AGU 2017 Fall Meeting Roundup

December 21, 2017 | Water in the West | Insights

Bea Gordon

Each fall, 23,000+ scientists gather at the American Geophysical Union (AGU) annual Fall Meeting.  This year, seven researchers associated with Water in the West were among them presenting work on issues ranging from climate extremes to stormwater management.  AGU’s Fall Meeting is an opportunity for students, researchers, professors, and industry to gather and discuss the most pressing environmental problems facing the U.S. and the world.  Though the ongoing discussion about the environmental footprint of these conferences must be acknowledged, there is also much to be said for the galvanizing power of this meeting and the importance of in-person communications for deepening research aims and fostering meaningful communication between scientists and science policy-makers the world over. 


Presentations and Panels

Post-Doctoral Scholar Julio Enrique Herrera-Estrada

Julio Enrique Herrera-Estrada presented research on the role of precipitation recycling in North American droughts.  Herrera-Estrada summarized his work as a study of the physical process that can cause droughts to travel across North America, bringing insights that can help improve our predictions of these natural disasters and our understanding of how climate change may affect them.  Using a computer program, Herrera-Estrada and colleagues found that droughts in the Southwest can reduce the amount of water reaching the Midwest significantly. This work suggests that there is a positive feedback within the Midwest where decreased precipitation leads to decreased evaporation.  Decreased evaporation translates into less water in the atmosphere resulting in even less precipitation.  The research highlights the potential for local feedback to worsen drought in the Midwest.

Noah Diffenbaugh presenting at AGU.

Kara J Foundation Professor of Earth System Science and Kimmelman Family Senior Fellow at the Woods Institute for the Environment Noah Diffenbaugh

Professor Noah Diffenbaugh outlined changes in the probability of co-occurring extreme climate events (e.g. floods, droughts, heatwaves, and severe storms) and their potential to exert acute stress on natural and human systems.  Supply chains, agricultural commodities markets, reinsurance, and humanitarian aid have all relied on the historical rarity of these extreme events to provide a geographic hedge against the impacts of co-occurring extremes.  Changes in the frequency of extreme events in recent decades, however, implies the probability of co-occurring extreme events is changing and is likely to continue changing in the future.  Following a review of the evidence for historical changes in extreme climate events and the response of extreme events to continued global warming, Diffenbaugh’s presentation provided perspective on current methods for quantifying changes in the probability of co-occurring extremes. 


Civil and Environmental Engineering Doctoral candidate Patricia Gonzales

Research by Patricia Gonzales presented at AGU. (Gonzales & Ajami 2017).

Patricia Gonzales spoke about her research on the role of dynamic community values, preferences, and water use behaviors as important drivers of water demand in addition to external factors such as temperature and precipitation. As part of this work, she highlighted that water demand drivers have been extensively studied, yet they have traditionally been applied to models that do not account for changes in human behavior in response to heightened water scarcity awareness. Her presentation explored cycles of decreased water demand during drought and subsequent water use rebound observed in California in recent decades and highlighted a tool developed to model water demand in three diverse but interconnected service areas in the San Francisco Bay Area.  The work exposed local trends of changing water use behaviors and long-term impacts on water demand since 1980 to the present. To the best of current knowledge, Gonzales’ study is the first to incorporate social memory to model the water demand rebound phenomenon and to use such a model in the examination of changing dynamics validated by historical data.

Post-Doctoral Scholar Ali Sarhadi

Ali Sarhadi presented research on how the changing concurrence of multiple climatic extremes (warm and dry years) may result in intensification of undesirable consequences for water resources, human and ecosystem health, and environmental equity.  The presentation outlined the steps involved in assessing how global warming influences the probability that warm and dry years co-occur at the global scale.  Sarhadi’s analyses revealed an increasing trend in the concurrence risk of warm and dry years, which are in agreement with the multivariate trend analysis from historical and climate models.  In addition to providing a novel means to quantify the probability of multiple extreme events, the results of this study have implications for decision makers developing short- and long-term strategies to prepare for climate stresses now and in the future.

Director of Urban Water Policy and Senior Research Associate at the Woods Institute for the Environment Newsha Ajami

Newsha Ajami’s research on water demand and other topics was presented at AGU by members of her urban water research group at Stanford. In addition, she also served as a panelist in a session aimed at forging successful partnerships between academia, industry, and government.  Ajami and other panelists outlined the types of projects engineering firms, research and development companies, not-for-profit institutes, and government agencies work on and also described the role academic research can play in these projects. Other topics included strategies to acquire funds for start-up operations, identification of market potential, and effectively pitching ideas to industrial firms.


Kim Quesnel presenting at AGU.

Civil and Environmental Engineering Doctoral Candidate Kim Quesnel

Kim Quesnel presented work outlining the role of smart meters, remote sensing, and other data to investigate water demand and greenness changes during drought.  Quesnel focused on smart meters as one forthcoming technology that holds the potential to fundamentally shift the way customers use water and utilities manage their water resources. Quesnel’s work provided insight into the usefulness of this emerging technology by coupling daily water use observations from smart meters with monthly and bimonthly billing records to investigate water use trends, patterns, and drivers in Redwood City, CA from 2007 through 2016. The study concluded that water use has changed dramatically over the past decade corresponding to varying climatic regimes and drought cycles


Staff researcher Bea Gordon

Aging infrastructure, population growth, and urbanization are demanding new approaches to management of all components of the urban water cycle, including stormwater. Green Infrastructure solutions offer many environmental, economic, and social benefits in the management of stormwater, yet many practical barriers have prevented the widespread adoption of these systems worldwide. At the center of these challenges is the inability of stakeholders to know how to monitor, measure, and assess the multi-sector performance of GI systems. Gordon presented work conducted with Kim Quesnel and Newsha Ajami on establishing ways to evaluate GI performance to enhance financing opportunities.  The work introduced a conceptual model and examined this model’s functionality through the lens of 14 international and domestic case studies.  The work also examined risk priorities of both public and private actors and synthesized these results to pull out lessons for the future.