Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment View this newsletter in your browser.
May 2013
Breaking News Breaking News
Research Highlights Research Highlights
People Spotlights People Spotlights
Program Updates Program Updates
In the News In the News

Calendar of Upcoming Events
Commonwealth Club of California Talk
"Investing in Natural Capital"

Mary Ruckelshaus, managing director of the Natural Capital Project (NatCap), Rich Sharp, NatCap lead software developer, and Heather Tallis, lead scientist for The Nature Conservancy, will discuss their use of open-source software to transform how communities and institutions value natural capital in decision-making. Tickets are free to students with ID.
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Hiding in Plain Sight

What does the environment have to do with your health? A recent study estimates that air, water and soil pollution cause up to 40 percent of worldwide deaths each year. Yet the environment is often left out of medical conversations. A special report in the latest Stanford Medicine magazine tells how Stanford Woods Institute researchers are addressing issues at the intersection of health and the environment, including a radical solution for purifying contaminated drinking water, new technology that removes pathogens from recycled water and the use of satellite data to demystify the ecology of disease-bearing pests. Woods has supported interdisciplinary research related to each of these projects and many others through its Environmental Venture Projects seed grant program. Read on to learn about other innovative solutions from Woods faculty and researchers.


Debbie Drake Dunne
Executive Director

Jeffrey R. Koseff
Perry L. McCarty Director

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

Breaking News

Y2E2 Building Achieves LEED 'Platinum' Level

The U.S. Green Building Council has awarded its highest certification for sustainability in operations and maintenance to the Jerry Yang and Akiko Yamazaki Environment and Energy Building, known informally on campus as "Y2E2." The LEED-EBOM (Existing Building: Operations and Maintenance) Platinum® designation differs from other versions of the rating system because the certification relies on actual building performance, not design potential. To qualify, the 166,000-square-foot building had to demonstrate efficient performance in several areas, including energy and water consumption, reduced waste going to landfills and promotion of alternative transportation for its occupants. "This certification is more than a reflection of the incredible performance of the Y2E2 building in terms of energy, water and resource use. It is a measure of the dedication and commitment to meeting the daily challenge of sustainability of the inhabitants of the building and all the vendors and contractors who service it," said Jeff Koseff, co-director of the Stanford Woods Institute and chair of the Y2E2 Building Leadership Team.

Photo credit: Boora

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Research Highlights

Climate Change Occurring Faster Than Ever

The planet is undergoing one of the largest climate changes in the past 65 million years, say Senior Fellows Noah Diffenbaugh (Earth Sciences) and Chris Field (Biology), in a special report in the current issue of Science. Furthermore, they report that climate shift is on track to occur at a rate 10 times faster than any change in that period. Without intervention, this extreme pace could lead to a 5- to 6-degree Celsius spike in annual temperatures by the end of the century. If the trend continues at its current rapid pace, it will place significant stress on terrestrial ecosystems around the world, and many species will need to make behavioral, evolutionary or geographic adaptations to survive.

Photo credit: Nathan Macaluso

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Fuel for Oceanic Voyages: Liver Oil

Great white sharks are not exactly known as picky eaters, so it might seem obvious that these voracious predators would dine often and well on their migrations across the Pacific Ocean. Not so, according to new research by scientists at the Monterey Bay Aquarium and Stanford, including Senior Fellow Barbara Block (Biology). The researchers' findings reveal previously unknown details of how great white sharks power themselves and stay buoyant on nonstop trips of more than 2,500 miles. The discoveries have potentially broad implications for conservation and management of coastal waters.

Photo credit: Monterey Bay Aquarium

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Where the Wild Things Are, and People Aren't

Palmyra Atoll, a flyspeck on the map about 1,000 miles southwest of Hawaii, is a paradise of Technicolor corals, crystalline lagoons and lush native forests virtually untouched by man. Isolated wildernesses such as Palmyra provide precious natural laboratories and hold a powerful allure in the popular consciousness. However, few scientists or policymakers have considered how to tailor conservation approaches to the unique challenges of these largely inaccessible places. A new study co-authored by four Stanford Woods Institute researchers and other scientists evaluates different conservation methods as they apply to remote areas. Its findings have the potential to reshape the way we think about and manage nature at the edges of civilization.

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For more research, see the Stanford Woods Institute quarterly Research Digest.
People Spotlights

A New Way to Manage Groundwater

Senior Fellow Rosemary Knight (Earth Sciences) recently testified before the California State Assembly's Select Committee on Sea Level Rise and the California Economy on how geophysical technology can map complex spatial distribution of saltwater and freshwater along the California coast and provide ongoing monitoring of saltwater intrusion to allow for adaptive groundwater management. She emphasized the need for a large-scale perspective on the problem and noted that neither groundwater nor seawater stop at jurisdictional boundaries. She said, "There need to be drivers at the state level for a proactive program of consistent and reliable measurement and monitoring before a crisis strikes and it’s too late to respond." The hearing was the second of four statewide hearings on how sea level rise affects the California economy.

