Linde + Robinson Lab Recognized by Los Angeles Conservancy

One of Caltech's oldest buildings, the Linde + Robinson Laboratory for Global Environmental Science, is the recipient of a 2012 Los Angeles Conservancy Preservation Award. The building, an astronomy lab built in 1932 that has undergone extensive renovations over the past two years, is the nation's first lab constructed in an existing historic building to earn LEED Platinum rating.

The Los Angeles Conservancy is a nonprofit organization that works to recognize, preserve, and revitalize the historic architectural and cultural resources of Los Angeles County. According to the organization's website, award recipients "range widely, from sensitive restoration, rehabilitation, and adaptive reuse projects, to groundbreaking advocacy and education efforts by individuals and groups."

The awards are selected by an independent jury of leading experts in architecture, historic preservation, and community development. Linde + Robinson was noted for "an exceptionally creative and sensitive approach" that "transformed a historic astrophysics laboratory into a highly advanced and sustainable scientific facility—the first-ever LEED Platinum renovation of a historic lab building," according to a press release issued by the conservancy. The "massive project," notes the conservancy on its website, "not only preserved the building 's unique historic features, it found brilliant new uses for them—particularly the solar telescope, built as the centerpiece of the original building but functionally obsolete. Now it tracks the sun and uses the light it captures for both illumination and exploration."

The transformation of Linde + Robinson into a state-of-the-art model of sustainability began in early 2010. It now stands as one of the nation's most energy-efficient laboratories—fitting for a building that houses the Ronald and Maxine Linde Center for Global Environmental Science, a group of researchers dedicated to developing solutions to the world's complex environmental problems.

In selecting Linde + Robinson for an award, the jury highlighted the "exceptional combination of preservation, technology, and sustainability; Caltech's stewardship of its historic resources; the high quality of the work; and just how incredibly cool it is," notes Cindy Olnick, the director of communications for the conservancy.

The Preservation Awards will be presented at a luncheon on Thursday, May 10, at the Millennium Biltmore Hotel in downtown Los Angeles.

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Katie Neith
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Caltech Oceanographer Tests New Technology at the Bottom of the Earth

The field of study of Andrew Thompson, assistant professor of environmental science and engineering at Caltech, presents not only theoretical challenges but logistical ones as well. That's because he is interested in the circulation and ecology of the Southern Ocean—a cold, remote region near Antarctica—and the role it plays in global climate.  

In particular, he studies a marine area at the eastern tip of the Antarctic Peninsula, part of the Weddell Sea. The hostile environment of the Weddell Sea makes long-term research difficult, so he's part of a team that is seeking to monitor the region with autonomous underwater vehicles called gliders. Last month, Thompson set off on a research cruise to deploy three of these new gliders, as well as some surface drifters that follow the currents and can be tracked with global positioning system (GPS) receivers.

"The currents and fronts in this region are important because they determine the transport and dispersal of krill—an important part of the ocean food chain—and also interact and modify the outflow of dense Antarctic Bottom Water, which eventually sinks to become the densest water in the ocean," says Thompson. "This part of the Weddell Sea is the injection point for krill and these dense water masses into the greater Southern Ocean, " 

The team, which included researchers from the Virginia Institute of Marine Sciences, the British Antarctic Survey, and from the University of East Anglia in the U.K., collected hydrographic data from the ship—such as the temperature, salinity, and density of the water—when they weren't busy with the gliders.

"We captured the signature of dense Antarctic Bottom Water at the shelf break cascading off the continental shelf," says Thompson, who says the group spent a lot of time keeping the gliders out of the way of iceberg C-19, formed in 2002 on the opposite side of Antarctica. "It originally had a surface area of 5500 square km, but is now about 800 square km. We have some great measurements right in the lee of the berg and see evidence of it significantly disrupting the currents in the region."

The team also successfully tested an echo sounder that they attached to the gliders to measure krill biomass. The echo sounder uses sonar to detect krill swarms in the water column.

