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PEI Faculty Seminar Series

PEI Faculty Seminar Series


PEI created the Faculty Seminar Series in 2015 as a public venue for senior faculty to discuss their research in the context of environmental science and current events. Each semester features four faculty seminars on topics that include sea-level rise, climate change, carbon sequestration, green technology, renewable energy and sustainability, biodiversity, infectious diseases and global health, urban infrastructure, environmental history and humanities, environmental chemistry and ocean biogeochemistry. 

Seminars begin at 12:30 p.m. in Guyot Hall, Room 10. Lunch is served at noon in the Guyot Atrium. All lectures are open to the public. Video of the seminars are made available on PEI's website.

Upcoming PEI Faculty Seminar Series

Fall 2018

  • Sept. 25: Lars Hedin, George M. Moffett Professor of Biology and Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and the Princeton Environmental Institute;
  • Oct. 2: Jeffrey Whetstone, Professor of Visual Arts in the Lewis Center for the Arts and PEI associated faculty;
  • Nov. 6: TBD
  • Dec. 4: TBD

Past PEI Faculty Seminar Series

Spring 2018

Denise Mauzerall

Tuesday, May 1

China is the world's largest emitter of carbon dioxide and suffers from extreme levels of air pollution that are detrimental to human health and agriculture. The Chinese government has declared a war on air pollution and is already making notable progress toward peaking carbon dioxide levels by 2030 or sooner. Mauzerall will discuss recent work in her group to quantify the co-benefits of various on-going mitigation strategies on air quality, climate and public health, including decreasing the use of coal in the residential sector, increasing the use of renewable energy, and increasing electrification of the economy. She also will describe a virtuous cycle in which decreasing air pollution levels will allow for an increase in solar-electricity generation and an associated reduction in coal use, air pollution and carbon dioxide emissions.

 You can watch entire recorded seminar on Youtube HERE

Michael Bender

Tuesday, April 3

Ice cores collected by drilling through the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets preserve fossil air and chemical properties that reflect past climates. These records, which extend back 800,000 years, show that Antarctic temperatures and global climate were closely linked to atmospheric CO2 concentration. Recently, we successfully retrieved from Antarctica "chunks" of ice more than 2 million years old. These samples allow us to begin examining connections between climate and greenhouse gases at the time when glacial periods became increasingly intense, leading to the massive ice sheets associated with glacial periods of the past 800,000 years.

 You can watch entire recorded seminar on Youtube HERE

Emmanuel Kreike

Tuesday, March 6

The impact of war on society and the environment is conceptualized as war against humans or war against nature — genocide or ecocide. But war does not segregate nature and culture. Instead, it triggers "environcide" by destroying a society's environmental infrastructure or displacing people from it, inviting disease, drought, famine, and social and environmental collapse.

 You can watch entire recorded seminar on Youtube HERE

Robert Socolow

Tuesday, Feb. 6

The extraordinary progress of renewable energy tempts the declaration of "Mission Accomplished!" Whoa! We've yet to address coal-based industrialization in developing countries, the intermittency of wind and solar power, uncertainties regarding severe climate change, and the validity of geoengineering. A new academic domain, Destiny Studies, explores humanity's collective future and asks what accomplishing the "mission" requires.

 You can watch entire recorded seminar on Youtube HERE

 You can download presentation in PowerPoint format  HERE

Fall 2017

Melissa Lane

Tuesday, Dec. 5

Lane explored how politics — in historical reality, in political theory and in philosophical imagery — mediated between ecology and theology in the ancient world, and how they shaped human involvement with nature. In ancient thought, politics were a deliberate and integral step toward understanding and addressing environmental and ecological issues.

 You can watch entire recorded seminar on Youtube HERE

François M.M. Morel

Tuesday, Nov. 7

The world’s oceans absorb about a quarter of the carbon dioxide (CO2) humans release into the atmosphere every year. This acidic CO2 alters the chemistry of our oceans, which in turn affects ocean processes and the health of marine life. Morel will discuss how ocean acidification driven by increasing levels of CO2 is changing how the world’s oceans function — and the plants and animals that live in them.

