Environmental Analysis Senior Theses

Contemplative Nearby Nature: A Design Proposal for Peralta Hacienda Historical Park

Winner of the 2023 Jane Jacobs Prize for Sustainability in the Urban Environment

Russell Corbin ’23, Advisors: Char Miller, Lance Neckar, Jeff Groves

In this thesis project, I analyze what contemplative landscapes are, why they are important, and how to design them, and then implement those learnings in a design proposal for a contemplative landscape at Peralta Hacienda Historical Park. In addition to this writing component of the thesis, I created diagrams, drawings, section renderings, a plan, and two 3d models that all help inform the intentions, meaning, and components of my design. These elements have been woven into the writing and attached as additional documents. Five key contemplative design elements have been identified which I hope can prove useful for design projects seeking similar goals.

Warehouses in the Inland Empire: Displacing Land and Life

Winner of the 2023 Gene Fowler Prize for Achievement in Environmental Sciences

Katherine Gelsey ’22, Advisors: Charlotte Chang, Char Miller

The Inland Empire in Southern California embodies unique spatial and social configurations as a consequence of how settler colonialism has manifested locally in the region since the Spanish Mission Period. This work uses GIS software to estimate patterns of land conversion for residential, agricultural, and warehouse land from 2012 to 2022. Preliminary analysis suggests that thousands of people have been displaced by warehouse expansion over the ten-year period. In the twenty-first century, the Southern California logistics industry continues processes of land dispossession and racialized labor exploitation through displacing agricultural and residential land, exposing disproportionately low-income Black and Latine communities living near warehouses to air pollution, and denying living wages to warehouse workers, who are also predominantly poor people of color.

Tales of Urban Livability-Vermont Avenue in Los Angeles as Told by Tree Canopy Cover

Winner of the 2022 Senior Library Undergraduate Research Award

Hoi Cheng Wong ’22; Advisor: Char Miller

This thesis project explored tree canopy cover (TCC) as an indicator for walkability and disinvestment in pedestrian infrastructure and urban livability in the City of Los Angeles (LA). The project consisted of three main components. The first component of the project is composed of a literature review on the scientific importance and economic value of TCC along with a brief overview of the history of redlining in LA. This section is followed by an analysis of the demographics of LA residents in correlation to tree canopy data, which was completed with GIS mapping. The last major component of the project was built upon a walking ethnography which revealed the unequal distribution of tree canopy as a pedestrian in LA. This work highlights the lack of consistent management and the lack of progress on tree canopy cover, which results in environmental injustices that are disproportionately affecting communities of color in LA. Ultimately, this thesis aims to claim that the city’s failure to meet their tree canopy goals is a reflection of their failure to prioritize LA residents and pedestrians’ public health and safety–especially since tree canopy will play an exponentially large role in maintaining residents’ quality of life as climate change intensifies.

Localizing Food Waste Management: A Social Benefit-Cost Analysis of Aerobic Composters

Winner of the 2022 Jane Jacobs Prize in Environmental Analysis

Aurora Massari ’22; Advisor: Bowman Cutter

California state organics recycling requirements for large commercial institutions have amplified the question of localness because centralized, cheaper, and more efficient waste management companies are already composting commercial waste. Concerns about the environmental viability of Pomona College’s current food waste and green waste management practices from transportation emissions, barriers to Zero Waste, and the potential for carbon sequestration through composting led to the investigation of on-campus in-vessel aerobic composting. This thesis examines two in-vessel aerobic composters alongside current waste management practices and evaluates their logistical feasibility and economic efficiency from a social perspective. The resulting social benefit-cost analysis of the FOR Solutions Model 1000 and Food Waste Experts Rocket A900 determines that an on-campus aerobic digester at Pomona College does not have a competitive advantage over the City of Claremont composting services.

Footprints on the Prairie: Examining the Interlocking Land Histories of the Liberty Prairie Reserve, Illinois
and “Examining Soil Microbial Diversity in Transition Zones between Corn Fields and Restored Prairie in the Upper Midwest

Winner of the 2022 Gene Fowler Prize in Environmental Analysis

Anna Burns SC ’22; Advisors: Char Miller, Charlotte Chang

Abstract: This thesis examines the local history of the Liberty Prairie, exploring the Indigenous histories of the land and the conflicts between the Bodwéwadmi and Euro-American settlers that resulted in the land being farmed for cattle, corn, and soy for over a hundred and fifty years. The thesis subsequently analyzes the broader historical contexts of Midwestern Corn Belt agriculture, from foundational policies to sustainability narratives. Finally, the thesis explores the landscapes that agriculture replaced, detailing the ecology of the once-ubiquitous prairie landscape.

A second thesis examines the tallgrass prairie biome. Prairie was once the largest ecosystem in North America, but agriculture and settlement has destroyed up to 99% of their pre-colonization extent. Prairie restorations are a strategy to recover the biodiversity and carbon sequestration functions of these grasslands, but typically occur in isolated strips between agricultural fields. This thesis analyzes how effective prairie restorations in the Liberty Prairie (northeastern Illinois) are at recovering the diversity of the prairie soil microbiome, focusing on verrucomicrobia abundance, alpha diversity, and soil physical characteristics.

Filtering Out the Effects of Zebra Mussels: Climate, Land Use, and Water Clarity in Minnesota Lakes

Christina Linder ’21; Advisor: Marc Los Huertos

Since their discovery in 1988, zebra mussels have colonized bodies of water across the United States. Having ecological and economic implications, zebra mussels have made noticeable changes in the lakes they inhabit. One of these specific impacts is altered lake water clarity.

