2024 Wilkes Climate Hackathon


2024 Wilkes Climate HackathoN

 

https://wilkescenter.utah.edu/

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.

 

>> HOME <<


 

CO2 changes over past 66 M years

CO2 Atmospheric changes

Carbon dioxide has not been as high as today's concentrations in 14 million years thanks to fossil fuel emissions now warming the planet.

 

Gabriel Bowen

Today atmospheric carbon dioxide is at its highest level in at least several million years thanks to widespread combustion of fossil fuels by humans over the past couple centuries.

But where does 419 parts per million (ppm) — the current concentration of the greenhouse gas in the atmosphere—fit in Earth’s history?

That’s a question an international community of scientists, featuring key contributions by University of Utah geologists, is sorting out by examining a plethora of markers in the geologic record that offer clues about the contents of ancient atmospheres. Their initial study was published this week in the journal Science, reconstructing CO2 concentrations going back through the Cenozoic, the era that began with the demise dinosaurs and rise of mammals 66 million years ago.

Glaciers contain air bubbles, providing scientists direct evidence of CO2 levels going back 800,000 years, according to U geology professor Gabe Bowen, one of the study’s corresponding authors. But this record does not extend very deep into the geological past.

“Once you lose the ice cores, you lose direct evidence. You no longer have samples of atmospheric gas that you can analyze,” Bowen said. “So you have to rely on indirect evidence, what we call proxies. And those proxies are tough to work with because they are indirect.”

Read the full article by Brian Maffly in @TheU.
Read more about Gabe Bowen, recipient of the College of Science's Excellence in Research award,  and his work with isotopes here.

Read related article "'Call to Action': CO2 Now at Levels Not Seen in 14 Million Years" in Common Dreams.

How Microbes Combat Climate Change

How microbes can combat climate change

Chemist Jessica Swanson works with bacteria that eat methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, out of the atmosphere.

 

While carbon dioxide gets much of the focus in the climate debate, methane, the main flammable component of natural gas, also drives planetary warming. Molecule for molecule, CH4’s heat-trapping potential is 34 times greater than that of CO2 (on a 100-year time scale) and it’s pouring into the atmosphere from both human and natural sources, posing a significant threat to global climate systems.

Now scientists from around the world are exploring various strategies for removing methane from the atmosphere in the hopes of slowing climate change.

University of Utah chemist Jessica Swanson has retooled her lab to help develop a process that would harness methane-eating bacteria, known as methanotrophs, which naturally break down methane into carbon dioxide and organic compounds. She aims to discover ways to enable methanotrophs to effectively pull methane from the air at low concentrations in next-generation bioreactors.

“I’m hopeful that the more we understand methanotrophs, the more we can also facilitate open-system, nature-based solutions,” Swanson said.

Methane accounts for at least 25% of planetary warming, according to the Environmental Defense Fund. The gas is naturally oxidized in the atmosphere resulting in a shorter half-life than CO2, but methane sources are surpassing the oxidizing capacity of the atmosphere at a shocking rate—partially due to a positive feedback cycle between warming and natural emissions from wetlands and permafrost. The consequence is rapidly increasing atmospheric methane concentrations that pose a serious risk of near-term warming.

Read the full article by Brian Maffly in @TheU.

You can listen to an interview of Jessica Swanson on Cool Science radio at KPCW.

Wilkes Center Climate Prize Winner

Winner of Wilkes Center Climate Prize

 

Lumen Bioscience is the inaugural winner of the $1.5 million Wilkes Center Climate Prize at the University of Utah. The Seattle-based biotech company beat 77 international teams with their proposal to drastically reduce methane emissions from dairy and beef cattle using a patented mixture of enzyme proteins.

Wilkes Center Director William Anderegg (left) and Lumen Bioscience Chief Scientific Officer Jim Roberts

Lumen Bioscience is the inaugural winner of the $1.5 million Wilkes Center Climate Prize at the University of Utah. The Seattle-based biotech company beat 77 international teams with their proposal to drastically reduce methane emissions from dairy and beef cattle using a patented mixture of enzyme proteins. William Anderegg, director of the U-based Wilkes Center for Climate Science & Policy, made the announcement at a press conference on Sept. 22, 2023, at the Natural History Museum of Utah. The Wilkes Climate Prize at the University of Utah is one of the largest university-affiliated climate prizes in the world and aims to push through potential breakthroughs with a one-time, unrestricted cash award.