"A major purpose of the cruise was to demonstrate the capability of ocean gliders to play a key role in future polar ocean observing systems," he says. And so far, the instruments have shown favorable results. The gliders were deployed on January 23; since then, they've been collecting samples and reporting data back to Thompson via satellite when they come to the surface every few hours. At press time, the Caltech glider had just completed its 200th dive. It, along with the other two gliders, will be recovered at the end of the experiment in mid-March.

In addition to research success, the crew, which returned to land in early February, had the chance to experience some marine wildlife in their natural habitat. The boat was visited by a number of friendly humpbacks and, while taking measurements from the sea, researchers found a pod of feeding orcas.

For more pictures and details from the trip, visit Thompson's website. The "journals" section gives personal accounts and images from the voyage.

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Katie Neith
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Research Symposium and Dedication Ceremony for the Linde + Robinson Laboratory

The Linde + Robinson Laboratory for Global Environmental Science was officially dedicated with a research symposium and ceremony on January 24.

The research symposium featured talks by John H. Seinfeld, Louis E. Nohl Professor and professor of chemical engineering, and Jess Adkins, professor of geochemistry and global environmental science, both of whom have laboratories in the new Linde + Robinson Laboratory. They spoke about the role of aerosols in climate and atmospheric chemistry, and the exploration of the deep ocean for corals and clues to past climate change.

Speakers at the dedication ceremony included Caltech president Jean-Lou Chameau, GPS division chair Ken Farley, Caltech and Rocky Mountain Institute trustee Sue Woolsey, and trustee and donor Ronald Linde. 

Both events helped mark the historic transformation of one of Caltech's oldest buildings into a prototype laboratory for the future. Linde + Robinson is one of the nation's most energy-efficient science buildings, complete with state-of-the-art laboratories for oceanography, atmospheric science, and environmental chemistry and technology.

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Allison Benter
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Evidence of Ancient Lake in California's Eel River Emerges

Caltech-led team documents ecological changes that may explain the two different populations of once-related steelhead trout found today in the river

PASADENA, Calif.—A catastrophic landslide 22,500 years ago dammed the upper reaches of northern California's Eel River, forming a 30-mile-long lake—which has since disappeared—and leaving a living legacy found today in the genes of the region's steelhead trout, according to scientists at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) and the University of Oregon.

Using remote-sensing technology known as airborne Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) and hand-held global positioning system (GPS) units, a three-member research team found evidence for a late Pleistocene, landslide-dammed lake–located about 60 miles southeast of Eureka, California—along the Eel River.

The river today is 200 miles long and carved into the ground from high in the California Coast Ranges to its mouth on the Pacific Ocean in Humboldt County.

The evidence for the ancient landslide—which, scientists say, blocked the river with a 400-foot wall of loose rock and debris—is detailed this week in a paper appearing online ahead of print in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The study provides a rare glimpse into the geological and ecological history of this rapidly evolving mountainous region.

According to Benjamin H. Mackey, lead author of the study and a postdoctoral researcher at Caltech, the findings help to explain emerging evidence from other studies that show a dramatic decrease in the amount of sediment deposited from the river in the ocean just off shore at about the same time period.

Mackey and his colleagues were drawn to the Eel River, which is among the most-studied erosion systems in the world, to study large, slow-moving landslides. "While analyzing the elevation of terraces along the river, we discovered they clustered at a common elevation rather than decreasing in elevation downstream, paralleling the river profile, as would be expected for river terraces," he says. "This was the first sign of something unusual, and it clued us in to the possibility of an ancient lake."

By combining the findings from their field investigations with analysis of the topographic data provided by the LiDAR mapping, the team was able to identify a large landslide scar on the flank of a nearby peak, and detect subtle shorelines upstream of the landslide. The researchers suggest that a landslide in this area would have been capable of damming the river and creating a lake. An outcrop of finely laminated lake sediments discovered in a tributary stream provided compelling physical evidence for the lake’s existence.

