Stanford School Of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences - Earth Matters
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Dean's Letter

Pam Matson  
Four Critical Challenges Face the Next Generation

Dear Alumni, Colleagues, and Friends,


On April 25, when a magnitude 7.8 earthquake struck Nepal, geological sciences graduate student Anne Sanquini was in Kathmandu investigating ways to motivate people to retrofit their homes and buildings to be more earthquake resistant.
She said that, a few seconds into the shaking, she realized this was the earthquake she “had feared since starting to work on this research three years ago.” Anne is one of scores of graduate researchers and faculty within the school who are working to create new knowledge and translate it into actions that will help ensure a safe and sustainable world, for today’s and future generations.
Anne Sanquini standing in a debris pileSanquini and her advisor, Professor George Hilley, have combined geology expertise with knowledge from behavioral psychology along with Sanquini’s background in corporate marketing to develop and test a media approach in the Kathmandu Valley that could motivate people to retrofit their local schools. This kind of interdisciplinary research, resting on and made possible by our disciplinary strengths, sets our school—and Stanford—apart.
Looking ahead, my faculty colleagues and I see the need to increase our focus on four interdisciplinary challenges that are critical for humanity:

  • Secure the energy future: Develop new approaches and technologies to help provide abundant, efficient, and sustainable energy sources in the coming decades. In February, for example, we launched the Natural Gas Initiative to engage faculty at the school and across the university in research that will help ensure that natural gas is developed and used in ways that are economically, environmentally, and socially optimal.
  • Develop climate solutions: Create improved understanding of climate change impacts, vulnerabilities, and responses. For example, faculty member David Lobell is studying the effects of climate change on the global productivity of staple crops such as wheat and corn, in order to pinpoint some of the most vulnerable areas.
  • Reduce disaster risks: Use advances in computation and remote sensing to provide insights into natural hazards such as earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanoes, and landslides; and develop approaches to increase resilience to them, as Anne was doing in Nepal.
  • Improve food and water security: Evaluate food and water resources that are needed for a still-growing world population and develop strategies to meet those needs in the face of a rapid change. Among many other teaching and research activities, our new O’Donohue Family Stanford Educational Farm aims to help students gain firsthand experience with sustainable agricultural practices.  Our new “farm on the farm” will open in October.

It is true that Stanford faculty already lead international efforts to address these problems. But to accelerate our impact, we need to integrate disciplines for effective problem solving. Moving ahead quickly in the four critical challenge areas requires that we stay strong in the disciplines we are already known for, integrate them more effectively, and add new faculty in areas such as land use planning, energy optimization, risk analysis, the science of ice, watershed analysis, ecosystem services and benefits analysis, and economics.
I look forward to keeping you informed as we accelerate our teaching and learning, discovery and problem solving to improve our understanding of the workings of our planet and secure the well-being of this and future generations.
I also hope you enjoy this issue of Earth Matters, which highlights some of the work being done around the key areas I mentioned. As always, you are invited to contact us with your ideas and to follow us on Twitter and Facebook.



Pamela Matson

Chester Naramore Dean,

School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences

Richard and Rhoda Goldman Professor of Environmental Studies

News & Discoveries

Graduates sitting  
This year’s Stanford Earth graduates are uniquely positioned to help meet the resource needs of a growing population while preserving the life support systems of our planet. Read more...
Cross-section of land below Campi Flegrei  
New research by Tiziana Vanorio shows that fiber-reinforced rocks discovered at the site of Italy’s dormant Campi Flegrei volcano are similar to a wonder-material used by the ancients to construct enduring structures such as the Pantheon and the Colosseum, and may lead to improved construction materials. Read more...
Oil rig  

Mark Zoback and PhD student Rall Walsh show that the state’s rising number of earthquakes coincided with dramatic increases in the disposal of salty wastewater into the Arbuckle formation, a 7,000-foot-deep, sedimentary formation under Oklahoma. Read more...

Rosemary Knight standing on TEDxStanford stage  
Rosemary Knight and PhD candidate Nick Sawe presented at this year's event, speaking about our freshwater future, and adapting neuroeconomicsthe study of financial decision making in the brain–to environmental applications.

Faculty News & Honors

Dennis Bird  
For the past 30 years, Dennis Bird has spent nearly every summer surviving extreme conditions on the coasts of Greenland. He wouldn't have it any other way. Read more... 

Student News

Praveen Bains, Masters student  
The School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences' 2015  Research Review featured nearly 70 posters and about 25 oral presentations – double the number of submissions last year. A major theme was climate change and its local, as well as global, implications. Watch video...

Alumni News

Alumni council  
The newly created Alumni Council will contribute to the design of alumni activities and advise on how best to engage alumni in the life of the school.  Read more...
Bill Dickinson  
A Stanford alumnus and former faculty member, Dickinson embraced the “new” science of plate tectonics and launched the modern approach to sedimentary basin analysis. Read more...

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