Photo credit: L.A. Cicero, Stanford News Service

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Coral Classroom

The people of Palau have many words for the sea and its conditions. Their lives are intimately connected with the ocean and its vibrant coral reefs. Thirteen Stanford students headed to the tiny western Pacific archipelago recently as part of a Bing Overseas Studies Program seminar, "Corals of Palau: Ecology, the Physical Environment and Reefs at Risk." They learned how coral reefs – massively intricate webs of life – function, and they developed field skills to study reefs and understand threats to reefs worldwide. Stanford Woods Institute Senior Fellows Rob Dunbar (Earth Sciences) and Stephen Monismith (Civil and Environmental Engineering) and Senior Lecturer Meg Caldwell (Law) taught the three-week course, which came with more than a few surprises.

Photo credit: Rob Dunbar

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Pioneering Climate Scientist Honored

Senior Fellow Chris Field (Biology) has been named co-recipient of the 2013 Max Planck Research Prize, one of Germany's top science awards. He shared the prize with Markus Reichstein of the Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry in Germany. Each prizewinner will receive 750,000 euros ($969,000) to finance research and fund cooperation with other scientists working in Germany and abroad. Field, who is director of the Carnegie Institution for Science Department of Global Ecology, was recognized for having "significantly increased our knowledge of how life on Earth responds to climate change, and what reactions can be anticipated between the biosphere and the atmosphere."

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Stuck in the Mud: Farmers' Soggy Fortunes

Walter Falcon, a senior fellow emeritus at the Stanford Woods Institute and deputy director of the Center on Food Security and the Environment, writes about the risky business of farming from his home in eastern Iowa. "We have gone from one of the very hottest and driest years on record to one of very coldest and wettest," Falcon writes. "For Iowa, it was the wettest spring ever, eclipsing the 1892 record. The riskiness of farming is something to see in real time; it is also very instructive to listen as farmers talk about coping with uncertainty."

Photo credit: USDA

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Program Updates

The Best Defense Against Catastrophic Storms: Mother Nature

Extreme weather, sea level rise and degraded coastal systems are placing people and property at greater risk along the coast. Natural habitats such as dunes and reefs are critical to protecting millions of U.S. residents and billions of dollars in property from coastal storms, according to a new study by scientists with the Natural Capital Project. The study offers the first comprehensive map of the entire U.S. coastline that shows where and how much protection communities get from natural habitats such as sand dunes, coral reefs, sea grasses and mangroves.

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Ocean-Going Robot Works to Make Seafood and Beaches Safer

In collaboration with other organizations and government agencies, Center for Ocean Solutions (COS) researchers recently launched robotic technology that detects water-borne microbes, harmful algae and toxins in near-real time. Using probes and automated technology, the device helps assess whether beaches are safe for recreation and seafood is fit for consumption.

Photo credit: Kevan Yamahara

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Sustainability Honor

The Ecological Society of America (ESA) awarded its 2013 Sustainability Science Award to a book whose co-authors include seven Center on Food Security and the Environment researchers and Woods Senior Fellows Pamela Matson (Earth Sciences), David Lobell (Earth Sciences), Rosamond Naylor (Earth Sciences) and Walter Falcon (Humanities and Sciences). Seeds of Sustainability: Lessons From the Birthplace of the Green Revolution details the findings and insights of School of Earth Science Dean Matson, the book's editor, and an interdisciplinary team who documented 15 years of agricultural development in Mexico's Yaqui Valley, one of the world's most intensive agricultural regions, and its transition to more sustainable management. The annual award is given to the authors of a scholarly work that "makes the greatest contribution to the emerging science of ecosystem and regional sustainability through the integration of ecological and social sciences."

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In the News
Selected media coverage of the Stanford Woods Institute and its
fellows, affiliated scholars and supported research

Looking at Palm Oil's Genome for Keys to Productivity

The New York Times, July 24
Quotes Senior Fellow Lisa Curran on the growing pressure to convert more land to grow oil palms


Recycling Comes of Age in Silicon Valley

KQED, July 19
Quotes Senior Fellow Dick Luthy on a new way of producing more drinking water in Silicon Valley from a controversial source: wastewater


Great White Sharks Feast at the Seal Buffet Before Heading Out to Sea

Wired, July 17
Describes study of sharks co-authored by Senior Fellow Barbara Block (Biology) that likens a Pacific great white's pre-migration meal to visiting an Outback Steakhouse stocked with elephant seals


New Map Shows Where Nature Protects U.S. Coast

National Geographic, July 14
Interview with Woods postdoctoral scholar Katie Arkema (Natural Capital Project) about map she helped create of natural habitats that protect U.S. coastlines


How Virtual Reality Games Can Impact Society, Encourage Prosperity

PBS, July 11
News Hour interview with Senior Fellow Jeremy Bailenson (Communication) head of Stanford's virtual reality lab, about how virtual reality can affect environmental choices


Double Win for Haiti: Human Waste Into Valuable Fertilizer

The Christian Science Monitor, July 1
Describes household toilet service set up by Stanford civil and environmental engineering Ph.D. students Sebastien Tilmans and Kory Russel under the guidance of Senior Fellow Jenna Davis (Civil and Environmental Engineering)


Seeking More Presidential Action, Less Rhetoric, on Warming

The New York Times, June 26
Center Fellow Michael Wara (Law) critiques President Obama's climate change initiative


Want to Save the Planet? Ditch Meat, Says Study

NBC News, June 19
Quotes Senior Fellow and Center on Food Security and the Environment Associate Director David Lobell (Earth Sciences)

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