meet the scientists

San Diego County Ecosystems:

The Ecological Impacts of Climate Change on a Biodiversity Hotspot

Photo courtesy of  Joanna Gilkeson/USFWS




Megan K. Jennings 

San Diego State University

Megan Jennings is a Conservation Ecologist and Co-Director of San Diego State University's Institute for Ecological Monitoring and Management. The research she works on is primarily focused on informing conservation and management planning in terrestrial systems with particular interest in incorporating landscape dynamics into connectivity planning. Dr. Jennings earned a Ph.D. in Ecology from San Diego State University and the University of California, Davis (2013). She worked for over a decade as a wildlife biologist for the US Forest Service in San Diego where her years of experience in land management for a federal agency informed her perspective as a researcher. Dr. Jennings strives to work at the interface of science and management - developing applied research to address management and conservation issues and communicating results and real-world recommendations to decision-makers and managers. Dr. Jennings serves as the Science Program Manager for the Climate Science Alliance - South Coast and an Adjunct Assistant Professor at San Diego State University.

Dan Cayan 

Scripps Institution of Oceanography


Dr. Daniel R. Cayan is a Research Meteorologist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography (SIO), University of California, San Diego, and is also a Researcher in the U.S. Geological Survey. His research is aimed at understanding climate variability and changes over the Pacific Ocean and North America. Specific interests concern impacts of climate changes on water resources and other sectors in western North America.

Cayan heads the California Nevada Applications Program and the California Climate Change Center, climate research programs to improve climate information and forecasts for decision makers in the California region; see

Cayan received a BS degree in Meteorology and Oceanography in 1971 from the University of Michigan. He received a Ph.D. in Oceanography in 1990 from the University of California, San Diego. He has been employed by Scripps since 1977 and by the U. S. Geological Survey Water Resources Division since 1991.


Julie Kalansky 

Scripps Institution of Oceanography

Julie is a climate scientist and program manager of CNAP (California Nevada - Climate-Application Program) at Scripps Institution of Oceanography. CNAP is a NOAA funded RISA team whose objective is to work with decision makers to facilitate the integration of climate science into decisions. Julie’s research interests stem from trying to understand weather and climate in order to better prepare for extreme events and future conditions. These efforts include using historical observations to understand historical weather variability in the Western US and the impacts associated with this variability as well as future projections of climate variability. She is actively involved with the California 4th Climate Assessment with a focus in sea level projections and the regional application of the information that is coming out of the effort. Julie engages with regional stakeholders to better understand how this climate and weather information can be applied in decision making.

Amber D. Pairis 

Climate Science Alliance - South Coast


Dr. Amber Pairis is the Director of the Climate Science Alliance-South Coast covering southern California and Baja. Her current work focuses on building a science focused network of leaders, scientists, and managers focused on sharing ecosystem-based resiliency approaches to safeguard our communities and natural resources from climate change. Pairis leads several initiatives related to innovative community engagement including Climate Kids and the role of art and artists in building community engagement on climate change. In 2013 Pairis was appointed by Governor Brown as the Assistant Secretary for Climate Change-California Natural Resources Agency and worked collaboratively to coordinate the State's activities related to climate change adaptation. Preceding the appointment, Pairis served as the Climate Change Advisor for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife for five years and created the Department's Climate Science Program and CDFW Climate College. In 2006 Pairis worked for the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, Washington D.C. where she was the Science Liaison coordinating between the states and federal natural resource agencies on energy and climate change. Pairis is a scientist by training and completed her Ph.D. in Environmental Studies at Antioch University New England. Pairis is a fellow of the Robert and Patricia Switzer Foundation.

Dawn Lawson 

Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center Pacific (SSCPAC)


Dawn Lawson, Ph.D., is a plant ecologist working primarily with the Navy and Marine Corps in southern California.  Her work has taken her back and forth across the science/management interface.  She is interested in practical solutions to conservation problems faced by land managers across a range of topics relevant to the ecology and management of natural systems including wildland fire, invasive plant species, and plant community ecology.