 You can watch entire recorded seminar on Youtube HERE

Lynn Loo

Tuesday, Oct. 3

Heating, cooling and lighting buildings represents 40 percent of our nation’s energy consumption. Smart windows can reduce these energy needs by up to 40 percent by regulating incoming visible and near-infrared light. Loo will describe a self-powered smart-window technology that uses UV-harvesting organic solar cells for on-board power. Highlighted in The Wall Street Journal, these smart windows could save energy and make buildings more comfortable for the people who use them.

 You can watch entire recorded seminar on Youtube HERE

Dan Rubenstein

Tuesday, Sept. 19

Although closely related, horses, zebras and asses have had vastly different interactions with humans, from being valued for labor and transport to being considered pests. Rubenstein will identify the unique features of each animal that explain why co-existence with people has been harder for some species than others. Those same fundamental behavioral patterns — and the ecological forces that shape them — can instruct policies that better conserve endangered equids such as mustangs and improve human interactions with wild species overall.

 You can watch entire recorded seminar on Youtube HERE

Spring 2017

Robert Keohane

Tuesday, May 2

The election of Donald J. Trump and his attempts to dismantle former President Obama’s Clean Power Plan call the future of the Paris-based climate regime into question. Three different scenarios will be discussed: 1) the Free Riding-Collapse Scenario, 2) the Leadership Opportunity Scenario; and 3) the Symbolic Alternative Leadership Scenario. On the Free Riding-Collapse Scenario, we should expect the US pullback to induce lower effort from other countries, and even for the international climate regime to collapse as Kyoto did. On the Leadership Opportunity Scenario, American foot-dragging could generate a more robust multilateral regime led by China and other states. Finally, on the Symbolic Alternative Leadership Scenario, China would seek to reap the symbolic gains from being a “climate leader,” without having to make costly policy changes, resulting in a continuing but ineffective Paris Regime.

 You can watch entire recorded seminar on Youtube HERE

Simon Levin

Tuesday, April 4

The subject of theoretical ecology is an old and productive one, and has helped in the management of natural systems and infectious diseases. In the past several decades, much progress has been made through the extension of those approaches to dealing with climate change, biodiversity loss, and global health. Though many problems remain in those areas, we face new challenges today in finding ways to cooperate in managing our Global Commons. From behavioral and evolutionary perspectives, our societies display conflict of purpose or fitness across levels, leading to game-theoretic problems in understanding how cooperation emerges in Nature, and how it might be realized in dealing with problems of the Global Commons. This lecture will attempt to weave these topics together and both survey recent work, and offer challenges for how theory can contribute to open problems. The trends also mirror the trends within PEI, which has grown and continues to grow from its roots in science and engineering to broader issues in the social sciences, humanities and policy.

 You can watch entire recorded seminar on Youtube HERE

Robert Nixon

Tuesday, March 7 at 12:30 PM - Guyot Hall Room 10

Martyrdom is direct action in extremis. Martyrs put their bodies on the line, risking, for the sake of principle, not just a weekend in jail, but burial in the dead of night in a shallow grave. Some martyrs remain anonymous, vanish unheard of outside their villages. But others gather posthumous fame and purpose, achieving in their earthly afterlife a rallying power and an enduring force. My talk will investigate the current surge in environmental martyrdom against the backdrop of the resource wars over timber, water, land, and mineral rights across the global South.

 You can watch entire recorded seminar on Youtube HERE

Jorge Sarmiento

Tuesday, February 7 at 12:30 PM - Guyot Hall Room 10

The Southern Ocean accounts for half the oceanic uptake of anthropogenic carbon, two-thirds of the oceanic uptake of heat from global warming, and supplies the nutrients that fertilize three-quarters of oceanic biological production in the rest of the world. Yet, because of its remoteness and the hostility of its environment, it is one of the poorest understood regions of the world. Recent major developments in observational and modeling capabilities are transforming our ability to study this region and the initial results are stunning.

