How vegetation effects microclimates in urbanized Salt Lake Valley

A new study by Carolina Gómez-Navarro and GCSC affiliate faculty Diane Pataki, Eric Pardyjak, and Dave Bowling, looks at how trees and grass can help mitigate excessive heat in urban areas. Hard surfaces like roofs, buildings, and pavement absorb the sun’s heat and radiate it into the surroundings, creating a “heat island effect”. While trees cast cooling shade, the team found that a more effective cooling solution occurs with a mix of trees and turf grass. Read about the study in At The U.

GCSC seminar: disaster resilience in an unjust world

By Maria Archibald, Sustainability Office

As climate-induced wildfires rage across the West and the COVID-19 pandemic continues to threaten our communities, many of us have disaster on the mind. How will we respond when disaster strikes close to home? How will we recover? How can we build our communities to be resilient in the face of crisis?

In her upcoming Global Change & Sustainability Center seminar, “A Grassroots View of Disaster Recovery,” Dr. Divya Chandrasekhar will explore these questions, as well as examine what it means to be disaster resilient in a complex, uncertain and unjust world. Chandrasekhar, associate professor in City & Metropolitan Planning and an urban and regional planner who has studied disasters across the globe, is particularly interested in the importance of community autonomy to the recovery process.

Because disasters impact every dimension of our lives, from our collective economy to our individual psychology, disaster recovery must happen at the grassroots level—from the bottom up.

“When you say a community has recovered, it means every individual in that community should have recovered in some meaningful way,” Chandrasekhar says. This can only happen when individuals have agency and power in their own recovery process, so she cautions fellow urban planners and other eager outsiders to take care in their recovery work. Without a deep understanding of the community’s needs and capacities, their efforts will be irrelevant or even harmful, she says. Her call to action? Engage communities in deciding their own futures.

While one might think that a person who spends her life studying disasters would feel rather pessimistic, Chandrasekhar says she finds great hope in her work. While disasters inflict trauma and tragedy, they also present an important opportunity.

“Disasters shake up existing structures,” Chandrasekhar says. “They don’t just destroy your building, they smash government structures. They smash patriarchy.” If a community is ready to address these underlying issues, the recovery process presents a good opportunity to demand justice and build resilience, she says. Climate change and COVID-19, which have hit communities of color and under-resourced communities the hardest, demonstrate that oppressive structures like racism and colonialism cause the effects of disaster to be felt disproportionately.

“The process of going from recovery to resilience requires addressing those larger structural issues,” Chandrasekhar says. “There can be no resilience unless there is social justice.”

So, amidst the grief, the anger, and the loss that disaster brings, Chandrasekhar finds hope—hope for healing, for a more just future and for resilient communities that can withstand disaster.

Whether you’re an organizer doing mutual aid in your neighborhood, an urban planner hoping to better engage communities in your work, or an individual searching for hope in this trying time, Chandrasekhar’s talk will have something for you. Join us from 4-5 p.m. Tuesday, September 1 at https://tinyurl.com/gcsc-disaster as she explores the complexity of disaster recovery and calls for social justice as the only path to true resilience.

Anderegg: Know the Risks of Investing in Forests

William Anderegg, Assistant Professor in the School of Biological Sciences, has a central research question: What is the future of ecosystems in a changing climate?

His lab studies how drought and climate change affect forest ecosystems, and seeks to gain a better mechanistic understanding of how climate change will affect forests around the world. In a new study, Anderegg and colleagues look at the risks of banking on forests to store atmospheric carbon when forests themselves face a number of risks.

Read about the study in AtTheU.

From the Science paper:

“Forests have considerable potential to help mitigate human-caused climate change and provide society with a broad range of cobenefits…Widespread climate-induced forest die-off has been observed in forests globally and creates a dangerous carbon cycle feedback, both by releasing large amounts of carbon stored in forest ecosystems to the atmosphere and by reducing the size of the future forest carbon sink. Climate-driven risks may fundamentally compromise forest carbon stocks and sinks in the 21st century. Understanding and quantifying climate-driven risks to forest stability are crucial components needed to forecast the integrity of forest carbon sinks and the extent to which they can contribute toward the Paris Agreement goal to limit warming well below 2°C. Thus, rigorous scientific assessment of the risks and limitations to widespread deployment of forests as natural climate solutions is urgently needed.”

GCSC Affiliate Faculty Recognition 2019-2020

At the end of the 2019-2020 academic year, the University of Utah recognized several GCSC faculty affiliates for their contributions to research and education.

  • Robin Kundis Craig was named Distinguished Professor of Law in the S.J. Quinney College of Law.
    Dr. Craig researches the law and policy of “all things water,” including water rights, water pollution, and ocean and coastal issues, as well as climate change adaptation, the intersection of constitutional and environmental law, and the food-energy-water nexus. She has authored, co-authored, or edited 11 books, 21 books chapters, and over 100 articles in both law and scientific journals.
  • Dave Bowling, Professor, School of Biological Sciences, received a Distinguished Research Award. The Bowling lab group studies how environmental and climate change affect the carbon and water cycles of forests, grasslands, and shrublands of the mountain West.
  • Shelley Minteer, Professor, Department of Chemistry, received a Distinguished Research Award. Her research focuses on improving the energy efficiency of energy conversion and storage devices.

Two faculty affiliates were named “Career Champions of the Year” for their contributions to student career and internship success:

  • Peter Lippert, Associate Professor, Department of Geology and Geophysics
  • Kody Powell, Assistant Professor, Department of Chemical Engineering

Three GCSC faculty affiliates were awarded NSF CAREER Grants, awards that support junior faculty who exemplify the role of teacher-scholars through research and education, and the integration of these endeavors in the context of their organizations’ missions. They are:

GCSC Affiliates Contribute to COVID-19 Research

The University has awarded seed funding to support critical research to better understand and respond to the outbreak of the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2. GCSC affiliate faculty engaged in these efforts are shown below.

Frederick Adler, Departments of Mathematics and Biology: Mathematically modeling the impact of viral interactions and evolution on the COVID-19 pandemic.

Divya Chandrasekhar, Department of City & Metropolitan Planning: Effectiveness of multi-hazard response planning for concurrent disasters (Case study: COVID-19 and post-earthquake response in the Salt Lake City Metro Region)

Sarah Grinkeski, Department of Sociology, and and Tim Collins, Department of Geography, Effects of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Undergraduate Research Experiences: A Multi-institutional Study

Alexander Hohl, Richard Medina and Neng Wan, Department of Geography: A Geospatial Big Data Platform for Understanding Population Sentiment Toward the Spread of COVID-19 in the United States

Monisha Pasupathi, Department of Psychology: College, Interrupted: Individual differences in freshmen college student mental health, identity, and retention in college as a function of covid-19 disruptions to education across four institutions

Jennifer Weidhaas and Ramesh Goel, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering: Municipal wastewater monitoring based surveillance and prediction tools for community level occurrence and spread of COVID-19. 

Urban waterways could potentially provide a major transport pathway for deadly viruses such as COVID-19. The goal of this project is to determine the presence of COVID-19 in Salt Lake City sewer lines using our newly developed molecular biomarkers. The data will be used to estimate risk assessment towards human health using microbial risk assessment tools.” Read more about this project in the news.