An image constructed from high-resolution topography acquired via LiDAR remote sensing shows an oblique view of the reconstructed lake surface (transparent blue). The modern bed of the Eel River is the broad flat area across the center-left of the image. The inset shows sediment found upstream of the dam and indicate deposition in still water, typical of a lake environment. Charcoal within these sediments was radiocarbon dated to estimate the time of lake emplacement at 22,500 years ago.
Credit: California Institute of Technology

"Perhaps of most interest, the presence of this landslide dam also provides an explanation for the results of previous research on the genetics of steelhead trout in the Eel River," says Mackey, referring to a 1999 study by the U.S. Forest Service. In that study, researchers found a striking relationship between two types of ocean-going steelhead in the river—a genetic similarity not seen among summer-run and winter-run steelhead in other nearby rivers.

An interbreeding of the two fish, in a process known as genetic introgression, may have occurred among the fish brought together while the river was dammed, Mackey says. "The dam likely would have been impassable to the fish migrating upstream, meaning both ecotypes would have been forced to spawn and inadvertently interbreed downstream of the dam," he explains. "This period of gene flow between the two types of steelhead can explain the genetic similarity observed today."

Once the dam burst, the fish would have reoccupied their preferred spawning grounds and resumed different genetic trajectories, he adds.

"The damming of the river was a dramatic, punctuated affair that greatly altered the landscape," says coauthor Joshua J. Roering, an associate professor of geological sciences at the University of Oregon. "Although current physical evidence for the landslide dam and paleolake is subtle, its effects are recorded in the Pacific Ocean and persist in the genetic makeup of today's Eel River steelhead. It’s rare for scientists to be able to connect the dots between such diverse and widely felt phenomena."

The lake formed by the landslide, researchers theorize, covered about 12 square miles. After the dam was breached, the flow of water would have generated one of North America's largest landslide-dam outburst floods. Landslide activity and erosion have erased much of the evidence for the now-gone lake. Without the acquisition of LiDAR mapping, the lake's existence may have never been discovered, researchers say.

“This was a remarkable discovery, since large lakes in steep, rapidly uplifting mountain terrain are rare," says Michael P. Lamb, assistant professor of geology at Caltech and coauthor of the study. "Moreover, high erosion rates tend to erase evidence that past lakes ever existed. Ben was able to piece together subtle pieces of geologic evidence from landslides to shorelines to show that this lake existed, and that its presence is still felt thousands of years after its demise in local fish populations and in the marine sedimentary record."

The National Center for Airborne Laser Mapping provided the LiDAR data used in the project. Funding for the study, "Landslide-dammed paleolake perturbs marine sedimentation and drives genetic change in anadromous fish," was provided by the National Science Foundation and the Keck Institute for Space Studies at Caltech. 

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Katie Neith
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Caltech Joins Billion Dollar Green Challenge

In a collaborative effort with 32 other leading U.S. institutions, Caltech has helped launch the Billion Dollar Green Challenge, an initiative to invest a cumulative total of one billion dollars to fund energy-efficiency upgrades on campuses across the country.

Caltech was the first institution to make the commitment to use self-managed green revolving funds for sustainability improvements as part of the challenge. These profitable investments help create green jobs in campus communities while lowering operating costs on college and university campuses.

"We're transforming energy efficiency upgrades from perceived expenses to high-return investment opportunities," said Mark Orlowski, executive director of the Sustainable Endowments Institute, which is coordinating the challenge along with 13 partner organizations, in a statement. "Caltech should be commended for rising to the challenge and investing in energy efficiency improvements on campus."

The Billion Dollar Green Challenge launched publicly on October 11. Guided by a 34-member expert advisory council, the challenge offers technical assistance, best-practices sharing, access to an advanced web-based tool for managing green revolving funds, peer institutions' project-specific data, and invitations to specialized webinars and conferences.

Caltech currently has an $8 million revolving fund for sustainability efforts, which is getting a return of about 30 percent while improving building performance, says John Onderdonk, manager of sustainability programs. Initiatives supported thus far by the fund include mechanical-equipment upgrades in eight buildings and lighting upgrades in over 50 percent of the campus structures.

