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UC Merced Snow & Ice Expert Committed to help solve Regional Climate, Hydrology, Water Resources Problems

November 25, 2003

MERCED, CA. — “Can you ski?” Professor Roger Bales asks graduate students who contact him expressing interest in joining his research group.

He wants to make sure his students - who come from a variety of engineering and earth science backgrounds - can take care of themselves at high elevations so that they can help collect data on the physical properties and chemical makeup of snow and ice in Greenland, Antarctica, and mountainous areas of the western United States. His research group uses that ground-based data along with remote sensing and other tools to learn about a wide range of issues in climate, hydrology and water resources.

Hailing most recently from a 19-year professorship at the University of Arizona in Tucson, Roger C. Bales joined the School of Engineering faculty at the University of California, Merced this summer.

The skiing question will stay in Bales' arsenal. UC Merced's proximity to the Sierra Nevada offers the chance to expand research on seasonal snowpack, from whether it indicates long-term climate change to its effects on regional water resources. Two graduate students are currently researching seasonally snow-covered alpine watersheds with Bales.

These kinds of projects are expected to contribute valuable insights to water resources decisions in California.

“As a professor at a state university, I feel a responsibility to pursue research that benefits the regional community,” Bales says. “I tried to do that in Arizona and now I'll be applying the same principles here.”

Supported by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) through its Regional Integrated Science and Assessment (RISA) program, one recent publication points to that effort. It suggests a model for improving the flow of information between scientists and public and private decision-makers affecting water resources issues on a regional basis. Accordingly, much of Bales' time since his arrival in California has been spent building relationships with water managers, forest and park service officials, and other scientists.

Bales' research group will also continue previous research in arctic areas. Two graduate students are currently working on arctic research projects.

One student's work, funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), involves investigating changes in the chemistry of the remote atmosphere, as recorded in Antarctica ice cores, since the advent of industrialization. Another student, funded by the National Air and Space Administration (NASA), is researching changes to the mass balance of the Greenland ice sheet.

Alongside his commitment to research, a deep interest in teaching keeps Bales engaged in his work as a professor. Recently at the University of Arizona, for example, he taught a freshman-level class in Earth science for non-science majors using interactive learning. As part of UC Merced's founding faculty, Bales will also be working with other professors to help develop academic programs and recruit additional faculty.

“Dr. Bales is a gifted scholar and educator and we are very fortunate that he has joined our faculty,” says Jeff Wright, UC Merced Dean of the School of Engineering. “His accomplishments as one of the very top hydrologic engineers in the world, and his commitment to multidisciplinary research and education have become instrumental in shaping the stature of this remarkable university.”

“Roger Bales' research is collaborative by nature, with links to both engineering and science,” says Jeff Dozier, a professor of snow hydrology, earth system science and remote sensing within UC Santa Barbara's Donald Bren School of Environmental Science & Management.

“His work has helped integrate hydrology and biogeochemistry. It is of the highest standard and is characterized by a tight coupling between innovative measurements and rigorous modeling. Roger is a wonderful choice as a member of the founding faculty at UC Merced,” adds Dozier, who has worked extensively with Roger Bales.

Bales received a B.S. degree from Purdue University in 1974 and an M.S. from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1975, both in Civil (Environmental) Engineering. After spending five years in consulting engineering, he earned an M.S. in Social Science and a Ph.D. in Environmental Engineering Science, in 1984 and 1985 respectively, from the California Institute of Technology.

Bales has served as the Deputy Director for Center for the Sustainability of Semi-Arid Hydrology and Riparian Areas (SAHRA) and Director of the Regional Earth Science Applications Center (RESAC) at the University of Arizona. He is a fellow in the American Geophysical Union (AGU), the American Society for the Advancement of Science and the American Meteorological Society.

Bales and his wife, Martha Conklin, a hydrologist who is another of UC Merced's first professors, have two children. They live in Catheys Valley in the Sierra foothills and enjoy hiking, skiing, kayaking and backpacking together.

UC Merced is planning to accept a limited number of graduate students in fall 2004, emulating UC San Diego, which in the 1960s started with graduate students only. Most of these students are doctoral candidates who will transfer as their faculty mentors join the UC Merced founding faculty. Faculty recruitment will continue this year toward the hiring of additional faculty in 2004-05 and 2005-06. Sixty full-time faculty members must be on board by fall 2005 to serve the initial student population.

UC Merced, the 10th campus of the UC system and the first major research university to be built in the United States during the 21st century, is scheduled to open in fall 2005 with 1,000 students. Ultimately, the campus will grow to serve a student population of 25,000. The university has a special mission to serve the educational needs of San Joaquin Valley residents, and is already serving area students through a concurrent admissions program at three Valley community colleges and by UC summer session courses in Fresno, Bakersfield and Atwater. UC Merced currently employs approximately 165 educators and professionals who are working on developing the physical and academic infrastructure of the campus.