Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment View this newsletter in your browser. June 2012
Research Highlights Research Highlights
People Spotlights People Spotlight
Program Updates Program Updates
Announcements Announcements

Calendar of Upcoming Events
Silicon Valley Energy Summit
Speakers: Sen. Jeff Bingaman, chair Senate Energy Committee; Marcy Scott Lynn, Facebook; Nancy McFadden, office of Gov. Jerry Brown; Josh Green, Mohr Davidow Ventures; Mukesh Khattar, Oracle; Devra Wang, Natural Resources Defense Council; et al.
» Read more …
Economic Tools for Conservation
"Applied economics training for conservation professionals."
» Read more …
The 2012 Nonprofit Management Institute
"New Skills for a Complex World"

Seminar leaders include Wendy Millet, associate director of programs at the Stanford Woods Institute.
» Read more …

Directors' Letter

Promising research ideas need support.

To catalyze transformative environmental and sustainability research, the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment has awarded millions of dollars in Environmental Venture Projects (EVP) seed grants to interdisciplinary research teams from all of Stanford University's seven schools. This year's EVPs hold the promise of solving a broad range of challenges with innovative ideas. In the past, EVPs have led to development of natural resources valuation software and biodegradable building materials. We look forward to seeing what this year's winners come up with. Read on for details about the 2012 EVPs and other exciting news.


Debbie Drake Dunne
Executive Director

Jeffrey R. Koseff
Perry L. McCarty Director

Barton H. Thompson, Jr.
Perry L. McCarty Director

Research Highlights

Environmental Venture Projects Awarded

Does corporate environmentalism pay? Can wastewater treatment plants double as renewable energy power plants? Recipients of this year's Environmental Venture Projects (EVP) seed grants are poised to answer these and other questions.

2012 EVPs (principal investigators in bold):


Fragile Land-Sea Ecological Chains

What does a palm tree have to do with a manta ray? A lot, actually, thanks to a chain of interactions that starts with the planting of non-native species and leads to reduced food options for coast-cruising rays. Students of Stanford Woods Institute Senior Fellows Robert Dunbar and Rodolfo Dirzo and Fiorenza Micheli, an associate professor of biology affiliated with the Stanford Woods Institute, discovered this chain - one of the longest such chains ever documented. Their study, published in Nature Scientific Reports, sheds light on how human disturbance of the natural world may lead to widespread, yet largely invisible, disruptions of ecological interaction chains. This, in turn, highlights the need to build non-traditional alliances - among marine biologists and foresters, for example - to address whole ecosystems across political boundaries.


Bringing Back Gulf Coast Oysters

Hurricane Katrina and the Deepwater Horizon disaster have lent new urgency to restoring natural communities that provide storm protection and income along the Gulf Coast. Using the latest version of its decision-support software, the Natural Capital Project is working with The Nature Conservancy to restore oyster reefs and enable regional planners and managers to evaluate how restored reefs can best protect shorelines from coastal hazards while stimulating a recovering fisheries economy. These sophisticated evaluation models and tools are the foundation of the Coastal Resilience project.


Better Economic Indicator Could Spur Sustainability

In partnership with the Natural Capital Project, the UN University and UN Environment Program released a report at the UN's Earth Summit 2012 (Rio+20) that provides a path forward for countries to implement inclusive wealth accounting, a measure of natural, manufactured, human and social forms of capital. The report also illustrates how such accounting could be a better and more comprehensive indicator than GDP to assess the wealth of a country.

Using InVEST, a free software suite developed by the Natural Capital Project to map and value environmental goods and services, authors of the Inclusive Wealth Report 2012 (IWR) demonstrate how ecosystem services such as drinking water quality can be incorporated into inclusive wealth accounting. The IWR represents a crucial first step in transforming the global economic paradigm, by ensuring that we have the correct information to assess economic development and well-being - and to reassess our needs and goals.

People Spotlights

Wastewater Technology Gets National Attention

A group led by Stanford Ph.D. student Yaniv Scherson and advised by Stanford Woods Institute Senior Fellow Craig Criddle finished in the top six of the U.S. Department of Energy’s National University Clean Energy Business Challenge on June 13. In May, the team’s project beat out more than 60 other university teams to win the competition’s western regional segment, earning a $100,000 prize.

The project involves a process that recovers energy from waste nitrogen by converting it into nitrous oxide. The nitrous oxide can be used to burn biogas, which results from the recovery of methane from organic waste, or to power a small rocket thruster that converts the nitrous into clean, hot air. Criddle is also part of a team that recently won an EVP grant for a research project entitled "Recovery of Entropic Energy at Wastewater Treatment Plants Discharging to Saline Environments." Scherson, Criddle and aeronautics professor Brian Cantwell began developing the low-cost technology in 2009 with an Environmental Venture Projects (EVP) seed grant.


Podcasting the Anthropocene

In a new podcast series that has garnered attention from national media, Stanford Woods Institute Senior Fellow Terry Root talks about her approach to biodiversity loss, earth science communication and the far-reaching impacts of humankind. Generation Anthropocene features Root, whose research interests include ornithology, the responses of organisms to climate change and the distribution of organisms across continents, and other Stanford Woods Institute fellows.

