Matt Kondolf, Professor

Closed (1) The evolution of degraded and restored stream channels in meadows of the Sierra Nevada Range, CA

Applications for fall 2021 are now closed for this project.

Conservation groups estimate that half of the 5,000+ riparian meadows in the Sierra Nevada have become “degraded”, or converted from wet to dry meadows, as indicated by lowered groundwater levels and shifts in vegetation (e.g. from herbaceous species to lodgepole pines or sagebrush).

Meadows cover less than 1% of the Sierra Nevada Range in California, but have an outsized role in conserving biodiversity because they store water in shallow aquifers through the summer dry season. This creates conditions that support a diverse mix of hydrophytic (water-loving) species.

To address the degradation of meadows, a prominent restoration technique aims to 'plug the gullies' of incised stream channels via an intensive restoration method known as 'pond-and-plug.' It uses meadow sediments to 'plug' channels by creating a series of earthen dams to slow and divert streamflow onto the meadow floodplain. As earthen plugs block channel flow, the water table rises nearly immediately. Water-loving vegetation expands and projects are deemed successful. Yet, long-term outcomes remain unexplored.

This research of eight “pond-and-plug” meadow restoration projects across the Sierra asks: how do restored channels and meadow ecosystems respond to “pond-and-plug” restoration over *several decades*? Answering this question can inform both meadow restoration techniques and our understanding of what sustains meadow ecosystem function.



This position allows the research apprentice to develop skills in analyzing the morphology and ecological function of meadow stream channels and floodplains. Based on student interest, research tasks will expose students to theories and practices of riparian ecosystem restoration and fluvial geomorphology.

Undergraduate assistants can take on data analysis in GIS and/or Python to determine and plot metrics of channel form change over time. Depending on skills and health safety conditions, field research in Fall-Spring (but unlikely winter) may help add to data collection of restored meadow channel morphology within eight study sites in North-Central Sierra Nevada.

Opportunities exist for remote sensing analysis of vegetation shifts over time (e.g. identifying changes in plant types from pre- to post-restoration across a 10-25 year period). For this, some background experience in GIS +/or remote sensing of satellite imagery is desired.

Apprentices will be invited to virtual URAP meetings, Riverlab gatherings (online for Fall semester) and are welcome to present their findings and results to the research group and possibly conference poster presentations.




Day-to-day supervisor for this project: Jennifer Natali, Ph.D. candidate

Qualifications: Students interested in the following areas are encouraged to apply: 1) restoration of rivers and wetlands, 2) field survey techniques and learning how to read the landscape, 3) processing/analyzing/visualizing geomorphic datasets via GIS and/or Python programming language, 4) use of hydrologic and remote sensing data to detect change in vegetation and groundwater availability over time. We invite applicants with enthusiasm for exploring environmental data sets through field surveys, quantitative analysis and/or remote sensing. Student should have confidence in editing text, organizing data, and plotting figures. Skills in GIS or Python desired. Coursework or experience in one or all of the following helpful: data science or computer science, intro physics, fluid mechanics, geomorphology, hydrology/groundwater, vegetation ecology, remote sensing. Preference for juniors or seniors with interest in continuing URAP in Spring, possibly Summer 2022.

Weekly Hours: 6-8 hrs

Off-Campus Research Site: Regular meetings may be virtual/online or on-campus with potential for field surveys in restored Sierra Nevada meadows.

Related website: http://riverlab.berkeley.edu/

Closed (2) Remote sensing of riparian meadow plant phenology and groundwater availability across hydrogeomorphic process zones in Sierran montane meadows.

Applications for fall 2021 are now closed for this project.

In wet meadows of the Sierra Nevada, seasonal productivity of hydrophytic (water-loving) species depends on near-surface groundwater to sustain photosynthesis through the region’s summer drought. Seasonal patterns in water and light availability drive plant phenology, the cycles of plant growth, reproduction and senescence. Because the biophysical evolution of meadows influences water availability, we hypothesize that hydrogeomorphic processes influence the assemblage of plant types in meadows and thus their seasonal phenology and primary productivity. We use field study of groundwater level variation and the phenology of plant functional types (e.g. willows, sedges, pine forests and mixed forbs) to help us understand the climatic and geomorphic processes that drive water availability in montane meadows at the Sagehen UC Reserve in Tahoe National Forest, CA.

From analysis of data collected over three growing seasons (2018-2021), we may better identify which Sierran meadows may serve as stable 'hydrologic refugia' as our climate shifts toward warmer temperatures, less snowpack and more rainfall.



This position will expose students to climate change research that can inform strategies of meadow restoration and conservation across the Sierra Nevada. The student will collaborate with a Ph.D. candidate who has conducted initial surveys and is working to process data and develop a manuscript, including figures, for publication.

The research apprentice will contribute to the development of metrics and time series analysis of groundwater levels, plant phenology, and climate variables across four meadows within Sagehen Basin. Specifically, student will use R libraries to analyze photographs of meadow vegetation and create time series plots and metrics that compare growth and senescence of plant functional types across meadows at different elevations and within different hydrogeomorphic process zones. Similar analysis of satellite data across a broader area may follow. Plotting and statistical analysis of plant phenology alongside climate variables is needed.



