Weston Roundtable Series

collage of photos

Thursdays, 4:15-5:15 PM
1163 Mechanical Engineering, 1513 University Avenue

*unless noted otherwise in the list


The Weston Roundtable is made possible by a generous donation from Mr. Roy F. Weston, a highly accomplished UW-Madison alumnus. Designed to promote a robust understanding of sustainability science, engineering, and policy, these interactive lectures are co-sponsored by the Center for Sustainability and the Global Environment (SAGE), and the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, and the Office of Sustainability. These lectures build on the tremendous success in past years of the Weston Distinguished Lecture Series and the SAGE Seminar Series.

Fall 2018 Schedule

photo of Yichao Rui, Ph.D.

Thursday, September 6
Yichao Rui, Ph.D.
Department of Soil Science, UW–Madison

Managing Soil Biology to Build Soil Organic Carbon and Healthier Soils
The largest global losses of soil organic carbon (SOC) due to human land use have occurred on cropped Mollisols. While this is an "inconvenient truth”, it also means an opportunity: if we can recoup this SOC loss, the potential for C sequestration is enormous. Although agroecosystem management aimed at SOC sequestration has been touted as a deployable strategy for improving ecosystem services and mitigating climate change, the expectations of SOC accrual under best management practices are contradicted by results of some studies. So, what can we do to actually increase SOC stocks?

photo of Hugh Possingham, Ph.D.

Thursday, September 13
Hugh Possingham, Ph.D.
Chief Scientist, The Nature Conservancy

What Science Does TNC Do?
TNC is in transition, from an environmental NGO that works primarily on protection, to one that does protection while also tackling some of the drivers of habitat loss, with an increasing focus on projects that benefit both people and nature. Either way, we remain a science-based organization. This talk will highlight some of TNC’s more novel science-based projects – which includes a lot of knowledge not traditionally considered science.

photo of Moderator: Todd Allen; Panelists: Paul Wilson and Dominique Brossard

Thursday, September 20
Moderator: Todd Allen; Panelists: Paul Wilson and Dominique Brossard
Professors, Engineering Physics & Department of Life Sciences Communication, UW-Madison

The 2018 Nuclear Futures Conversation on Communities
In May of 2018, 31 people from very different backgrounds, many of whom had never previously met, spent 2 days at the Taliesin Preservation in Spring Green, Wisconsin. The participants included community leaders, experts in environmental science and policy, political leaders, communications specialists, security authorities, a religious scholar, and nuclear professionals. The group took part in a series of structured conversations, part of the Nuclear Futures series, about the history and importance of community engagement in the context of deploying nuclear energy, and explored ways vendors, utilities, and other advocates might approach engagement differently as advanced reactors reach the commercial market. Three of the participants will provide their sense of the discussions.

photo of Todd Radenbaugh

Thursday, September 27
Todd Radenbaugh
Professor of Environmental Science, University of Alaska Fairbanks Bristol Bay Environmental Science Lab

Remote Alaska: Now Closer to You than You Think
Alaska, once a collection of small isolated towns and villages, is now experiencing rapid environmental change from many quarters. Significant changes in climate, material consumption, water chemistry, and culture have arrived on an epic scale. In Alaska, we need to look no further than the increasing number large tropical pressure systems influencing our weather and eroding our coastlines, the higher pH of our seas, and the ever- growing amounts of plastic and manufactured chemicals our waters and landfills. The remoteness and the low human population density no longer insulates Alaskans from acute global environmental problems. One of the strengths of rural Alaska is that it still has healthy ecosystems in most places. Here, we should look for sustainability, as we need the free ecosystem services provided. In addition, we can learn much from Alaskan indigenous cultures that have exemplified sustainability over centuries. They can teach the fundamentals of living with one another and with Earth in ways that are relation-based rather than consumption-based, responsibility-based rather than rights-based, and communal rather than individualistic. Alaskan's learn from their foundation species salmon – "Leave them alone so they can come home."

collage of environmental photos

Thursday, October 4

photo of Robert Dalrymple

Thursday, October 11
Robert Dalrymple
Distinguished Professor, McCormick School of Engineering, Northwestern University

Coastal Engineering in the Anthropocene
Sea levels are rising faster around the world than previously envisioned and they are accelerating. Nuisance flooding in coastal cities has increased dramatically in the last fifty years--it is the vanguard of future inundation. The current state of the science for relative sea level rise will be briefly reviewed. For centuries, hard structures, such as breakwaters, groins, and sea walls, have been used to stop coastal erosion; however, the current emphasis for shore protection is on softer and greener approaches. Beach nourishment, wetlands, and other green approaches will be discussed in the context of protecting coastal cities.

