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Experts for Earth Day: Researchers Offer Environmental Perspectives

Earth Day will be celebrated on Friday, April 22. Faculty experts from The University of Texas at Austin are available to discuss their research on topics ranging from the building of sustainable communities to plant ecology and environmental policies.

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Earth Day will be celebrated on Friday, April 22. Faculty experts from The University of Texas at Austin are available to discuss their research on topics ranging from the building of sustainable communities to plant ecology and environmental policies.

Architecture and the Environment Human-Environment Interactions
Climate Change Landscape Architecture
Communication of Environmental Risks Social Equity and Sustainability
Conservation/Sustainable Development Sustainable Technologies
Design of Sustainable Buildings Urban and Environmental Planning
Energy and Environmental Policy Water Resources and Conservation

Architecture and the Environment

Fritz Steiner, Dean
School of Architecture
Steiner is a National Endowment for the Arts Rome Prize Fellow in Historic Preservation and Conservation at the American Academy in Rome. He is a Fellow of the American Society of Landscape Architects and an Academic Fellow of the Urban Land Institute. Steiner has worked with local, state and federal agencies on diverse environmental plans and designs. He teaches courses in the areas of environmental impact assessment, landscape analysis and landscape architecture theory. Steiner has written numerous books, articles and papers, including “Human Ecology: Following Nature’s Lead” and the recently released “Design for a Vulnerable Planet.”

Climate Change

Jay Banner, Director
Environmental Science Institute
Jackson School of Geosciences
Banner is a professor and the Chevron Centennial Fellow in Geology in the Department of Geological Sciences, as well as director of the Environmental Science Institute. He studies the chemical evolution of groundwater and ancient oceans, and the control of changing climate on these processes. Modern aquifers, ancient limestone and cave deposits, including those of Central Texas, provide excellent records of these processes. He teaches the popular Sustaining a Planet course.

J. Eric Bickel, Assistant Professor
Cockrell School of Engineering
Graduate Program in Operations Research
Fellow, Center for International Energy and Environmental Policy
Bickel’s research focuses on decision making under risk and uncertainty, with applications to energy and climate policy. He emphasizes economically efficient and risk-informed responses to climate change. His research into climate engineering was selected by a panel of economists, including three Nobel Laureates, as the best response to climate change. His research has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, the Times of London, and in the recent documentary “Cool It.”

Don Blankenship, Research Scientist
Institute for Geophysics
Jackson School of Geosciences
Blankenship uses remote sensing to study Antarctica’s ice sheets, with an interest in how they are changing in response to climate change and how they might affect global sea level. He is also interested in applying remote sensing techniques to the exploration of Jupiter’s ice-covered moon Europa. In 1994, the U.S. Board of Geographic Names designated Antarctica’s Blankenship Glacier in his honor.

Camille Parmesan, Associate Professor
Section of Integrative Biology
College of Natural Sciences
Parmesan’s research focuses on impacts of climate change in the 20th century on wildlife, particularly on butterfly range shifts. She has been a participant in the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) since 1997 and shares a Nobel Peace Prize with the authors of the Third IPCC Assessment Report. She has recently been promoting assisted migration and habitat restoration to save vulnerable species from extinction. Parmesan is giving a public talk, “Creative Conservation in a Changing Climate,” on April 22.

Communication of Environmental Risks

LeeAnn Kahlor, Associate Professor
Public Relations, Department of Advertising
College of Communication
Kahlor’s research focuses on risk communication, specifically information seeking and processing related to health and environmental risks. Her research indicates that seeking information about a risk is, in part, a social behavior that is influenced by perceptions that others expect us to be informed. Kahlor’s most recent work has focused on information seeking and public knowledge related to global warming. She teaches an interdisciplinary graduate course on communicating science.

Kristopher Wilson, Senior Lecturer
School of Journalism
College of Communication
Wilson is an expert in the communication of climate change science. His research analyzes news media coverage of climate change, factors that influence global warming reporting and public (mis)understanding of mediated science. He recently has studied the role of TV weathercasters in communicating climate change science. Wilson spent more than a decade working in television as a news director, executive producer, anchor, reporter and weather anchor.

Conservation/Sustainable Development

Michael Eason, Conservation Program Manager
Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center
Eason is a botanist who has performed hundreds of botanical surveys across the ecoregions of Texas and into Northern Mexico. Now living in the Chihuahuan Desert region of Texas, he works with land managers and like-minded organizations on local plant conservation projects. He collects seed from native plants for national and international projects to store them for future use. Eason previously directed the Texas activities of the international Millennium Seed Bank Project, which stockpiled seeds from 10 percent of the world’s flowering species in 2010.

Kenneth Young, Professor
Department of Geography and the Environment
College of Liberal Arts
Young teaches courses on biodiversity conservation, climate change, comparative ecosystems and biogeography. His research focuses on tropical landscapes and examines their ecology, biogeography and sustainable use.

