Doctoral Research

The goal of this project is to study impacts of climate change and population dynamics on physical, ecological, and socio-economic systems, and integrate these to formulate proactive adaptation scenarios. 


Trainees will work in the headwater basins of the Columbia River Basin of the Pacific Northwest US and Canada, and participate in an immersion course in the Biobío River Basin in Chile at a time when proactive adaptation is needed in the face of future impacts. Issues facing the CRB and BRB include rapidly changing hydrologic regimes, widespread groundwater declines and increased reliance on surface water, inadequate surface water storage to meet water and energy demands, non-point source pollution, endangered and threatened salmonid populations, cultural conflicts between indigenous and non-indigenous peoples, and social dilemmas associated with collaborative decision-making. 

In the CRB, these issues relate directly to the review of the Columbia River Treaty between the US and Canada, which currently governs transboundary hydropower and flood control. In the BRB, new dams are being proposed for hydropower production and flood control, similar to the CRB more than five decades ago, causing conflict in relation to ecosystem function and indigenous populations. Research projects will be based on scientifically significant cross-cutting issues, diversity of water resources topics, socio-economic contexts, and potential impacts challenging community resilience and adaptation capacity.


Teams of trainees will be educated in fundamentals that comprise the process of research integration. They will undertake dissertation research on questions related to the process, potential, and constraints of adaptation. The research outcomes will likewise have potential application to other basins worldwide facing similar challenges. 

Trainees will work in teams to address four integrating research questions that pertain to the interacting physical, ecological and social systems in the CRB:

  1. How will projected human population dynamics including issues of growth, culture, socio-economics, and law change water demand and quality, and how will feedbacks between water resources (or their regional perceptions) influence human demographics?

  2. How do projected climate impacts on snow storage and stream flow change water availability and quality, and how do agriculture, hydropower, urban uses, and natural systems respond?

  3. What are key space and time scales to optimize both understanding and management of water resources, and how sensitive are they to lags in the physical, biological, and social systems?

  4. How does adaption at the species or social level combine with feedbacks at the ecosystem level to confer resiliency or instability at generational time scales?

Individual Trainee research projects will contain a strong disciplinary focus, while integrated elements will be described in one or more interdisciplinary dissertation chapters, co-authored with other trainees.