 You can watch entire recorded seminar on Youtube HERE

Fall 2016

Howard Stone

Tuesday, December 6 at 12:30 PM - Guyot Hall Room 10

Fluid flows occur at every scale in our environment, from flows through the porous and fractured materials that make up Earth’s subsurface to large-scale flows that occur in the oceans and atmospheres. In this talk I will highlight my research group’s approach to thinking about some of these problems using experimental, laboratory-scale and/or “reduced-order modeling” as a mechanics-based approach for highlighting significant features of otherwise complex phenomena. In particular, I will (i) illustrate how gradients of salt concentration can drive motion of micron-size particles, which is known as diffusiophoresis, and show how the effect can be used as a means to clean particles from water, (ii) describe the interplay of flow and bacteria and/or biofilms in porous spaces, including unanticipated effects that lead to clogging and “long-range” quorum-sensing responses, and (iii) on length-scales relevant to climate studies, study the development of ice bridges in narrow straits, and show how simplified models can yield insights not available in numerical climate models owing to lack of resolution.

 You can watch entire recorded seminar on Youtube HERE

Peter Singer

Tuesday, November 15 at 12:30 PM - Guyot Hall Room 10

Most of us accept that suffering is an intrinsically bad thing, even if it may sometimes lead to good consequences. That judgment is, I suspect, much more widely accepted than the judgment that biodiversity is intrinsically good. For those who think it important to protect biodiversity, this gives rise to a problem. There is considerable suffering among free-living animals. Should we seek to reduce it? And if so, at what cost to biodiversity? My aim is not to answer this question, but to indicate that the view that we should seek to protect biodiversity is more difficult to defend than environmentalists commonly assume.

 You can watch entire recorded seminar on Youtube HERE

Stephen Pacala

Tuesday, October 11 at 12:30 PM - Guyot Hall Room 10

Tiny valves on the surfaces of leaves, called stomates, regulate carbon gain and water loss by plants, and are thus linchpins of the global carbon and water cycles. Amazingly, the same simple model regulates stomates worldwide. This model is backed by enormous empirical data and a 40-year-old evolutionary explanation, and controls carbon gain and water loss in all Earth System models that predict climate. It is one of the most widely accepted paradigms in ecology.

Nonetheless, neither the simple model nor the evolutionary hypothesis explains observed stomatal closure during drought. For this reason, climate modelers have been forced to add functions that close stomates in dry soils, which are unconstrained by data, and have been recently shown to be the dominant source of inter-model uncertainty about the functioning of carbon cycle. Moreover, the 40-year-old evolutionary hypothesis is not consistent with current understanding of plant competition for water, and does not include recent discoveries about damage to plant hydraulic systems during drought.

This seminar describes an alternative hypothesis that includes plant competition and hydraulic damage. The new hypothesis has the same empirical support as the classical hypothesis under non-drought conditions, predicts observed stomatal closure during drought, and closes one of the most important uncertainties in modeling the global carbon cycle.

 You can watch entire recorded seminar on Youtube HERE

Guy Nordenson

Tuesday, September 20 at 12:30 PM - Guyot Hall Room 10

Improving coastal resiliency, and the adoption of natural infrastructure as part of a multiple lines of defense strategy, relies on effective coastal flood hazards and risk assessment and risk management. Current flood hazards maps do not adequately consider geomorphological, physical and modeling uncertainties nor the effects of climate change. Also a number of obstacles prevent the rational application of natural infrastructure for coastal resilience. This seminar will present a proposed framework for Probabilistic Coastal Hazards Mapping for the US for discussion.