Alexandra D. Syphard 

Conservation Biology Institute

Alexandra Syphard, Ph.D., is a senior research ecologist with the Conservation Biology Institute. She is interested in the interaction of human and natural disturbances, particularly wildfire, land use/land cover change, and climate change; in addition to the effect of multiple global change threats on vegetation dynamics and species' range shifts. She uses spatial analytical and modeling methods to investigate how change has occurred in the past, how it might occur in the future under different scenarios, and what ecological or social impacts are likely to result. 

Udara Abeysekera 

Climate Science Alliance - South Coast


Udara Abeysekera is a Project Lead for Conservation Planning at the Climate Science Alliance-South Coast. In this role, she supports the integration of regionally specific climate science and scientists into land management and community outreach activities. Udara received her undergraduate degree in Environmental Systems with a focus in Ecology, Behavior, and Evolution from the University of California, San Diego. Udara was an intern for the US Fish and Wildlife Service during her senior year where she worked with government agencies and consulting firms to ensure that impacts to coastal California gnatcatcher habitats caused by developments were offset. She also investigated the connectivity of conserved habitats using Geographic Information Systems. She was inspired by her internship and coursework to be a part of an organization that addresses the impacts of climate change on natural and human communities.


Rachel E.S. Clemesha

Scripps Institution of Oceanography

Rachel joined Weather and Climate Analytics (WACA) at Scripps Institution of Oceanography in January 2011 as a Climate Science PhD student. Her research first focused on the volatility of weather extremes as a part of the the Scripps Partnership for Hazards and Environmental Applied Research (SPHEAR). During  the summers of 2011 and 2012 she first began her research on marine layer clouds through internships at the local utility, San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E).  In 2012 she was awarded a NASA Earth and Space Science Fellowship to continue her studies of these low level clouds as her PhD research.  In August 2015 Rachel successfully defended her PhD dissertation entitled: “California Coastal Low Clouds: Variability and Influences across Climate to Weather and Continental to Local Scales.”

Alexander (Sasha) Gershunov

Scripps Institution of Oceanography


Sasha’s research focuses on interrelated aspects of weather, climate and society. His professional interests include understanding the links between regional weather extremes and large-scale climate variability and change, long-range climate prediction, the atmospheric water cycle, precipitation and drought, heat waves, cold snaps, marine layer clouds, atmospheric rivers, Santa Ana winds, extreme weather and climate impacts on wildfire, energy, ecosystems, water resources and public health, climate influence on society and human influence on climate.

Sasha is affiliated with various organizations focused on regionally relevant climate research with benefit to society ranging from education to resource management. He enjoys conveying scientific results not only to the scientific community via peer-reviewed research articles published in professional journals, but also beyond, to stakeholders and the public via various other means, documents, presentations and good old-fashioned human interaction. Sasha enjoys working with colleagues and friends across borders and disciplines. He has recently co-organized Weather on Steroids: the Art of Climate Change Science.

Kristen Guirguis

Scripps Institution of Oceanography


Kristen Guirguis is a Project Scientist at Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Her
research focuses on natural climate variability, climate change, and health impacts. She
uses information from observations and climate models to study relationships between long term climate and daily temperature extremes, such as heat waves. In addition to her
interest in climate and weather from a scientific standpoint, she is also interested in
working with stakeholders to translate relevant scientific information into practical applications. At Scripps, she has been involved with research focused on medium range predictability of temperature extremes for energy applications and precipitation extremes for water resource management. She has also collaborated with Epidemiologists to study health impacts of heat waves in California. She received her B.S. in Earth Sciences from UCSD in 1998 and her Ph.D. in Hydrology and Fluid Dynamics from Duke University in 2009.

