Santa Clara University

Department of Environmental Studies and Sciences

News and Events


Environmental Studies and Sciences News & Events

  •  Dr. Matzek awarded USDA grant to study carbon sequestration along Sacramento River

    Thursday, May. 24, 2012

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

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


  •  Sierra streamflow likely to diminish under projected climatic changes

    Thursday, Apr. 26, 2012

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

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

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

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

    Thursday, Apr. 5, 2012


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

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

  •  Justin Covino receives SFS Distinguished Student Research Award

    Tuesday, Mar. 6, 2012

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

  •  SCU research shows how to control rangeland pest

    Monday, Mar. 5, 2012

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

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

    Link to article

  •  Dr. Peter Kareiva elected to National Academy of Sciences

    Thursday, Jan. 12, 2012

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

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

  •  SCU to host 2012 AESS conference

    Thursday, Jan. 12, 2012

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

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

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

  •  Challenging Conservationists to Balance the Needs of People and Nature

    Monday, Aug. 8, 2011

    Peter Kareiva and Michelle Marvier of the Department of Environmental Studies and Sciences have published the first textbook to explore the scientific foundations of conservation while highlighting strategies to better connect its practice with the needs and priorities of a human population that is growing by a quarter million people every day.

    Conservation is a scientific enterprise and social movement that seeks to protect nature, including Earth’s animals, plants, and ecosystems. People all too often see conservation as being at odds with human well-being and economic development. Instead, it can and should be an important strategy for improving human health and welfare. Indeed, Kareiva and Marvier foresee conservation succeeding only if it finds a way to balance the needs of people and nature. Their book explores how conservation can protect nature, not from, but for people.

    Because conservation is concerned with how humans live on the planet, passions about what needs to be done to achieve success run deep. In fact, the central theme of Kareiva and Marvier’s text—that conservationists must look beyond national parks and other protected areas, where human activity is restricted, to human-altered landscapes and the benefits that nature offers to society—has drawn fire from some conservationists. Conservation requires difficult choices and sacrifices, and Kareiva and Marvier guide their readers to confront those choices. Conservation Science: Balancing the Needs of People and Nature is published by Roberts and Co. and is now available.

  •  ESS welcomes Dr. Virginia Matzek!

    Friday, Aug. 5, 2011

    SCU’s Department of Environmental Studies and Sciences welcomes Dr. Virginia Matzek as a newest Assistant Professor of Environmental Science. Dr. Matzek earned a M.S. in Environmental Science, Policy, & Management from UC Berkeley and a Ph.D. in Biology from Stanford University. She worked as a lecturer here at SCU a few years ago before taking a tenure-track position at Sacramento State University. We are delighted to have recruited her back onto our faculty team.

    Dr. Matzek’s research is centered around ecological restoration to preserve or re-establish ecosystem services. “Ecosystem services” refers to the myriad ways that intact, functioning ecosystems benefit humans, for example by providing crop pollination, groundwater storage, nutrient cycling and topsoil formation, and so on.

    Dr. Matzek’s current research involves quantifying the ecosystem service of carbon sequestration—storage of atmospheric carbon dioxide in stable, non-gaseous forms—that is provided by restored forests along the Middle Sacramento River. About this project, she writes, “These sites were planted with native riparian forest species over a period of two decades by The Nature Conservancy and River Partners, in cooperation with state and federal agencies. Their original purpose was to provide habitat for threatened/endangered species like the yellow-billed cuckoo, which they have done, admirably. But no one has really looked at what the value of these restorations has been to humans. The trees and soils on these former agricultural sites may be carbon sinks, or they may actually be releasing legacy carbon from the decomposition of the orchard stumps that preceded the restoration. Because the sites were restored in phases over nearly 25 years, they form a fantastically well-replicated age series in which to quantify how much, if any, carbon is stored by forests at different stages of secondary succession.”

    Dr. Matzek will be looking for research assistants to help her with field work as well as greenhouse studies and laboratory analyses. Please stop by her office on the second floor and welcome her back to SCU!

  •  Letter from the Chair

    Friday, Aug. 5, 2011

    Welcome back from what I hope was a terrific summer break. There are many changes underway for SCU’s environmental program.

    New Department of ESS

    This year Santa Clara University welcomes a new Department of Environmental Studies and Sciences (ESS). The establishment of this new department both demonstrates and deepens SCU’s commitment to fashioning a world that is just, humane, and sustainable.

    Interest in environmental fields has been growing rapidly both nationwide and here at SCU. When the university first offered environmental science and environmental studies as majors in 1999, only one student studied it. Currently more than 125 students are majoring in either environmental science or environmental studies.

    Dr. Michelle Marvier (that’s me!) will serve as the first official chair of the Department of ESS. The department also welcomes Dr. Virginia Matzek as a new Assistant Professor of Environmental Science.

    Environmental Studies Becomes a Stand-alone Major

    As a part of creating the Department of ESS, the university has also transformed the environmental studies companion major into a stand-alone major, giving the university depth to offer a robust coursework that focuses on societal responses to environmental problems.

    In the past, students could major in environmental studies only in addition to some other primary major. Environmental studies is now recognized as a coherent and rigorous curriculum that includes environmental law, policy, and economics, as well as sustainable development.

    Changes to Environmental Science and Studies Course Requirements

    All newly enrolled majors in both Environmental Science and Environmental Studies will fall under a revised set of course requirements. Continuing students who were declared before September 1, 2011 will continue under the old set of requirements but can elect to switch to the new requirements if desired. Your advisor will be in touch via email with details.

    ESI Lives!

    Santa Clara University’s Environmental Studies Institute (ESI) will continue to operate as a separate entity under the direction of Dr. Leslie Gray. ESI will focus on outreach programs in the community such as AmeriCorps, sustainability across the curriculum, campus sustainability, healthy food systems, and urban gardening.

    Best wishes for a successful, inspiring academic year!

    Michelle Marvier, Chair of the Dept. of ESS