Santa Clara University

Department of Environmental Studies and Sciences

News & Events


Environmental Studies and Sciences News & Events

  •  Kelsey Baker wins scholarship

    Friday, Jan. 24, 2014
    On January 14, 2014, the San Jose Chapter of the American Society of Safety Engineers presented the Fall 2013 Scholarship Award to Kelsey Baker.  The award included a $1500 check and one year paid membership.  Kelsey is a senior at Santa Clara University, majoring in Environmental Science.  Her main area of concentration is in Sustainability, and has led many related projects and organizations including "Think Outside the Bottle"  and the OCEANS Club.  Presenting the award to Kelsey is Steven Hochstadt, ASSE-SJ Scholarship Chair.


  •  The dry future of the Colorado River

    Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2014

    A new study finds that even with very modest precipitation changes, water supplies in the upper Colorado River basin could significantly decline by 2100, with severe consequences for agriculture, urban supplies, and ecosystem health.

    The Colorado River is widely considered the most important source of water in the western United States, providing water to 30 million people and large agricultural regions and generating 8 billion kilowatt hours of hydroelectric power annually.

    Many previous studies have debated whether climate change will bring a wetter or drier future to the Colorado. In this paper, Researchers Darren Ficklin (now Indiana University), Iris Stewart (ESS) and Ed Maurer (CE) used the projections from established global climate models as input to a hydrologic model to forecast what is likely to happen to water flow and other hydrologic measures, such as evaporation and transpiration on a fine scale. Their findings show that the effects of highly likely warmer temperatures will be more important than either modest precipitation increases or decreases. Thus, even if the Colorado Basin will receive some more rain and snow in the future, warmer temperatures are forecast to lead to overall less water availability due to higher evaporation rates and a lot less snow that is melting earlier in the year. In addition, the higher evaporation could mean that soils in the basin will be dryer on average, such that the lower regions of the basin turn from semi-arid to arid conditions by the end of the century.

    The full paper can be found at: Ficklin DL, Stewart IT, Maurer EP (2013) Climate Change Impacts on Streamflow and Subbasin-Scale Hydrology in the Upper Colorado River Basin. PLoS ONE 8(8): e71297. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0071297

    Funding for this work was provided by the US EPA under a STAR (Science to Achieve Results) Grant.

  •  Socio-economic differentiation in Burkina Faso’s cotton sector

    Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2014


    ESS faculty member Leslie Gray's (with co-author Brian Dowd) newly published paper examines how liberalization reforms in Burkina Faso’s cotton sector have led to socio-economic differentiation. This research helps us understand the differences among Africa farmers, particularly with respect to their access to land, inputs and broader social institutions and networks. In particular, new grower cooperatives have become a site for wealthier farmers to exert influence on how debts are repaid and inputs distributed, largely to the detriment of poorer producers. 

    The full article reference is:

    Gray, Leslie and Brian Dowd-Uribe, 2013.  A political ecology of socio-economic differentiation: debt, inputs and liberalization reforms in southwestern Burkina Faso.  Journal of Peasant Studies, Vol. 40:3-8, pp. 683-702.

  •  Message to managers: address ecosystem service impacts of invaders

    Friday, Jan. 17, 2014

    Land managers have long fought plant invasions in wildlands because invaders can harm native biodiversity, choking out native species and reducing habitat quality for animal species. But a recent paper in Bioscience, co-authored by ESS assistant professor Virginia Matzek, argues that land managers should be focusing more on invaders that have impacts on ecosystem services, the natural benefits that intact, functioning ecosystems provide to humans. For instance, some plant invaders are water hogs, depleting water that could otherwise go to irrigation; others impede navigation in streams or decrease salmon runs.

    The Bioscience paper proposes that broadening the focus of management efforts to include impacts on ecosystem services may also improve the funding situation for invasive plan management, which has suffered under the recent economic decline. Currently, innovative payment for ecosystem services schemes are being developed to link natural resource management with benefits to stakeholders and users, and weed management, if linked to ecosystem service provision, could fit well into these new approaches.

    The full article reference is Funk, JL; Matzek, V; Bernhardt, M; and Johnson, D. 2014. Broadening the case for invasive species management to include impacts on ecosystem services. Bioscience 64(1): 58-63. A draft version is available here.

  •  SCU researchers warn of impacts of climate change on ecosystem services

    Tuesday, Nov. 26, 2013

    A new article in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment reviews the threats that climate change poses to ecosystem services and human well-being in the United States.

    Ecosystem services are the processes, materials, and commodities delivered by intact ecosystems that have value to human beings. These include crop pollination by native insects, flood protection on undeveloped floodplains, and recreation opportunities in natural areas.

    Climate change is projected to hamper the availability of these services. For instance, increasingly stormy weather and rising sea levels may threaten losses to coastal property that exceed the value of development; increased drought will impact the supply and quality of drinking water sources; and lower snowfall will shorten ski seasons and decrease tourism revenues in mountain states.

    SCU researcher Peter Kareiva, who is also chief scientist of The Nature Conservancy, contributed to the review, as did Virginia Matzek, assistant professor of Environmental Studies and Sciences at the university.

    The article is part of a special issue of the journal reviewing the impacts of climate change in the U.S., which grew out of the U.S. National Climate Assessment, a periodic effort by the federal government to study climate change and inform appropriate government responses. All of the articles in the special issue can be accessed here:

    Bolivar Peninsula in Texas after 2008 Hurricane Ike, Credit: NOAA National Hurricane Center, Storm Surge Unit
  •  John Farnsworth awarded Santander Foundation

    Tuesday, Oct. 29, 2013

    John Farnsworth has been awarded a Santander Foundation grant of £2000 to support his doctoral research.  In June, Farnsworth will use the funds to travel to the Sierra San Pedro Martyr in northern Baja with colleagues from the San Diego Zoo to participate in the release of California Condors.  The narrative of this project will comprise the penultimate chapter in Farnsworth's forthcoming book about Baja natural history.

