Conscious of the Planet

'Conscious' of the Planet

June 13, 2024
Above: Ishita Juluru, Frances Benfell and Hannah Rogers and co-founders of the climate app Conscious.

"No one has to be perfect," says Frances Benfell, co-founder of the climate app Conscious. "[I]t's about finding where it's reasonable for people, because no one should have to be breaking their back to be perfect. Instead, we want people to think: what can you actually feasibly fit into your life?"

Hannah Rogers, co-founder of the climate app Conscious

A student at the University of Utah, she along with co-founders Hannah Rogers and Ishita Juluru have been awarded the prestigious Wilkes Student Climate Innovation Prize. The prize was awarded at the second annual Wilkes Climate Summit at the U in May.. The innovative project aims to reform consumer behavior towards sustainability by empowering individuals to make informed choices and take meaningful action against climate change.

Conscious seeks to bridge the gap between producers and consumers in the realm of sustainable consumption. Set to undergo development this summer, the app will provide users with essential information about the environmental footprint of products through a simple barcode scanning feature. From carbon emissions and water usage to sustainable alternatives, Conscious will equip consumers with the knowledge needed to make eco-conscious purchasing decisions.

"Basically, we just want to make climate conscious consumption really easy for people because there's a huge information gap between producers and consumers," explains Frances Benfell, one of the Conscious’s creators. "So we're creating an app that will allow you to scan a barcode and see a product's carbon footprint, how much water was used, where it was made, and where it's shipping from. And then it will give you a list of third-party vetted alternatives that have a lower carbon footprint that you can purchase directly within the app."


Beyond its goal to provide consumers with easily accessible information, Conscious aims to foster engagement among its users to drive real change. In addition to its barcode scanning feature, the app will incorporate gamification elements, allowing users to participate in challenges and competitions with friends, colleagues, and community members.

"We're also ‘gamifying’ the process so you can be on different leaderboards, at your workplace or at your school or with your friends," adds Juluru, "and also compete with your friends in different challenges, like a Clean Air Challenge or sustainable Christmas shopping challenge. You’ll be able to see your contributions in comparison with others, which will motivate people to be more engaged."

Reducing ego anxiety

The project started with its creators’ frustrations surrounding the difficulty and hopelessness they felt trying to take climate action. "I think climate change is really isolating sometimes, especially in Utah," shares Benfell. "There's a lot of times where I feel like I'm in a room where I'm the only person who cares. And it's really nice to be able to see all the other efforts people are making. You can reduce ego anxiety by making better decisions, but also seeing that other people are trying too, and not feeling like you're alone in the fight."

The Wilkes Student Climate Innovation Prize will provide crucial support for the development and launch of Conscious. Despite initial setbacks with their software developer, the team is now back on track with two dedicated software engineers, including founder Juluru. 

Launching initially in the U.S., Conscious will focus on wealthy industrial countries where companies and consumers play significant roles in driving climate change. With plans to expand globally, the app will eventually provide tailored resources and information unique to every state.

“We want to have comprehensive resources that show, ‘here’s all the places you can learn about the legislative session; here's where you can learn about where your representatives stand on climate issues,” says Benfell. 

Disrupting the status quo

The Conscious team

Conscious aims to disrupt the status quo of consumerism by empowering individuals to leverage their purchasing power against major climate contributors. By steering consumers away from unsustainable companies, Conscious seeks to send a powerful message and drive systemic change. “The idea is not about people ‘righting their wrongs’ or not being ‘sustainable enough.’ It's more about sending a message to those major climate contributors. Because if we're shifting demand away from high-polluting companies, then we're hurting their bottom line, which they care about a lot more than the environment,” explains Rogers. “There is huge value in putting your money where your mouth is. Yes, you can vote for change in our government. But the biggest way that you vote is what you buy.”

Conscious represents a new frontier in sustainable consumerism, where every purchase becomes an opportunity for positive environmental impact. As the app gears up for development, its creators are poised to lead a movement towards a more sustainable future, one purchase at a time.


by Julia St. Andre

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Tapping coal mines for rare-earth materials

Tapping coal mines for rare-earth materials

May 23, 2024
Above: Michael Vanden Berg, a geologist with the Utah Geological Survey, examines a coal outcrop near Utah's old Star Point mine. Credit: Lauren Birgenheier


In a groundbreaking study led by the University of Utah, researchers have discovered elevated concentrations of rare earth elements (REEs) in active coal mines rimming the Uinta coal belt of Colorado and Utah.

