initiatives, had the lead on what she called “the greatest initiative of them all” — the creation of UC’s 10th campus, to be built in Merced. Her vision was to establish the campus identity as a research university from the get-go. A modest grant from the state would help nail down a robust research theme. A future-thinking faculty group from across the UC campuses...

Massive Sensor Network Helps Scientists Monitor Mountain Water Resources

Scientists from the Sierra Nevada Research Institute, UC Merced, UC Berkeley and the USDA Agricultural Research Service have designed the first ever wireless sensor network (WSN) capable of accurately monitoring the hydrology of large mountain river basins. The new system is detailed in two papers just published in the journal Water Resource Research. Deployed and tested in the American River basin on the western slope of the Sierra Nevada, the new WSN represents a significant improvement over existing systems. It allows for vastly improved predictions of mountain water supplies, which had long been based on very limited measurements of precipitation, snowpack and water stored as soil moisture. “Existing...

Synthetic Nanotubes Beat Nature at Water Purification

A new study published in the journal Science may have major implications for the future of water purification. Professor Aleksandr Noy and his research team at Lawrence Livermore National Lab found that carbon nanotube porins (CNTPs) — hollow cylinders made of pure carbon that resemble microscopic drinking straws — can transport pure water across barriers while excluding impurities. The study also shows that CNTPs do this better than any material known to science. Approximately 100,000 times thinner than a human hair, CNTPs are so narrow that liquid water has to rearrange itself into a single-file chain of water molecules in order to pass through. This helps CNTPs separate water from dissolved salts, even at salinities higher than seawater....

Study: Critical Sierra Meadows Being Overtaken by Forest

Subalpine meadows are among the Sierra Nevada’s most enchantingly picturesque landscapes. These sparsely wooded, grassy expanses are home to plants and animals found nowhere else, and they play an important role in regulating the flow of water from the Sierra snowpack to the rest of the state. But these ecosystems may soon disappear. A UC Merced study authored by former doctoral student Kaitlin Lubetkin, Professor Leroy Westerling and Sierra Nevada Research Institute (SNRI) scientist Lara Kueppers found that these meadows are being increasingly overrun by forest as changing conditions allow the offspring of nearby trees to take hold in meadow environments that previously favored shrubs and grasses over saplings. For the many species that...

Study: Wildfires, Climate Change Could Make Sierra a Polluter

What if nature were to become a polluter, discharging millions of tons of planet-warming carbon into the atmosphere in much the same way as diesel-fueled trucks or coal-fired power plants? This nature-as-polluter scenario might seem far-fetched, but it’s well on its way to becoming reality, according to a recent study co-authored by UC Merced Professor LeRoy Westerling. In a paper published recently in Scientific Reports — “Potential decline in carbon carrying capacity under projected climate-wildfire interactions in the Sierra Nevada” — Westerling and collaborators from the University of New Mexico and Penn State University used three climate models and data from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to examine how rising...

Filming in Yosemite

‘Water in the Balance’ Highlights UC Merced Research

Water is a delicate balancing act in California. When the scales tip in the wrong direction, the consequences can have national effects. Nobody knows this better than UC Water Co-Director Joshua Viers. “More than half of the nation’s fruits, nuts and vegetables are grown in California’s San Joaquin Valley,” he said. “The problem is that the state has historically relied heavily on groundwater for agricultural irrigation, and we haven’t done a good job of recharging it.” UC Water is a multicampus research initiative with the goal of using technology to create a comprehensive understanding of California’s complex water system. It’s also the subject of “Water in the Balance,” the first in a series of videos to be broadcast on UCTV’s newest...

Community Members Aid Cutting-Edge Research in ‘BioBlitz’ Project

When scientists at UC Merced seek to better understand California’s biodiversity, they turn to cutting-edge genomics. They also turn to their neighbors. On a sunny Saturday in April, scientists joined forces with members of the local community to take part in UC Merced’s inaugural eDNA BioBlitz. Under the guidance of Professor Michael Dawson and a team of conservation biologists from UC Merced, UCLA, and Cal State Los Angeles, community members trained as citizen scientists and spent the day collecting and cataloging environmental DNA (eDNA) from the Merced Vernal Pools and Grassland Reserve. “What is eDNA? It’s a really new science,” reserve director Mo Kolster explained to the nearly two dozen participants...

Research Shows Global Photosynthesis on the Rise

Plant photosynthesis was stable for hundreds of years before the industrial revolution, but grew rapidly in the 20th century, according to new research published today in Nature. “Virtually all life on our planet depends on photosynthesis,” said UC Merced Professor Elliott Campbell, who led the research. “Keeping tabs on global plant growth should be a central goal for the human race.” Photosynthesis is the process through which plants use sunlight to convert carbon dioxide (CO2) into carbohydrates to fuel their growth and other activities. Yet, researchers lack a clear picture of global trends in photosynthesis over the past few centuries. Some human activities might have stimulated plant growth, while others might have hampered photosynthesis. Conflicting...

Paleorecord Critical to Future Conservation Efforts, Scientists Say

The rapid pace of global change has large impacts on nature, and on the work conservation biologists will have before them, too. From here on out, experts say, the fossil record is going to be critical to guide nature into the future. A new paper in the journal Science, co-authored by UC Merced paleoecology Professor Jessica Blois, contends that rather than holding ecosystems to an idealized past, preserving and maintaining vibrant ecosystems requires new approaches. That includes using Earth’s history to help understand how ecological resilience is maintained even in the face of change. “Focusing our conservation efforts on preserving single species has served us well,” said Blois, with the School of Natural Sciences. “...

Renewable Power Project Could Help Cut Food Processing Costs, Feed People and Animals

Researchers at UC Solar have developed and tested an innovative solar thermal-powered process for turning the pomace, or byproduct, of vegetable and fruit processing into reusable products, potentially lowering food-processing plant costs and reducing their carbon footprints. With collaborators at the U.S. Department of Agriculture – Agricultural Research Service (USDA-ARS), UC Merced graduate student Jonathan Ferry and UC Solar Director Professor Roland Winston tested and optimized a solar-powered drum dryer for use in food-processing applications. Drum dryers are widely used in paper and food production outside California. The dryers typically work by pumping steam to heat a...

New UC Solar Project Produces Both Heat and Power

One of California’s greatest energy challenges is finding innovative ways to lower natural gas consumption to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change. To help meet that challenge, a new solar energy system that produces both heat and electricity might not be far away, thanks to researchers at UC Merced and the California Energy Commission. Professor Roland Winston, director of the University of California Advanced Solar Technologies Institute (UC Solar), and co-Director Professor Gerardo Diaz received a nearly $1 million grant from the commission to develop a high-efficiency combined heat and power (CHP) system that produces electricity, hot water and space heating for homes and commercial buildings. “The idea behind our...

Raindrops, Red Wine Inspire Solar Tech Advancements

In recent publications, Professor Vincent Tung proves that inspiration for advancements in materials science can come from anywhere — even the merging of raindrops on a windshield or the sheeting of red wine down the inside of a glass. Through those liquid movements, Tung discovered and optimized a new, low-cost, scalable and environmentally friendly way of using perovskite, an extremely thin and highly efficient material that is at the forefront of photovoltaic research. Teaming up with physics Professor Sayantani Ghosh, Tung published three papers last year that earned the covers of materials, physics and chemistry journals. Their interdisciplinary collaboration demonstrates work that could change the way solar cells are produced. The first paper...