"We are proud to be a Founding Circle member of the Billion Dollar Green Challenge," says Onderdonk. "For the past three years we have proven that a revolving loan fund is an effective vehicle for investing in our campus to save energy, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and improve the Institute's bottom line.  The challenge gives us the opportunity to share that success with others and ensure our program remains state-of-the-art."

Caltech's growing commitment to sustainability has not gone unnoticed. Recently, the Annenberg Center for Information Science and Technology and the Schlinger Laboratory for Chemistry and Chemical Engineering were selected to be honored at the inaugural Sustainable Innovation Awards during the Green Gala on November 3, 2011. The Green Gala is a United States Green Building Council, Los Angeles chapter, event that highlights sustainable building in Southern California.

In addition, the Institute won the award for Model Community Achievement from the South Coast Air Quality Management District (AQMD). Presented jointly to the City of Pasadena, Pasadena City College, and Caltech, the accolade recognizes contributions to cleaner air and is part of the AQMD's 23rd annual Clean Air Awards.

"From an organization that plants trees to a manufacturer that builds all-electric cars, this year's honorees demonstrate their creativity and commitment in showing us there are many ways we can improve our air quality," said AQMD governing board chairman William A. Burke, in a statement. "Their actions speak to the difference that one person or organization can make in cleaning the air."

Caltech was recognized for its implementation of a wide range of complex energy-efficiency projects that resulted in an annual energy savings of 8.3 million kilowatt-hours, equivalent to $1.3 million in utility cost savings in 2009–2010. These projects reduced Caltech's greenhouse emissions by more than 6,000 metric tons.

In addition, the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education recently announced that Caltech is home to the second largest rooftop solar installation among universities in the United States.

"These awards recognize the significant investment that everyone at Caltech has made to improve the Institute," says Onderdonk. "Whether formally as a member of the sustainability council, the committee on greenhouse gas reduction, or a division green team; or informally by taking individual action in your daily lives, the entire campus community has helped raise the bar."

For more information on environmental efforts around campus, visit the Sustainability at Caltech website

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Katie Neith
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$10 Million Gift Creates Partnership to Fuel Fundamental Research

Dow establishes long-term vision for innovation as founding member of Caltech's Corporate Partners Program

PASADENA, Calif.—In a strategic move to strengthen fundamental science and technology and foster transformational advances in renewable energies, the Dow Chemical Company (NYSE: DOW) and the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) have established a $10 million partnership.

Through the gift—bolstered with funds from the Gordon and Betty Moore Matching Program—Dow, one of the world's leading chemical companies, becomes a founding member of Caltech's Corporate Partners Program. The program is designed to strengthen the connection between the Institute's pioneering research and industry's needs, resulting in science and technology breakthroughs that can more easily and directly reach the community and the world.

"These long-term partnerships—inaugurated so aptly by this continued collaboration with Dow—will seed the sorts of high-risk, high-return innovations in science and engineering for which Caltech is renowned," says Caltech president Jean-Lou Chameau. "It will not only fund great fundamental science, but will also help us translate our findings into a commercial arena more quickly and seamlessly than ever before."

Under the partnership, Dow will provide ongoing support for graduate student research through five endowed fellowships in chemistry and chemical engineering, as well as five endowed fellowships in energy science. It will also provide Caltech's Resnick Sustainability Institute with funding over the next five years, helping to advance cutting-edge, proof-of-concept ideas with the potential to rapidly produce commercial technologies.

In return for its investment—which includes a rare, long-term corporate commitment that will be realized through endowments—Dow will have the opportunity to collaborate with an array of world-class faculty and student researchers.

"It is vital that we support academic research to ensure universities can continue the tradition of excellence in chemical engineering, chemistry, and materials science to address the needs of our industry and the world," says William Banholzer, chief technology officer at Dow. "Excellence in scientific education and the development of innovative solutions go hand in hand."

