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Funded Projects

2020-21 Projects

The 2020-2021 EarthLab Innovation Grants program received 43 extremely promising and high-quality letters of intent and 18 teams were encouraged to apply to submit full proposals. Each proposal was evaluated by an 11-member review committee that included faculty and staff from several disciplines and a community member. Four newly formed research teams were each awarded up to $75,000 to use their diverse perspectives to research a complex environmental challenge and develop actionable science that will make a positive impact on people and communities. EarthLab awarded $25,000 to a fifth project earlier this year, which was funded in cooperation with the UW Population Health Initiative.

Does Vegetation Help Mitigate Roadway and Aircraft-Related Air Pollution in Seattle? A Community-Engaged Study Using Drones For 3D Air Quality Measurements

Recent UW research that has identified high concentrations of ultrafine particle air pollution in some Seattle/King County communities has created an urgent need to evaluate the potential efficacy of community-scale air pollution mitigations, including the role that vegetation may play in reducing air pollution. Few studies have considered how trees and shrubs affect ultrafine air pollution, and most have focused on reductions in particles in the horizontal direction to the side of freeways from roadway traffic particle sources, rather than the distributions of particles in vertical and horizontal directions relevant to both roadway and aircraft-sourced particles. We have formed an interdisciplinary team of UW investigators, which includes expertise from Environmental & Occupational Health Sciences, Civil and Environmental Engineering, and Atmospheric Sciences to tackle this challenge and to fill this important knowledge gap for our local communities.  

In partnership with various air quality, health, and community stakeholders, we propose to conduct a study that will utilize an unoccupied aerial vehicle (UAV)  – a drone instrumented with high-end air quality sensors, which will allow for efficient measurements at varying altitudes at sites identified by our partners that differ in vegetation density and type and proximity to ultrafine particle sources. Findings from this study will provide local and highly relevant evidence on the effectiveness of urban planning initiatives that may utilize greenery as an approach to address particulate air pollution. Additionally, the results would potentially inform future intervention studies that monitor air pollution changes that occur as a result of planting vegetation, which are starting to occur in cities across the country.

Research Team:
Principal Investigator: Edmund Seto, UW Department of Environment and Occupational Health Sciences
Community Partner: Estela Ortega, El Centro de la Raza
Timothy Larson, UW Civil & Environmental Engineering
David Shean, UW Civil & Environmental Engineering
Joel Thornton, UW Department of Atmospheric Sciences

Lessons from Urban Indigenous Immigrants: Integrated Social & Ecological Dynamics of Informal Communities

Increased resource extraction, changing climates, and socio-political pressures are causing global ecological decline, forcing mass migration of indigenous peoples to urbanized areas all around the world. Many find themselves living in informal urban slum settlements and facing health issues alongside discrimination towards their indigenous identities. The struggle of urban assimilation often results in the fading of traditional practices and knowledge, and their associated health supporting human-nature connections. However, the most neglected informal indigenous immigrant communities, left to their own self-management, often find ways to continue traditional lifestyles that provide valuable ecosystem services to urban areas and creative adaptation strategies to urban and ecological forces such as increased flooding caused by climate change. 

This project will study and compare an informal self-managed indigenous immigrant community still adopting traditional practices in Iquitos, Peru to a similar indigenous immigrant community nearby that developed with social and political pressures to colonially urbanize and leave traditional practices behind. We use an innovative, mixed-methods approach by combining indigenous knowledge, science and art to document environmental conditions, ecosystem health, traditional knowledge practices, and human-nature connections in each community. We adopt a co-created cross-epistemological community science program, with reciprocal training between university and community scientists, resulting in a series of illustrative advocacy tools to provide urban planning guidance to the local government in Iquitos while advocating for indigenous immigrant communities wishing to continue traditional practices all around the world. 