Bird Researcher Expands Knowledge About Reserve’s Kestrels

Kestrels are a fixture among the birds on the Merced Vernal Pools and Grassland Reserve adjacent to campus. Though they are not endangered, the small falcons’ population has declined by 60 percent in California over the past half-century because of changes in land usage. Nesting-box programs like the one on the reserve and others around the Central Valley are helping the kestrels reproduce safely. The boxes also help UC Merced researchers like Joy McDermot — the first at UC Merced to study the reserve’s birds and a recent master’s recipient — discover more about the little birds of prey and the lives they live. “Kestrels used to be very common, so it’s alarming to see this population loss since the 1960s,” McDermot said. “We...

Study: Warming Could Slow Upslope Migration of Trees

By Dan Krotz, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory Scientists expect subalpine trees to advance upslope as global temperatures increase, following their climate up the mountains. But new research published Dec. 15 in the journal Global Change Biology suggests this might not hold true for two subalpine tree species of western North America. A study led by project scientist Lara Kueppers, affiliated with the Sierra Nevada Research Institute, shows Engelmann spruce might not move to higher elevations as temperatures rise. Its lower-elevation boundary could recede upslope, so its overall range could shrink. And the hardy limber pine could advance upward in a warmer climate, but likely at the same slow pace as in today’s climate. Researchers at the...

Robots and People Working Together to Save Water and Enhance Agriculture

A nearly $1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is helping University of California researchers refine collaborative robotic technology that could change the way crops are maintained worldwide, saving millions of gallons of water each year and taking precision agriculture to a whole new level. The three-year Robot-Assisted Precision Irrigation and Diagnostics (RAPID) project is led by UC Merced robotics Professor Stefano Carpin, UC Berkeley Professor Ken Goldberg — director of the People and Robots Initiative at the Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society (CITRIS) and the Banatao Institute — and UC Davis biology and engineering Professor Stavros Vougioukas...

Yara North America Supports UC Merced Students, Ag Research

A contribution from Yara North America will provide the University of California, Merced, with the potential to take agricultural research to a new level of innovation and improve crop yields, particularly in almonds. Yara, known for its fertilizers, crop nutrition programs and technologies to increase yields, improve product quality and reduce the environmental impact of agricultural practices, has established the Yara North America Almond Scholarship and Fellowship Fund to help support a three-year graduate fellowship and scholarships to two undergraduate students each year for three years. Areas of research may include soil fertility, plant nutrition, and water- and nutrient-use efficiency across disciplines.   “This generous...

Grad Student’s Water-Mapping Work Leads to National Recognition

UC Merced graduate student Lorenzo Booth’s research into more efficient use of water for agriculture has earned him accolades from the American Water Resources Association for not only producing information, but presenting solutions. “If we can make the process of growing food more efficient and sustainable,” that’s a good thing,” Booth said. At UC Merced, Booth discovered he’s a pretty good programmer, and used his skills to build a computer program that compares water usage for different crops in different locations. He demonstrated his work at a recent conference with a poster titled “Improved Agricultural Water Use Accounting Through Water Footprinting.” The association named him the best student poster presenter...

Alumnus Stays Local, Launches Environmentally Friendly Career

Stephen Ho’s experience at UC Merced helped him land an internship with E. & J. Gallo Winery in Livingston shortly after his graduation in 2012. His engineering expertise, passion for the environment and innovative spirit — all cultivated on campus — helped him make an immediate impact on the company’s operations. Charged with managing waste from the winery’s grape processes, Ho took things a step further — instead of grinding the waste down and selling it to farmers as cattle feed, he fed it to microbes in an anaerobic condition, generating biogas that can be harvested to create electricity. Gallo incorporated what it learned from Ho’s pilot project into its new Livingston Water Innovation and Energy facility. “Since high...

Winston Feted for Golden Anniversary of Landmark Discovery

Fifty years ago this year, while a freshman faculty member in the University of Chicago Physics Department, Roland Winston published a paper introducing a new field he called nonimaging optics. In it, he described the compound parabolic concentrator (CPC), a highly efficient device that collects and concentrates light, and introduced “Winston Cones,” non-imaging light collectors that by their design maximize the amount of light that can be focused from large areas into smaller photodetectors or photomultipliers. Because of the publication, Winston is widely considered to be the father of nonimaging optics, a field concerned with the optimal transfer of light radiation between a source and a target. Winston’s 1966 work for the department he...

Winston Feted for Golden Anniversary of Landmark Discovery

Fifty years ago this year, while a freshman faculty member in the University of Chicago Physics Department, Roland Winston published a paper introducing a new field he called nonimaging optics. Professor Roland Winston and some of his team at UC Solar. In it, he described the compound parabolic concentrator (CPC), a highly efficient device that collects and concentrates light, and introduced “Winston Cones,” non-imaging light collectors that by their design maximize the amount of light that can be focused from large areas into smaller photodetectors or photomultipliers. Because of the publication, Winston is widely considered to be the father of nonimaging optics, a field concerned with the optimal...

Researchers Eye Foggy Link Between Redwoods, Climate Change

Most Americans have probably seen gorgeous photos of fog winding its way through California’s coastal redwoods. The trees are one of the state’s most prominent icons, drawing more than 2 million visitors a year. But at a time when rising sea levels, melting polar ice, droughts and superstorms are the most visible indicators of climate change, people might not readily think about the fog. A new National Science Foundation (NSF) grant supports a team of researchers from seven institutions — UC Merced, UC Berkeley, UC Davis, UCLA, Stanford University, the Carnegie Institution for Science and Oregon State University — in forming an interdisciplinary “uber-university” to study the relationships between fog, climate change, redwoods and...

AWRA awards Lorenzo Booth's research on water-use by crops

The California drought has exacerbated some of the challenges farmers face.  For example, they have to spend more on water, and not just because there is less to go around. A warmer climate causes water to evaporate faster and can force plants to consume more for the same amount of growth. But researchers at the University of California, Merced, are finding where crops would use water most efficiently so that the state can continue to grow food in the new climate and offering data that can be used any time. Because of the immediate importance of this work, UC Merced environmental science graduate student Lorenzo Booth earned top honors at the American Water Resources Association meeting in July 2016...

Winston’s Innovative Project Highlights UC Solar Symposium

UC Merced Professor Roland Winston will deliver details on a groundbreaking hybrid solar collector he’s working on that simultaneously generates electricity and very-high-temperature heat at the annual 2016 UC Solar Research Symposium slated for Oct. 7 at UC Davis. The University of California Advanced Solar Technologies Institute (UC Solar) — a multi-campus research collaborative headquartered at UC Merced — develops innovative technologies that make solar energy systems more efficient, more affordable and easier to integrate. In addition, UC solar educates and develops tomorrow’s solar energy leaders and entrepreneurs. Winston, director of UC Solar, is just one of many notable speakers scheduled to appear at the symposium,...