"Dow appreciates that you have to invest in something if you want to make change happen," says Hanisch Memorial Professor and Professor of Chemistry Jacqueline Barton, chair of the Division of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering at Caltech. "Outstanding research is under way at Caltech, and the best way for Dow to be involved with that work is to invest. The dividends from its investment will be realized over generations."

Dow's gift builds upon a history of collaborative efforts with Caltech. Both Dow and Caltech have demonstrated a strong commitment to developing sustainable solutions for the creation, storage, and distribution of energy, and both understand the crucial role that fundamental science plays in informing game-changing applications.

"Caltech is a model partner," says Theresa Kotanchek, vice president for sustainable technologies and innovation sourcing at Dow. "Together our research teams are uniting to advance fundamental science and simultaneously building and validating scalable prototypes. The pace of our progress is truly record setting."

In 2009, Dow chose Caltech as a partner in a four-year solar-research initiative that was one of the company's largest externally funded research agreements. This agreement has furthered exploration of earth-abundant materials for solar-energy applications, and also established Dow's first endowed graduate research fellowship for students in Caltech's Division of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering.

Through this newest partnership, Caltech researchers—and, by extension, Dow—will tackle a "broader portfolio of renewable energies and technologies," says the Resnick Sustainability Institute's director, Harry Atwater, who is Howard Hughes Professor and professor of applied physics and materials science at Caltech. The Resnick Institute's faculty currently pursues research focused on a vast spectrum of topics, including fuel cells, alternative wind power, solar photovoltaics, energy-storage materials, and energy sequestration.

The Resnick Sustainability Institute receives a significant portion of the funding in the agreement. Through the new Dow Chemical Company Bridge/CI2 Innovation Program, financial support will be used to further promising graduate and postdoc research that has the possibility of creating licensable technologies and start-ups. The graduate research fellowships in energy—renewable for up to two years—will help advance clean-energy goals.

"I am excited to see Caltech's efforts materialize in a broad-based manner," Atwater says. "We hope to see this partnership grow to include others as we continue to magnify and amplify our efforts so that we can have a greater impact."

More information about Dow's industry-leading partnership with key academic institutions in the United States can be found at http://www.dow.com/innovation/partnership.

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Shayna Chabner McKinney
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Caltech to Create Clean-Energy Business Competition

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has selected Caltech to create a clean-energy entrepreneurial competition in the western United States. Caltech's winning proposal is one of six that were awarded regionally as part of a three-year, $2 million program to develop competitions that inspire students to come up with innovative business plans involving clean-energy technology.

Caltech, whose award totals $360,000, will lead a consortium of research institutions and business organizations, including UCLA, USC, Chapman University, the Rady School of Management at UC San Diego, and OnGreen, Inc., an energy company. Called First Look West (FLoW), the partnership will also include student leaders from college-campus groups, such as eClubs, Net Impact, and Engineers for a Sustainable World. Working with its partners, Caltech will devise and administer the program, which is sponsored by the Resnick Institute for Science, Energy, and Sustainability. The consortium will oversee the western region of the competition, an area that comprises seven states and two territories.

"The Resnick Institute is excited to work with its university partners to foster clean-energy innovation among young scientists in the western United States," says Harry Atwater, director of the Resnick Institute, and the Howard Hughes Professor and professor of applied physics and materials science.

The competition builds on First Look LA (FLLA), a program organized by Caltech, USC, and UCLA that has been showcasing research and innovation to investors for five years. Caltech's Office of Technology Transfer worked closely with the Resnick Institute to secure the award.

The regional contests will be completed by May 1, 2012. Regional winners, selected by a panel of judges, will each receive $100,000 from the DOE and a chance to compete for a National Grand Prize in the final competition held at the DOE in Washington, D.C. in early summer 2012.

For more information, click here.