This finding suggests that these mines, traditionally known for their coal production, could potentially serve as secondary sources for critical minerals essential for renewable energy and high-tech applications. "The model is if you're already moving rock, could you move a little more rock for resources towards energy transition? " Lauren Birgenheier, an associate professor of geology and geophysics, explains, In those areas, we're finding that the rare earth elements are concentrated in fine-grain shale units, the muddy shales that are above and below the coal seams."

Lauren Birgenheier

This research was conducted in partnership with the Utah Geological Survey and Colorado Geological Survey as part of the Department of Energy-funded Carbon Ore, Rare Earth and Critical Minerals project, or CORE-CM. The new findings will form the basis for a grant request of an additional $9.4 million in federal funding to continue the research.

"When we talk about them as 'critical minerals,' a lot of the criticality is related to the supply chain and the processing," said Michael Free, a professor metallurgical engineering and the principal investigator on the DOE grant. "This project is designed around looking at some alternative unconventional domestic sources for these materials."

The U-led study was published last month in the journal Frontiers in Earth Science. Team members included graduate students Haley Coe, the lead author, and Diego Fernandez, a research professor who runs the lab that tested samples.

“The goal of this phase-one project was to collect additional data to try and understand whether this was something worth pursuing in the West,” said study co-author Michael Vanden Berg, Energy and Minerals Program Manager at the Utah Geological Survey. “Is there rare earth element enrichment in these rocks that could provide some kind of byproduct or value added to the coal mining industry?”

Haley Coe, U geology graduate student, inspects drilling cores. Photo Credit: Lauren Birgenheier.

“The coal itself is not enriched in rare earth elements,” Vanden Berg said. “There's not going to be a byproduct from mining the coal, but for a company mining the coal seam, could they take a couple feet of the floor at the same time? Could they take a couple feet of the ceiling? Could there be potential there? That's the direction that the data led us.”

To gather samples, the team worked directly with mine operators and examined coal seam outcrops and processing waste piles. In some cases, they analyzed drilling cores, both archived cores and recently drilled ones at the mines. The team entered Utah mines to collect rock samples from the underground ramps that connect coal seams.

The study targeted the coal-producing region stretching from Utah’s Wasatch Plateau east across the Book Cliffs deep into Colorado. Researchers analyzed 3,500 samples from 10 mines, four mine waste piles, seven stratigraphically complete cores, and even some coal ash piles near power plants.

The study included Utah’s active Skyline, Gentry, Emery and Sufco mines, recently-idled Dugout and Lila Canyon mines in the Book Cliffs, and the historic Star Point and Beaver Creek No. 8 mines. The Colorado mines studied were the Deserado and West Elk.

Discover more about this groundbreaking research by visiting the full article by Brian Maffly at @The U.

Read more about this story at KUER.

U of U Part of $6.6M National Weather Forecasting Initiative

U of U Included in $6.6M National Weather Forecasting Initiative

The partnership with NOAA, other universities aims to improve predictive weather models

The University of Utah is one of a six-institution consortium recommended to receive up to $6.6 million from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to improve weather forecasting through enhanced data assimilation methods. 

The new Consortium for Advanced Data Assimilation Research will support six institutions that have been recommended to receive funding and will work together collaboratively under the new Consortium for Advanced Data Assimilation Research and Education (CADRE).  CADRE is led by the University of Oklahoma and includes Colorado State University, Howard University, University of Maryland, Pennsylvania State University and the University of Utah.

Dr. Zhaoxia Pu

"This NOAA funding allows our researchers to collaborate with leading experts across the country to tackle a key challenge in data assimilation methodology," said Atmospheric Sciences Professor Zhaoxia Pu, the Principal Investigator of the University of Utah for CADRE. "By improving data assimilation techniques, we can help make more accurate weather forecasting."