Researcher’s Solar-Powered Water Heaters Could Save Energy and Money

UC Merced Professor Gerardo Diaz is developing solar-powered water heating technology that could reduce the demand for natural gas in businesses and homes and lower the costs for business and homeowners. Soon he’ll be putting that technology to the test in Southern California. Through a nearly $1 million contract with the California Energy Commission, Diaz will build and install his technology in residential and commercial buildings near Aliso Canyon — where last fall’s enormous methane leak caused so many problems. Aliso Canyon is an area with heavy energy demands and aging infrastructure, and Diaz — a researcher in UC Merced’s School of Engineering and the UC Advanced Solar Technologies Institute (UC...

Researcher’s Solar-Powered Water Heaters Could Save Energy and Money

UC Merced Professor Gerardo Diaz is developing solar-powered water heating technology that could reduce the demand for natural gas in businesses and homes and lower the costs for business and homeowners. Mini channel technology could help address some of the state's energy needs. Soon he’ll be putting that technology to the test in Southern California. Through a nearly $1 million contract with the California Energy Commission, Diaz will build and install his technology in residential and commercial buildings near Aliso Canyon — where last fall’s enormous methane leak caused so many problems. Aliso Canyon is an area with heavy energy demands and aging...

UC Solar Graduate Student Lighting the Night in a Controlled Way

One of the most stunning sights in Yosemite National Park has nothing to do with granite. It’s the night sky, Milky Way and all. But light pollution within the park can diminish that experience for visitors as well as change the circadian rhythms of flora and fauna. UC Merced graduate student Melissa Ricketts has found an answer. And she’s turning one of her mentor’s inventions on its head to do it. Ricketts is a member of Professor Roland Winston’s lab at UC Solar, a multicampus research institute headquartered at UC Merced. Winston is the inventor of nonimaging optics, and his compound parabolic concentrator (CPC) is a key piece of solar-collecting equipment in the emerging solar energy industry. But Ricketts is interested in...

Campus Takes Steps to Stay Green Despite Drought

Don’t be surprised if, as the warmer weather kicks in, you continue to see green lawns at UC Merced. Maintenance crews are not using more water to keep the quad lush. In fact, they are using less. Facilities Management has adopted a hydrogel system, developed by a Fresno-based company, that allows turf to stay green despite a lack of water. “It’s going to look like we are not observing the drought, but we are,” Sustainability Director Colleen McCormick said. Tests show that the hydrogel system uses almost 50 percent less water because it increases soil’s moisture-retention capabilities. The hydrogel acts as a water and nutrient reservoir, allowing a slow release into the soil and roots. It was chosen for its savings, but also because it is environmentally...

UC Merced Extension Offerings Launch With Yosemite Excursions

UC Merced Extension, a combination of professional development and personal enrichment courses that mark the campus’s first extension offerings, launches this summer with educational excursions to Yosemite National Park and fully online courses for working professionals in business, management, information technologies and engineering. The excursions, “Yosemite and Water,” and “Yosemite and Fire,” take place July 23 and Aug. 5, respectively. Yosemite and Fire explores fire management in national parks through the lens of Yosemite’s role as a global fire policy leader. Yosemite and Water examines how national parks play a part in American water policy. UC Merced staff member Steve Shackelton will co-instruct both courses, along with...

Professor’s Mercurial Studies Involve Tree Bark, Fish and Water

From the forests of Tuscany, Italy, to the shores of a San Diego reservoir, Professor Marc Beutel is hunting mercury. Beutel, one of the newest professors in the UC Merced School of Engineering, has two summer projects to keep him busy this year. The first involves spending a month working with Italian scientists and studying how to monitor mercury levels in the air surrounding an historic mercury mine using tree bark. “Mercury is easily mined as an ore, and this is one of five historic mines in the world — the Etruscans mined there,” Beutel said. “But the process of transforming the mercury in solid rocks into a liquid results in mercury pollution in air and soils. We’re trying to figure out the best, least expensive...

Wildfire Increasing in the West Because of Climate Change, Research Shows

The number, size and duration of large mountain forest fires in the Western United States has increased dramatically in the past 40 years, according to research from UC Merced Professor LeRoy Westerling. Warming temperatures and the earlier onset of spring and the spring snowmelt — the results of climate change — are the primary culprits. That change has doubled the cost of fire suppression in the past 15 years from $1 billion in 2000 to $2 billion in 2015. In “Increasing Western U.S. Wildfire Activity: Sensitivity to Changes in the Timing of Spring,” published this week in the journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B and in an op-ed in The Conversation, Westerling updates his research quantifying...

Greening the Campus Earns Gold in Sustainability Ratings

The UC Merced campus is getting greener and earning gold as it does — gold ratings, that is. UC Merced improved its rating through the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education’s Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System (STARS), a rigorous review process that takes the better part of a year to complete, but makes the campus eligible for other popular sustainability ranking lists like the Princeton Review’s Green Colleges and Sierra Club’s Cool Schools. “We improved from silver to gold, and we intend to meet the platinum rating by 2020,” campus Sustainability Director Colleen McCormick said. “We want to be the first UC campus to do so.” So far, only one university in the country has met the platinum...

Internship Program Enhances Students’ Academic Experiences

Last fall, the Division of Student Affairs and the Office of Undergraduate Education launched an internship program with the goal of providing undergraduate students an opportunity to build experience and skills related to their career ambitions and to integrate them with their academic learning. Diana Chavez, assistant director of professional development programs for the Center for Career and Professional Advancement, believes the newly created Student Success Internship (SSI) Program is filling a void. “While many students find internships off campus, others are seeking on-campus internship opportunities that are different than student employment,” Chavez said. “Internship experience is key to their professional development...

UC Merced Student a Winner at Clinton Event

Besides attending Clinton Global Initiative University (CGI U) with 1,200 other college students from around the world, UC Merced student Hoaithi Dang helped his team win the weekend’s “Code for Impact” event in partnership with the Clinton Health Matters Initiative. The ninth annual CGI U meeting brought student leaders together with experts, entrepreneurs and civically engaged celebrities to talk about issues of global concern and make “Commitments to Action” to address this generation’s most pressing challenges. In the lead-up to the CGI U meeting, which took place March 31 and April 1, students had the opportunity to participate in a two-day coding event nicknamed the “Codeathon.” They were challenged to build original prototypes to promote emotional wellness on...

Eat, Hydrate and Learn at This Year’s Earth Day Event

Most people probably don’t think about food when considering how to celebrate Earth Day. But the UC Merced Student Sustainability Council wants to help people understand how what we eat and where it comes from is connected to sustainable living. That’s why food is the theme of this year’s Earth Day celebration on campus. “Food is a topic that touches every one of us,” said student sustainability leader Hoaithi Dang, a UC Global Food Initiative fellow. “It’s not just sustainability; food is cultural, and it relates to the community.” This year’s Earth Day festivities — to which everyone is invited — will feature food in different ways. Dining Services will offer cooking demonstrations to help students learn to make tasty, healthy and locally...

Study Shows How Plants Could Adapt to Changing Climate

If you want to understand how plant populations will respond as the climate changes, just examine the plants in different locations. That’s one of the conclusions drawn by UC Merced School of Natural Sciences Professor Jason Sexton in a new paper that’s part of a special issue of the American Journal of Botany exploring the evolution of plants. Written by Sexton and graduate student Erin Dickman, “What Can Local and Geographic Population Limits Tell Us about Distributions?” looks at different populations of monkey flowers in the Sierra Nevada and compares them with populations in different locations with different climates. “If you have the same species in two climates, each will likely...