 You can watch entire recorded seminar on Youtube HERE

Spring 2016

Janet Currie

Tuesday, February 9 at 12:20 PM (Notice Time Change) - Guyot Hall Room 10

We consider a new source of racial disparities in test scores: African American students’ disproportionate exposure to environmental toxins, and, in particular, lead. Using a unique individual-level dataset of children’s preschool lead levels linked with future educational outcomes for children in Rhode Island, we document significant declines in racial disparities in child lead levels since 1997, due in part to state policies aimed at reducing lead hazards in homes. Exploiting the change in child lead levels as a result of the policy, we generate causal estimates of the impact of preschool lead levels on reading and math test scores through grade eight in an IV framework. We find that a 5 ug/dl increase in child lead levels (the threshold at which the CDC recommends intervention) reduces test scores by 6 points or 43 percent of a standard deviation. The effects are stronger in the lower tail of the test score distribution and do not appear to fade over time. We calculate that the decline in racial disparities in lead explains roughly half of the decline in racial disparities in test scores witnessed over the past decade in RI.

 You can watch entire recorded seminar on Youtube HERE

John Haldon

Tuesday, March 8 at 12:20 PM (Notice Time Change) - Guyot Hall Room 10

The eastern Roman empire was the largest state in western Eurasia in the sixth century. Only a century later, it was a fraction of its former size. Surrounded by enemies, ravaged by warfare and disease, the empire seemed destined to collapse, indeed by 700 CE it had lost three-quarters of its revenues and territory to the Islamic Caliphate. Yet it did not die. Why? Several factors played a role – strategic geography, cultural and social-political resilience were key. But changes in climate also played a role, permitting shifts in agricultural production that benefitted the imperial economy. Despite its territorial losses, the empire suffered no serious political rupture. The example of this early medieval state offers a useful case-study in societal resilience.

 You can watch entire recorded seminar on Youtube HERE

John T. Groves

Tuesday, April 5 at 12:20 PM (Notice Time Change) - Guyot Hall Room 10

You may have learned in high school that covalent combinations of the CHNOPS elements comprise nearly all of biology. However, it is the family of less abundant elements, particularly iron, manganese, cobalt and copper, that mediate the most important life processes. This is the metallome. Indeed, life on earth is driven by an interconnected network of redox reactions. The reduction of oxygen to water by heme iron drives the proton pump of respiration and a manganese cluster extracts electrons from water in photosynthesis. Biogeochemical cycles on a global scale are mediated at the molecular level by this metal catalysis. Thus, small molecules like hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen and methane are both the basic currency of energy transduction and the building blocks of biomass. In this lecture I will discuss some our understanding of how nature uses iron and manganese to manage this redox biochemistry. Further, those insights have led directly to the design of new reactions that nature has not yet discovered yet.

 You can watch entire recorded seminar on Youtube HERE

Danny Sigman

Tuesday, May 3 at 12:20 PM (Notice Time Change) - Guyot Hall Room 10

Heat uptake by the ocean is slowing the greenhouse gas-driven warming of the atmosphere, and the ocean represents the dominant long-term sink for the carbon dioxide gas deriving from fossil fuel use. However, these beneficial roles of the ocean are tempered by the slowness with which surface waters are carried into the deep ocean, through a process known as “deep ocean ventilation” that occurs at high latitudes. Moreover, most global climate models have predicted that deep ocean ventilation will slow further in the future as global warming proceeds. The Southern Ocean around Antarctica is active in deep ocean ventilation and thus particularly important in the uptake of fossil fuel carbon dioxide and global warming heat. Evidence will be presented that deep ocean ventilation by the Southern Ocean was slower during past ice ages and faster during warm interglacial periods. These findings raise the possibility that deep ocean ventilation by the Southern Ocean will accelerate into the global warming future, counter to most model-based expectations. The origins and significance of this apparent disagreement will be discussed.