John M. Randall

The Nature Conservancy, California Chapter


John is a Lead Scientist for The Nature Conservancy’s California Chapter. He supervises a team of four other scientists who focus on conservation of protected areas and corridors linking them into a statewide network. Much of his time is devoted to three projects: conservation and management of Santa Cruz Island and the other Pacific Islands of California and Baja California; urban conservation in Greater Los Angeles with a focus on assessing the distribution of biodiversity and opportunities for enhancing it across the region; and completion of a regional network of conservation lands in the southwestern corner of the state with a focus on identifying key linkages and ways to facilitate wildlife movement.

John earned a Ph.D. in Ecology at the University of California, Davis where he studied the ecology, effects, and control of invasive non-native plants in protected lands and forests managed for timber production. He also holds an M.S. in Marine Science from Louisiana State University where he studied phytoplankton productivity in a shallow, nutrient-rich, and turbid estuary on the Gulf of Mexico.


Eric D. Stein

Southern California Coastal Water Research Project

Dr. Stein is a Principal Scientist at the Southern California Coastal Water Research Project (SCCWRP), where he is the head of the Biology Department. Dr. Stein oversees a variety of projects related to in-stream and coastal water quality, hydromodification, ecohydrology, development of biological indices, and assessment of wetlands and other aquatic resources. His research focuses on effects of human activities on the condition of aquatic ecosystems, and on developing tools to better assess and manage those effects. Dr. Stein serves on numerous technical workgroups, committees, and scientific advisory panels at the Federal, State, and local levels related to water quality and wetland assessment and management.

Dr. Stein has research experience in a variety of disciplines related to environmental assessment, including multimedia distribution of environmental contaminants, stormwater monitoring and assessment, wetland functional assessment, and hydrologic and fluvial analysis. Before joining SCCWRP, Dr. Stein worked both for a private consultant and the Regulatory Branch of the Los Angeles District Corps of Engineers on issues related to wetlands and water quality management and regulation. Dr. Stein’s experience includes wetland delineation, design of mitigation and restoration projects, development of monitoring programs, establishment of mitigation banks, and landscape-scale assessment.

Sula E. Vanderplank

San Diego State University


Sula Vanderplank is a field botanist who studies natural history, floristics, and conservation science, her research has focused on the botany and ecology of the mediterranean-climate region of Baja California, Mexico, one of the world's biodiversity hotspots. For the last thirteen years Sula has published broadly on the flora of this region including field guides, academic books chapters and more than 25 peer-reviewed papers. Sula serves as adjunct faculty at San Diego State University and the center for scientific research and higher education (CICESE) in Ensenada. She is also is a research associate at the San Diego Natural History Museum and science advisor at Terra Peninsular AC.



Horacio de la Cueva

Centro de Investigación Científica y de Educación Superior de Ensenada, Baja California


El Dr. Horacio de la Cueva es Investigador titular del Departamento de Biología de la Conservación de la División de Biología Experimental y Aplicada del Centro de Investigación Científica y de Educación Superior de Ensenada (CICESE), directivo del grupo civil ambientalista Terra Peninsular (Baja California) y divulgador científico, colabrando en medios como 4vientos y La Jornada. Desde hace aproximadamente 15 años ha participado en estudios centrados en conocer el tamaño de la comunidad de la vaquita marina (Phocoena sinus), especie que habita solo en el golfo de California.