Data assimilation combines observational data sources like satellite, surface, air and ocean measurements with numerical weather prediction models to generate comprehensive analyses of evolving weather systems. This blending of information better estimates the atmospheric states and corrects forecast models in real-time, thus enhancing projections of weather extremes such as storm paths, intensities and precipitation.

Despite major forecasting accuracy improvements in recent decades, upgraded data assimilation methods are needed to leverage new technological capabilities like artificial intelligence. The CADRE consortium will focus its efforts on advancing the data assimilation components of NOAA's Unified Forecast System (UFS), a community-based, coupled, comprehensive Earth-modeling system.

Pu’s team will be focusing their research on the coupled data assimilation efforts to improve weather forecasting from short-range to sub-seasonal to seasonal time scales. Atmospheric processes are significantly influenced by interactions with the land and ocean. Pu’s team will develop effective coupled data assimilation methods to better represent the land-atmosphere-ocean interactions within NOAA's UFS. Pu will also dedicate time to training graduate students through research projects, outreach activities with NOAA Laboratories and the University of Reading, UK, and through on-campus lectures on data assimilation methods. Students from the City College of New York will also participate in training activities.

"Data assimilation is a comprehensive scientific topic involving various types of data, data science and numerical modeling strategies. I welcome interactions and collaborations in atmospheric sciences, mathematics, physics and AI data science disciplines both on campus and beyond," Pu stated.

The $6.6 million will be funded by the Inflation Reduction Act and is part of the Biden Administration's Investing in America initiative. To learn more about this announcement, read the official NOAA release here

By Bianca Lyon

From mountains to the Great Salt Lake: The secrets of snowmelt

From mountains to the Great Salt Lake: The secrets of snowmelt

May 10, 2024, Banner photo above: Creator: Scott MarkeCredit: Scott Markewitz

Utah’s snowpack has been smashing records. The combined totals for the 2022-24 winter seasons were 1,531 inches, the highest two-year snowfall in the state’s history.

Paul Brooks

What does that mean for water levels in the Great Salt Lake?

On April 24, 2024, University of Utah hydrologist and biogeochemist Paul Brooks spoke on the topic to a packed room at Alta Ski Area for the Friends of Alta lecture series. He discussed the importance of snowmelt to Utah, the western U.S. and semi-arid regions around the world. An affiliate of the U’s Peak Water Engine, Brooks’ research group focuses on the interactions between climate, water, ecosystems and society. In particular, he aims to improve models to give water managers earlier and better predictions of the season’s water availability, based on the year’s snowpack totals.

Brooks spoke with science writer Lisa Potter about the multi-year journey for water molecules from mountain snowfall to the Great Salt Lake.

Once snow starts melting, very little of it runs off directly to the stream—almost all of it goes into the ground.

Historically, we thought only a small volume of melt went into soils, and once those shallow soils were saturated, the remaining melt water quickly ran off the surface and into streams. That’s an assumption that many water management prediction models still rely on. We now know that the ground can hold much more water, which means a large fraction of snowmelt goes into the subsurface and from there takes months or years to get to the stream. That’s a fundamental change in how we think about water resources and an area that my group works on—how much water goes into the ground and, ultimately, to surface streams? How long does it take to get there?

Access the full interview in @The U.

U Atmospheric Scientists Team Up for $4.8M Snowfall Research Project

U atmospheric scientists team up for $4.8M snowfall research project

May 6, 2024
Above: Atmospheric Sciences Professor and Storm Peak Laboratory Director Gannet Hallar and students on the roof of Storm Peak Lab. Photo credit: Melissa Dobbins.

The S2noCliME Field Campaign aims to better predict snowfall processes that are critical to water supply in the Intermountain West



Gannet Hallar stands with a cloud imaging probe, which will measure the size and shape of ice particles in clouds during the field campaign. Photo credit: Melissa Dobbins.

In a new $4.8 million research project funded by the National Science Foundation, faculty from the University of Utah are partnering with lead investigators from the University of Michigan and other universities to better understand how snowfall processes are impacted by complex mountainous terrain. The multi-institutional team will conduct the Snow Sensitivity to Clouds in a Mountain Environment (S2noCliME) Field Campaign during the 2024-2025 winter season in northwest Colorado's Park Range, centered on the U's unique research station, Storm Peak Laboratory.