Research Team:
Leann Andrews, PhD, RLA, Affiliate Assistant Professor, UW Department of Landscape Architecture 
Gemina Garland-Lewis, Socio-Environmental Photographer, UW Center for One Health Research 
Ursula Valdez, PhD, Lecturer and Tropical Avian Ecologist, UW Bothell School of Interdisciplinary Arts + Sciences 
Kathleen Wolf, PhD, Research Social Scientist, UW School of Environmental and Forest Sciences
Juan Noa Tunama, Community Leader, informal community of Claverito
Carlo Tapia del Aguila, Herpetologist, Centro de Investigaciones, Technologicas, Biomedicas y Medioambientales 
Susana Cubas Poclin, Ornithologist, Universidad Nacional de la Amazonia Peruana
Christian Ampudia Gatty, Entomologist, Universidad Nacional de la Amazonia Peruana
Coco Alarcon, PhD Student in Implementation Science, UW School of Public Health

Polar Science at a Human Scale: Knowledge Co-production for Hazard Planning, Food Sovereignty, and Climate Adaptation in the Alaskan Arctic

This co-designed and co-managed project will bring together an interdisciplinary team of polar researchers from the University of Washington to work with Kivalina Volunteer Search and Rescue (KVL-SAR) and the City of Kivalina to support the organization’s goals and priorities while establishing a model of community-driven polar research for the coproduction of knowledge and action. Kivalina is a 500-person Iñupiaq community in Northwest Alaska, located 80 miles above the Arctic Circle on a barrier island along the Chukchi Sea. Over the last two decades the territory around Kivalina has undergone a dramatic decrease in sea-ice cover, decreased reliability of river ice, and shifts in the timing of freeze up and critical animal migrations. These changes have created new challenges including amplified coastal erosion during seasonal storms; increased frequency of hunter, fisher, and traveler distress calls and rescue incidents; and a reduction in access to culturally significant foods. KVL-SAR is a voluntary association of hunters and first responders that works with the City of Kivalina to play a vital role in public safety, resilience, and hunter support, while also planning for and responding to climate challenges already taking place. 

Bridging the social and physical sciences, this project addresses core themes in the human dimensions of Arctic change, while also directly contributing to KVL-SAR’s self-identified priorities. First, the project will support KVL-SAR capacity building through an analysis of the organization’s contributions to community safety, resilience, and food sovereignty, while piloting and evaluating the use of two new digital tools. Second, we will produce a community hazards and needs assessment to integrate the knowledge, expertise, and priorities of KVL-SAR with contributions from UW polar scientists. Third, we will develop new methods in community-relevant sea ice forecasting to support local planning and decision making. Fourth, we will document our methods in order to develop a model of collaboration that can be shared with additional communities and contribute to the literature on best-practices through peer-reviewed publications. Finally, this project will identify strategic opportunities for new research funding, generate data to be used in future KVL-SAR grant proposals, and create the relational infrastructure for long-term collaboration.

Research Team:
Principal Investigator, Project Co-Director: P. Joshua Griffin, UW School of Marine and Environmental Affairs and UW American Indian Studies
Community Partner, Project Co-Director: Replogle Swan, Kivalina Volunteer Search and Rescue
Polar Science Co-Lead: Cecilia Bitz, Professor and Chair, UW Department of Atmospheric Science 
Polar Science Co-Lead: Ed Blanchard-Wrigglesworth, Research Assistant Professor, UW Department of Atmospheric Science

Píkyav on the Mid-Klamath River: Peeshkêesh Yáv Umúsaheesh ‘The River Will Look Good

Our team addresses the challenge of convening Karuk-centric science and governance mechanisms to restore eco-cultural integrity to a crucial, yet degraded section of the mid-Klamath River. With an eye to the 2022 removal of four hydroelectric dams upstream, the Karuk Tribe considers this research both critical and timely. Klamath River communities face an urgent need to innovate governance so that it centers land-based communities’ livelihoods and understandings of environmental processes, politics, and histories. Consultation and community planning have only marginally integrated community perspectives into large-scale governance. These processes lack the adaptable tools necessary to address the complex ecological realities of mine remediation, fire suppression and dam removal. 