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Marcus Woo
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CHIP Hits the Home Stretch

This evening at 11 p.m. EDT, a team of students from Caltech and the Southern California Institute of Architecture (SCI-Arc) will start unloading CHIP—or the "Compact Hyper-Insulated Prototype" house, Caltech and SCI-Arc's entry in the biennial Solar Decathlon competition in Washington, D.C.—from a flatbed truck and will begin the time-consuming process of reassembling the structure on the National Mall.

"We are all working on 13-hour shifts every day of the week to build the house in time for the competition," says undergrad Cole Hershkowitz, the team's public-relations lead at Caltech.

On September 12, SCI-Arc announced that the project had received a $350,000 cash gift from China-based Hanwha SolarOne Co., Ltd., which provided the solar modules used to power the house, now officially known as the SCI-Arc/Caltech Hanwha Solar CHIP House.

The Solar Decathlon, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), features 19 teams from around the world selected to design and build the most energy-efficient, affordable, and attractive house they can. The event, which begins September 23, is intended to inspire policymakers, industry leaders, and the public to pursue a sustainable future with cutting-edge design and technology.

To read more about CHIPs construction, visit the SCI-Arc/Caltech team's blog For recent images, go to http://twitter.com/#!/CHIP_2011/media/grid.

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Kathy Svitil
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CHIP Goes to Washington

On September 6, after five months of 60-plus-hour weeks of construction—and another two years of planning and design—CHIP, the high-tech house built by a joint team of students from Caltech and the Southern California Institute of Architecture (SCI-Arc), will finally hit the road, en route to Washington D.C. for the biennial Solar Decathlon competition.

The Solar Decathlon, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), features 19 teams from around the world selected to design and build the most energy-efficient, affordable, and attractive house they can. The event, held on the National Mall, is intended to inspire policymakers, industry leaders, and the public to pursue a sustainable future with cutting-edge design and technology.

Over the past few weeks, says Caltech undergraduate student Fei Yang, the team's systems engineer, "construction has been humming along" on CHIP (or, more precisely, "CH:IP," which stands for "Compact Hyper-Insulated Prototype"). "We completed a craning exercise that disassembled and reassembled the whole house on-site. We also completed a series of systems testing that tested and validated the functionality and energy consumption of every engineering system in the house."

So far, all systems are go—and operating with impressive efficiency. For example, using just half of CHIP's array of photovoltaic panels, "we have produced 23 kwh in one day, which is enough to power our entire house for a day in DC," says undergrad Cole Hershkowitz, the team's public relations lead at Caltech.

Earlier in the summer, CHIP's unique heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) system—which uses waste heat to pre-heat the house's domestic hot water, saving energy in the process—had been getting "sub-prime results," says Hershkowitz. "The causes for our problem are complex," says Yang, "but in essence, we had capacity issues with our original HVAC condenser, and swapping it out for a bigger one did the trick."

CHIP's "brain," a computer that monitors the house's energy balance to ensure net-zero energy use, is also online, and the iPad interface—imagine the ultimate universal remote—has been completed "and is controlling everything in our house from lights to TV to shades," Hershkowitz says.

On Tuesday, the structure, which has been painstakingly assembled at the SCI-Arc campus in Downtown Los Angeles, will be disassembled and loaded in four pieces onto a flatbed truck for the journey east, accompanied by Hershkowitz and Caltech student Richard Wang. "They are scheduled to arrive in D.C. the following week, on the 11th or 12th," says Yang. Then, he says, the house will be reassembled, "and the remaining furnishing of the interior will be finished. It is going to look fantastic!"

How do the students feel about sending CHIP off on its next adventure? "I am sure it is different for every team member," Yang says, "but personally I am still pretty tense, because the project isn't done until the competition is over. At the same time, sending it off to D.C. concludes a big chapter in the project—and the ensuing respite is much welcomed by everybody."

To read more about CHIPs construction, visit the SCI-Arc/Caltech team's blog.

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Kathy Svitil
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A Wave of New Earth-Science Faculty Joins GPS Division

Recent hires focus on ocean-related research

For Andrew Thompson, assistant professor of environmental science and engineering who joined the Caltech Division of Geological and Planetary Sciences in August, growing up in Rhode Island gave him a natural affinity for the ocean. However it wasn't until the summer before his senior year in college that he realized that he could put his fascination for the sea to good use.