The Intermountain West is experiencing warmer, drier conditions and declines in snowpack due to climate change, putting communities, water resources, industries like skiing, and sensitive ecosystems at heightened risk. Accurate prediction of future snowfall accumulation in mountains is critical but challenged by the variable effects terrain has on precipitation patterns.

"Mountain snowpack is a vital source of water for communities across the western states," said Jay Mace, U professor of atmospheric sciences and a lead on the remote sensing components of the field campaign. "By deploying an integrated network of ground-based, airborne and satellite instruments, we can gain valuable insights into the chain of processes shaping snowfall, from large weather systems down to the microscale."

The U’s Storm Peak Laboratory, a premier high-elevation atmospheric monitoring station in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, will play a central role. During the upcoming winter season, the field site will host multiple radar systems, precipitation sensors, cloud particle imagers and other specialized instrumentation provided by the U and partner institutions

Claire Pettersen, an assistant professor of climate and space sciences and engineering at the University of Michigan, is the principal investigator of the project, leading the deployment of snow sensing equipment and multi-wavelength remote sensors at the midmountain site. We hope that our catalog will ultimately improve winter storm forecasts and tell western cities when to expect a drought because of insufficient snowpack,” said Pettersen.

The coordinated deployment brings together more than 30 cutting-edge instruments from five research universities. It aims to collect an unparalleled dataset documenting the impacts of orographic effects on snowfall from the broadest atmospheric scales down through the cloud microphysics. By pairing measurements of snowflake size and shape with radar measurements of clouds, the researchers will build a large catalog of data showing how storm systems change as they move over mountains, which will improve forecasts of snowfall and snowpack in these areas.

"This campaign gives us a rare opportunity to integrate specialized radars, balloon measurements, surface instrumentation and more into one cohesive study of snowfall formation processes over mountains," said Atmospheric Sciences Professor Gannet Hallar, director of Storm Peak Laboratory and co-investigator of the S2noCliME project. "The impacts of declining snowpack are far-reaching for the economy and way of life in the West. This combined data will help advance our models and predictive capabilities."

The S2noCliME project also includes scientists from the University of Washington, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Colorado State University and Stony Brook University. 

Read the announcement from the University of Michigan here.

By Bianca Lyon

Environmental refuges to escape the heat

Environmental refuges to escape the heat

May 1, 2024


On April 30, the Salt Lake County Health Department’s 2024 Climate & Health Symposium brought together experts, including University of Utah scientists, to talk about how climate change impacts human health.

One speaker was Daniel Mendoza, research assistant professor in atmospheric sciences; adjunct assistant professor in internal medicine; and adjunct assistant professor in City & Metropolitan Planning at the U.

Mendoza presented a case study, titled Environmental refuges during summertime heat and elevated ozone levels: A preliminary case study of an urban “cool zone” building. Mendoza and coauthors measured indoor and outdoor temperature and ozone levels at the Millcreek library, a building designated as a “cool zone” for the public to escape increasingly hostile environment extremes by climate change.

Mendoza spoke with AtTheU about environmental refuges in advance of the event and how cities can better protect vulnerable individuals.

How are heat and health related?

In Utah, we’re very aware of air quality-related health concerns, but we’re not as aware of the dangers of extreme heat. As the climate changes we need to pay attention to elevated temperatures, not only during the day, but also the temperature at night.

There’s lots of attention when we hit record highs, but they obviously happen during the middle of the day where there are many opportunities to seek refuge in venues with air conditioning. We’re generally at work or at school or can go to the store, for example, because these places are open when its hottest. High temperatures during the evening are more insidious—you’re very vulnerable to your environment while you’re sleeping, especially for children, the elderly, or people with chronic health issues. When it’s too hot at night, you’re not recovering at a cellular level. This can cause chronic health issues that for some, can lead to strokes, among other negative effects. We always see an uptick in heat-related illness in the ER during heat waves.

Read the rest of the interview by Lisa Potter in @ The U. 

Where the Wild Things Went During the Pandemic

Where the Wild Things Went During the Pandemic

March 18, 2024

A new study of camera-trap images complicates the idea that all wildlife thrived during the Covid lockdowns.