Shasta Gaughen

Pala Band of Mission Indians


Shasta Gaughen is the Environmental Director and the Tribal Historic Preservation
Officer for the Pala Band of Mission Indians in Pala, California. She has worked for
the Pala Band since January 2005, and established Pala’s Tribal Historic
Preservation Office in 2008. She is also an adjunct professor in the Anthropology
Department at California State University San Marcos. Dr. Gaughen received her
B.A. in Anthropology and B.S. in Natural Resources at Humboldt State University
in 1996, her M.A. in Anthropology from San Diego State University in 2001, and
her PhD in Anthropology from the University of New Mexico in 2011. She is
Secretary of the Board for the Native American Environmental Protection
Coalition, a member of the advisory board for the Climate Science Alliance - South
Coast, a member of the Institute of Tribal Environmental Professionals’ Climate
Advisory Group, a board member of the National Association of Tribal Historic
Preservation Officers, and a director for the Upper San Luis Rey Resource
Conservation District. Dr. Gaughen has made presentations on cultural and
environmental topics for the Navy, the Border Patrol, the California Indian Legal
Association, the San Diego County Archaeological Society, the California Mission
Indian Association, and many other private and public organizations.

Janin Guzman-Morales

Scripps Institution of Oceanography


Janin is interested in the relative contribution of different types of fuels to submicron particles in California urban areas. She joined the Russell Atmospheric Aerosol group at Scripps Institution of Oceanography in winter 2011 as a research scholar, after obtaining her B.S. in Chemistry at the National Autonomous University of Mexico. She became an SIO graduate student in Fall 2012 in the Marine Chemistry curricular group. She was actively involved in aerosol sampling, collecting data with the High Resolution Aerosol Mass Spectrometer at the Mt. Soledad, La Jolla, California Project in May-June 2012 and at the Western Atlantic Climate Study in August 2012.

Laura Hampton

Climate Science Alliance - South Coast


Laura is a Program Manager for Innovative Community Engagement in Climate Kids and Regional Conservation Planning. Her background in physical geography from San Diego State University and love for weather and climate has sparked her passion to educate children about the importance of natural resource conservation in our changing world. Laura has used Geography Information Systems in numerous biological surveys, developing an appreciation for animals and plants. She will be working with the Climate Kids program and as GIS support for ongoing mapping efforts.

David W. Pierce

Scripps Institution of Oceanography


Hiram Rivera-Huerta

Universidad Autónoma de Baja California

David is a Programmer Analyst at the Climate, Atmospheric Science and Physical Oceanography (CASPO) Department at Scripps Institution of Oceanography. His research interests include El Nino and La Nina forecasting and impacts, human induced climate change and its global and regional affects, ocean warming and changes in salinity, decadal timescale prediction and natural climate variability, and statistical bias correction and downscaling techniques. He received his Ph.D. in Physical Oceanography from University of Washington in 1993, his M.S. in Physical Oceanography from University of Washington in 1989 and his B. S. in Physics from University of California Santa Cruz in 1984.


Trabajo en el área de sistemas de información geográfica y percepción remota. Educación al aire libre de ambientes costeros y terrestres. En los últimos años mi interés se centra en los bosques semiáridos de la Provincia Florística Californiana y el efecto de la supresión de fuego en California y los bosques homólogos en Baja California bajo diferentes políticas de manejo, uso e intensidad en los últimos 150 años.


Rob Roy

La Jolla Band of Luiseno Indians

Rob Roy is the Environmental Director for the La Jolla Band of Luiseno Indians and has been employed by the Tribe for over 15 years. He is responsible for the Environmental Protection Office which employs a staff of seven people working on clean water, air quality, solid waste, wastewater, natural resources, and other critical environmental and human health issues, and also works closely with the Domestic Water and other Tribal Departments. His education is in Geographic Information Systems and he previously worked for the City of San Diego Environmental Services Department. Rob received the EPA Environmental Achievement Award in 2008 for his work with solid waste management including recycling, reducing illegal dumping, hazardous and electronic waste recycling, tire cleanup, and disaster recovery. Rob works hard to foster collaboration between groups to achieve common goals and increase the scope and impact of projects. He also serves as a member of the TWRAP steering committee, as an RTOC rep and RTOC Solid Waste Workgroup lead, and as team co-lead on the Interagency Infrastructure Task Force Solid Waste Workgroup. Rob has a passion for the natural world and goes travelling, hiking and backpacking whenever he can.

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