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Roger Bales Named Director of UC Merced's Sierra Nevada Research Institute

November 12, 2008

UC Merced Professor of Engineering Roger Bales has been named director of the university’s signature research institute, the Sierra Nevada Research Institute (SNRI), Chancellor Steve Kang announced today.

Bales is a member of the founding faculty in UC Merced’s School of Engineering and has been serving as SNRI’s acting director since 2007. He succeeds Sam Traina, founding director, who was named vice chancellor for research and dean of graduate studies in 2007.

The Sierra Nevada Research Institute was established in 2002, three years before UC Merced officially opened, to conduct research into the sustainability of the Sierra Nevada ecosystem. Under Traina’s leadership, the scope of research was expanded to include the Great Central Valley. Through integrated, multidisciplinary research in natural science, social science, engineering and management, the institute seeks to discover and disseminate new knowledge that contributes to sustaining the natural environment and ecosystems of California and related regions worldwide.

“Cutting-edge research conducted through the Sierra Nevada Research Institute is already helping scientists understand the keys to sustaining the region’s delicate ecosystems,” said Traina. “This work will influence the quality of life in our region and elsewhere on our increasingly stressed planet in many important ways. We are fortunate to have an individual of Roger Bales’ credentials to take the helm of this institute and build on its growing reputation for research excellence.”

Bales joined UC Merced as a professor of engineering in the School of Engineering in 2003. Previously he had served as a professor of hydrology and water resources at the University of Arizona (1984-2003) and as a consulting engineer (1975-1980). He has published more than 100 papers on a wide variety of research interests, including water quality, polar snow and ice, biogeochemistry and various types of hydrology.

At UC Merced, Bales organized the Mountain Hydrology Research Group, which is deploying new research instrumentation at several Sierra Nevada sites, and has been involved in a number of ground-breaking research initiatives with colleagues at UC Merced and other leading universities. Included are studies on:

  • the Sierra Nevada snowpack and the hydrologic response of mountain catchments to climate change;
  • water and geochemical cycles in the soils, streams and forests of the “critical zone” in the southern Sierra (the rain-snow transition area that is particularly vulnerable to climate change);
  • adaptation of forests in the Sierra Nevada, focusing on lands under the management of the U.S. Forest Service; and
  • hydrology and water quality in the greater San Joaquin watershed.

“The Sierra Nevada Research Institute exemplifies UC Merced’s commitment to conduct innovative, multidisciplinary research and teaching programs that are rooted in the region but have global significance,” said Bales. “The work we do on water supply and quality, drought, forest fires, climate change and related issues will be shared broadly through cooperative research and exchange programs and through formal agreements.”

Bales noted that faculty members at SNRI have attracted over $20 million in research grants from government and private sources since its founding, or more than half of all research grants received by the university to date. He said the institute’s work is helping to foster synergistic relationships between the growing campus and county, state and federal agencies, as well as the private sector.

“In the coming years, I hope to grow SNRI’s reputation in the science community, its partnerships with decision makers in the region, and its field and laboratory facilities. All of this will allow SNRI faculty, research scientists and collaborators to do the best research possible, while both contributing to environmental sustainability in the Sierra Nevada and surrounding valleys, and building UC Merced into a highly regarded research institution.”

Bales received a bachelor’s degree from Purdue University, a master’s degree from UC Berkeley and master’s and doctoral degrees from the California Institute of Technology. He is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Geophysical Union and the American Meteorological Society. He serves on a number of professional society boards and advisory committees.