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UC Climate-Change Research is One Focus of Global Summit, New Reports

September 11, 2018
Some of the most important climate-change research at UC Merced deals with water.

California aims to lead the nation — and the globe — in climate change research, policy and action — in large part through climate-focused research conducted at University of California campuses and labs.

Some of that research, including from UC Merced, will be on display this week as climate-change scientists, policymakers and trailblazers from around the globe gather in San Francisco for the 2018 Global Climate Action Summit .

UC Merced School of Engineering professors Joshua Viers, LeRoy Westerling and Josué Medellín-Azuara and some of their graduate students will be there in support of the research they do, which is also recently highlighted in several prominent reports.

The professors and second-year graduate student Vicky Espinoza helped write the San Joaquin Valley section of the Fourth California Climate Change Assessment . The Assessment supports California’s continued leadership on actions to address climate change and safeguard the state’s people, economy and resources by providing tools for decision making and supporting these decisions with sound science.

This compilation of original climate research includes 44 technical reports and 13 summary reports on climate-change impacts to help ready the state for a future punctuated by severe wildfires, more frequent and longer droughts, rising sea levels, increased flooding, coastal erosion and extreme heat events.

The most recent Assessment suggests these events will worsen in the future.

The California-focused Assessment will feature prominently at the global summit, which takes place from Sept. 12 through 14 and brings together state and local governments, businesses and citizens from around the world to showcase climate action taking place in support of the 2016 Paris Climate Agreement. The agreement, signed by 175 countries, pledges to work toward keeping global warming well below 2 degrees Celsius, a temperature shift that could lead to severe consequences.

Vicky Espinoza

Summit participants will discuss the latest science documenting climate change’s effects, including historic droughts, devastating wildfires, increasing frequency of torrential storms, extreme heat, the death of millions of trees, billions of dollars in property damage, and threats to human health and food supplies, and how communities can take the most urgent actions, such as reducing emissions and achieving a carbon-neutral global economy.

Environmental Systems graduate student Espinoza will receive a special honor, as she was selected as a finalist for the ImagineH2O fellowship for innovation in California water-energy systems as part of the Water Pavilion segment of the Global Climate Summit.

She will be a guest at the Water Pavilion and take part in a special dinner roundtable discussion, where she’ll talk about her dissertation project.

Viers nominated her, citing her applied research experience at Argonne National Laboratory, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the UC Water Academy ; her engagement with the community through volunteering, mentoring and tutoring; and because of her project, a potential solution to the subject of regional groundwater management.

“Vicky has identified a technologically innovative approach to suggest where agricultural production can optimally persist to meet water availability constraints and minimize local socioeconomic impacts,” Viers wrote in his nomination.

Espinoza said she aims to understand the full implications of the state’s Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, including its effects on the San Joaquin Valley’s irrigated lands and how proposed land-use changes will affect already socioeconomically vulnerable communities within the region.

“My research is transdisciplinary in that it seeks to improve regional water and economic security for disadvantaged communities through the use of geospatial technology and informatics by using new, deep-structured learning techniques on heterogeneous data,” she said. “This research, now in its formative stages, will provide insight into sustaining California’s food-energy-water sector and into innovative approaches to policy and technology in California and beyond.”

The San Joaquin Valley-focused regional segment of the statewide Assessment Espinoza helped author is just one of a series of reports being released before, during and after the summit, underlining various ways to address climate change. Medellín-Azuara led one study on statewide agricultural adaptation to climate change that also became part of the Assessment.

Another recent contribution is the “Managing Drought in a Changing Climate: Four Essential Reforms,” written by Medellín-Azuara and Viers for the Public Policy Institute of California. This set of recommendations became public this week, and the regional Assessment report will be live later this month.