The podcast, co-produced by Ph.D students Mike Osborne and Miles Traer with Tom Hayden, a lecturer with the Emmett Interdisciplinary Program in Environment and Resources, looks at 21st Century environmental issues through student interviews with Stanford faculty. The project was an outgrowth of Hayden's science communications work as a Leopold Leadership Program fellow. Scientific American and the environmental website Grist have featured Generation Anthropocene.

Program Updates

SIGF Appointments

The Stanford Interdisciplinary Graduate Fellowship (SIGF) Program recently awarded three fellowships to Stanford students doing environment and energy research. A competitive university-wide program overseen and administered by the Office of the Vice Provost for Graduate Education, SIGF awards three-year fellowships to outstanding doctoral students engaged in interdisciplinary research.

This year's SIGF fellows:

  • Charles Kang, Energy Resources Engineering: “Algorithmic dispatch and design of carbon-constrained power generation systems”
  • Frances Moore, Emmett Interdisciplinary Program in Environment and Resources: “Understanding Climate Change Adaptation in Agriculture for Improved Impact Assessment”
  • Elspeth Ready, Anthropology: “Does beluga meat reduce socio-economic disparity? Environmental variability, hunting, and sharing in Nunavik”

New Research Initiative: Sensors

Increasingly, scientists are using sensors to monitor toxic emissions and air and water quality. The Energy and Environment Affiliates Program (EEAP) held a conference to examine sensors' potential to address related environmental problems. Among other topics, participants focused on the use of sensors for energy and environmental monitoring in harsh environments such as oceans and natural gas wells. They also discussed related potential research initiatives and collaborations.


MUIR Students List

The Mentoring Undergraduates in Interdisciplinary Research (MUIR) Program announced this year's winners of stipends to support undergraduates conducting interdisciplinary environmental research with Stanford faculty during the summer:


  • Claire Zabel (faculty adviser: Rob Dunbar): “Impacts of Ocean Acidification on Coral Reefs: Insights from Experiment at Palmyra Atoll”
  • Jeanette Lim (faculty adviser: Bill Durham): “Perceptions of Environmental Degradation and Mitigation in Tambopata, Peru”
  • Belinda Tang (faculty adviser: Jenna Davis): “Reuse of Waste Stabilization Pond Treated Bio-solids in Uganda”
  • Jen Ang (faculty adviser: Jon Krosnick): “The impact of news media coverage on American public opinion”
  • Jordan Pratt (faculty adviser: Noah Diffenbaugh): “ThinkClimate: Mobile Sustainability”
  • Emma Boraderick (faculty adviser: Nicole Ardoin): “Evaluation Research on Konawaena Place-Based Environmental Education Program”
  • Esther Oh (faculty adviser: Larry Crowder): “Social Science Research in Hawaiian Coral Reef Fisheries”
  • Natalie Luu (faculty adviser: Brian Knutson): “Adapting Neuroeconomics Principles to Economic Decision-Making”

The Future of Indian Agriculture

Despite accelerating economic growth in India during the last 30 years, India's structural transformation remains stunted, said economist Hans Binswanger-Mkhize at a recent Center on Food Security and the Environment symposium on global food policy and food security. Unlike in China, India's urban migration and labor absorption have been slower than expected, especially in the typically labor-intensive manufacturing sector. Formal sector jobs are few and declining as a share of employment and agricultural employment (and growth) remains low.

Binswanger-Mkhize, adjunct professor at China Agricultural University's School of Economics and Management, and Marianne Banziger, deputy director general for research and partnerships at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), discussed past and likely future agricultural growth and rural poverty reduction in the context of India's economy. The researchers emphasized that improving rural incomes and supporting agricultural growth are both essential strategies for decreasing poverty and unemployment in India now and in the future.


Water in the West Goes to the Capital

Water in the West took its pursuit of better groundwater management to Sacramento recently. Following a series of Uncommon Dialogues to explore best practices with California groundwater agencies, Water in the West invited a group of academic, government and non-profit sector experts to hear a different set of perspectives on alternative approaches to reform.

While acknowledging the benefits of recently passed state groundwater legislation and lauding the stewardship of the state's more progressive groundwater districts, meeting participants stressed a need for further action in the face of major overdraft and pollution problems. They also focused on the importance of groundwater in maintaining environmental health and meeting the water needs of future generations. As a result of the meeting, Water in the West researchers will publish a report evaluating a range of improved management options and will convene a final conference to discuss the findings and ways to move forward.


Drinking Water Project Honored

Faculty and students affiliated with the Program on Water, Health and Development just took two significant steps toward bettering the lives of half a billion people. The Stanford Dhaka Water Project team, which is advised by Stanford Woods Institute Center Fellow Jenna Davis, has been working to develop an in-line chlorinator for low-income urban neighborhoods that rely on shared drinking water points. The team won first place and a $20,000 prize in the Social Entrepreneurship Challenge sponsored by the Business Association of Stanford Entrepreneurial Students and $15,000 in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's P3 (People, Prosperity and the Planet Student Design Competition for Sustainability) award competition.

This summer, the team will field-test their prototype in the slums of Dhaka, Bangladesh. The technology could benefit the hundreds of millions of urban residents worldwide whose piped networks deliver contaminated water.

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