Today at Berkeley Lab

Three Students Selected for UC-Sponsored Food Fellowships

— By Julie Chao

As part of the UC Global Food Initiative, three graduate students have been selected to receive $2,500 research fellowships. Each of the students—one from UC Berkeley and two from UC Davis—will work with a Berkeley Lab mentor on a project that aligns with a Lab initiative in predictive agriculture.

UC President Janet Napolitano launched the Global Food Initiative in July as a way to intensify and expand the efforts of the world’s premier public research university to support healthy eating, sustainable agriculture, and food security. UC has provided $7,500 to each campus for three student fellowships.

The fellowships are the initial effort of a project under the Global Food Initiative focused on mining existing data to understand the impacts of changing climate on California agriculture. These Global Food Initiative efforts are part of the Lab’s Predictive Agriculture Initiative, a collaboration with UC Davis to develop new scientific approaches to increase food production while simultaneously decreasing inputs of water and fertilizers. This research project is led by Peter Nico of the Earth Sciences Division, who serves as the Berkeley Lab lead for both the Global Food Imitative and the Predictive Agriculture efforts.

Following are brief introductions of each of the three students and their research project.

kripaKripa Akila Jagannathan is a graduate student in UC Berkeley’s Energy and Resources Group who will be working with Andrew Jones in the Earth Sciences Division to investigate if climate model outputs are aligned with farmer’s information needs.

She will assess the accuracy of different climate models in predicting specific metrics that are relevant for farmer’s decision making needs. Beginning with the case of one or two major crops in California, her project will identify key climate metrics that are relevant to farmers and that can, in principle, be calculated from available climate projections. In addition, she will also evaluate the skill of the climate models in capturing these metrics. The larger objective of the project is to provide farmers with actionable climate information, and help bridge the gap between climate science and action.

stitzerMichelle Stitzer is a Ph.D. candidate in Population Biology at UC Davis. Her project aims to identify the stress responsiveness of certain genes across a changing agricultural landscape.

Specifically her project aims to update genomic annotations of transposable elements (TEs), which are genes that move across and between chromosomes. She is particularly interested in those TEs that control how maize responds to various types of stress, and what that means for maize production as agricultural conditions and practices change.

Her mentors are Elizabeth Bautista and Kirsten Fagnan of NERSC.

Gus Tolley is a Ph.D. student in the Hydrologic Sciences Graduate Group at UC Davis. He will be working with Nigel Quinn of the Earth Sciences Division to use the Scott Valley Integrated Hydrologic Model (SVIHM) to explore how a prolonged drought would affect hydrologic conditions in the Scott Valley.

food-1Mr. Tolley will be comparing two different scenarios in the Scott Valley under prolonged drought conditions. The first scenario assumes that current agricultural practices will continue despite the drought (“business as usual”). The second implements managed aquifer recharge during the winter months (Jan.-Mar.) by applying excess winter flows to dormant agricultural fields using existing conveyance infrastructure. Comparison of these scenarios will likely bracket the potential drought conditions for the Scott Valley by providing best- and worst-case solutions.

He will also collaborate with other researchers to compare the results from the Scott Valley analysis with similar potential drought response actions and analyses in the San Joaquin and Pajaro Basins.