Directors Statement

As our fourth year ends, we are pleased to report that Earth Research Institute (ERI) participants continue to play vital roles in addressing the environmental challenges we now face. The IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report (March 2014) stated that the “effects of climate change are already occurring on all continents and across the oceans,” while also indicating the need to address the “important knowledge gaps” in research that will allow for strengthening of mitigation strategies.  In discussing the potential far-reaching impacts, from extreme events to food scarcity, the IPCC noted “climate change often interacts with other stresses to increase risk.”   Participants within the Earth Research Institute (ERI) have continued to make strong contributions toward understanding these and other systematic changes and how they impact society.


ERI’s Mission is “Supporting research and education in the sciences of our solid, fluid, and living Earth”; our mission is articulated into the academic emphases of:

  • Natural Hazards - Impacts of Earth processes on society: earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, landslides, floods, droughts, storms, wildfires, erosion, and other natural processes.
  • Human Impacts - Impacts of humankind on Earth: pollution assessment and remediation, land use and land-cover change; food and freshwater security; anthropogenic forcing of climate change, erosion, and fire; biodiversity conservation; and natural resource management (forestry, fisheries, etc.).
  • Earth System Science - The science of Earth's subsystems (atmosphere, hydrosphere, lithosphere, cryosphere, biosphere and anthroposphere) and their interactions.
  • Earth Evolution - Evolutionary mechanisms and history of Earth’s tectonics, climate, and biota from Earth’s formation to the present.
  • Environmental Data - Integrated digital collaboratory where data, models, metadata resources, etc., are shared among investigators within ERI, across campus, and with members of the US and international research communities.


Examples of research taking place within these various emphases include:


  • Efforts by Joshua Schimel’s group to identify several key climate impacts of climate on ecosystem structure and function.  Commenting on just one effect of climate change, Dr. Schimel noted, “winters don't get cold enough anymore so the insects don't get killed by the frost, and then their populations explode. Summers are a little bit longer so the insects get two growing cycles instead of one, and all of a sudden you have an insect outbreak that wipes out a forest.”  The results of this effort were published in the Ecological Society of America's journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment.


  • The discovery by researcher Dylan Rood and his collaborators of an ancient tundra landscape underneath 2 miles of ice in Greenland. The team found organic soil frozen to the bottom of the Greenland Ice Sheet for 2.7 million years. In addition to confirming that ancient Greenland really was green (similar to Alaska’s tundra today), their work, published in Science, indicates that the ice in central Greenland remained stable despite the climate fluctuations of the past 2+ million years. In another paper, also published in Science, Dr. Rood and collaborators found that the rapidly thinning and retreat of the Pine Island Glacier, a major outlet of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, is not unprecedented: their evidence suggests that 8,000 years ago, the glacier experiences similar melting rates. These rates were sustained for decades to centuries, suggesting that modern day melting could also continue at its current rate for 10 to 100s of years in the future.


  • Work by Michael Singer and collaborators examining the current day impacts of mercury left behind from the California Gold Rush.  In an article published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, they established that mercury in contaminated sediment left over from Gold Rush mining is readily available to be remobilized and sent downstream.  In discussing the risk of contamination of the food webs of the Central Valley, Dr. Singer commented that, "susceptibility, coupled with projections for climate change in the region indicating more massive storms in the future, means that there is a dangerous synergy."


  • Research published by Carla D’Antonio in the journal Nature demonstrated that the impacts of non-native plants on an ecosystem decreases over time after initial invasion. To reach this conclusion she compared present day observations with data she collected at the same sites from the mid-1990’s. This work also suggests that native species may need assistance to make a “comeback” following an invasion of non-native plants. 


  • A collaboration between Bruce Luyendyk and Douglas Wilson, in which they determined that ice sheets were present on the West Antarctic subcontinent 20 million years prior to previously established estimates.  Their study indicates that the global transition from warm greenhouse conditions to a cool icehouse climate took place 34 million years ago. These findings, published in Geophysical Research Letters, assist in explaining the discrepancies in current computer models that have been unable to produce the amount of ice that geological records suggest existed at that time.


  • David Siegel and collaborators developed a novel method for determining the strength of the ocean’s biological pump, the processes by which the ocean food web sequesters carbon in the ocean’s vast interior, using global satellite observations.  The biological pump is a major, yet poorly quantified, component of the Earth’s carbon cycle and its accurate prediction is necessary for assessing the atmosphere’s response to a changing climate. This work was published in Global Biogeochemical Cycles.


While scientific advancements covered a wide-range of disciplines, underlying each is the on-going need to secure research data in a manner that allows it to be searched, accessed, and utilized for decades to come. Through a collaboration between the Library and ERI, with support from the Office of Research and the Executive Vice Chancellor, Data Curation @ UCSB was born. In discussing the necessity of this program, project lead Greg Janée noted, “It’s ironic that digital information is in bits, which are abstract and last forever yet are much more fragile than paper. The current technology - the hard drive of your computer - is simply not reliable enough. So preserving the bits is unsolved, which is a little scary because everything is digital now. We’re concerned with preserving campus research outputs, but this is a much larger problem. We really are talking about preserving our cultural heritage in the broadest sense.”


ERI was proud to learn that one of our students, James G. Allen, won the UCSB Grad Slam this year, competing against nine other graduate students in the final round of research presentations.  James demonstrated his project’s use of satellite imaging to model ocean ecosystems, and earned the top prize.


Furthering ERI educational efforts, Sandy Seale, was recognized for her “outstanding service in education, outreach, and training.” The award, which she received at the NEES 2013 Quake Summit, was for her efforts in earthquake awareness and education. Dr. Seale has involved K-12 students in “Make Your Own Earthquake,” a program that teaches students about earthquakes and the instruments used in measuring accelerations.


In January of this year, ERI signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the State Key Laboratory of Remote Sensing Science (SLRSS) in Beijing. In addition to the benefits resulting from an exchange of scientists, postdoctoral researchers and students, the MOU will allow us to collaborate on research projects and to conduct complementary field experiments.


Congratulations are due to Galen Stucky, a member of the Center for the Environmental Implications of Nanotechnology (CEIN), on being named a 2013 Fellow of the American Chemical Society and a recipient of the 2014 Prince of Asturias Award for Technical and Scientific Research.  The range of excellent research within ERI is due to the involvement of faculty and researchers from the Bren School, EEMB, Earth Science, Geography, MSI/NCEAS, Chemistry & Biochemistry, Computer Science, Anthropology, Environmental Studies, and Physics. Additional examples of research projects within ERI may be found on our website (  


Our 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), have continued to produce excellent results ranging from K-12 outreach to furthering curation efforts to ensuring the responsible use and safe implementation of nanotechnology.


We recently began the process of preparation for upcoming five-year review of ERI and the external committee’s visit in early October.  It is proving to be an interesting process; one that has allowed us to revisit topics discussed when we began the merge of Crustal Studies and the Institute for Computational Earth System Science.  The review has provided the opportunity to re-examine our processes and services, to gather feedback from our participants, and consider possibilities for future directions and development. It continues to be an honor to work with the many remarkable individuals involved in ERI. We look forward to the recommendations of the external review committee and a successful 2015.



            David A. Siegel, Director

            Susannah Porter, Associate Director