Study Shows How Plants Could Adapt to Changing Climate

If you want to understand how plant populations will respond as the climate changes, just examine the plants in different locations. That’s one of the conclusions drawn by UC Merced School of Natural Sciences Professor Jason Sexton in a new paper that’s part of a special issue of the American Journal of Botany exploring the evolution of plants. Written by Sexton and graduate student Erin Dickman, “What Can Local and Geographic Population Limits Tell Us about Distributions?” looks at different populations of monkey flowers in the Sierra Nevada and compares them with populations in different locations with different climates. “If you have the same species in two climates, each will likely have adapted to its climate, and each will be quite...

Pine Bacteria Getting a Closer Look From Scientists

Professor Carolin Frank’s research into the nitrogen-fixing properties of bacteria inside the needles of some high-elevation pine trees is the topic of a new paper in the journal New Phytologist. Frank, with the School of Natural Sciences, won a $1.6 million, four-year grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) in 2014 for her work on foliar endophytes. “Evidence for Foliar Endophytic Nitrogen Fixation in a Widely Distributed Subalpine Conifer” is the first publication to come from that research. Some old-growth coniferous forests have more nitrogen in their soils and vegetation than can be explained by known sources, Frank and her colleagues explain in the paper. That limits researchers’ ability to...

Pine Bacteria Getting a Closer Look From Scientists

Professor Carolin Frank’s research into the nitrogen-fixing properties of bacteria inside the needles of some high-elevation pine trees is the topic of a new paper in the journal New Phytologist. Frank, with the School of Natural Sciences, won a $1.6 million, four-year grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) in 2014 for her work on foliar endophytes. “Evidence for Foliar Endophytic Nitrogen Fixation in a Widely Distributed Subalpine Conifer” is the first publication to come from that research. Some old-growth coniferous forests have more nitrogen in their soils and vegetation than can be explained by known sources, Frank and her colleagues explain in the paper. That limits researchers’ ability to understand and predict carbon and nitrogen...

Wells Fargo Gift Increases Focus on Critical Regional Projects

An increased gift from longtime campus partner Wells Fargo is allowing more engineering students at the University of California, Merced, to focus on solutions to problems related to water, energy and food. Wells Fargo awarded its Clean Technology and Innovation Grant to the UC Merced School of Engineering’s senior Innovation Design Clinic (IDC). The $125,000 gift — $25,000 more than last year — supports IDC’s efforts to develop, design and create engineering solutions addressing the critical water, energy, food (WEF) nexus. In total, Wells Fargo has awarded the School of Engineering $300,000 over the past three years through the grant program. “Wells Fargo recognizes that the health of our environment is critical to fostering...

Study: Fishing Industry a Bigger Polluter than Previously Known

Many studies have shown that raising cattle and pigs for food is hard on the environment, and fish has long been considered a better alternative. But the work of UC Merced graduate student Brandi McKuin indicates that because of emissions, fishing for large fish like tuna warms the climate just as much as raising pork, pound for pound. McKuin’s work suggests that despite a shift toward “cleaner” practices, the fishing industry is a far greater contributor to climate change than previously thought, and that shift could have its own negative consequences for the Earth. McKuin, an environmental engineering student working toward her Ph.D. with Professor Elliott Campbell in the School of Engineering, recently published “Emissions and...

Study: Fishing Industry a Bigger Polluter than Previously Known

Many studies have shown that raising cattle and pigs for food is hard on the environment, and fish has long been considered a better alternative. But the work of UC Merced graduate student Brandi McKuin indicates that because of emissions, fishing for large fish like tuna warms the climate just as much as raising pork, pound for pound. McKuin’s work suggests that despite a shift toward “cleaner” practices, the fishing industry is a far greater contributor to climate change than previously thought, and that shift could have its own negative consequences for the Earth. McKuin, an environmental engineering student working toward her Ph.D. with Professor Elliott Campbell in the School of Engineering, recently...

New Study Shows Early Human Impacts on Biodiversity

Even without all the industrial and technological growth that has accelerated climate change, humans can — and do — dramatically impact ecosystems. A new paper in Nature Communications, co-authored by UC Merced Professor Marilyn Fogel, indicates early humans were responsible for the fairly rapid extinction of the 10-foot-tall flightless bird Genyornis newtoni in Australia about 47,000 years ago, simply through hunting and the interruption of reproduction. In “Human Predation Contributed to the Extinction of the Australian Megafaunal Bird Genyornis newtoni,” Fogel and her colleagues — who have spent the past 20 years gathering a variety of data about the effects of humans on continental ecosystem changes...

Faculty Climate Champion Puts Plan Into Action

Biodiversity Professor Michael Dawson has been named UC Merced’s inaugural Faculty Climate Action Champion by the UC Office of the President (UCOP). Dawson’s work and his plan, which formed a proposal for a project to engage the campus and community in sustainability, earned him the title and $25,000 to fund a research project in the 2015-16 academic year. UCOP recently announced its first Faculty Climate Action Champions, with one selection from each UC campus. Through the award, Dawson, with the School of Natural Sciences, hopes to leverage people’s familiarity with “lines.” “Lines are a fundamental part of the way people think,” he wrote in his proposal. “We recognize shorelines...

Faculty Climate Champion Puts Plan Into Action

Biodiversity Professor Michael Dawson has been named UC Merced’s inaugural Faculty Climate Action Champion by the UC Office of the President (UCOP). Dawson’s work and his plan, which formed a proposal for a project to engage the campus and community in sustainability, earned him the title and $25,000 to fund a research project in the 2015-16 academic year. UCOP recently announced its first Faculty Climate Action Champions, with one selection from each UC campus. Through the award, Dawson, with the School of Natural Sciences, hopes to leverage people’s familiarity with “lines.” “Lines are a fundamental part of the way people think,” he wrote in his proposal. “We recognize shorelines, tree lines and skylines. Lines are boundaries and divisions — limits and things...

Researcher’s Work Shows History Doesn’t Indicate the Future of Climate Change

Shakespeare might have been right when he wrote “what’s past is prologue,” but not when it comes to modeling climate change. A new study shows that rising air temperatures could have a crippling effect on the likelihood of precipitation falling as snow. That’s a huge problem for California, because the snowpack in the Sierra is the state’s natural reservoir, storing up snow in the winter for release through spring and summer melt. Lead author Mohammad Safeeq, a research hydrologist with UC Merced, examined western U.S. precipitation and temperature data over the past century to answer two questions: How likely is it that precipitation will fall as rain rather than snow, and where is that...

Humans Have Disrupted Ecosystems for 6,000 Years, Research Shows

The basic structure of Earth’s ecosystems lasted for 300 million years but changed about 6,000 years ago, and humans are the most likely reason. A team of about 25 researchers from around the globe, including UC Merced Professor Jessica Blois, outline that discovery in a paper published today in the journal Nature. “Over the past 10,000 years, we see rapid changes in natural communities,” said Blois, a professor in UC Merced’s School of Natural Sciences. “We really see the turning point happening about 6,000 years ago, and we think the changes were due to increasing human activity.” There was a lot going on at that time, she said, including an increase in human populations around the world and the beginnings of agriculture. Many...