Austin Green

In the early months of the Covid pandemic, when every bit of news seemed bleak, there was one heartwarming narrative that took hold: With humans stuck in their homes, the world was safe again for wild animals, which could now wander freely through cities, parking lots or fields that once might have been crowded with people.

But a new global study, which used wildlife cameras to track human and animal activity during the Covid lockdowns, suggests that the story was not that simple. Austin Green HBS'16, PHD '22 , currently post-doctoral researcher in the College of Science's Science Research Initiative, is one of the many co-authors and a leader in Utah in the collection of data of wildlife as it intersects with urban environments.

“We went in with a somewhat simplistic notion,” said Cole Burton, a wildlife ecologist and conservation biologist at the University of British Columbia, who led the research. “You know, humans stop, animals are going to breathe a sigh of relief and move around more naturally. And what we saw was quite different.”

Although humans disappeared from some places during the lockdowns, they surged into others, like parks that remained open when little else was, the researchers found. And there was enormous variability in how wild mammals responded to changes in human behavior. Carnivores and animals living in remote, rural places, for instance, were more active when people faded from the landscape, while the opposite was generally true for large herbivores and urban animals.

The study, which was published in Nature Ecology & Evolution on Monday, deepens and complicates scientists’ understanding of what has been called the “anthropause,” when pandemic lockdowns radically altered human behavior. It also highlights the nuanced ways in which humans affect the lives of wild animals, as well as the need for varied and multifaceted conservation efforts, the authors said.

“There’s no ‘one size fits all’ solution when it comes to mitigating the impacts of human activity on wildlife,” said Kaitlyn Gaynor, a wildlife ecologist and conservation biologist at the University of British Columbia. “Because we see that not all species are responding similarly to people.”

Read the full article by Emily Anthes in the New York Times.

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2024 Wilkes Climate Hackathon

2024 Wilkes Climate HackathoN

On January 26 and 27, the Wilkes Center for Climate Science & Policy held its second annual Climate Solutions Hackathon, with wildland fire as this year’s theme.

The challenge posed to U students of any major was to propose an innovative, data-driven solution in one of five categories: 1) prediction and forecasting; 2) risk mitigation; 3) alert systems and evacuations, 4) community resiliency and rehabilitation, or 5) health hazards.

The hackathon organizers encouraged undergraduate and graduate students to form teams and submit a proposal in a slide deck within 24 hours. During the in-person portion of the event, U faculty from various departments along with local representatives from the US Forest Service engaged the different student teams with feedback and guidance. 

The Wilkes Center also provided a Video Mentoring Space with short, pre-recorded videos of researchers sharing suggested solution pathways.

Ultimately, the Wilkes Center received 17 submissions.  Below are the top three winners.


Team Wildfire Resilience Collective: (from left to right) Elizabeth Williams, Hannah Meier, Tegan Lengyel, Rebecca Senft.

First Place ($3,000)
Wildfire Resilience Collective

Rebecca Senft (Ph.D. graduate student, School of Biological Sciences)
Hannah Meier (Ph.D student, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
Tegan Lengyel (Ph.D. graduate student, School of Biological Sciences)
Elizabeth Williams (Undergraduate, biomedical engineering and pediatric clinical health)

Rebecca Senft was noncommittal about the hackathon until a week before. “Then I was like, yeah, I'm going to do it! I'm going to sit down and actually spend this time with my cohort members, and bond, and learn about this problem, and see what I can throw at the wall that will stick.”

Her teammate, Hannah Meier, said she had already been thinking about resilience a lot. “I lived in California during the big 2020 fires and then moved to Oregon and came here from Oregon. So, I'm very familiar with wildfires.”

Team Fire Nest: (from left to right) Suhaani Shelat, Kalina Manova, Navi Brar and Sarah Choe.

Second Place ($2,000)
Fire Nest

Kalina Manova, (Undergraduate, Biomedical Engineering)
Suhaani Shelat (Undergraduate, Mechanical Engineering)
Navi Brar (Undergraduate, Biochemistry)
Sarah Choe (Undergraduate, Computer Science)

They proposed a fire-safe home development company for communities in the Wildland-Urban Interface and other fire-prone areas. Their idea seeks to address the home insurance crisis where many insurers in wildfire-prone areas like California are pulling back coverage or exiting the state entirely.

