Director's Statement 2012-2013

The release this month of the NOAA report, “Explaining Extreme Events of 2012 from a Climate Perspective” published in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, and the publication in July in Science regarding the link between earthquakes and fracking (“Enhanced Remote Earthquake Triggering at Fluid-Injection Sites in the Midwestern United States” by Nicholas J. van der Elst, Heather M. Savage, Katie M. Keranen, Geoffrey A. Abers), are just two examples of the need for timely and credible scientific explanations of global environmental changes. In our third official year as an organized research unit (ORU), Earth Research Institute (ERI) participants continued to make strong contributions toward  our understanding of these changes and how they impact society. The mission of ERI is “Supporting research and education in the sciences of our solid, fluid, and living Earth”; our mission is articulated 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 including earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, landslides, floods, and drought.
  • Human Impacts: Impacts of mankind on the Earth including pollution assessment & remediation, biodiversity conservation & resource management, and anthropogenic climate change.

Some examples of the research within these emphases are John Melack’s work examining how altered climate, changing snow regime, and changes in atmospheric composition are driving biogeochemical and ecological changes in high elevation ecosystems; Ralph Archuleta’s effort to provide more resolved and robust estimates of kinematic rupture models; Derek Booth’s project examining stream systems with the intent of improving our understanding of the impacts of urbanization on aquatic ecosystems; James Frew’s endeavor to construct EarthDB, a SciDB database of primary Earth observation data; Naomi Tague’s work focusing on how streamflow is influenced in a forested, temperate watershed with particular attention to growth/regeneration processes and climate; Michael Singer’s project identifying critical locations in fluvial systems where the risk of mercury (Hg) input to food webs increases; Leila Carvalho and Charles Jones examination of regional climate variability and changes over the central Andes with an emphasis on potential impacts on water resources and food security particularly potato crop productions and vulnerability; Leonel Romero’s project examining airborne wave observations with an emphasis on the wave statistics including the incidence of extreme waves and the crest-length statistics in areas with significant wave-current interactions; Laura Hess’ project integrating remote sensing, field, and modeling studies in order to quantify key drivers of land cover and land use change on the lower Amazon floodplain; Brad Hacker’s undertaking to identify the role of fluids in triggering intermediate-depth seismicity; Toshiro Tanimoto’s project examining the attenuation structure for highfrequency waves; and Roland Geyer’s effort to determine the sufficient area of rooftops available to meet California’s potential electric fuel demand.

The span of the research efforts within ERI are due to of the diversity and quality of our participants. The latter is evidenced by the numerous awards garnered just this past year alone: Toshiro Tanimoto was elected an American Geophysical Union Fellow, Doug Burbank was elected a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science; Carla D’Antonio and Joshua Schimel were named Fellows of the Ecological Society of America, and Galen Stucky was elected to the National Academy of Sciences.  Internal to UCSB, Susannah Porter received the UCSB Distinguished Teaching Award for her outstanding teaching and mentoring during the decade that she has been at UCSB. ERI involves faculty and researchers from the Bren School, EEMB, Earth Science, Geography, MSI/NCEAS, Chemistry & Biochemistry, Computer Science, Feminist Studies, Environmental Studies, and Physics. Additional examples of research projects within ERI may be found on our website (   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 UC CEIN was originally slated to end this month.  Due to the CEIN’s stellar research record over the past five years, however, they have been renewed for an additional five year period.  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 an examination of engineered nanomaterials (ENMs), which are now becoming a significant fraction of the material flows in the global economy.  As we benefit from improved energy efficiency, material use reduction, and better performance in many existing and new applications, it becomes important to understand the environmental implications of these materials. The quality of the work of CEIN is demonstrated by the receipt of the California Governor's Environmental Economic Leadership Award in the field of Green Chemistry in January of this year.

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 Bren School, 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.

ERI researchers have accomplished many things over the past year, but there are significant challenges ahead we must weather.  In particular, we are greatly concerned about the U.S. Congress’ budgetary sequester “action” and what it will do to the research that is conducted at ERI, on campus, and across the nation.  Most of the research funds coming to ERI are from federal agencies. The sequester would have significant detrimental effects on the research efforts of both ERI and the nation if it were to continue.

This year brought the challenge of the retirement of two staff members, one having been a long-term member of the ERI team.  We wish to take this opportunity to thank the Office of Research for working with us on a succession plan in order to allow for a successful transition.

ERI faculty and researchers continue to generate exceptional research in a wide-range of disciplines. The success of their efforts can be partially measured in the awards noted above.  It is an honor to work with so many extraordinary individuals and we look forward to a successful 2014.


     David A. Siegel, Director

     Susannah Porter, Associate Director