Our project addresses this urgent need by piloting a river restoration process that centers tribal sovereignty by spanning scales – from the river reach to basin – using a river model of justice. In this model, stories and spatial data on a river’s movement through time diffract, prompting our collective consideration of what justice means for specific peoples in relation with species, lands, and river processes. The Karuk title of our project translates as “the river will look good”; deeper than its English reading, “looking good” goes far below the surface to include function, connection, and ceremonial renewal. In an intergenerational, field-based River School, we work with Karuk youth and cultural practitioners to bring together historical maps, stories, and spatial data on Karuk uses of floodplain ecosystems. Working iteratively with Karuk Department of Natural Resources collaborators, we propose to develop models and plans for floodplain restoration at Tishániik. Future work building from this pilot will transfer plans and a Karuk-centric restoration practice to a multi-agency river governance group, and evaluate science and governance innovations that result; an NSF proposal to support this future work is pending.

Research Team:
Principal Investigator: Cleo Woelfle-Erskine, Assistant Professor of Equity and Environmental Justice, UW School of Marine and Environmental Affairs 
Co-Principal Investigator: July Hazard, Lecturer, UW Comparative History of Ideas and UW Program on the Environment
Shawn Bourque, Environmental Higher Education and Research Coordinator for the Karuk Tribe Department of Natural Resources
Karuk Tribe staff, including: Heather Rickard, Environmental, K-12 Education Coordinator; Aja Conrad, Environmental Workforce Development & Internships Coordinator; Bari Talley, Sípnuuk Division Coordinator
Kimberly Yazzie, Diné/Navajo, PhD Student, UW School of Aquatic and Fisheries Sciences

2020 EarthLab + Population Health Initiative Grantee

EarthLab is pleased to partner with the UW Population Health Initiative for the second year in a row to offer a jointly-funded population health pilot research grant that seeks to improve an issue of environmental resilience. The application process and timelines for this award are separate from our Innovation Grants. Learn more on the Population Health website.

Environmental and Human Health Impacts of a New Invasive Species in Madagascar

In 2005, the marbled crayfish (Procambarus virginalis) appeared for the first time in lakes, ponds, and streams of Madagascar. Once limited to the area around the capital, the crayfish’s range now encompasses an area of 100,000 km. The project team is interested in the multifarious environmental and human health impacts of this new invasion.

On one hand, Madagascar is a biodiversity hotspot with a diverse, endemic freshwater fauna that could be affected by this invasive species, and with a large population of rural, poor people whose diet staple is rice, an agricultural product that might be endangered by non-native crayfish. On the other hand, the rapidly reproducing marbled crayfish is a voracious predator of freshwater snails that transmit the disease schistosomiasis to people, so it is possible that the invasion could have beneficial effects on infectious disease burden. In addition, the marbled crayfish itself could represent an important food in where it is established, providing a rapidly renewable protein source in a country where ~50% of children experience stunted growth due to malnourishment.

We propose to address this problem with a new interdisciplinary collaboration, including two Malagasy partners: RISEAL and Madagascar’s Ministry of Health. The proposed pilot project would facilitate a larger funded project, where our goal would be to arm the Malagasy government with the information it needs to appropriately manage the marbled crayfish in ways that minimize impacts on local biodiversity while maximizing benefits to public health.

