Four engineering faculty members' projects receive grants to tackle major environmental challenges

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Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment jump-starts interdisciplinary projects around the world.

How can drones help improve water quality in the San Francisco Bay? What does it take to protect marine habitats from seafloor dredging? Can a private-market approach solve household water contamination in low-income urban areas?

These are some of the questions Stanford faculty teams, including four members of the Stanford Engineering faculty, will answer with support from the Stanford Woods Institute's Environmental Venture Projects (EVPs) seed grant program and the recently launched Realizing Environmental Innovation Program (REIP).

Both grant programs were designed for faculty to work across disciplines to find solutions to some of today's critical environmental and sustainability challenges. Through EVP, and now REIP, the Stanford Woods Institute has awarded more than $10 million in grants to 67 research teams working in more than 27 countries. These projects have garnered nearly $42 million in follow-on funding for collaborative research among experts from every school at Stanford.

"For more than a decade, the EVP seed grant program has helped kickstart interdisciplinary, often high-risk environmental research projects that have created solutions for people and the planet," said Barton H. "Buzz" Thompson, professor of law at Stanford and co-director of the Woods Institute. "REIP grants will build off of the success of EVPs, helping bring the solutions to scale for adoption by private market, public policy and individual stakeholders."

Environmental Venture Projects

The Stanford Woods Institute's EVP seed grant program has spurred faculty collaborations that have addressed global environmental and sustainability challenges since 2004. Previous EVPs have been successful in identifying barriers to clean stove technology adoption in Bangladesh, ecological solutions to schistosomiasis – a disease caused by parasitic worms – in Africa and environmental solutions to arsenic exposure in Southeast Asia.

The projects selected for funding in 2015 will receive grants totaling $880,000 during the next two years to tackle a broad range of issues. The EVPs were selected by an interdisciplinary faculty committee led by Woods senior fellows Jenna Davis, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering, and Jamie Jones, associate professor of anthropology.

The 2015 EVP grantees and their projects:

Remote Sensing of Turbidity with Unmanned Aerial Vehicles for Improved Management of Water Quality in San Francisco Bay. The lead principal investigator is Oliver Fringer, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering. The other members of the research team are Juan Alonso, professor of aeronautics and astronautics; Kevin Arrigo, professor of Earth system science; and Stephen Monismith, professor of civil and environmental engineering.

Using Large Marine Protected Areas to Recover Highly Productive Marine Ecosystems and the Services They Provide: The Case of the Adriatic Sea. The lead principal investigator is Fiorenza Micheli, professor of biology. The other member of the research team is Rosamond Naylor, professor of Earth system science.

Understanding the Effects of China's Mariculture Development on Coastal Fisheries with Hydrodynamics and Sediment Transport Modeling. Naylor is the principal investigator. The other members of the research team are Fringer and Micheli.

Facilitating Collaborative Decision Making Processes for a Sustainable Groundwater Future. Janet Martinez, senior lecturer in law, is the principal investigator. She is working with Rosemary Knight, professor of environmental geophysics.

Climate Change, Nutrition and Population Health. The lead principal investigator is Marshall Burke, assistant professor of Earth system science, who will be working with Eran Bendavid, assistant professor of medicine; Sanjay Basu, assistant professor of medicine; and David Lobell, associate professor of Earth system science.

Realizing Environmental Innovation Program

The Woods Institute launched REIP last year in recognition of the class of research projects that are developed to the point that their research has scientifically identified a potential solution approach, but where the project team still needs to validate an implementation plan and engage external stakeholders.

This year's projects – the first grants awarded from REIP – will receive $350,000 during the next two years to help bring promising solutions to scale. REIP grant recipients were selected by a committee of external reviewers, including Woods Institute Advisory Council members Matt Barger and Bill Price, the Nature Conservancy's Wendy Pulling, and Chuck Holloway of the Stanford Graduate School of Business.

Woman and children at a water standpipe in Dhaka, Bangladesh. The Lotus Water project will use its Realizing Environmental Innovation Program grant to implement a new approach to water disinfection in low-income urban areas.

Residents of Dhaka, Bangladesh will benefit from the Lotus Water project, which will use its Realizing Environmental Innovation Program grant to implement a new approach to water disinfection in low-income urban areas. (Photo: Amy Pickering)

The 2015 REIP projects:

Lotus Water: Safe Water Solutions for Developing Cities: Jenna Davis and Stephen Luby, professor of medicine. The Lotus Water project provides solutions for the more than 500 million people living in cities of the developing world who have piped water service but receive water that does not meet international standards for safety. Lotus Water envisions a new paradigm for water disinfection in low-income urban areas, one in which water treatment occurs automatically at the point of collection. This approach to water treatment employs technologies that deliver high-quality water on a reliable basis with virtually no behavior change required on the part of users. By employing business strategies that target owners of shared water points in low-income urban areas, Lotus Water aims to provide reliable and affordable disinfection services for those communities most at risk of waterborne illness.

Integrating Coastal Vulnerability Modeling and Land-Use Planning Strategies: Deborah Sivas, professor of law, and Gretchen Daily, professor of biology. Communities throughout California are responding to the threats of rising sea levels, growing coastal populations and more damaging storms by building concrete and metal structures that may threaten the continued existence of beaches, dunes, wetlands and other coastal habitats. This project's collaborative, interdisciplinary team composed of researchers from the Center for Ocean Solutions and the Natural Capital Project will work with planners throughout the state to inform and prioritize nature-based climate adaptation strategies. In collaboration with state-level coastal agency staff, the team will develop an online visualization tool that will identify priority sites where coastal habitats can best provide protection from coastal hazards and will then highlight policy pathways for implementing nature-based strategies. They will create and test a sustainable model of delivering, updating and maintaining the visualization tool for decision makers in California and beyond. Ultimately, the team aims to inform the implementation of sustainable and cost-effective alternatives to a concrete- and metal-reinforced coastline, promoting the strategic use of natural habitats to protect people and property now and for future generations.

Last modified Thu, 9 Jul, 2015 at 14:31