UC Merced Rallies to Finish Second in Cool Campus Challenge

After 10 weeks of competition — including a wild flurry of activity at the end — UC Merced placed second in the University of California’s first-ever Cool Campus Challenge. With the University of California’s ambitious goal of reaching carbon neutrality by 2025 just 10 years away, the Cool Campus Challenge was designed to get campus communities informed and engaged in the process early on, and to kick-start a cultural change around sustainability. UC Irvine won the competition, with UC Merced and UCLA rounding out the top three finishers. UC Irvine was the early leader and remained there through most of the challenge, but an 11th-hour surge of pledges pushed UC Merced from near the bottom of the standings to the top. The campus even took...

UC Merced Shares in Three of Four UC Catalyst Grants

University of California President Janet Napolitano announced this week the 2016 recipients of the President’s Research Catalyst Awards, and professors from UC Merced are contributors to three of the four projects. Professors Asmeret Asefaw Berhe, Michael Dawson, Teamrat Ghezzehei and Jason Sexton, with the Life and Environmental Sciences Unit in the School of Natural Sciences, and Professor Nicola Lercari, with the School of Social Sciences, Humanities and Arts, will collaborate with principal investigators at other UC campuses to advance knowledge about protecting biodiversity; enhancing agricultural resilience in times of drought; and preserving cultural heritage sites in the Middle East. The four winning projects were chosen from a pool of more...

Researchers Model Near Future of Coastal Redwoods’ Habitat

Many species of trees and plants have begun migrating as the climate changes, but some, like California’s giant coastal redwoods, can’t just pick up and move. The proximity of the ocean, which has unique effects on temperature and climate, makes it challenging to predict what the redwoods’ habitat will look like in the future. By using California’s historical climate data, UC Merced researchers have developed near-term predictions about the coastal habitat for the archetypal redwoods. The trees will need to move north to keep up with the shifting climate. “This method gets us over a hump that has been challenging climate modelers for many years,” said Lara Kueppers, a researcher with the Sierra Nevada Research Institute and...

Four Students Win Dan David Solar Fellowships

Four students from diverse disciplines have been named Dan David Solar Fellows through the University of California Advanced Solar Technologies Institute (UC Solar), headquartered at UC Merced. The fellowship began in 2007 through a generous gift from Sarah R. Kurtz, principal scientist in the National Center for Photovoltaics at the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL). Kurtz established the fellowship in the name of the Dan David Foundation, which awarded her and NREL colleague Jerry Olson that year’s prestigious Dan David Prize for their groundbreaking work in concentrating solar power systems using multi-junction solar cells. The Dan David Solar Fellowship, which exists in perpetuity, supports undergraduate and graduate...

Gasification Projects Could Benefit the Environment, Economy

Two overlapping research projects involving UC Merced professors could have big implications for the region’s economy and effects on renewable energy, water and wildfires. Professor Gerardo Diaz, with the School of Engineering, received nearly $900,000 through two grants: one from the California Energy Commission for the analysis and optimization of a 1-megawatt biomass gasification plant in North Fork, and the other from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to study a gasification byproduct for use in agriculture and air and water filtration. Diaz and a group of industry experts are working on a new gasification plant in North Fork, a little town in the foothills between Merced and Fresno. It’s a $5 million project that aims to take...

UC Merced Experts Part of New UC Climate Report

The University of California aims to lead the way to a sustainable future in the face of global warming, and UC Merced professors have contributed to a report that offers practical steps to help get there. “Bending the Curve: 10 Scalable Solutions for Carbon Neutrality and Climate Stability,” an intercampus report due out in the spring, presents paths for limiting climate warming to no more than 3 degrees Fahrenheit and preventing the consequences any further warming would cause. An executive summary, released today during the inaugural UC Carbon and Climate Neutrality Summit at UC San Diego, broadly unveils the ideas that will be detailed in the full report. More than 50 UC researchers and scholars — including Merced professors Teenie Matlock, Roger Bales...

Three Students Awarded Global Food Initiative Fellowships

The University of California has selected its second class of Global Food Initiative (GFI) fellows — including three students from UC Merced — who will work on projects ranging from food access to policy to waste. The 44 fellows, representing all 10 UC campuses plus UC Agriculture and Natural Resources and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, will help advance the systemwide initiative, which aims to put UC, the state and the world on a pathway to sustainably and nutritiously feed themselves. The $4,000 fellowships to undergraduate and graduate students, selected by the campuses, will fund student-generated research, projects or internships that support the initiative’s efforts to address food security, health and sustainability....

Campus on Track to Meet State’s Water Conservation Demands

Four months into the reporting period for Gov. Jerry Brown’s water-reduction mandate, and UC Merced has so far exceeded the goal. Now it needs the campus community's help. The campus, which constructed all of its buildings to be 40 percent more efficient than state requirements, has so far been able to trim another 25 percent of its water consumption from the baseline year of 2013, despite the addition of two new buildings and 1,000 more students since then. Like everyone with water meters, the campus must keep track of usage for the nine-month period between June and February. So far, UC Merced has saved slightly more than the required 25 percent, mainly through changes to landscaping. The campus conserved a lot of water during the...

UC Merced Water Research Earns Share of $50 Million Grant

The University of California, Merced, just became part of a massive, five-year, multi-million-dollar international research consortium that tackles water-related aspects of energy production and use. The campus will receive $1.5 million of the $50 million grant that will form the Clean Energy Research Center for Water Energy Technologies (CERC-WET) consortium. Half of the $50 million comes from the U.S. Department of Energy and its partners, UC Irvine and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and the other half from the Chinese Ministry of Science and Technology and its consortium partners. UC Merced is joined in the consortium by UC Berkeley, UC Irvine, UC Davis, UCLA, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the Massachusetts-based...

Super-Calculations Could Provide Clearer View of the Future

Applied mathematics Professor Noemi Petra develops algorithms and uses complicated computations to examine some of the world’s biggest problems — the ones that can’t be seen. They are called inverse problems — using actual observations to infer the values of parts of the problem that can’t be directly observed, like calculating the density of the Earth from measurements of its gravity field. For example, her most recent publication,“Scalable and Efficient Algorithms for the Propagation of Uncertainty from Data through Inference to Prediction for Large-scale Problems, with Application to Flow of the Antarctic Ice Sheet,” in the Journal of Computational Physics — written with collaborators at the University of Texas at Austin — shows a...

Professor’s Invention Helps Scientists Win Nobel Prize

Professor Roland Winston has been tracking the Sudbury Neutrino Experiment since it began in the 1980s, because he invented the light collectors the scientists built to detect solar neutrinos. “I just wanted to make sure they worked,” he said. Last week, Winston learned with the rest of the world that the collectors not only worked, but were critical to the experiment that shared this year’s Nobel Prize in Physics. “It’s a very important experiment,” said Winston, director of UC Solar and a founding faculty member at UC Merced. “Neutrinos are one of the more mysterious components of matter.” Neutrinos are one of the fundamental particles that make up the universe, and are similar to electrons but don’t carry an electric charge. They...

Event Connects High School Girls With Female Scientists

While many young women her age are thinking about their favorite shoes or who they’ll go with to the winter formal, Callie Nance, 15, is thinking about her favorite science organizations and her future as a physicist.   That’s why the Dinner with a Scientist event at UC Merced last week was so perfect for her.   “Seeing all of these women — it’s a big thing for us to get out and see that there is so much more for us than just what we experience in Mariposa,” Nance said.   Nance and 55 other ninth- through 12th-grade girls from the Mariposa County Unified School District toured the campus and visited labs led by female scientists before sitting down for dinner with 14 women — some...