Research Team:
Chelsea Wood, UW School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences
Peter Rabinowitz, UW Department of Environmental and Occupational Health Services
Luciano Andriamaro, Réseau International Schistosomiase Environnement Amenagement et Lutte
Susanne Sokolow, Stanford University
Giulio DeLeo, Stanford University
Julia PG Jones, Bangor University


The 2019-20 EarthLab Innovation Grants program received 32 extremely promising and high-quality proposals. Each proposal was evaluated by a nine-member review committee that included faculty from several disciplines. The following programs were each awarded up to $50,000 to test a concept, scope out a project, or take the first steps in developing a larger team to tackle a collaborative project. Final projects are due August 31, 2020

Assessing Climate Driven Zoonotic Disease Risk in Washington State

In the State of Washington, West Nile virus, valley fever, hantavirus, and leptospirosis are a significant concern. This project will explore the relationships between climate conditions and these climate-sensitive disease threats to community health in Washington. A project goal includes generating seasonal maps that identify high-risk conditions for each pathogen, which can be an important tool for determining, managing and preventing risk of human and animal infections.

Principal Investigator: Cory Morin, Department of Global Health

Clean Safety & Health in Food Trucks Program (SHiFT)

This project brings together a multidisciplinary team to work with the food truck industry to promote best cleaning practices and technical assistance to shift toward safer chemical alternatives. The project team will include diverse and traditionally underserved communities, and small business owners not previously engaged in safe chemical transition and hazard awareness campaigns. A new toolkit will be introduced to food truck owners/operators/workers and other stakeholders so they can reduce their use of chemicals, their hazards to living systems and the risks to our waterways and the environment.

Lead Co-Principal Investigator: Nancy Simcox, Department of Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences

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Digitizing Holistic Environmental Stories

This project will collaborate with local community leaders and youth to integrate a Native American knowledge forming process to script digital stories. Stories will be action-oriented and visualize sustainable holistic solutions for complex and multi-disciplinary environmental problems. This project aims to develop a tool and platform to communicate and inform decision-makers what the intervention points of local environmental problems are by contextualizing the interconnectedness among multiple information streams.

Lead Co-Principal Investigator: Kristiina Vogt, School of Environmental and Forest Sciences

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From Risk to Resilience: Connecting Communities to Coastal Hazards through Interactive and Immersive Design

A collaborative team of researchers, including the UW’s Climate Impacts Group, recently released new projections of sea level rise for Washington state. In order to increase awareness and use of this science by Washington communities and decision-makers, the Climate Impacts Group, UW Reality Lab, Seattle Public Utilities (SPU) and Seattle-based data visualization company Tableau have teamed up to create two different interactive data visualization tools – an interactive tool of sea-level projections for 171 different coastal sites in Washington state, and creating several public-facing virtual reality experiences that showcase community-relevant impacts of future sea level rise to 2150.

Principal Investigator: Heidi Roop, UW Climate Impacts Group

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Voices Unbound: Amplifying Perspectives of Disenfranchised Communities to Provoke Environmental Change

A considerable gap exists among the discourses of those who implement environmental policies and the underrepresented communities that disproportionately experience environmental issues. This project seeks to transform discourses of policymakers by directly incorporating underrepresented community members’ voices. Enviro-postcards will be distributed to communities that ask “what environmental challenges are most important to you” and “how are you coping with or surviving these challenges?” Concurrently, the project will pilot in-person science booths and a podcast series to amplify community voices. This will culminate in an eco-art gallery open to the public that will prominently showcase community perspectives and promote a novel blueprint for inclusive environmental engagement.

Co-Principal Investigators: Christopher J. Schell, School of Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences, UW Tacoma; Robin A. Evans-Agnew, School of Nursing and Healthcare Leadership, UW Tacoma

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2019 EarthLab + Population Health Initiative: Ethnoforestry: Applying Traditional Ecological Knowledge for Ecosystem Sustainability on the Olympic Peninsula

In addition to the Innovation Grants, EarthLab jointly funded one award addressing environmental resilience in partnership with the University of Washington Population Health Initiative. The funded project, Ethnoforestry: Applying Traditional Ecological Knowledge for Ecosystem Sustainability on the Olympic Peninsula, focuses on applying traditional ecological knowledge of local people to forest management on public lands.

Learn more on the Population Health website.