Design of Sustainable Buildings

Michael Garrison, Professor
School of Architecture
Garrison is a registered architect active in the design and construction of sustainable buildings. Garrison’s research has received numerous grants and awards from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, National Renewable Energy Lab, U.S. Department of Energy, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, U.S. Department of Interior, National Park Foundation, Texas Energy Advisory Council, Texas Energy and Natural Resources Advisory Council, Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs and Austin Energy’s Green Building Program.

Matt Fajkus, Assistant Professor
School of Architecture
Fajkus received a master’s of architecture degree from the Harvard Graduate School of Design and a bachelor of science degree in architecture from the University of Texas at Arlington. He specializes in incorporating energy efficiency into building design and is working on a thermal lab that measures energy efficiency of various building skins and the Smart Building Initiative, a project that marries technology with an integrated building monitoring system to track and analyze how human behavior plays a key role in optimizing energy efficiency in a single building.

Energy and Environmental Policy

Ross Baldick, Professor
Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering
Cockrell School of Engineering
Baldick is lead principal investigator of a $3.07 million award granted by the National Science Foundation’s IGERT program to carry out a five-year demonstration project with over 1,000 residential and commercial customers, known as the Pecan Street Project. Baldick and engineering faculty are developing a distributed renewable energy-based smart grid system that could reinvent the way communities across the U.S. generate, distribute, store, and consume energy consistent with economic, environmental, social and security objectives. His research interests include optimization and economic theory of electric power systems, public policy and technical issues associated with electricity restructuring and robustness of the electric grid under interdiction.

Charles “Chip” Groat, Professor
Department of Geological Sciences and Public Affairs
Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs
Groat holds the John A. and Katherine G. Jackson Chair in Energy and Mineral Resources in the Department of Geological Sciences. He is the director of the Center for International Energy and Environmental Policy and the director of the Energy and Mineral Resources Graduate Program. From 1998 to 2005, Groat was the director of the U.S. Geological Survey, where he emphasized integrated scientific approaches to understanding complex natural systems.

Susan Hovorka, Senior Research Scientist
Bureau of Economic Geology
Jackson School of Geosciences
Hovorka leads a team developing techniques for permanently storing carbon dioxide deep underground as a way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to the atmosphere and tackle climate change. The process is known as carbon sequestration, or carbon capture and storage. She is the principal investigator for the university’s Gulf Coast Carbon Center, which is pioneering the monitoring tools needed to ensure that the carbon dioxide stays put after it’s injected underground. Hovorka was named one of “35 People Shaping the Future” by Texas Monthly magazine in 2008.

Raymond Orbach, Director
Energy Institute
Orbach leads the Energy Institute, a multi-disciplinary research center that combines the strengths of the university’s schools and colleges to advance solutions to today’s energy-related challenges. He also has joint appointments as a professor with tenure in the Cockrell School’s Department of Mechanical Engineering, the College of Natural Sciences’ Physics Department and the Jackson School of Geosciences. As the nation’s first under secretary of energy, Orbach was chief scientist for the Department of Energy and advised the secretary of energy on a variety of topics.

Tad Patzek, Professor and Chair
Department of Petroleum and Geosystems Engineering
Patzek is chair of the Cockrell School’s Petroleum and Geosystems Engineering Department. His research involves mathematical modeling of earth systems with emphasis on multiphase fluid flow physics and rock mechanics. He briefed Congress on the BP Deepwater Horizon well disaster in the Gulf, and has been a frequent guest on NPR, ABC, BBC, CNN and CBS programs. For the last two years, Patzek’s research has emphasized the use of unconventional natural gas as a fuel bridge to the possible new energy supply schemes for the U.S. Patzek is a coauthor of over 200 papers and reports and is writing five books.

Susan K. Rieff, Executive Director
Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center
Rieff is an expert in sustainability and resource protection with 30 years of experience directing major policy initiatives in Texas and nationally. Before becoming the Wildflower Center director in 2004, she was involved in environmental policy decisions as the policy director for land stewardship for the National Wildlife Federation, deputy chief of staff for the U.S. Department of the Interior and the director of environmental policy for the late Texas Gov. Ann Richards, among other positions.

Michael Webber, Assistant Professor
Department of Mechanical Engineering
Cockrell School of Engineering
Associate Director, Center for International Energy and Environmental Policy
Webber analyzes energy problems at the intersection of science, engineering and public policy. Research topics include: biofuels, waste-to-energy, energy and security, green design, energy in Texas, the nexus of energy and food, and the nexus of water and energy. Webber is co-director of the Clean Energy Incubator at the Austin Technology Incubator, Fellow of the Strauss Center for International Security and Law at the LBJ School of Public Affairs, and assistant professor of mechanical engineering. He is one of the originators of the Pecan Street Project, a citywide, multi-institutional effort in Austin to create the electricity and water utilities of the future by the innovation and implementation of smart grids, smart meters and smart appliances.

Human-Environment Interactions

Kelley Crews, Associate Professor
Department of Geography and the Environment;
Director, Geographic Information Science Center
College of Liberal Arts
Crews, who is doing research in Botswana, studies geographic information science, remote sensing, land use and land cover change, human-environment interactions, environmental policy and field research in the tropics of Africa, Andean South America and Thailand. She can be reached via e-mail.