    The Condor Field Station is situated in a remote section of the Sierra San Pedro National Park that has been set aside for conservation research.  Located in a conifer forest at nearly 8,000 feet, the research station is not accessible by car and generates its own power via solar arrays.  There are currently 30 condors resident in the nearby mountains, and every year another 4 to 7 condors that have been captive-bred in the San Diego Zoo are released there. 

    Farnsworth, who is a volunteer with the Golden Gate Raptor Observatory's Hawkwatch program, has been studying condor literature intensely for the past several months ever since he was selected for the release team.  Upon hearing news of the Santander fellowship, Farnsworth responded, "I am grateful to the Santander Foundation for their support; it will be a great honor to participate in the work of the SDZ Global Wildlife Conservancy, and to do my part to advance their mission of bringing species back from the brink of extinction." 

    Farnsworth directs the Baja Studies Abroad here at Santa Clara University. He spent the month of August at a field station in Bahia de los Angeles writing about ecologies of summer.  He will lead the Seventh Annual SCU Expedition to Circumnavigate Isla Espiritu Santo this coming March.  His doctoral research is being conducted at the University of Stirling in Scotland. 

  •  Improving communication between researchers and practitioners

    Friday, Jul. 12, 2013

    ESS faculty member Virginia Matzek recently collaborated with SCU students Justin Covino (Environmental Science '13), Martin Saunders (Environmental Studies '12), and colleague Jennifer Funk of Chapman University to assess how well knowledge about invasive species is shared between academic researchers and land managers. Their surveys revealed that most practitioners do not read academic papers on invasive species and instead tend to rely on their own experience. Information flow is just as limited in the other direction.  Virginia's team recommends that, in addition to developing interdisciplinary research ideas in direct consultation with managers, academic researchers should seek new ways to make their work more accessible, including open-access publishing, presenting results at stakeholder workshops or conferences, and using citizen science.

     A paper describing their work has been published in the journal Conservation Letters. The article is open-access and can be downloaded here.

  •  Claire Overholt blogs about summer journey

    Monday, Jul. 8, 2013
    SCU Environmental Studies major Claire Overholt is completing a fellowship through the Leavey School of Business Global Fellows program.
    For the next five weeks Claire will be interning with a non-profit based in Kolkata, India called the Association for Social and Environmental Development. Claire and her internship partner, Jessica VanderGiessen (a SCU bioengineering student), will be blogging about their experiences at
    Claire and Jessica's goal for their time in India is to promote ASED’s mission of nature conservation through education and to use social media and digital storytelling to help the organization grow. Their blog will be of interest to anyone who wants to see what environmental studies students can do, what working for a non-profit is like, and what environmental problems and solutions in an emerging economy country look like.
  •  Allison McNamara wins Johnson Leadership Stipend

    Wednesday, Jun. 19, 2013

    Allison McNamara, a double major in Environmental Studies and Anthropology, has been awarded a Johnson Leadership Experience Stipend to study capuchin monkeys in Costa Rica.

    As part of her proposed work, Allison will spend summer 2013 at La Suerte Biological Research Station in northeastern Costa Rica. While there, she will collect behavioral data on both juvenile and adult white-faced capuchin monkeys and record information on activity budget and positional behavior in order to determine differences in tail use and limb use during different developmental stages of the monkeys and how this affects their activity budget.

    Senior Kristie Kurtz will be working with Allison to collect data in the field. Dr. Michelle Bezanson of the Dept of Anthropology helped Allison to develop the project and will be working with her on publications after data collection is completed.

    Congratulations, Allison, and have fun in Costa Rica!


  •  Stephanie Hughes named 2012-2013 Sustainability Champion

    Saturday, Jun. 8, 2013

    The Sustainability Champion Awards are selected by the Office of Sustainability to recognize individuals and groups at SCU who go out of their way to develop a culture of sustainability. The award celebrates their hard work and honors their achievements. More information.

    Stephanie Hughes was selected to receive a Sustainability Champion Award for 2012-3013 based on her commitment to using the campus as a living laboratory for sustainability. Her classes almost always include some component of campus-based sustainability work. Her Joy Of Garbage students have helped tremendously with longitudinal data collection about waste at SCU. They also created new waste diversion signage, which we implemented at Leavey Events Center based on their test and follow-up analysis of the effectiveness of the different signs. They also did Malley Center's full waste characterization which has contributed to Campus Recreation's Zero Waste goals. Her ENVS 23 students are analyzing campus recycled water to support Facilities continued use on campus landscaping. She is a joy to work with and eager to collaborate with Facilities, University Operations, and the Office of Sustainability to help the University meet its commitments to justice and sustainability.

    Stephanie's training in chemical and environmental engineering combined with her professional experience in the areas of water and air quality, pollution control, chemical fate and transport, and regulatory compliance,make Stephanie uniquely qualified to offer a wide and exciting range of courses here at SCU. Her courses include Solar Revolution, Joy of Garbage, Environmental Technology, and Energy and the Environment. In addition to teaching these rigorous and highly popular courses, Stephanie continues to work as an environmental consultant in the area of water quality. Her real-world experience continually informs her teaching and allows Stephanie to connect students to local environmental organizations and internships.

    Congratulations, Stephanie!