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Environmental research combines science and policy

STANFORD -- Research on environmental issues, spread across a wide range of departments and schools at Stanford University, revolves around several strengths:

  • The biological sciences department contains several nationally prominent ecologists. Paul Ehrlich and his Center for Conservation Biology work on biodiversity; Marcus Feldman and his Morrison Institute for Population and Resource Studies examine the link between population and environment; Peter Vitousek, Harold Mooney and their Center for Global Ecosystem Function (which also includes Chris Field of the nearby Carnegie Institution) study the interactions between ecosystem functioning and global climate change; and biologist Jonathan Roughgarden studies the role of ocean currents in marine ecology, which may help predict the consequences of global climate change.

In addition, this spring the biological sciences department hired climatologist and global-change expert Stephen Schneider in a joint appointment with the Institute for International Studies.

When Donald Kennedy steps down as Stanford president this summer, he plans to return to the biological sciences department. A former head of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Kennedy brings expertise in both research and policy aspects of environmental issues, his colleagues said. Even during his time as president, he taught several lectures in the introductory Earth Systems undergraduate course.

Kennedy will set up shop in the Institute for International Studies, where he will take a leading role in promoting interdisciplinary teaching and research in the environmental field.

"Don is an enormous asset on the environment," Ehrlich said. "This is not a case of an administrator retiring and trying to find something to do."

  • Civil engineering features strong research programs in groundwater contamination and cleanup, and in circulation patterns of air and water in the environment. The most prominent of the dozen or so faculty members involved in this research is Perry McCarty, who directs the Western Region Hazardous Substance Research Center, a Stanford/Oregon State University consortium that works closely with the federal Environmental Protection Agency on the treatment and prevention of groundwater contamination.

This spring, McCarty received the Tyler Prize, the environmental equivalent of a Nobel Prize, for his work.

  • Economists - the third main group in the collaboration - are scattered across several departments. In the economics department itself, Larry Goulder - hired this year in a joint appointment with the Institute for International Studies - works on the economics of global climate change, and Roger Noll works on economic incentives to control air pollution.

In engineering-economic systems, Chairman James Sweeney studies the economics of energy; and the Energy Modeling Forum, led by John Weyant, brings together more than 60 experts from around the world to study the economics of energy policy and the consequences of decreasing fossil fuel emissions. The forum, which has been in existence for 15 years, recently included environmental effects in its models, Sweeney said.

Other economists with environmental interests include Alan Manne in operations research, and Walter Falcon and Carl Gotsch of the Food Research Institute.

  • Besides these three major areas of strength, Stanford supports smaller groups of environmental researchers in several other schools and departments, including law, business, earth sciences and anthropology.



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