 Unfortunately, a lot of the fire prone areas are not really fire resistant, just due to poor planning,” said Kalina Manova. “There aren't really many laws that enforce it. Even after a wildfire has burned through an area.”

 Their idea is to increase awareness about fire-resistant homes and provide a low-cost service system to help communities implement fire-safe housing practices.

“Our development company's goal, at the end of the day, is to help communities become more fire resistant and be able to come back easier economically and wiser from natural disasters like fires,” said Sarah Choe.

Team Fire Smart Educational Program: (from left to right) Xuan Hoang, Gaby Karakcheyeva, Brandon Saavedra, Celine Cardena, (Shreesh Srivastava not pictured)

Third Place ($1,000)
Fire Smart Educational Program

Gaby Karakcheyeva (Undergraduate, Biology)
Celine Cardeña (Undergraduate, Sociology & Gender Studies)
Brandon Saavedra (Undergraduate, Architecture)
Xuan Hoang (Undergraduate, Multidisciplinary Design)
Shreesh Srivastava (Undergraduate, Computer Science)


This team focused on creating a K-12 educational program around wildfire.

 “I got like zero wildfire education growing up,” said Gaby Karakcheyeva. “It would be really nice if we could teach people to not start wildfires and teach people to appreciate nature and all that stuff.”

They proposed a citizen-science model for engaging communities to gather data which could be integrated into Utah’s K12 curriculum. They also envision partnerships with the US Forest Service, which currently provides a wildland fire curriculum content, and the local Unified Fire Authority in Utah.  

 We want to be able to educate our future generation on the risk of wildfires and wildlife management,” said Celine Cardeña.

by Ross Chambless


All the hackathon submissions can be read and explored on the Wilkes Center’s Hackathon webpage.

You can also listen to Ross Chambless’ interviews with the winning teams on the Wilkes Center’s Talking Climate podcast.

Deep in the hack.


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Utah’s Bonneville Salt Flats Has Long Been in Flux

Utah’s Bonneville Salt Flats has long been in flux

February 21, 2024

Salt crusts began forming long after Lake Bonneville disappeared, according to new U research that relied on pollen to date playa in western Utah.


Jeremiah Berneau. Credit: Chevron

It has been long assumed that Utah’s Bonneville Salt Flats was formed as its ancient namesake lake dried up 13,000 years ago. But new research from the University of Utah has gutted that narrative, determining these crusts did not form until several thousand years after Lake Bonneville disappeared, which could have important implications for managing this feature that has been shrinking for decades to the dismay of the racing community and others who revere the saline pan 100 miles west of Salt Lake City.

This salt playa, spreading across 40 square miles of the Great Basin Desert, perfectly level and white, has served as a stage for land-speed records and a backdrop for memorable scenes in numerous films, including “Buckaroo Banzai” and “Pirates of the Caribbean.”

Relying on radiocarbon analysis of pollen found in salt cores, the study, published Friday in the journal Quaternary Research, concludes the salt began accumulating between 5,400 and 3,500 years ago, demonstrating how this geological feature is not a permanent fixture on the landscape.

“This now gives us a record of how the Bonneville Salt Flats landscape responds to environmental change. Originally, we thought this salt had formed here right after Lake Bonneville and it was a static landscape in the past 10,000 years,” said the study’s lead author, Jeremiah Bernau, a former U graduate student in geology. “This data shows us that that’s not the case, that during a very dry period in the past 10,000 years, we actually saw a lot of erosion and then the accumulation of gypsum sand. And as the climate was becoming cooler and wetter, then the salt began to accumulate.”

Read the full story by Brian Maffly in @The U

New Major: Earth & Environmental Science

A Living Laboratory

Ask many students why they’re at the University of Utah and they’ll tell you they want to make an impact on the world. Maybe it’s medicine, social work, or realizing the next best engineering feat. Maybe their impact lies in the arts, architecture or the humanities. Then there’s politics, management or public health . . . to name a few.

There are a growing number of students looking at climate change and the environment with an urgent sense of purpose and a belief that they can make a difference.

Are you one of them?

The College of Science is offering a new major in Earth & Environmental Science (EES) in fall 2023. EES is an interdisciplinary degree that enables students to study the interconnected nature of earth systems, including the fields of atmospheric science, geology, and ecology. Students with this degree will gain the education and experience to make an impact on the challenges facing our planet.