Seven years ago, Lumen scientists discovered how to genetically engineer the edible algae spirulina, a problem that had vexed researchers for decades. Based on the discovery, they built a drug discovery and biomanufacturing platform mainly for developing new, orally delivered biogenic drugs against gastrointestinal (GI) targets that cause human disease. Their winning Wilkes Climate Prize at the University of Utah project extends the approach to target the methane-producing microorganisms in the rumen, a specialized compartment of the cow’s GI tract.

“Our award-winning proposal is a testament to the culture at Lumen, which encourages broad and creative thinking by our highly talented scientists,” said Jim Roberts, Lumen Bioscience chief scientific officer. “CEO Brian Finrow and I founded Lumen on the idea that dramatically improving the cost and scalability of manufacturing protein therapeutics would allow us to address global challenges that are out of the reach of conventional biomanufacturing technologies. The recognition of the Wilkes Climate Prize at the University of Utah is a new and powerful example of this.”

Read the full story by Lisa Potter in @TheU about the September 22, 2023 announcement.

Read more about this story at the Salt Lake Tribune.

 

Climate-Resilient Western Grid

Gird YOUR Grid

 

The Western Interconnected Grid, commonly known as “the Western Interconnection,” is one of the two major interconnected power grids in North America.

The "Western Interconnection," as it is called, stretches from the northern edge of British Columbia, Canada to the border of Baja, Mexico, and from the California coast to the Rockies, and serves roughly 80 million people over 1.8 million square miles across two Canadian provinces and fourteen western states in the United States.  It is the backbone of one of the largest regional economic engines in the world.

On September 18th it was announced that  through  $5M funding by the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) and $3.75M funding by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), the University of Utah and University of Calgary will establish and co-lead the U.S.-Canada Center on Climate-Resilient Western Interconnected Grid.

Masood Parvania, associate professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Utah’s John and Marcia Price College of Engineering will co-lead the center along with Hamid Zareipour, professor of Electrical and Software Engineering at the University of Calgary’s Schulich School Engineering.

“Our center is being established at a critical time when the region is experiencing more frequent and severe extreme weather disturbances such as wildfires, heatwaves, drought, and flooding, the impacts of which not only pose threats to human health and the environment but also affect the ability of the western interconnection to continue powering the communities,” says Parvania.

At the University of Utah, the center involves co-principal investigators Valerio Pascucci, professor at the Scientific Computing and Imaging Institute and Kahlert School of Computing, William Andregg, director of the Wilkes Center for Climate Science and Policy, and Divya Chandrasekhar, associate professor in the Department of City and Metropolitan Planning in the College of Architecture and Planning, among multiple other partners and faculty.

Read the full story from the John & Marcia Price College of Engineering website.

More about this story from Brian Maffly in @TheU

Finalists vie for historic $1.5M Wilkes Climate Prize

Finalists vie for historic $1.5M Wilkes Climate Prize

 

A protein-rich bean that evades agricultural emissions? Pepto for cows? Connect the ocean to the power grid? Smart windows on every building? Trees that reduce poverty and save the rainforest?

 

We need bold thinkers with audacious ideas to help mitigate the impacts of climate change. Often, the most unconventional projects have the hardest time getting funding. At $1.5 million, the Wilkes Center Climate Prizeat the University of Utah is one of the largest university-affiliate climate awards in the world. The Wilkes Center for Climate Science and Policy in the U’s College of Science will administer the prize, funded by a cross-section of Utah-based organizations and industries. A panel of respected climate leaders reviewed 77 international proposals and identified five projects representing the most innovative ideas to address the impacts of climate change. The winner of the historic prize will be announced on Sept. 22, 2023.

