Laurel runs the Environmental Systems Dynamics Laboratory at the University of California in Berkeley. Laurel’s research is aimed at understanding how the flow of water through the environment influences landscapes and ecosystems. Water interacts with physical (e.g., sediment) and biological (e.g., plants) components of the environment in highly nonlinear ways, leading to dynamics characterized by thresholds, sudden shifts between alternate stable states, or chaotic behavior. Her group uses diverse types of tools to understand these nonlinear interactions so that anticipatory planning and restoration efforts can be made more effective and efficient. Her work has already influenced restoration efforts in in the Everglades, with ongoing work focusing on the Chesapeake Bay, Wax Lake Delta in southern Louisiana, and salmon runs in northern California. She remains committed to bringing novel analysis techniques, rooted in network and information theory, into the environmental sciences. Currently her group is working on developing methods for causal inference based on monitoring and remote sensing data in order to resolve the dominant feedback processes driving landscapes.
One impact of this work is improved analysis strategies for detecting the main drivers that an environmental system may be responding to (e.g., increased temperatures, increased supply in nutrients). Detection of these dominant drivers enables improved management responses and will lead to development of more effective simulation models for making future projections and testing scenarios, or simply identification of the factors that management should target to halt ecosystem degradation. Another impact is the development of methods to detect the critical spatial scales or temporal scales of environmental processes. Changes in those critical scales could be harbingers of future and more dramatic shifts that affect the functioning of ecosystems and could pose a warning for early intervention. Changes in the critical spatial and temporal scales of the processes driving landscapes also indicate how an ecosystem is responding to restoration. For example, Laurel’s group recently used these techniques to evaluate how the spatial scale of phosphorus (a strictly limiting nutrient) transport in the Everglades changes as a result of an experimental flow release.
Laurel is an NSF CAREER grant awardee and a Hertz Foundation Fellow. In 2013 she received the Geological Society of America’s Kohout Early Career award. Laurel earned her PhD from the University of Colorado at Boulder and also trained at Washington University in St. Louis.
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University of California, Berkeley Department of Geography