UC Solar Symposium Focuses on Innovations and Policy

California Public Utilities Commission Commissioner Liane Randolph will offer the opening remarks at this year's UC Solar Research Symposium in San Francisco, scheduled for Oct. 16. UC Solar, based at UC Merced, will present a variety of speakers and activities on solar-related innovations, policy, the political and economic climate, and more. Presentations will include: “Advancing California's Energy Innovation Ecosystem,” by Erik Stokes, manager of Energy Deployment and Market Facilitation for the California Energy Commission; “High-Temperature Coating for Solar-Thermal Energy Conversion,” by Renkun Chen, UC Solar co-director and professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at UC San Diego; “Sustainability at E. & J. Gallo Winery,” by Kim...

UC President’s Whirlwind Visit Covers Many Bases

University of California President Janet Napolitano learned about UC Merced’s outreach to local high school students and efforts to support the UC system’s Global Food and Carbon Neutrality initiatives during a visit to Merced on Oct. 1. Napolitano spent the morning at Golden Valley High School, where she and UC Merced Chancellor Dorothy Leland met with a class of juniors and seniors who challenged her with questions on topics like affordability, accessibility and availability of majors. One student asked the likelihood of placing a cap on tuition. “It would be nice,” Napolitano said. “If we keep tuition as low as possible and the state legislature put a lot more money into the university, we’d be able to do it.” Then Napolitano attended a rally...

UC Merced Researchers Gathering Data to Tackle California’s Water Crisis on Multiple Fronts

Note: This story originally ran in the Fall 2015 issue of UC Merced Magazine. By Joel Patenaude California, long envied by the rest of the country for its climate, beauty and natural resources, is four years into a drought and in the midst of a water crisis a century in the making. With Gov. Jerry Brown imposing mandatory water restrictions on residents, the state’s staggeringly complex water woes have taken the sheen off at least some of the California dream. But researchers at UC Merced are trying to unravel the Gordian knot that is California water through a new inter-campus initiative. The new UC Water Security and Sustainability Research initiative, known as UC...

Humanities Center Aims to Bring Depth to Water Issues

Open any newspaper — or news website — and you’re likely to see at least one article about California’s water crisis. From climate change to wildfires to groundwater to El Niño, there’s no shortage of water-related conversations. There’s also no shortage of scientific research to be conducted on water, and UC Merced has a number of faculty members doing important work to address the state’s crisis. Starting this month, the Center for the Humanities at UC Merced is aiming to prove it has much to add to our understanding of water and all the issues that come with it. The Center for the Humanities, created in 2008 and bolstered by an anonymous private donation of $2 million in 2012, has chosen water as a central theme for its next two years of...

Sun and Salt: How Solar Tech Can Help California’s Drought

By Andy MurdockUniversity of California Newsroom In the midst of California’s ongoing drought, researchers at the University of California Advanced Solar Technologies Institute (UC Solar) at UC Merced are turning to an unlikely ally to help solve the problem of water availability for California’s farmlands: the sun. “Any adoption of solar technology will help with climate change in the long term, because it reduces our use of fossil fuels,” UC Solar Executive Director Ron Durbin said. But UC Solar’s latest project, which will be presented at the upcoming 2015 UC Solar Research Symposium in San Francisco, aims to show that solar technology can be of short-term help as well, by making water desalination cheaper, more accessible...

Most Americans Could Eat Locally, Research Shows

MERCED, Calif. — New farmland-mapping research published today shows that up to 90 percent of Americans could be fed entirely by food grown or raised within 100 miles of their homes.   Professor Elliott Campbell, with the University of California, Merced, School of Engineering, discusses the possibilities in a study entitled “The Large Potential of Local Croplands to Meet Food Demand in the United States.” The research results are the cover story of the newest edition of Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, the flagship journal for the Ecological Society of America, which boasts a membership of 10,000 scientists.   “Elliott Campbell's research is making an important contribution to the national conversation...

Professor to Serve with New Water Policy Center

UC Merced Professor Joshua Viers has been named a member of the new Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) Water Policy Center, established to help meet the state's urgent need for timely information and innovative water management solutions. Viers is an expert in water resources management with UC Merced’s School of Engineering, conducting research on issues related to the intersection of climate, water, energy, food and the environment using geospatial technologies and data mining. He is also the director of the Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society (CITRIS) at UC Merced. His role with the new center will be to help generate new ideas in solving California’s water ...

Professors Share in UC Effort to Study Effects of Climate Change

Several UC Merced faculty members will play important roles in a new UC systemwide effort to study the ecological effects of climate change across varied ecosystems.   Funded by a $1.9 million President's Research Catalyst Awards grant from UC President Janet Napolitano and led by UC Santa Cruz ecologist and evolutionary biologist Barry Sinervo, the Institute for the Study of Ecological and Evolutionary Climate Impacts (ISEECI) will serve as a hub for the knowledge being gathered and analyzed.   UC Merced researchers including Professors Elliott Campbell, Martha Conklin and LeRoy Westerling, with the School of Engineering, and Jessica Blois, with the School of Natural Sciences, will all affiliate with the nine-...

Solar, Water Research Proposals Rewarded with Competitive UC Grants

MERCED, Calif. — Research into sustainable water supplies and viable solar energy solutions won the University of California, Merced, an anticipated $5 million in prestigious and competitive grants from the University of California. UC Multicampus Research Programs and Initiatives (MRPI) awards will go to Professors Roger Bales and Roland Winstonand colleagues, who will oversee two of only 18 projects to be funded throughout the UC system out of 186 proposals. The grants begin Jan. 1, and award details will be determined then. “These awards recognize the leadership our faculty members bring to these important topics,” Vice Chancellor for Research and Economic...

Professor’s Soil Research Digs Up Many More Questions

When people get near California’s giant sequoias, they usually look up.   But Professor Steve Hart looks down, and what he finds beneath the trees has intrigued him.   The trees, some of which could be more than 3,000 years old, appear to influence the soil, increasing the pH and the levels of nitrogen, calcium, magnesium and phosphorus, enhancing the soil’s fertility.   “Our hypothesis is that these trees, with their long lives and enormity, have a greater effect on the ecosystem” said Hart, an ecology professor with UC Merced’s School of Natural Sciences and a member of the Sierra Nevada Research Institute. “We tend to think it’s only humans that have legacy effects...

Climate Change Influencing Freshwater Mountain Runoff, Research Shows

As the climate warms, sources of the water so critical to life everywhere on Earth are drying up. By the end of this century, communities dependent on freshwater from mountain-fed rivers could see significantly less water, according to a new climate model recently released by University of California researchers. For example, people who get freshwater from the Kings River could see a 26 percent decrease in river flow. Why? Think of the environment to which humans are now accustomed as a huge jigsaw puzzle. You can look at any one piece to see how it fills out the picture of climate change, but you cannot ignore the surrounding pieces and the chain reactions set off by the warming climate...

California Overspends Water Rights by 300 Million Acre Feet

California is deficit-spending its water and has been for a century, according to state data analyzed recently by researchers from the University of California. UC Merced Professor Joshua Viers and postdoctoral researcher Ted Grantham, with UC Davis at the time, explored the state’s database of water-rights allocations, and found that allocations in California exceed the state's actual water supply by five times the average annual runoff and 100 times the actual surface-water supply for some river basins. In a good year, the state has about 70 million acre feet of surface water available for use. Based on active water rights records, a total of 370 million acre feet have been allocated. “We’re...