“I applaud the inspiring and innovative ideas of all five finalists,” said Peter Trapa, dean of the College of Science. “This out-of-the-box, entrepreneurial thinking is precisely what the Wilkes Center is designed to foster. I am excited for the winning organization to  use the prize funds to advance meaningful solutions to the problems posed by a changing climate.”

Learn more about the Wilkes Climate Prize finalists! Note that all assertions are from presentations made at the Wilkes Climate Summit in May 2023.

Which project would you vote for? Read summaries of all five.

A Stark Message from Maui

A Stark Message From Maui

 

Earth’s rapidly changing climate is taking an increasingly heavy toll on landscapes around the world in the form of floods, rising sea levels, extreme weather, drought and wildfire.

^William Anderegg. Banner photo top: The Elkhorn Fire charred more than 20,000 acres in central Idaho’s Payette and Nez Perce-Clearwater national forests on July 30, 2023, burning along 10 miles of the Salmon River and destroying two historic ranch compounds. Credit: Brian Maffly

Also at growing risk are the values of the property where these hazards are projected to worsen, according to a new study by University of Utah scholars. The research team, led by biology professor William Anderegg, attempted, for the first time, to quantify the value of U.S. property at risk in forested areas exposed to increased wildfire and tree mortality associated with climate stresses and beetle infestation.

“As a society, we have this tremendous capacity to deal with and minimize, adapt to and mitigate risk,” said Anderegg, who heads the university’s Wilkes Center for Climate Science & Policy. “We have insurance policies, we have seat belts in cars and airbags. All of these are to mitigate the risk of getting in a car accident or having a fire burn down your house. But fundamentally, all these tools to mitigate risk are predicated on knowing what the risks are and capturing how those risks might change.”

Climate change is a “game changer,” according to Anderegg, because it promises to elevate threats, yet we don’t know exactly where, when or by how much.

“This is a really clear case of where we need cutting-edge science and tools to tell us what are the risks and how are they possibly or likely to change this century due to climate change,” said Anderegg, who studies forest ecology. “Climate change is going to drive wildfire and disturbance risks up and is already driving them up. Insurers leaving states like California really underscores that.”

Most recently is the devastating wildfire in Maui where not only property has been destroyed but scores of human lives have perished.

 

To read the full article by Brian Maffly visit @TheU.

Study Finds and TIME magazine also picked up this story.

Sister Cities Panel

Wilkes Center hosts climate change panel between Sister City leaders

Addressing climate change on the local level with two international leaders was the focus of a recent panel discussion between Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall and Matsumoto Mayor Yoshinao Gaun.

The discussion, hosted at the S.J. Quinney College of Law on July 23 by the Wilkes Center for Climate Science & Policy at the University of Utah and the Salt Lake City Department of Economic Development, was part of a weekend of events celebrating the 65th anniversary of the Sister City relationship between Matsumoto, Japan, and Salt Lake City.

Founded in the 1950s by President Dwight Eisenhower, Sister Cities International was formed with the goal of fostering global peace and stability by creating connections between people in different parts of the world. The conversation between the two mayors is an example of how Sister City relationships can provide opportunities for communities from different parts of the world to support each other in finding solutions to the problems they share.

“Rather than taking on this work of addressing climate change as individual cities, we can work together as Salt Lake City and Matsumoto city,” said Gaun through a translator during the panel.

As Salt Lake City experienced three consecutive days of temperatures over 100 degrees, Mendenhall noted it was a fitting time to discuss the efforts cities were making to address climate change.

“Perhaps there couldn’t be a better day for us to gather here and discuss what great work Salt Lake City is doing and how we can learn more from our Sister City, Matsumoto,” she said. “Because our nation does not have any national climate strategy with specific goals, unlike Japan, which does, our actions at the local level are mighty.”

Read the entire story by Matilyn Mortensen in @TheU.

Listen to National Science Foundation’s recent podcast with Bill Anderegg here.

William Anderegg Receives Blavatnik Award

William Anderegg RECEIVES Blavatnik Award

On July 26, the Blavatnik Family Foundation and the New York Academy of Sciences announced that Dr. William Anderegg is one of three national laureates to receive the 2023 Blavatnik National Awards for Young Scientists. A video announcing Anderegg’s selection for the Blavatnik Award  is available here.