"As a kid, I enjoyed math and physics, but thought oceanography was just about studying fish," says Thompson. While attending a summer program at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution before his last undergrad year as an engineering student, however, he discovered that wasn't the case. "I learned there that I could do ocean science from a fluid-dynamics standpoint," he says, "and I fell in love with it."

After earning a BA in engineering sciences from Dartmouth, Thompson went on to receive an MPhil in fluid flow from the University of Cambridge and a PhD in physical oceanography from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego. Thompson then returned to the UK for postdoctoral research stints at the University of East Anglia and the University of Cambridge. Before coming to Caltech, he spent a year as an advanced research fellow at the Natural Environment Research Council's British Antarctic Survey.

Throughout his studies, he never forgot the project at Woods Hole that first inspired him. 

"We looked at the transport of harmful algal blooms that had formed in the Gulf of Maine, which can be a serious economic and public-health problem," remembers Thompson. "The research I do now is actually very similar to that, but working in different regions of the ocean, primarily in the Southern Ocean around Antarctica."

Although Caltech doesn't have a long history of oceanography research, the Institute is striving to look very closely at climate from a holistic viewpoint at the Ronald and Maxine Linde Center for Global Environmental Science, where Thompson will have his lab among other scientists from a broad selection of disciplines. His physical ocean research focuses on eddies in the ocean, which are similar to atmospheric storms except that they happen in the water. They are important for mixing the ocean and transporting heat, chemicals, and biological elements. 

"I'm excited to be part of the Linde + Robinson Laboratory, which will bring people together from a wide range of backgrounds," says Thompson. "I think there will be a really good opportunity to broaden the work I've done and look at some of the implications on a larger scale."

While Thompson studies the way sea storms move things around, Victor Tsai, assistant professor of geophysics, is busy measuring the seismic noise produced by the movements of the ocean—partly from the crashing of waves onto the shore.

"My major focus right now is looking at sources of seismic energy other than earthquakes, and one of the biggest sources is ocean waves," he says. The waves create a noticeable seismic signal that can be recorded at seismic stations on the coast and inland. Analyzing this seismic noise helps researchers understand what makes up Earth's crust by tracking how fast the waves travel and how quickly they lose energy as they move through the earth.

Tsai also studies the effect that sea ice has on the seismic noise of ocean waves, which can give clues into how fast the ice is melting. His innovative research incorporates input from numerous fields, including seismology, geomechanics, glaciology, oceanography, and mathematical geophysics.

For Tsai, the new faculty appointment at Caltech is a bit of a homecoming. He earned a BS in geophysics here in 2004. Although he began his undergrad studies as a physics major, his first research project quickly showed Tsai that physics wasn't for him. He switched to geophysics, and his undergrad advisor was renowned seismologist Hiroo Kanamori, who influenced him to take a different look at the field.

"He had a research project for me that looked at atmospheric wave couplings with the solid earth," says Tsai. "That was my first geophysics project, and it was a bit unusual, since most people in the field aren’t looking at anything related to the atmosphere. I really enjoyed it, so I started to look for nontraditional geophysical problems to work on."

After Caltech, Tsai went on to earn an MA and PhD in Earth and planetary sciences at Harvard University. His postdoctoral work included a two-year Mendenhall Postdoctoral Fellowship at the Geological Hazards Science Center of the USGS in Colorado. In addition to seismic noise, Tsai, a member of Caltech's Seismo Lab, studies a wide variety of solid-earth topics, from the role of fluids in fault zones and understanding glacial earthquakes, to mechanical modeling of seismic events and improving current imaging techniques. He thinks the synergistic nature of the faculty here will help support and nourish his unique research interests.

"I really enjoy the way that people interact at Caltech," says Tsai. "Everyone shares ideas and are open to collaboration." 

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