UC Merced Expanding Knowledge About Climate Change

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


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