Dr. Anderegg is an associate professor of Biological Sciences at the U and director of the Wilkes Center for Climate Science & Policy. As the 2023 Laureate in Life Sciences, he is being awarded $250,000 for his work on “revealing how trees absorb and release carbon dioxide amidst a changing climate.” This is the largest unrestricted scientific award for America’s most innovative, faculty-ranked scientists and engineers who are under the age of 42.

Anderegg’s recent publications have examined the interaction of plant ecology and climate change, from the scale of cells to forest ecosystems. Specifically, he addresses how drought and climate change affect Earth’s forests and the manifold benefits they bring to society. His work overturns a 50-year foundational theory on how stomata—pores on leaves that facilitate photosynthesis—behave in order to improve carbon gain and minimize water loss, and in turn, how this affects global forests’ response to climate change.

 As a leading voice in the field of climate change, Anderegg’s discoveries are already informing climate solutions, global policies, and public health. He is the first ever winner of the Blavatnik Regional Awards to be awarded the Blavatnik National Award Laureate. 

 “I am thrilled that our important work continues to be recognized,” said Anderegg. “I hope that our contributions to this field of research can help illuminate the future of Earth’s forests and provide urgently-needed tools to tackle climate change and increase resilience in ecosystems and communities in the US and across the globe.”

 The 2023 Blavatnik National Awards received 267 nominations from 134 institutions in 38 U.S. states. Nominees must be faculty-level scientific researchers, 42 years of age or younger. Three independent juries —one each for life sciences, chemistry, and physical sciences and engineering —were composed of some of America’s most distinguished scientists. The juries selected three winning laureates and 28 finalists.  

The Blavatnik National Awards for Young Scientists will celebrated the 2023 laureates and finalists in a ceremony on September 19 at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. (See banner photo above: William Anderegg with Sir Leonard Valentinovich Blavatnik)

In April, Anderegg was one of three 2023 recipients of the National Science Foundation’s prestigious Alan T. Waterman Award for his contributions to ecosystem and climate change science.

 

 

Tim Hawkes named College of Science senior fellow

Great Salt Lake advocate and former Utah lawmaker Tim Hawkes joins College of Science Leadership Team as Senior Fellow

The University of Utah College of Science announced the selection of attorney and former Utah legislator Tim Hawkes as Senior Fellow. In addition to advising college leadership, Hawkes will also serve on the executive advisory board for the Wilkes Center for Climate Science & Policy.

Hawkes currently serves as General Counsel and Vice-Chair of the Board for the Great Salt Lake Brine Shrimp Cooperative, where he handles a wide variety of legal and regulatory issues, as well as business strategy, strategic communications, and governmental affairs, particularly on issues that relate to the Great Salt Lake. Tim has nearly two decades’ worth of experience in water law and policy and advocating for Utah’s natural resources.

During his eight years in the State Legislature, Hawkes served in House Leadership as Rules Chair, and on the Business & Labor and Natural Resource Committees. He also sponsored many important pieces of water legislation. A trained mediator and outdoor enthusiast, Hawkes served for ten years as Utah Director for Trout Unlimited. From 2014-2017, he co-chaired Utah’s Recommended State Water Strategy Team. Hawkes holds a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from Brigham Young University and a Juris Doctor from Columbia University School of Law.

“I am delighted to serve as an inaugural Senior Fellow of the College of Science,” said Hawkes. “I look forward to working with Dean Trapa and the exceptional staff and faculty of the College to help address critical environmental challenges facing Utah. Both the College and the Wilkes Center for Climate Science & Policy can shape and support policy decisions at all levels.”

Hawkes is the first fellow selected by the College of Science. The College of Science Fellows Program will expand in the future to include other experts and leaders in strategic areas of opportunity.

“I am excited to have Tim Hawkes join us as Senior Fellow and advisor to the College of Science,” said Dean Peter Trapa. “Tim’s policy acumen and understanding of environmental issues fit perfectly with President Randall’s vision to enhance the U’s unsurpassed societal impact.”