UC Merced Graduate Studies: Environmental Systems

UC Merced Graduate Studies: Environmental Systems


If you are thinking about climate change or
thinking about environmental sustainability, you have to think about human impacts as well
as science questions, engineering problems, these are all linked together and we’re not
going to solve big problems in sustainability of our planet unless we can really pull together
those linkages and think about how to solve problems in an integrated way. So that’s really
the essence of what Environmental Systems is about. When we go forward in the next ten years, we’re
going to be able to respond to new ideas, new types of equipment, new ways of doing
research that a traditional university might be a little bit more hidebound. My lab pulls focus on developing novel geo-spatial
technologies, spatial analysis and remote sensing. In recent years specifically we are
working on a new remote sensing field called LIDAR. The real research problem I was looking at
was how can GIS, Geographical Information Systems, be used to really look at search-and-rescue
problems. I work in the area of environmental geochemistry
so my research is concerned with toxic things in the environment, mostly inorganic kinds
of toxic things. I am in the process of building a brand new
million-dollar laboratory that is going to highlight stable isotope ecology in geochemistry. Soil microorganisms regulate much of the nutrient
cycling that we see or don’t see in our ecosystems and that’s really important if we’re concerned
about rangeland management, and I specifically look at how cattle grazing can affect that
nutrient cycling. My project involves lead and cadmium surface
chemistry on common minerals, to apply it to planning and remediation in contaminated
sites. My project is about water flow processes in
the meadows in the sierra Nevada, so as more and more effort is being put forward to restore
meadows in the Sierra, understanding how the meadow and therefore the water shed will respond
to that restoration. We like to reach out to students that have
a different view of how to solve environmental problems, that it’s not just strictly a science
problem, an engineering problem, a policy problem, a law problem. I had an engineer on my committee, an anthropologist,
a computer scientist and so what’s nice is I can pitch ideas and say well this is really
interesting in the GIS field, or this is really interesting in the computer science field,
would this be interesting to you as an anthropologist? I’ve also had the ability to work with the
Sierra Nevada Research Institute here at Merced, and if I have questions with my hydrology
research and I want to ask an ecologist or a biologist familiar with the Sierra Nevada,
that’s right at hand. It’s really empowering because we are so new
there’s a lot of things that are malleable still. By being involved you can have an influence
on how the university grows and I think that that’s something that’s really special to
this university. I think the youth of the campus and its location
is really what provides those opportunities, it’s a new school and so they’re willing to
look at informal partnerships and new relationships that maybe you don’t see on other more established
campuses. Being able to get to know these world-class
scientists and work closely with them has been a very unique opportunity. The size of the school has a lot of impact
on how often you see your advisor, how big your program is, how much time you’re going
be receiving on instrumentation. I have access to the Environmental Analytical
Laboratory and within that lab they have a number of instruments that can do some pretty
cool things. In addition EAL I use a variety of equipment
in the field, pressure transducers, meteorological instrumentation, in order to access my field
sites I’m using snowmobiles that are purchased by the university, field vehicles that will
get me on dirt roads from time to time as well. There’s a lot of really good graduate students
here and we interact across disciplines a lot more than I think you might at a different
university and so all of us get together and we have pot lucks and things like that. I met my wife here, I bought a house here,
I just had my first child here this year. Having Yosemite National Park two hours away
has been fantastic, having the city of San Francisco two hours away provides a lot of
opportunities. I think it’s cool to be at a campus that has
such a unique vision or progressive vision for sustainability. We’re dynamic, we’re growing our faculty,
there is continually new opportunities for students and I think in the next couple of
years we’re going to be bringing on more high-level analysis, different kinds of laboratories. I’m really driven by passion, and so passion
is important for good research for me, knowing that there were problems that needed solving
and that my research could contribute to those was really effective to get me to wake up
everyday and put in the hard work that graduate school is.

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