PhD Research - Christopher Heckman

MESM, University of California, Santa Barbara; BA Geography, BA Environmental Studies, University of Colorado, Boulder

The recent California drought clearly highlights the importance of water resources — drought stress and increased fires have caused an uncommonly high level of forest mortality in the Sierra Nevada, while water managers have been forced to make substantial cutbacks to both agriculture and municipal water demands. The primary driver of water supply is, of course, precipitation; however, vegetation consumes a significant amount of this supply before the water flows downstream and eventually to our homes. Therefore, it's important to understand how changes in vegetation water use due to climate change, management strategies, or disturbances such as fires or insect outbreaks can have a substantial effect on surface water supplies and the forest’s ecosystem services that we rely on.

One critical component of vegetation water use is the soil's ability to store water, which is an area that has not been well studied at the scale of the Sierra Nevada. Christopher Heckman is interested in using a coupled hydrologic-ecologic computer model (RHESSys) to research how the vast variability in soil water storage across the Sierra Nevada will affect vegetation’s response to climate change. Studying this interaction at such scale would help forest managers design a more balanced approach to conserving forest health and downstream water supplies into the future.

Year Admitted : 2015
Research areas: Climate Change, Eco-hydrology, Water Resource Management, Computer Modeling
Faculty Advisor: Naomi Tague

Office/Lab: Bren 1005
Telephone: 908-285-3924