Provost, Professor Appointed to President’s Environmental Council

UC Merced Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor Tom Peterson and founding faculty member Professor Roger Bales have been named members of UC President Janet Napolitano’s new Global Climate Leadership Council. The council has been convened to guide UC sustainability efforts, with the goal of bringing the university’s operations to carbon neutrality by 2025. Sustainability is a part of the DNA of the UC Merced campus – it’s one of the greenest campuses in the nation, and the only one in the country to have all of its buildings LEED certified by the U.S. Green Building Council. Nominated by Chancellor Dorothy Leland, Bales, a hydrologist, leads the Sierra Nevada Research Institute and...

Engineering Students Working on Water Issues for Summer Research Project

Spending a summer finding ways to make toilet water reusable and trying to extract urine from wastewater might not sound glamorous. But the results of the work two UC Merced students are doing though a prestigious research partnership could be very important to a state facing a severe drought, as well as for the future of water security. Rudy Maltos, 23, a senior from Bakersfield, and Maritza Flores-Marquez, 21, a senior from Tulare, both environmental engineering majors, were two of 16 students selected for Re-inventing the Nation's Urban Water Infrastructure (ReNUWIt). ReNUWIt is a Research Experiences for Undergraduates partnership between UC Berkeley, the Colorado School of Mines, New Mexico State...

ES Grad Group Will Have Strong Presence at ESA

ESA Annual Meeting, August 10-15th, Sacramento, CA  Many folks from UC Merced and the ES grad group will be presenting their research at the annual meeting of the Ecological Society of America in Sacramento this August. Below is a list of the UC Merced talks; only the first authors are listed, but click through to the abstracts to read more about each talk. Congratulations to all the UC Merced students, postdocs, and faculty for their fantastic research.   MONDAY, August 11 Talks 2:10 pm, COS 11: Microbial Ecology Alyssa Carrell: Diversity and structure of endophytic bacterial communities in redwood trees 2:10 PM, COS 6: Ecosystem Management Joy Baccei: Protecting and preserving mountain meadows: a look at...

FAA Approves Data Drone Research at UC Merced

Other UC campuses have drone research programs, but UC Merced might be the only one with two certificates of authorization from the Federal Aviation Administration, allowing students to fly autonomous, unmanned systems at higher altitudes and, possibly, in locations they haven’t flown before. As drones and the sensor packages they carry improve in price and performance, many campuses are considering conducting research on unmanned aerial systems (UAS) and their applications. In UC Merced’s well-established program, faculty members and students are working on scientific data drones that can patrol wildfire perimeters, collect water samples, monitor pest situations in agricultural fields, check soil and crop conditions and much more. “Each...

NSF Early Career Award Honors Professor’s Research and Potential

The National Science Foundation is honoring UC Merced Professor Asmeret Asefaw Berhe with a Faculty Early Career Development Award to support her examination of how soil helps regulate the climate. The awards are given to junior faculty members who “exemplify the role of teacher-scholars through outstanding research, excellent education and the integration of education and research within the context of the mission of their organizations,” the NSF said. “We’d like to congratulate Professor Berhe for receiving this highly selective award,” School of Natural Sciences Dean Juan Meza said. “It also speaks volumes about our highly talented faculty that we’ve added another...

Professor’s Passion for Monkey Flower Leads to Genetic Discoveries

The environment affects the way genetic populations move, and similar environments likely play a bigger role in how a species develops than does geographic distance.   Those are just two of the discoveries Professor Jason Sexton has made while studying the monkey flower, a California native that is practically in his back yard, now that he has joined UC Merced.   Monkey flowers, which come in a diverse array of populations of varying sizes, shapes and colors, grow wild in the Sierra Nevada, a place Sexton has studied even from his previous position in Australia. The chance to come to UC Merced, to work and live where the bulk of his research takes place, was too good to pass up, he said.   Sexton...

Professor’s Paper in Nature Communications Indicates Deep Sea Changes

Large, naturally occurring low-oxygen zones in the Pacific appear to be expanding, and there is a sharp change in the number of bacteria that produce and consume different forms of toxic sulfur, according to a UC Merced researcher’s latest paper in Nature Communications.   These expanding deoxygenated zones could also contribute to climate change, which, in turn, appears to contribute to their growth.   Professor Michael Beman, a marine microbial biologist with the School of Natural Sciences, spent a month on a research ship sampling water off the coast of Mexico, in the large Eastern Tropical Northern Pacific (ETNP), a deoxygenated zone that extends about halfway to Hawaii.   At...

Professor's Article Published in Journal Science

Climate change alters the way in which species interact with one another- and not just today or in the future, but also in the past, according to a review article by UC Merced Professor Jessica Blois and colleagues coming out tomorrow in the journal Science. “We found that, at all time scales, climate change can alter biotic interactions in highly complex ways.  So if we don’t incorporate them when we’re anticipating future changes, we’re missing a big piece of the puzzle,” Blois said. A special issue of the prestigious research journal, entitled "Natural Systems in Changing Climates,” features the article and a podcast by Blois, one of UC Merced’s newest faculty members, and three colleagues from...

Well-known Technology Sees New Use in Solar Collection

Adapting technology that has become the standard in the automotive, aerospace and air-conditioning industries, Professor Gerardo Diaz has designed and is testing the next generation of solar-collecting units at UC Merced. ”We’re getting about 10 percent increase in efficiency,” said Diaz, with the School of Engineering and co-director of UC Solar. With funding from the California Energy Commission, Diaz and three undergraduates and one graduate student built a solar water heater. Instead of having water flow through copper pipes attached to a flat plate with a collective coating applied to it, this solar water-heating system uses flat minichannels, or tubes, made of aluminum with the coating applied directly to the tubes...

Summer Research Takes UC Merced Around the Globe

Just because it’s summertime doesn’t mean research at UC Merced comes to a halt. Just the opposite. This summer, professors and students at all levels are conducting a variety of research projects on campus, off campus, in the oceans and forests and around the world. Up in Yosemite National Park, for example, nine undergraduate students are getting a summer experience to last them a lifetime, conducting research with faculty researchers from UC Merced, scientists from the U.S. Geologic Survey and from the park. Under the direction of Professors Stephen Hart and Michael Beman, the Research Experience for Undergraduates program takes nine students into the park for nine weeks to work with scientific mentors like Hart, Beman, Professor Elliott...

Researcher Brings Billions of Years of Information to UC Merced

From the microbes in the guts of living things to the idea of life elsewhere in the universe, Professor Marilyn Fogel is pondering some of life’s deepest questions. When and how did life originate on Earth? What does the future hold for our planet? Are we alone in the universe? “When you go back through time, there are bits and scraps of life everywhere,” Fogel said. “It’s ubiquitous.” As a geobiologist, Fogel, who joined UC Merced in January, explores these questions and more using the stable isotopes found in carbon, oxygen, hydrogen, sulfur and nitrogen, the elements that form the building blocks of all living organisms. She is in the midst of setting up the campus’s first natural...