Using data collected by agencies and monitoring programs, this research utilizes regression analysis to examine factors impacting water clarity, and to see how zebra mussels work in conjunction with these factors. The analysis indicates that zebra mussel growth and precipitation have a positive relationship with increased water clarity, while air temperature has a negative relationship with water clarity. The results also suggest that natural and developed land use are associated with higher water clarity than agricultural land use.

The analysis of how zebra mussel growth interacts with land use to impact water clarity indicates that mussel growth has the strongest positive relationship to increased water clarity in agricultural areas. The investigation of how zebra mussel growth interacts with climate to impact water clarity suggests that zebra mussel growth is more strongly associated with increased water clarity in mild to cool watersheds and watersheds with average to low precipitation levels.

This thesis expands the knowledge of zebra mussels’ effects on water clarity in Minnesota lakes. Additionally, it helps fill the gap in research of how zebra mussels’ interaction with land use and climate alters their impact on water clarity. This is especially important today in the context of climate change.

Captives & Spoils in Chicago: Examining the Columbian Exposition’s Triumphal Procession of 1893

Kazandra Zelaya ’21; Advisors: Michelle Berenfeld and Char Miller

Daniel Burnham’s vision of a classical revival in the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893 brought ancient Roman triumph with its captives and spoils to Chicago, Illinois. Burnham’s restorative urban utopia used Beaux-Arts architecture in the exposition’s White City that evoked the image of Roman triumphal processions. Beaux-Arts architecture did not extend into the Midway Plaisance, however, the model of Roman triumph extended into the ethnographic exhibits. By examining the ethnographic exhibits of the Midway as a version of a Roman triumphal procession, the exhibits highlighted novel types of captivity through sponsorships, wages, and erasure. Illustrations of American imperialism in the Columbian Exposition were reliant on performative displays of captivity and spoils to anchor itself to successful Roman imperialism. Burnham’s restorative urban utopia was an attempt to reestablish pride in America’s built environment and restore a connection to a distant Roman lineage. I reveal the Columbian Exposition's triumphal procession by examining its comparative relationship to ancient Roman triumphal processions through the White City's architecture and the Midway Plaisance's ethnographic exhibits.

When Disparities Become Deadly: Spatial Differences in PM 2.5 Levels within the City of Pomona, California

Pauline Bekkers ’21; Advisors: Char Miller and Walker Wells

This thesis discusses the disparities in particulate matter concentrations between different neighborhoods in the city of Pomona, California, and explores the historical, political and social factors that have shaped these spatial patterns. I argue that urban growth patterns in Pomona, which are historically marked by race and class segregation as a consequence of past discriminatory housing practices, have led to the disproportionate concentrations of air pollutants in low-income, Latino communities in South Pomona.

Due to the absence of a local air quality monitoring system, there is a lack of information about and understanding of how poor air quality may be in part responsible for the high prevalence of cardiovascular and respiratory illnesses among South Pomona residents. I carry out a pilot study in which I measure PM2.5 level in different residential locations in Pomona to demonstrate the significant variation in air quality, even at a local level. I find that low-income, Latino communities are exposed to significantly higher levels of PM2.5 than richer, non-Latino white communities, and that the I-10 freeway is a significant source of pollution that could account for the marked differences in PM2.5 between North and South Pomona. I conclude my thesis with regional and local recommendations to address the environmental justice issue of air pollution in Pomona.

The Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary: An Exploration of Changing the Discourse on Conservation

Arielle Ben-Hur ’20; Advisors: Susan Phillips and Eric Steinman

In 2015, the Northern Chumash Tribal Council submitted a National Marine Sanctuary Nomination to establish the Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary– a means by which to ensure the protection of one of the most culturally and biologically diverse coastlines in the world. On October 5, 2015, John Armor of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) responded to the nomination, adding it to the inventory of areas NOAA may consider in the future for national marine sanctuary designation.

In my thesis, I explore how the nomination of the Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary acts as a platform from which Traditional Ecological Knowledge can gain stature in the scientific sphere. Traditional Chumash knowledge has accumulated over generations of living within these particular environments and encompasses all forms of knowledge that have enabled the Chumash tribes to achieve stable livelihoods within their native environments. I argue that the adoption of an integrated socio-cultural understanding of Chumash modes of environmental stewardship can lead to a shift in the conservation practices of fragile ecosystems, protecting central California’s coastal waters and communities.

Contaminants of Emerging Concern: Reconsidering Our Paradigm of Water Pollution

Jonathan Gunasti ’20; Advisors: Marc Los Huertos and Guillermo Douglass-Jaimes

In this senior thesis, I explore contaminants of emerging concern (CECs) and endocrine disrupting compounds (EDCs) and discuss the ways in which these novel contaminants defy traditional notions of pollution. I discuss the history and “emergence” of CECs and EDCs in scientific and public spheres and outline ongoing challenges to recognizing, prioritizing, and understanding the action of these contaminants. I position EDCs within the framework of environmental injustice and health disparities and suggest that these compounds could reinforce multigenerational health inequities. Finally, I perform a pilot analysis of the EDC bisphenol A (BPA) in Mt. Baldy Creek, the Los Angeles River, the Tijuana River, and tap water.