2021 Science lecture series: Water's cosmic past and challenging future

2021 Science lecture series: Water's cosmic past and challenging future

By Andy OberUniversity Communications
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The 16th annual College of Science Lecture Series will shine a spotlight on water's history and future.
The 16th annual College of Science Lecture Series will shine a spotlight on water's history and future.
Michael Luria, assistant dean for corporate and community engagement, College of Science
Michael Luria, assistant dean for corporate and community engagement, College of Science
Jenna Rutschman, senior director of marketing and communications, College of Science
Jenna Rutschman, senior director of marketing and communications, College of Science
Jessica Barnes, assistant professor of planetary sciences
Jessica Barnes, assistant professor of planetary sciences

Water management is among the most pressing issues in Arizona and throughout the Southwest, and the University has risen to the challenge and earned recognition as an international leader in water research. That strength will be on full display next month during the 16th annual College of Science Lecture Series, which will shine a spotlight on water's history and future.

The series of five virtual lectures will examine the science of water, spanning from its cosmic origins to the next great challenges surrounding the vital resource for future generations.

"Given that water is the lifeblood of humankind and recognizing how critical water is to our region, it's both a timely and important topic in our community," said Michael Luria, assistant dean for corporate and community engagement at the College of Science and co-organizer of the lecture series. "While the effects of the ongoing pandemic have necessitated a virtual format for the 2021 series, it also provides the opportunity to expand our reach to those outside of Southern Arizona, which we are very excited about."

A new recorded presentation will premiere on the college's YouTube channel each Thursday at 6 p.m. beginning April 1. Co-organizer Jenna Rutschman, the college's senior director of marketing and communications, says being unable to return to Centennial Hall this year has been an opportunity for organizers to flex their creative muscles.

"From a creative standpoint, we used this to our advantage and decided to take a documentary-style approach to filming our speakers in a socially distanced setting at the bright and beautiful new auditorium in the Health Sciences Innovation Building," Rutschman said.

In a departure from the previous TED Talks format, the presentations will make use of slides and video of interesting research elements. That will include the coral reef lab of Diane Thompson, assistant professor of geosciences, and the equipment that Jessica Barnes and Pierre Haenecour, both assistant professors of planetary sciences, use to study the asteroid Bennu.

Rutschman says this year's lectures will remain on the YouTube channel permanently.

The University has been ranked No. 1 in the United States and among the top two in the world in the area of water resources for three straight years in the Shanghai Academic Ranking of World Universities. Barnes says a popular event like the lecture series provides an opportunity to use that research strength to communicate to the general public the importance of understanding and maintaining water resources.

"Water is so fundamental to our everyday lives, but we often forget just how much we rely on it to survive and thrive," Barnes says. "The upcoming lecture series will be an eye-opener to the issues surrounding water, the balance between water availability and usage, and climate change – especially for someone who lives in a desert environment."

The schedule for the 2021 College of Science Lecture Series:

April 1 – Beyond Earth
Jessica Barnes, assistant professor of planetary sciences
Pierre Haenecour, assistant professor of planetary sciences

Life on Earth is composed of water and organic molecules. This talk will explore the cosmic origins of these components, how they were delivered to Earth, and how the exploration of asteroid Bennu by the OSIRIS-REx mission will help elucidate how Earth became habitable.

April 8 – Within the Ocean
Diane Thompson
, assistant professor of geosciences

The oceans play a fundamental role in year-to-year patterns of temperature and water availability, as seen in studies of the world's largest ocean and its evolution of patterns in response to Earth's changing climate. This talk will highlight how historical information can be harnessed to develop and test innovative solutions for increasing the resilience of coral reef ecosystems at Biosphere 2.

April 15 – The Colorado River
Connie Woodhouse
, professor, School of Geography, Development and Environment

The Colorado River is a vital surface water supply for the arid Southwestern United States, where the demand for water from the river now exceeds the supply. This talk will focus on how the arid lands river – one of the most highly developed in the world – is subject to natural climate variability and, increasingly, the impacts of a warming climate.

April 22 – Beneath Our Feet
Laura Condon, assistant professor of hydrology and atmospheric sciences

Groundwater is by far the largest unfrozen freshwater resource on the planet. Yet it is often overlooked, overused or misunderstood. This talk will explore how the water beneath our feet supports ecosystems and human systems alike and the role that it has to play in the future.

April 29 – Society and a Changing Climate
Kevin Anchukaitis
, associate professor, School of Geography, Development and Environment

Our society's most significant challenges from climate change will be those involving water – both too much, causing flooding, and too little, causing drought. How can lessons from past civilizations illustrate future dangers and potential solutions? This talk will take viewers on a tour around the globe to explore how climate change alters the planet's water cycle, how societies past and present have responded, and the challenges coming in the future.

Watch this behind-the-scenes teaser for the lecture series below:

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