UC Merced Alumnus’s Rim Fire Map Generates Lots of Attention

As the Rim Fire continues to burn in and around Yosemite National Park, a former UC Merced student’s work related to the fire burned up the Internet this week. Paul Doherty, the first Yosemite park ranger to complete at doctoral degree at UC Merced, graduated in the spring and now works as a public safety technology specialist for Esri, a company that provides GIS mapping for a variety of applications. Doherty and his team created a layered map that shows up-to-the-minute details of the fire, including its size and range, hot spots, the fire’s progression, a history of fire in the national park and more. They pulled together data from a wide range of agencies, including Cal Fire, the U.S. Forest Service,...

Summer Scholars Learn by Doing

UC Merced has made a name for itself by giving undergraduates the opportunity to engage in research early in their academic careers. Nothing showcases that commitment better than the campus’s collaborative summer research program, which culminated last week with a symposium where they presented on their research and exhibited posters of their work as well. This summer, 41 students have been conducting research with world-class faculty, thanks to sponsorships from seven different programs. According to Jesus Cisneros, director for undergraduate research programs, these student scholars represent an investment in the future. “We are coaching these students to present their research at competitive regional and national conferences, in addition to helping them to develop skills to...

Grad Student’s Farmland Mapping Project Gets Prestigious Publisher

Working to map every square inch, UC Merced master’s student Andrew Zumkehr found there are 111 million acres of abandoned farmland in the United States. That’s a lot of space for growing biofuels that could replace between 5 percent and 30 percent of the United States' primary energy or liquid fuel demands, he said. Zumkehr and Professor Elliott Campbell with the School of Engineering wrote a paper based on the mapping, which was published recently in the top-cited journal Environmental Science & Technology. It’s another example of how UC Merced researchers are contributing knowledge that will lead to more informed energy policies. “We used satellite images, census data...

Researcher Brings Billions of Years of Information to UC Merced

From the microbes in the guts of living things to the idea of life elsewhere in the universe, Professor Marilyn Fogel is pondering some of life’s deepest questions.   When and how did life originate on Earth? What does the future hold for our planet? Are we alone in the universe?   “When you go back through time, there are bits and scraps of life everywhere,” Fogel said. “It’s ubiquitous.”   As a geobiologist, Fogel, who joined UC Merced in January, explores these questions and more using the stable isotopes found in carbon, oxygen, hydrogen, sulfur and nitrogen, the elements that form the building blocks of all living organisms. She is in the midst of setting up the campus...

Summer Research Program for Undergrads Aims for the Experience of a Lifetime

Many universities offer the Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program, but they don’t have what UC Merced has to offer. “Yosemite really draws people in,” said Professor Stephen Hart, one of the REU program leaders. “Other REUs might take students into the field, but not into a national park.” The National Science Foundation has awarded UC Merced a $318,000, three-year grant to take eight undergrads from around the country to live in the park for nine to 10 weeks each summer and gain invaluable experience working directly with faculty researchers on projects. “Living and working in Yosemite was the best experience of my undergraduate career,” said Raymond...

Postdoctoral Researcher’s Work in International Ecology Journal

The theory that temperature limits how far up in the mountains trees can grow looks like it’s true, but not in the way researchers had expected. Working with Professor Lara Kueppers, UC Merced postdoctoral researcher Andrew Moyes’ examination of how warmer temperatures affect alpine-area trees has been published in the international journal Oecologia. Their work indicates some trees researchers thought wouldn’t grow at the highest elevations because of the cold don’t fare better when they are warmer, either. A series of experiments in Colorado, in which seedlings were planted and then warmed under infrared radiation panels to simulate climate change, showed warmer temperatures also dried the...

Professor’s Paper, Among Year’s Best, Shows Dramatic Effects of Mountaintop Mining on Climate

UC Merced School of Engineering Professor Elliott Campbell has co-authored a paper showing that mountaintop removal mining will dramatically accelerate the regional effects of global warming by turning natural carbon sinks into sources of carbon emissions, some within the next 15 years. On top of the toxic side-effects of coal mining, the associated hazards and the biggest problem with coal – the greenhouse gas emissions that come from burning it – the switch from sink to source is an issue that could prompt policymakers to reconsider where they stand on mining. This finding comes at a time when the federal government is at least partially...

Professor’s Design Could Win $50,000 Grant

A UC Merced professor is one of five finalists in an international challenge that could win him a $50,000 research grant and free access to a record-setting, ocean-going robot. Professor Michael Beman, with the School of Natural Sciences, entered the PacX Challenge, a competition designed to encourage scientists and students to make use of data gathered by autonomous wave glider that just completed a 9,000-nautical-mile journey across the Pacific Ocean. The contestants will use data gathered by the glider, called the “Papa Mau,” which traveled autonomously from San Francisco to Australia over the past year. Papa Mau finished its year-long journey on Dec. 6 in Australia, setting a world record for the longest distance traveled by an autonomous...

Professor Looks Inside Trees for Answers

Professor Carolin Frank is concerned with the inner lives of trees. She looks inside them to see whether microbes are part of – and perhaps even critical to – life functions such as growth. “It’s a pretty new field,” Frank said. “Most people think of bacteria as causing disease, but they can be beneficial. When I look at a forest, I don’t see trees, I see all these fascinating microbes.” Bacteria, she said, have been found to promote growth and protect plants from stress, and also to fix nitrogen, a critical component of plant health. “Microbes are the only organisms that can take nitrogen from the air and make it available to plants,” she said. “Plants cannot do it themselves. People have long wondered...

National Science Foundation Funds San Joaquin River Research

MERCED, Calif. — People talk about climate change all the time.   But researchers at the University of California, Merced, are working to find out exactly how it will affect the millions of people who depend on the San Joaquin River for their drinking water, irrigation and food growth, and energy.   Water experts with the Sierra Nevada Research Institute have received a $1.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation to synthesize data about the San Joaquin River and how climate change is affecting the timing and number of flows from the snowmelt at higher elevations.   Those changes, in turn, change the way reservoirs are operated and the way and time in which water is delivered to users,...

UC Merced Plasma Lab Turning Leftovers into Cleaner Energy

There’s a reason the UC Merced plasma lab is isolated behind a locking fence near the entrance to campus.   There’s some serious heat being produced down there.   Engineering professors Gerardo Diaz, Wolfgang Rogge and Yihsu Chen and a group of students are spending their summer in the lab, generating plasma blasts of more than 3000 degrees Celsius as they work on turning biomass – organic leftovers such as coffee grounds, almond hulls and the leavings from wineries – into clean-burning energy.   The three-year project just received a $258,000 grant from the California Energy Commission and $50,000 in equipment from Foret Plasma Laboratories to examine how clean the gas produced through the...

Graduate Student Bringing UC Merced to Western Pacific

Graduate student Sharon Patris likes spending time at a lake in the middle of the forest on an uninhabited island in the western Pacific. The marine lake named Ongiem’l Tketau and informally known as Jellyfish Lake, is home to the golden jellyfish, a species Patris studies as part of her work with UC Merced School of Natural Sciences Professor Michael Dawson in Palau. Patris, who is working on her master’s degree, is just one example of the diverse and wide-ranging reach of UC Merced’s graduate programs. As a Palauan, she said she’s happy to have the chance to work in her homeland while earning her advanced degree from a UC campus. Dawson and colleagues have been studying biodiversity in the western Pacific since...