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New Faculty Represent Campus’s Interdisciplinary Approach to Understanding and Protecting the Planet

Six new faculty members have joined UC San Diego this academic year in support of the cross-campus research theme of Understanding and Protecting the Planet.

All the new professors have joint appointments between Scripps Institution of Oceanography and other departments at UC San Diego. Their areas of expertise represent a new chapter of climate change research, one in which the reality of the problem has been established and the focus has shifted to what some describe as “managing the unavoidable and avoiding the unmanageable”—or climate change impacts and adaptation.

The new professors will pursue the concept of understanding and protecting the planet in a number of ways: understanding past climate changes by sifting through archaeological and paleoclimate records, improving society’s ability to monitor environmental changes through technological advancement, and improving the public’s ability to adapt to climate change consequences such as increasingly frequent heat waves and the spread of vector-borne illnesses.

“These appointments represent UC San Diego’s nontraditional approach to solving the most pressing problems facing our world. We acknowledge that only through cross-discipline collaboration can we provide solutions that are broad-based to respond to societal needs,” said UC San Diego Chancellor Pradeep K. Khosla. “The task of addressing the risks posed by climate instability and other hazards must be economically viable and scalable if they are to be adopted. Bringing a wide range of perspectives to the table gives us our best chance for success.”

These joint faculty appointments are part of UC San Diego’s Strategic Plan and vision to spur collaborative, multi-disciplinary, impactful research. Because solutions will not come from one person or one discipline, joint positions are vital to addressing some of the world’s most complex global challenges.

The four grand research themes outlined in the Strategic Plan provide opportunities for an interdisciplinary focus. They are: Exploring the Basis of Human Knowledge, Learning and Creativity; Understanding Cultures and Addressing Disparities in Society; Understanding and Protecting the Planet; and Enriching Human Life and Society.

The Understanding and Protecting the Planet theme encourages research, education and outreach focused on enhancing societal resilience to hazards posed by the natural environment and by our anthropogenic change of the environment. Of the university’s four grand research themes, it is closest to completing its goal for the hiring of new faculty with two more positions in development. UC San Diego is also making faculty appointments in support of the university’s three other grand research themes: Enriching Human Life and Society; Exploring the Basis of Human Knowledge, Learning, and Creativity; and Understanding Cultures and Addressing Disparities in Society.

The positions have joint appointments between at least two departments from across the university in order to facilitate collaborations in new interdisciplinary fields. The university divisions involved in these hires include Scripps Institution of Oceanography, Health Sciences (School of Family Medicine and Public Health), the Jacobs School of Engineering, the Division of Biological Sciences, the Division of Social Sciences, and the School of Global Policy and Strategy.

“Scripps Institution of Oceanography has been at the forefront of modern climate change research and now we are entering a new age in which we must provide science-backed solutions to the changes unfolding in our world,” said Margaret Leinen, Vice Chancellor of Marine Sciences at UC San Diego and Director of Scripps Institution of Oceanography. “These new faculty appointments will launch cutting-edge research at UC San Diego that addresses key perspectives on the impact of climate change on human health, policy, resilience, adaptation, and other areas.”

The hires are part of the university’s growing emphasis on interdisciplinary research that draws on public policy, economics, law, public health, urban planning, geosciences, and other fields.

In addition to these appointments, UC San Diego’s newly established Center for Climate Change Impacts and Adaptation demonstrates the organization’s commitment to addressing the consequences of climate change.

“An opportunity like this is very unique in a university setting because, traditionally, researchers tend to work within disciplinary silos,” said Jennifer Vanos, one of the new researchers. Vanos has a joint appointment with Scripps and UC San Diego’s Department of Family Medicine and Public Health and will study issues such as physiological responses to heat waves. “In order to create real-world solutions to complex problems, it’s important to study the issues in an integrated manner by bridging multiple disciplines to come up with real, transferable solutions.”

The following researchers have recently accepted joint positions at UC San Diego:

Andrew Barton

Andrew Barton

Assistant Professor
Integrative Oceanography Division (IOD) Biological Sciences
Ecology, Behavior, and Evolution, Division of Biological Sciences

Barton investigates how changes in Earth’s climate, including natural variability and long-term changes driven by human activities, have the potential to alter phytoplankton species distributions and community composition.


Tarik Benmarhnia

Tarik Benmarhnia

Assistant Professor
Climate, Atmospheric Science & Physical Oceanography (CASPO)
Family Medicine & Public Health

Benmarhnia studies the impact of extreme weather events on human health and advancing awareness of human vulnerability and its implications for public policy. Benmarhnia develops methodological approaches in order to evaluate the health impact of environmental policies such as climate change adaptation measures or air pollution regulations.


Andrew Lucas

Andrew Lucas

Assistant Professor
Climate, Atmospheric Science & Physical Oceanography (CASPO)
Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, Jacobs School of Engineering

Lucas studies the relationship between physical dynamics in the sea and the character and productivity of the base of the oceanic food web. His work establishes the necessary physical framework to assess the impact of projected changes in ocean circulation, wind-driven dynamics, and heat content on the base of the ocean ecosystem.


Kate Ricke

Kate Ricke

Assistant Professor
Climate, Atmospheric Science & Physical Oceanography (CASPO)
The School of Global Policy and Strategy

Kate Ricke is a climate change scientist who integrates tools from both the physical and social sciences to analyze climate policy problems. Central to her work is accounting for uncertainty facing this global issue, both in the effects of climate change and in preferences for how to address them. She uses earth system models that simulate how the Earth’s climate changes under human influences in conjunction with simple economic and behavioral models to understand feedbacks between climate change and human decision-making. Her current research ranges from examining international relations implications of moderating climate through geoengineering to modeling the influence of regional climate change on human migration. Ricke is also a research affiliate of the campus-wide Deep Decarbonization Initiative.


Isabel Rivera-Collazo

Isabel Rivera-Collazo

Assistant Professor
Geosciences Research Division (GRD)
Anthropology, Division of Social Sciences

Rivera-Collazo is an environmental archaeologist specializing in geoarchaeology, archaeomalacology (the study of mollusks in archaeological sites), coastal and marine processes, maritime culture and climate change. Her research focuses on the effect that human activity has over island ecosystems through time, as well as how have people responded to climatic and environmental change in the past. Her work focuses on resilience and adaptation, investigating what decisions enhance or reduce adaptive success.


Jennifer Vanos

Jennifer Vanos

Assistant Professor
Climate, Atmospheric Science & Physical Oceanography (CASPO)
Family Medicine & Public Health

Vanos specializes in the study of human biometeorology and bioclimatology, connecting weather and climate to human health. She is interested in the effects of environmental exposures to air pollution, temperature, and ultraviolet radiation on children and other highly vulnerable populations in urban areas.