photo of Thea Whitman

Thursday, October 18
Thea Whitman
Assistant Professor, Department of Soil Science, UW-Madison

Fire Effects on Soil Carbon and Soil Microbes in a Global Change Context
Fires can have dramatic effects on ecosystems. During combustion, large stocks of carbon can "go up in smoke”, while some of the remaining carbon may be transformed into charcoal. These effects have important implications for global carbon stocks and dynamics, especially since soils hold more carbon than the atmosphere and the biosphere combined. I will address the following question: As global fire regimes change, how will fires affect soil carbon stocks and the microbial communities that are responsible for cycling these stocks?

photo of Paul Hanson

Thursday, October 25
Paul Hanson
Distinguished Professor of Research, Center for Limnology, UW-Madison

Predicting and Explaining Phosphorus Dynamics in Lake Mendota Using Process-Guided Machine Learning
High phosphorus concentration in lakes can lead to harmful algal blooms that make water toxic and unusable. Predicting lake phosphorus remains challenging, because it is controlled by a combination of physical and biological processes that change through space and time. In this lecture, I will discuss the latest results of a catchment-scale research project studying nutrient dynamics of Lake Mendota. By combining process-based models with machine learning, we have improved our ability to predict lake phosphorus and have discovered how our predictive models might be improved.

photo of Christopher Scott, Ph.D.

Thursday, November 1
Christopher Scott, Ph.D.
Director and Research Professor, Udall Center for Studies in Public Policy, University of Arizona

Food-Energy-Water Nexus: Opportunities and Limits of Integrationist Frameworks
The WEF nexus seeks to overcome isolationist tendencies in resource management, purporting to interlink food, energy, and water as resources, institutions, and essential elements of human security. Does the nexus – the latest in a series of integrationist frameworks – provide better conceptual clarity, operational tools, and human-security outcomes than its predecessors? I trace WEF nexus origins, synthesize insights from nexus thinking, identify limits in its application, and explore its inevitable demise. Emerging frameworks must ultimately confront social and political equity, climate, ecological, and economic-growth limits of resource use.

photo of Jerry Kaster, PH.D.

Thursday, November 8
Jerry Kaster, PH.D.
School of Freshwater Sciences, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

Complexions of Sustainability: Mexico’s Laguna Bacalar Ecological Corridor
Laguna Bacalar, Mexico’s second-largest lake, sits within an environmentally sensitive corridor that dynamically connects regional groundwater flow, high and low-growth tropical forests, freshwater and seawater mangroves, deep cenote sinkholes, estuarine gradients, and the 1000-km Mesoamerican Barrier Reef. Laguna Bacalar also contains the world’s largest known living stromatolite complex, which elevates it to a world class lake. Inevitable development driven by the demands of tourism could confound the long-term sustainability of the system. Conservation and sustainability concepts will be discussed.

photo of Paul Elsen, Ph.D.

Thursday, November 15
Paul Elsen, Ph.D.
Research Associate, Department of Forest and Wildlife Ecology, University of Wisconsin-Madison

The Global Outlook for Conserving Mountain Biodiversity Under Climate and Land-use Change
Mountain ranges constitute global biodiversity hotspots, yet montane species are often considered highly threatened. Climate change has led to elevational range shifts of numerous plant and animal species, and mountain landscapes have been significantly altered by human activities. I analyze patterns of topography, land-use, and protected areas within the world’s mountain ranges to assess the outlook and develop strategies for conserving mountain biodiversity under global change.

collage of environmental photos

Thursday, November 22

photo of Sauleh Siddiqui

Thursday, November 29
Sauleh Siddiqui
Assistant Professor of Civil Engineering and Applied Mathematics & Statistics, Johns Hopkins University

Evaluating Regional Food-Energy-Water Resilience Against External Shocks
Understanding the regional resilience within climate-vulnerable countries requires a modeling framework that integrates food, energy, and water interactions. As part of a larger project on understanding such dynamics, this presentation presents a partial-equilibrium model of food production, distribution, storage, and consumption in Ethiopia. We outline the importance of explicitly modeling infrastructure, and present a discussion on the strength and weaknesses of these techniques when modeling different scenarios of external shocks.

photo of Jean M. Bahr

Thursday, December 6
Jean M. Bahr
Professor, Departments of Geoscience and Geological Engineering, University of Wisconsin – Madison

Geologic Disposal of Radioactive Waste: The Elusive Search for an Acceptable Site
Nuclear energy production generates wastes that remain highly radioactive for periods extending to millions of years. Despite a worldwide consensus that isolation of these materials in a deep mined geologic repository is the best option for protecting human health and the environment, no country has yet completed construction of such a repository. This presentation will discuss the challenges in identifying publicly acceptable repository sites, drawing in part from my experiences on several review boards over the last 25 years.