Living laboratory

So, you’re set to train to make a difference in this world. What is your laboratory going to look like?

Students who declare their EES major will engage with the living laboratory surrounding the university–studying forest ecology in the Wasatch Mountains, geology in the midst of Utah’s national parks and climate science from the top of Utah’s world-famous ski resorts.

A critical part of learning about earth systems is to experience those systems firsthand. “The ability to have our incredible landscapes as our living laboratory, it’s an amazing strength of the University of Utah,” said William Anderegg, associate professor of biology. Anderegg, who is also director of the Wilkes Center for Climate Science & Policy at the U, played an important role in the creation of the new major as part of a multidisciplinary team. “Utah’s geography, combined with our powerful research make the U one of the best places in the world to study environmental science.”

As an EES student, you will engage with the natural beauty of Utah while working on environmental challenges that face the state and our region. This balance of coursework both in a laboratory and in the field will prepare you for career opportunities in a wide variety of growing sectors, from environmental consulting to land management, and from conservation to corporate stewardship.

Transformational experience

The new Earth & Environmental Science major will focus on providing students with transformational experiential learning opportunities. First-year students will start their studies as part of the Science Research Initiative, where they will join a research lab during their first year on campus–no experience required. After a community-building class providing an introduction to university research, students will be paired in a “research stream” with faculty and a group of peers to experience the challenge and opportunities with research–either in the lab or in the field.

EES has a broad appeal and welcomes existing U students already pursuing science and earth science degrees, and transfer students to the U interested in climate science/environmental science education. Current students transferring into the major have the option to use previous research experience for the SRI requirement.

Peter Trapa, dean of the College of Science, believes that EES will not only appeal to a new generation of students at the U, but that it provides a blueprint for other interdisciplinary programs on campus. “The new Earth and Environmental Science degree is meeting surging student and employer demand for quantitative expertise in environmental science,” said Trapa. “Thanks to the merger between the College of Science and the College of Mines and Earth Sciences, the U can deliver new world-class educational pathways to understand the science of earth’s integrated systems that lie at the heart of addressing future environmental challenges.”

The U offers two undergraduate majors that offer an interdisciplinary approach to studying the environment: Earth & Environmental Science and Environmental and Sustainability Studies (ENVST). ENVST strives to foster an understanding of ecological systems and the consequences of human-environment interactions, using a science-based focus to arrive at solutions and integrated problem solving from earth systems science, the humanities and social and behavioral sciences.

The new EES major, on the other hand, is focused on quantitative reasoning and thinking. It requires students to enroll in the science core classes, similar to most degree programs in the College of Science. Three emphases in climate science, geoscience, and ecosystem science will tailor students’ coursework to their interests, with plenty of space in schedules to add electives and supplemental coursework from different disciplines.

Advisors can help students decide which degree is right for them. Motivated students can double-major in both programs, or receive a Sustainability Certificate to add to their credentials.

Close to Home

Ainsley Nystrom

Ainsley Nystrom, a sophomore and College of Science ambassador, is excited about the possibility of declaring her EES major, which promises to streamline her current (multiple) major and minors into one degree. “I stand by the fact that climate science doesn’t just have one aspect,” she said, “and that every aspect … is very interconnected.”

A researcher in the Anderegg Lab, Nystrom studies wildfire as it relates to forest health and drought which, for her, strikes close to home. She remembers the year before she came to the U when she had to initiate an evacuation with her two younger sisters due to a threatening brush fire near their home north of Phoenix. The whys and the wherefores of that frightening scenario were complex, and different aspects that were nevertheless interrelated. And while Nystrom understands that scientists must narrow their research, the new major’s interdisciplinary approach—from atmospheric sciences to chemistry, from biology to geology and from mathematics to physics—will allow her to see how her area of study is impacted by others in living laboratories, and in what way.

“I didn’t know how big of a field environmental science was until I came to the U,” Nystrom concluded. But she knows now, and the new Earth & Environmental Science major is customized to prime her for a long career as a researcher determined to make a difference.

Course plans available now.
Visit for more information.

By David Pace, originally published @theU.


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