Stanford marine biologists, anthropologists, bioengineers, doctors, psychologists, economists, linguistic experts and others soon will collaborate on finding more efficient and effective ways to track marine animals and ocean health, ensure polluters comply with environmental laws, slow deforestation, improve agriculture and more.
The Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment is awarding more than $1.2 million to nine innovative projects as part of its 2020 Environmental Venture Projects (EVP) and Realizing Environmental Innovation Program (REIP) grants. Both programs provide up to $200,000 per project for interdisciplinary research needed to solve major environmental problems. Such problems – ranging from long-neglected tropical diseases to managing groundwater supplies to drought-fueled wildfires – are too complex to be solved by any one discipline alone. The Stanford Woods Institute prioritizes funding interdisciplinary projects that have the potential to make significant strides in addressing such multifaceted challenges.
Since EVP began in 2004 and REIP began in 2015, the Stanford Woods Institute has awarded more than $17 million in grants to 112 research teams representing all seven of Stanford’s academic schools.
EVP grants support interdisciplinary, high-risk research projects that identify and develop real-world solutions. The projects selected for 2020:
Safeguarding Ocean Ecosystems and Food Security: Many coastal communities – especially in the developing world – face significant food and nutritional security challenges tied to their reliance on wild-caught fisheries and productive near- and offshore ecosystems. Palau recently banned fishing in 80 percent of its waters, providing an unprecedented opportunity for a social ecological investigation that could provide other small island nations valuable insights on safeguarding ocean ecosystems and food security.
This project analyzes biophysical, cultural and socioeconomic linkages among Palau’s offshore and nearshore ecosystems and coastal communities. Results will illuminate connections between tropical communities and marine ecosystems, as well as the role of Marine Protected Areas in environmental conservation and human development.
Fiorenza Micheli (Biology), Nicole Ardoin (Education), Rob Dunbar (Earth System Science), Stephen Monismith (Civil and Environmental Engineering) and Krish Seetah (Anthropology)
Strengthening Coral Reefs: Ocean warming has caused destruction of up to half of the world’s coral reefs, but some corals have remained resistant to high temperatures. Finding the mechanism for that resistance could open a window to restoring reefs. This project uses a novel approach that alters coral physiology with a battery of drugs developed for cancer and cell technology research.
High throughput testing of thousands of chemicals using a new coral tissue model will pinpoint the cellular mechanisms that circumvent bleaching at high temperatures. Selection for those specific mechanisms in current populations of corals will help restore future reefs with enhanced heat tolerance.
Stephen Palumbi (Biology), Bo Wang (Bioengineering) and Yunzhi Peter Wang (Medicine)
Optimizing Environmental Communication: Language matters. Terms used to communicate about the environment can significantly influence public support for a range of issues and solutions. Informed by data-driven natural language processing methods, interviews and focus groups, this multistage project develops, tests, and deploys a set of new terms, aiming to create a data-driven lexicon that is either less politically divisive or more likely to increase support for environmental practices and policies.
This multi-stage project is informed by data-driven natural language processing methods, interviews and focus groups. The researchers aim to create a data-driven environmental lexicon that engages support for pro-environmental policies and practices.
Brian Knutson (Psychology), Nicole Ardoin (Education) and Dan Jurafsky (Linguistics)
Voices of the Earth: Addressing the systemic causes of environmental destruction depends on fostering environmental awareness among the non-scientific public. This staged reading explores the relationship between human beings and the natural world through a merging of scientific research, poetic wisdom, political activism, climate-change denials, environmental writing and pleas from beleaguered indigenous communities.
The production will be made available online for interested groups to access, perform and use as an organizing tool to promote broader awareness of the climate crisis. The researchers will track results and measure the efficacy of this effort to make environmental challenges approachable and understandable.
Rush Rehm (Theater and Performance Studies, and Classics) and Charles Junkerman (Comparative Literature)
Incentivizing an End to Deforestation: Deforestation – a significant percentage of which occurs at the hands of smallholder farmers in developing countries – is one of the leading sources of global greenhouse gas emissions and represents the tremendous loss of biodiversity. This project seeks to reduce deforestation by smallholders by providing direct payments to farmers for conserving forest assets and using information- and market-based approaches to improve smallholder farmer livelihoods by enhancing the effectiveness of similar, traditional schemes.
The researchers will demonstrate the efficacy of these approaches by deploying pilot studies and field experiments in collaboration with partners in Uganda and Indonesia. They aim to demonstrate that carefully designed incentive schemes can efficiently achieve higher environmental outcomes while improving smallholder livelihood.
Irene Lo (Management Science and Engineering), Jim Leape (Law) and John Weyant (Management Science and Engineering)
Community-Based Agriculture and Aquaculture Restoration: This community-rooted project in Hawaii aims to protect, restore and nurture viable agricultural lands, cultural diversity and heritage assets. It collectively engages community members of all ages in place-specific native eco-and food-system restoration, educational experiences related to social and cultural regeneration and applied research and data collection.
Collaborating with local partners, the researchers will establish a baseline of soil analysis and map existing agricultural features in order to protect, restore and enhance watershed ecosystems. The project will encourage community-based collaborative management plans, and create a model for continued, community-lead efforts beyond the life of this project.
Michael Wilcox (Cultural and Social Anthropology) and Peter Vitousek (Biology)
REIP is intended to forward solution-based projects from the discovery phase of research to the validation phase and adoption by end users. The projects selected for 2020:
Making Agriculture More Sustainable: Fertilizer manufacturing has caused global food production to grow exponentially in the past 100 years. However, the process used to manufacture ammonia, a main ingredient in fertilizers, consumes 2 percent of the world’s natural gas and energy, and emits 300 million metric tons of carbon dioxide every year. This project aims to develop a more sustainable approach that is also safer and more affordable.
The researchers aim to develop a new process powered by renewable energy. If successful, it would eliminate the carbon footprint that has plagued fertilizer production for over a century – while reducing costs and increasing safety.
Mark Capelli (Mechanical Engineering) and Juan Rivas (Electrical Engineering)
AI for Clean Water: Through a partnership with the Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance at EPA, this project will deploy cutting-edge data science to better improve methods for identifying industrial and other polluters discharging chemicals into water illegally beyond permitted levels.
Specifically, the researchers will assist EPA to increase compliance with the Clean Water Act by developing improved risk models to enable early enforcement interventions and by comparing the effectiveness of different enforcement approaches in a randomized controlled trial. The partnership is intended to lead to a broader effort to use data science to tackle a range of environmental compliance challenges.
Dan Ho (Law) and Jenny Suckale (Geophysics)
Biosensors for Real-time Sensing of the Marine Environment: Scientists studying the health of marine ecosystems track marine animals for extended periods of time and combine observations with coastal monitoring buoys or satellite observations. Current efforts to track marine animals primarily depend on expensive, rigid and heavy tags that require invasive attachment techniques. This project will build a low cost, lightweight, non-invasive tag.
Adopting skin-like sensors used to develop wearable technology such as activity trackers, the researchers will develop a small wearable multisensory tag capable of withstanding harsh ocean environments. This will allow safe, cutting-edge approaches to monitor and assess marine life and ecosystem health to support conservation and management.
Barbara Block (Biology), Zhenan Bao (Chemical Engineering) and Sherman Lo (Aeronautics and Astronautics)