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UC Merced Expanding Knowledge About Climate Change

August 6, 2007

MERCED - Experts in climate change at University of California,
Merced, are working on research that will help people better
understand the world around them and how change affects everything
from mountains to oceans, including the environs of the San Joaquin Valley.

“The work of our faculty and students is increasing our
understanding of the impacts of climate change on the state of
California and the world,” said Samuel Traina, acting vice
chancellor for research and graduate dean. “This vital knowledge
will have lasting effects on our world.”


With UC Merced’s Sierra Nevada Research Institute (SNRI), its
Wawona Field Station in Yosemite and installations throughout the
southern Sierra Nevada range, researchers are examining one of
California’s most important ecosystems - one that provides much of
the state’s water.

At SNRI, Professor Anthony Westerling explores how climate
affects wildfire. Wildfires in the Western United States are more
frequent and more severe, and Westerling contends that climate
change plays a large role, because the shift in global temperature
has made snow melt faster - enough to cause drier conditions that
make the land more vulnerable to frequent, severe fires.

Professor Roger Bales, acting director of SNRI, is also
exploring the Sierra Nevada climate and its water as part of his
work on the hydrology and climate of mountain and polar regions.

Little has been known about how water works in the Sierra
Nevada, but Bales says it’s now critical that we understand our
water supply in order to make policy decisions for the climate,
water and air as the world faces the pressing challenges of climate change.


Down on the Valley floor, researchers like Professor Martha
Conklin are looking at clean-water topics. Ensuring a clean water
supply is an increasingly complex task, she said, and in
California’s semi-arid Central Valley - one of the world’s most
prolific agricultural regions and the fastest-growing part of the
state - water quality and supply are especially critical issues.

Conklin studies water quality, water movement and the
interaction of surface water and groundwater in natural settings.
She has conducted extensive research in the field of organic
chemical distribution in soil and groundwater and - especially
important in California - the chemical processes in snow, which
provides a significant portion of the state’s drinking and
irrigation supply.

Professor Lara Kueppers’ research examines the ecological
effects of climate change and how ecosystems and the land surface
influence the climate. She has been studying how area ecosystems
and the plants that live in them are affected by - and in turn
affect - climate change. She hopes to work with landowners to study
how agriculture and irrigation affect temperatures, though she
works with the researchers at the Sierra Nevada Research Institute,
too, to study high-elevation pine species.

“We have to figure out how to modify our approaches to
conservation and restoration,” Kueppers said. “We look to the
present and past to designate parks or conservation easements, or
to restore damaged habitats like Valley wetlands and river bottoms.

“With climate change, that approach is no longer sound. But what
should replace it? We need to know more about how species respond
to climate changes to work out strategies for resource management
that can adapt to changing conditions,” she said.

Professor Qinghua Guo concentrates on geospatial techniques and
applying them to monitoring and modeling environmental change.

One of his current projects involves reconstructing the
historical vegetation distribution and studying the impact of
climate change on vegetation distribution in California.

“This study will provide us direct evidence on how climate
change may influence biodiversity in California,” he said. “The
mapping project could help decision makers to identify critical
conservation zones for preserving biodiversity.”

He and fellow researchers from UC Merced are also mapping
real-time solar irradiance in California, which will help estimate
the available solar irradiance for solar power generation here.


Professor Mónica Medina, who just embarked on seven
weeks of field study in Mexico, monitors and examines coral reefs.
She looks at the effects of thermal stress and disease on coral
bleaching and coral death.

“Coral reefs are endangered ecosystems,” she said.
“Understanding their biology is instrumental in predicting the
effects of global climate change in their future survival.”

Increasing sea surface temperatures are affecting the
foundations of healthy coral reef environments. She and fellow
researchers use genomic tools to understand the cellular aspects of
coral health.

Professor Michael Dawson specializes in evolutionary biology,
population genetics, marine science and jellyfish blooms. His
research will advance the climate-change field by increasing
understanding about links between global climate, local weather,
and population dynamics of zooplankton.

As climate changes, species distribution is also expected to
change, perhaps because of adaptation, extermination or shifts. But
researchers do not know which is the case. They cannot predict
patterns, although gaining that knowledge will help understand
potential consequences of climate change.

For example, jellyfish blooms are an increasing problem
globally. They are considered a symptom of ecosystem degradation,
including overfishing and climate change, and can cause significant
damage by disrupting power generation, commercial fisheries and tourism.

“Understanding current patterns of diversity and how they are
maintained is an important piece in solving the puzzle of how
species may respond to climate change,” Dawson said.


Professor Yihsu Chen is working on an economic model
of the electricity market and environmental policies, examining the
implications of emissions trading on the power sector. He looks at
climate policy analysis and the implications of proposed regulatory
policies, including those from the European Union, on those who
sell power, as well as on regional pollution emissions.

“For the power sector, the main concerns include level of the
change in power prices, consumers’ bills, reliability,
profitability, etc…” he said. “From an environmental
perspective, concerns include location and the amount of polluting emissions.”


UC Merced’s faculty experts have decades of research between
them, and have worked with some of the world’s most prestigious
organizations and universities, including the other UC campuses,
Scripps Institution of Oceanography, Lawrence Livermore National
Laboratory, The University of Arizona, The California Institute of
Technology, Purdue University and others.

They have also received research grants from such organizations
as the National Science Foundation and the University of California
Energy Research Institute.

UC Merced offers experts in a variety of environmental
disciplines, including solar energy, pesticide, water and air
quality and the societal impacts of climate change.


UC Merced Faculty Experts

UC Merced Office of Research

UC Merced’s
Sierra Nevada Research Institute