Director's Statement 2011-2012

Recent events have continued to highlight the need for developing a predictive understanding of the Earth system, how it changes through time, and how these changes affect society.  In our second official year as a new organized research unit (ORU), ERI participants continued to make strong contributions toward increasing this understanding. The merger of the Institute for Crustal Studies and the Institute for Computational Earth System Science into the new Earth Research Institute (ERI) resulted in the creation of our new mission of “Supporting research and education in the sciences of our solid, fluid, and living Earth” and the articulation of our mission statement into the academic emphases of:

  • Earth System Science: Earth's subsystems and their interactions
  • Earth Evolution: Rate and causes of change in Earth tectonics, climate, & biota
  • Natural Hazards: Impacts of Earth processes on society: earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, landslides, floods, drought, etc.
  • Human Impacts: Impacts of mankind on the Earth: pollution assessment & remediation to biodiversity conservation & resource management to anthropogenic climate change.

Some examples of the research within these emphases are Jordan Clark’s work examining the impact of natural marine hydrocarbon seeps on the regional environment and global methane cycle; John Cottle’s research looking at the evolution of mid-crustal rocks that are bounded by active fault systems; Carla D’Antonio’s project examining on-going changes in vegetation and the hydrologic cycle (e.g., timing and amounts of stream flow, nutrients in run-off) in areas of high fire activity; Frank Davis’ research examining how environmental conditions vary locally in mountainous regions of the western United States and how rapid climate change determines the survival and migration rates of trees; Jeff Dozier’s efforts to address resource demands by examining water quality and quantity in the western US (the foundation of agricultural and urban development); Bradley Hacker’s efforts to characterize deformation over a broad range of spatial, thermal, and temporal scales in order to provide insight into the role of the middle crust in geodynamic development; Sally MacIntyre’s examination of autotrophic growth and respiration in lakes (anticipated to change with increased anthropogenic activity in their watersheds and with climate change); Simone Pulver’s research on the creation of carbon markets; and Alexander Simms’ attempt to disentangle the isostatic adjustment from satellite gravity measurements suggesting mass loss (melting) in the Antarctic Peninsula Ice Sheet in order to predict the future fate of ice sheets in light of predictions of sea-level rise and global warming.

The diversity of the research efforts within ERI are due to our rich pool of participants.  ERI involves faculty and researchers from the Bren School, EEMB, Earth Science, Geography, MSI/NCEAS, Chemistry/Chemical Engineering, Computer Science, Economics, Environmental Studies, the Library, and Physics. Additional examples of research projects within ERI may be found on our website (please see   In addition, ERI is home to two research centers: the UC Center for the Environmental Implications of Nanotechnology (CEIN), and the Vernon and Mary Cheadle Center for Biodiversity and Ecological Restoration (CCBER).

The mission of CEIN is to use a multidisciplinary approach to conduct research, knowledge acquisition, education and outreach to ensure the responsible use and safe implementation of nanotechnology in the environment. Examples of CEIN research include that of graduate student Shannon Hanna, who established that the impact of nanoparticles on the environment is magnified via the concentration of nanoparticles in organisms higher up in the food chain, and Holden and Schimel’s work showing that the presence of zinc oxide and cerium oxide (two commonplace nanoparticles) in soils adversely affects soybean plants. In April, 2012, the site visit for the UC Center for the Environmental Implications of Nanotechnology (CEIN) was completed and the results were remarkably positive.  The committee noted that the CEIN is an “outstanding example of a multidisciplinary research center functioning as a whole much greater than the sum of its parts and making significant contributions to the study of environmental implications of nanotechnology.”  

The efforts of CCBER are diverse, supporting education, research, collections management, and ecosystem management, in addition to restoration and conservation. As home to over 350,000 botanical and zoological specimens, collected over the course of more than sixty years, CCBER has demonstrated a growing contribution to the research and educational missions of UCSB.  Through classes taught in EEMB, Environmental Studies, Geology, Studio Art, and the Donald Bren School of Environmental Science and Management, CCBER collections play a key role in understanding and documenting biodiversity and in informing public policy on such issues as invasive species, climate change, evolution, and emerging public health threats.  In May and June of this year, The Pastel Society of the Gold Coast opened an exhibition, Preserving Native California, at the UCSB Faculty Club. These Southern California artists use soft pastels to express the nature and beauty of our Gold Coast region.  Acknowledging the work of CCBER in restoring campus open space and providing educational outreach to the community, a portion of the proceeds from the exhibition were donated to CCBER. Due to a grant obtained by CCBER, UCSB was able to complete construction of a beautiful new stairway, providing access to Campus Point while decreasing the rate of erosion (gullies were being cut deeper year by year by the heavy foot traffic and channeling of storm runoff – please see

Due to the support of the Executive Vice Chancellor, this year will allow us begin a project that is key to sustaining historical research data and that addresses one of the largest concerns indicated by agencies recently, namely, data management.  This effort, undertaken in collaboration with the Library, will build on prior research efforts by ERI participants.  Greg Janée, who has been working with UCOP over the past year to assist in the UC Curation Center efforts, will act as project lead in these efforts.  In addition to our PIs committing their time, effort, and data to building the campus-level program, we hope to strengthen the ties and collaboration with the UC Center in order to provide services to our participants and to aid in UC efforts toward addressing these growing federal requirements. 

Our building, Ellison Hall, completed the US Green Building Council Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) assessment this year and was awarded a Gold certification.  The following achievements were noted:

  • 86 percent diversion (recycling) rate for all waste generated by building occupants
  • Energy efficiency rating in the 80th percentile as demonstrated by a DOE benchmarking analysis
  • 34 percent water use reduction following TGIF-funded fixture retrofit project
  • One of the oldest LEED certified existing buildings in the UC (second only to UCSB's Girvetz Hall).

This award was due to the hard work of staff in Geography, ERI, and FM, and it is indicative of the collaborative nature of the unit.  2012 was a good year for ERI and we look forward to continued success in 2013.

     David A. Siegel, Director

     Susannah Porter, Associate Director