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Dean's State of the School Letter 2015

October 10, 2015

Dear Alumni and Friends,

This past year, I have given a great deal of thought to both our history and future directions for the study of our planet. Earth sciences are profoundly rooted at Stanford. In fact, the first professor hired at the University was geologist John Casper Branner, who later became Stanford’s second president, and we’ve continued strong ever since.

Pamela Matson

This year we celebrated the 100th anniversary of Branner Earth Sciences Library & Map Collections — the oldest of Stanford’s 24 libraries. That wonderful resource has contributed to our analyses of subsurface processes, including myriad discoveries of minerals and energy resources, earthquakes, volcanoes, and the evolution of Earth. At the same time, the school has expanded into critical new areas and our work in these areas remains incredibly strong.

Our faculty now also focus on the surface of the planet — the "life support system" where we live. This includes land, ocean, and freshwater systems, as well as the atmosphere and climate. Advanced computation, data analysis, and remote sensing are used in all our disciplines. Moreover, we increasingly work across departments to deliver cutting-edge interdisciplinary research and education about the planet and its resources. To reflect this change, we revised our name this year from the School of Earth Sciences to the School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences — Stanford EARTH, for short. This signals the greater scope of our expertise and ability to effectively tackle the complex issues that confront people and our planet.

What's At Stake

Today, more than 1 billion people have inadequate access to energy, water, and food. As the world population grows to more than 9 billion by the end of the century, the demand for resources will continue to increase. Those needs must be met in spite of looming problems caused by a changing climate. As we contemplated these critical needs, the faculty and I identified four challenge areas in which we are already strong and in which we will invest further to accelerate our impact:

• Securing the Energy Future: We are committed to developing technologies and policies to meet growing energy needs as the world transitions toward a low-carbon energy future. We just launched the Natural Gas Initiative (NGI) in collaboration with the Precourt Institute for Energy. NGI harnesses crosscampus efforts to develop natural gas in ways that are economically, environmentally, and socially optimal.

• Climate Solutions: For the past several decades, we have worked to understand climate change and its impacts on social and environmental systems. We will continue to focus on reducing climate threats and aiding efforts to adapt to ongoing changes.

• Reducing Disaster Risks: We have a long history in understanding and predicting geohazards, including volcanoes, earthquakes, tsunamis, and landslides. Today, our significant knowledge in geohazards as well as climate-related hazards gives us a strong vantage point from which to analyze risks and develop approaches to reduce them.

• Food and Water Security: We are home to almost all of Stanford’s experts who work in agricultural production, economics, and sustainability. We also have great strengths in subsurface aquifers and freshwater resources. But one of the things that sets us apart from other universities is our concerted investment at the intersection of these fields.

Educating The Next Generation

We are leaders in innovative, interdisciplinary teaching to ensure that the next generation understands and responsibly manages the planet we share. To further that end, we are creating new courses that are accessible to all undergraduates, including non-majors. Likewise, we are developing new ways to engage students in short-format courses in data science and advanced computational analysis around Earth-related problems — skills essential in 21st-century analysis and problem solving.

For several decades, students and faculty have been calling for educational opportunities in agriculture. We’ve created very successful courses and programs in the area, but I am thrilled to report that we now have a place for hands-on, experiential learning. The O’Donohue Family Stanford Educational Farm is up  and running on 6 acres on campus. We are teaching  students at conceptual and practical levels about sustainable agriculture, while sharpening their understanding of the critical social and economic challenges related to food resources.

Over the past year, we have been designing new educational opportunities focused on managing environment and resources in a transition to sustainability. Our new program in Transformative Change for Sustainability and Resilience provides perspectives for managing complex social-environmental systems, along with the strategic leadership skills to do so. This curriculum will form the basis of a new master’s program and our first professional education courses. In line with our desire to increase impact, we now host the Leopold Leadership Program, which offers training to help mid-career academic scientists to effectively share their knowledge to decision makers of all kinds.

Finally, to further accelerate our reach, we will soon launch a new Stanford Earth Matters web portal to make the rich array of faculty ideas more accessible to the public or anyone interested in the future of the environment and resources. (See enclosure.)

Building The Future

With all our new activity in programs and student engagement, we are in need of a new facility. Our 45-yearold Mitchell Earth Sciences Building no longer meets our current research or teaching needs — and our other buildings are at capacity. We are in the planning stages of a building that will accommodate an expanded faculty and student body, and transform the educational experience.

Stanford EARTH has grown and changed as Earth’s challenges have become more complex and critical, and we will continue to do so. Our teaching and research lead to better understanding of this planet and also to results that make people’s lives better. Your help is critical to creating the resources to make that happen. Please consider making a gift to the Stanford Earth Fund. We rely on your annual support to sustain all we do.

I look forward to seeing some of you in person on campus or at upcoming alumni events in your city. Thank you for your ongoing support.

Pamela Matson


Chester Naramore Dean, Stanford School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences
Richard and Rhoda Goldman Professor of Environmental Studies