William Doolittle, Professor
Department of Geography and the Environment
College of Liberal Arts
Doolittle teaches courses on the landscapes of Mexico and Caribbean America, the historical geography of the American Southwest, field techniques and ecologically sustainable and indigenously developed agricultural strategies. His research interests include landscapes, histories, and agricultural technologies in arid lands. His projects include “Forests to Fields,” monitoring environmental and land use change associated with agriculture in the northwest Mexico, and “EarthShapers,” developing theories of landscape evolution involving the agency and import of individuals.

Damon Waitt, Senior Botanist
Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center
Waitt is the Wildflower Center’s botanical authority and uses his experience developing Web-based resources as director of the center’s Native Plant Information Network, the largest online database about native plants in North America. He also tracks how harmful plants and animals threaten those that are native to Texas and other states while serving on the Invasive Species Advisory Committee for the National Invasive Species Council. Involved in establishing tools for tracking non-native plants in Texas, he is past president of the Texas Invasive Plant and Pest Council and chairs the National Association of Exotic Pest Plant Councils.

Landscape Architecture

Hope Hasbrouck, Graduate Adviser and Assistant Professor
School of Architecture
Hasbrouck teaches graduate level design studios and lecture courses in landscape architecture. Hasbrouck’s professional and academic background lends itself to an interdisciplinary approach to the study of landscape architecture. Her interests range from the examination of landscape as infrastructure to the integration of computation and information technology in landscape architectural education and practice.

Social Equity and Sustainability

Ipsita Chatterjee, Assistant Professor
Department of Geography and Environment
College of Liberal Arts
Chatterjee’s research interests include the economic, cultural and geopolitical implications of globalization in the First and the Third world. She has taught courses and seminars on Globalization, Conflict, Resistance, Geography of International Affairs, Elements of Cultural Geography, Human Geography.

Elizabeth Mueller, Assistant Professor
School of Architecture
Mueller is interested in questions of social equity in cities and regions. She teaches courses on city planning history and planning theory, affordable housing policy, community development, urban politics, qualitative research methods and research design. Mueller’s work focuses on community development and affordable housing.

Sustainable Technologies

Steven Moore, Director
Graduate Program in Sustainable Design
Associate Professor, School of Architecture
Moore teaches design and courses related to the philosophy, history and application of sustainable technology. His research interests are broadly interdisciplinary and focus on the social construction of sustainable technologies, buildings and cities.

Urban and Environmental Planning

Kent Butler, Program Director and Associate Professor
Graduate Program in Community and Regional Planning
Associate Dean for Research and Facilities, School of Architecture
512-797-6644 or 512-471-0129
In recent years, Butler has obtained more than $4 million in grants and contracts for urban and environmental planning research and programs, ranging in scale from park planning to regional endangered species habitat plans and statewide growth policy studies. He maintains a research program in water resources, environmental and land use planning.

Mark Simmons, Ecologist
Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center
Simmons directs the Ecosystem Design Group focused on exploring the environmental and economic benefits of using native plants and ecological processes in landscapes. His research demonstrates that a lawn of grasses native to North America outperforms non-native grasses typically used in American lawns. He also researches the design of sustainable vegetated roofs, and urban green spaces where vegetation choices impacts factors such as storm water retention and stored carbon.  He is an advisor for the Clinton Climate Initiative of the William Clinton Foundation, which works internationally to combat climate change. And he consults on developments, subdivisions, parks and roadsides where the goal is landscape sustainability.

Water Resources and Conservation

David J. Eaton, Professor
Natural Resource Policy Studies
Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs
Eaton has written on rural water supply, international water resource conflicts, energy management, environmental problems of industries, management of emergency medical services, applications of mathematical programming to resource problems, insurance and agriculture. His research focuses on sustainable development in international river basins, evaluation of energy and water conservation programs, and prevention of pollution.

Danny Reible, Professor
Department of Civil, Architectural and Environmental Engineering
Cockrell School of Engineering
Reible is a member of the National Academy of Engineering, the nation’s highest honor for engineering professionals, and he is the school’s faculty lead on research related to the water-energy nexus. His research focuses on contaminant processes in the environment, pollution transport modeling and assessment and remediation of contaminated sediments. He has developed widely used methods of managing contaminated sediments and continues research into containment and in-place treatment of contaminated sediments. Reible is also studying how pollution spreads due to the activities of sediment-dwelling organisms, and how oily contaminants accumulate in these organisms. Other research interests include environmental and water resources engineering.

Bridget Scanlon, Senior Research Scientist
Bureau of Economic Geology
Jackson School of Geosciences
Scanlon sees a potential water crisis for a growing world. Agriculture consumes more freshwater than any other human activity. Her research shows that irrigated agriculture, because it depletes groundwater and can increase salinity at the surface, is a losing proposition. And yet, when done correctly, it can flush salts from the soil. To have truly sustainable agriculture, she recommends alternating between rain-fed and irrigated farming. She received the Conservation Award from the Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer Conservation District in 2000 and 2004.