Day-to-day supervisor for this project: Jennifer Natali, Ph.D. candidate

Qualifications: Students interested in the following areas are encouraged to apply: 1) climate change, wetland ecology and biometeorology, 2) use of remote sensing data to detect change in vegetation phenology and groundwater availability over time, 3) data plotting and time series analysis. Qualifications: We invite applicants with enthusiasm for exploring environmental data sets through field surveys, data analysis and remote sensing. Student should have confidence in quantitative analysis. Familiarity with GIS and R desired; time series analysis would be helpful, but not required if enthusiastic about learning. Coursework or experience in one (or more) of the following helpful: data science or computer science, hydrology, groundwater, remote sensing, plant ecology, or soils. Preference for juniors or seniors with interest in continuing URAP in Spring, possibly Summer 2022.

Weekly Hours: 6-8 hrs

Off-Campus Research Site: Virtual/online with Fall semester field surveys of groundwater and plant phenology at UC Berkeley's Sageghen Field Station in the Sierra Nevada, north of Truckee. Hopeful possibility for further field surveys in Spring and Summer 2022.

Related website: http://riverlab.berkeley.edu

Closed (3) Living Creek Corridors for Contra Costa County: Interactive, Online Mapping of “Fifty-Year Plan” Opportunities in Walnut Creek

Applications for fall 2021 are now closed for this project.

Contra Costa County’s “Fifty-Year Plan”, adopted in 2009, addresses the need to replace aging flood infrastructure by opening opportunities to restore local creek corridors as riparian ecosystems and public greenways. This approach acknowledges the rising flood risk and threats of climate change while offering more benefits to more people through access to nearby nature in densifying suburbs. At UC Berkeley, Riverlab's research on restoration approaches in Walnut Creek’s watershed explores the social and ecological potential for reviving altered channels as multi-functional, community-serving creek corridors. We developed geospatial analyses (aka maps!) to understand, and even quantify, opportunities and constraints to restoring altered channels and expanding riparian corridors in Walnut Creek's watershed. Now we need to communicate our findings to the public and invite community discourse. Rather than static reports, we seek to publish geospatial data online via inviting, interactive maps, built on open-source platforms so they can support a long-term, inclusive public participation process.


The apprentice will contribute to the technical development of the online mapping platform through an agile software development process (e.g. defining requirements, review of open-source software solutions, proposing an architecture, developing a prototype, integrating geospatial data, testing and refining the user interface).

Day-to-day supervisor for this project: Jennifer Natali, Ph.D. candidate

Qualifications: Experience with geospatial data and open-source, online mapping software/technologies required. Basic javascript, HTML and CSS are a starting point. We’re looking at Mapbox as a potential platform, but open to your suggestions, expertise, and interests. Familiarity with software engineering practices, cartography and user interfaces, and web-based development across multiple devices helpful, and will be further developed during the apprenticeship. Skills in GIS, remote sensing and drone-based photography/photogrammetry would be considered a plus; there’s opportunities to engage those interests through Spring-Summer 2022. Must enjoy collaborative work and have interest in environmental justice, this will be a team effort that seeks to have a positive social impact!

Weekly Hours: 6-8 hrs

Off-Campus Research Site: Virtual/online; possible field visits to Walnut Creek Watershed (in East Bay, just over Berkeley Hills via BART or car) if able to commute independently and safely.

Related website: http://riverlab.berkeley.edu
Related website: http://riverlab.berkeley.edu/index.php/50yp

Closed (4) Life-Cycle Assessment of Concrete in Structures, SF Bay

Closed. This professor is continuing with Spring 2021 apprentices on this project; no new apprentices needed for Fall 2021.

Concrete is a ubiquitous and important building material, but it has long been taken for granted. The environmental impacts of extracting its raw materials: sand, gravel, and limestone, have not been widely understood. Concrete consists of aggregate (sand and gravel particles) held together by cement (a hydraulic binder consisting of limestone and clay). The aggregate is by far the largest component of concrete, and thus aggregate mines are typically large scale operations removing sand and gravel, mostly from river beds or old river deposits. In recent years, there has been increased recognition of the environmental impacts of aggregate mining from rivers, in California, the US, and internationally. Aggregate removal typically causes channel incision (downcutting) and channel instability, both up and downstream of a mining site. In rivers with smaller gravel or sand beds, incision can propagate many km, resulting in undermining of infrastructure (e.g., bridges, pipeline crossings), as well as loss of important habitats, notably gravels needed by salmon for spawning. .

In this research project we quantify the concrete used in some specific structures, research the sources of aggregate and cement for the structures, and note any environmental impacts attributable to the extraction of these raw materials. We also research archival sources to determine whether such impacts were acknowledged by project designers and builders. This information will form a component of a life-cycle assessment for the selected concrete structures.


The apprentice will participate in compilation and analysis of these data, drawing on online sources, with the possibility of field data collection later in the spring, public health conditions permitting. Apprentice will become familiar with a range of data sources and gain experience in synthesizing information in the umbrella of a life-cycle assessment.

Qualifications: Qualifications: Background in environmental sciences, potentially complemented by background in economics, engineering, structures, or planning/design.

Weekly Hours: 6-8 hrs

Off-Campus Research Site: Work will be conducted remotely in Spring-Summer 2021 until health conditions improve. When/if feasible, some on-site data collection at sites of aggregate extraction, concrete rubble recycling.

Related website: http://http://riverlab.berkeley.edu