 You can watch entire recorded seminar on Youtube HERE

Fall 2015

Michael Oppenheimer

Tuesday, September 15 at 12:30 PM - Guyot Hall Room 10

Structural uncertainty in models presents a longstanding obstacle to estimating future sea level rise. The model-based range of projections is often used to characterize uncertainty. However, this approach is inadequate when applied to sea level rise due to the known deficiencies of ice sheet models in combination with the growing significance of the ice sheet contribution. In its Fifth Assessment Report, the IPCC extended uncertainty analysis for sea level rise by applying ad hoc expert judgments about the possible effect of such model deficiencies, an approach the IPCC has also used in assessing uncertainty for climate sensitivity. Oppenheimer and colleagues propose a new approach utilizing expert judgment that combines an experience-weighted version of formalized expert elicitation with probabilistic inversion of parameterized physical models.

 You can watch entire recorded seminar on Youtube HERE

Michael Celia

Tuesday, October 13 at 12:30 PM - Guyot Hall Room 10

Carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) is the only currently available technology that can significantly reduce atmospheric carbon emissions while allowing continued use of fossil fuels for electric power generation and other industrial processes. CCS involves capturing the CO2 before it is emitted to the atmosphere, and injecting it into deep subsurface formations, thereby keeping it out of the atmosphere for centuries to millennia or longer. While conventional, high-permeability formations have traditionally been considered as injection targets, recent proposals suggest possible injection of captured CO2 into unconventional reservoirs with low permeability, specifically depleted shale-gas reservoirs. Injection into both conventional and unconventional formations involves a number of challenges, including the need for comprehensive environmental risk assessments and associated analysis of possible leakage scenarios. The use of unconventional formations has the additional challenge of low injection rates per well, leading to the need for large numbers of injection wells with associated logistical and economic issues. This presentation will focus on specific leakage risks in conventional formations and on logistical challenges for injection into unconventional reservoirs.

 You can watch entire recorded seminar on Youtube HERE

Bryan Grenfell

Tuesday, November 17 at 12:30 PM - Guyot Hall Room 10

Violent epidemics of childhood infections such as measles provide a particularly clear illustration of oscillatory 'predator-prey' dynamics. We discuss limits on the predictability of these systems, both in the era before vaccination and at present, where vaccine hesitancy limits the effectiveness of vaccination programs in many countries. We also discuss the impact of viral evolution on predictability and the design of vaccination programs, with particular reference to influenza and rotavirus.

 You can watch entire recorded seminar on Youtube HERE

Mario Gandelsonas

Tuesday, December 15 at 12:30 PM - Guyot Hall Room 10

Downtown Des Moines once lacking in its 9 to 5 downtown a residential presence, has been radically restructured through a process that I developed 25 years ago with the Des Moines Vision Plan of 1990. The plan has fostered the city’s urban transformation through several projects that reversed the flight to the suburbs including new residential and commercial developments that have people flocking back to the downtown by the thousands, new public spaces, new cultural institutions and an increasing number of exciting events. To sustain and amplify the momentum generated by this process a new project that will resonate both with Iowa’s historical roots in farming and with new twenty first century trends and technological advancements is being developed: the Iowa Farming Corridor, and the DMFC - Des Moines Farming Corridor will represent its first prototype.

This first stage of restructuring was based on transforming, upgrading or redeveloping existing conditions. A new phase in the development of Downtown Des Moines, the DMFC will propose new questions that address contemporary issues including food, health, education and sustainability.

  • It would help educate people about gardening practices, reconnect city dwellers to the source of their food, and contribute to an increased awareness of the health benefits of choosing fresh vegetables and fruits over highly processed foods.
  • The farming corridor will complement the Des Moines school lunch initiative. Students, starting in kindergarten through high school, will learn about farming in greenhouses build in the school yards.
  • The greenhouses, will create energy efficient winter farming. 'Deep winter' greenhouses, with a passive solar heating system that captures the day's warmth and underground heat storage that releases it at night will allow year-round farming.
  • And finally, in terms of the environment, eating locally grown food will help to reduce the distance from farm to table and lowering carbon emissions related to transporting food.

 You can watch entire recorded seminar on Youtube HERE