New Arizona Institutes for Resilience Will Tackle Environmental Challenges

bighorn fire on pusch ridge

View of the Bighorn Fire in its early stages burning around Pusch Ridge near Catalina State Park. Arizona Institutes for Resilience recently hosted a three-part webinar series about the fire, its immediate effects and the future of the Catalinas.

Zack Guido/Arizona Institutes for Resilience

The University of Arizona has formed the Arizona Institutes for Resilience: Solutions for the Environment and Society, or AIR, to better understand environmental challenges and to develop solutions that tangibly improve people's resilience in the wake of environmental shocks, including those due to climate change.

AIR was formed by merging the university's Institute for Energy Solutions, Water and Energy Sustainable Technology Center and the Desert Laboratory on Tumamoc Hill with programs previously housed in the Institute of the Environment, creating the new institute. Using expertise across campus, the new institute's work is aimed at preparing people for a low-carbon, environmentally sustainable and socially just world, through a three-pronged approach: research, education and real-world implementation.

"University of Arizona faculty and student researchers affiliated with AIR are doing cutting-edge environmental research, working alongside community partners to give decision makers the most forward-thinking strategies to combat the climate crisis and other environmental challenges," said James Buizer, AIR interim director and professor in the School of Natural Resources and the Environment. "AIR is greater than just the units within the institute; it is a conduit to and from environmental enterprises all across campus."

Some recent and upcoming efforts by AIR include:

  • AIR's Desert Laboratory on Tumamoc Hill led a three-part public engagement webinar series called "Fire on the Mountain: Understanding Tucson's Bighorn Fire" to address community questions surrounding the massive wildfire that swept through the Santa Catalina Mountains this summer. The series brought experts together to answer questions about how and why the fire started and spread, and what the future holds. More than 5,000 people have viewed the series, either live or on YouTube.
  • In partnership with the UArizona Native Nations Institute, AIR's Agnese Nelms Haury Program for Environment and Social Justice is hosting a "Native Know-How" webinar on Sept. 23 to help UArizona researchers, faculty, students and staff understand culturally and governmentally significant issues when working with Native Americans and tribal entities. The webinar will cover basic knowledge about the sovereign status of tribes, understanding political culture and how various components play into forging lasting relationships with Native nations.
  • AIR's Water and Energy Sustainable Technology, or WEST, Center has been testing untreated wastewater from campus, Pima County and sewage plants around the country for the presence of coronavirus. By testing and tracking results, the WEST Center has effectively developed a way to provide an early warning when COVID-19 is spreading through a community, and last week prevented a potential outbreak in a UArizona dormitory.

"AIR represents a bold new structure across the university, creating a network that engages with and connects students, faculty and researchers interested in resilience and the environment to one another and to the community to promote new collaborations, cross-disciplinary activities and financial opportunities," said Elizabeth "Betsy" Cantwell, UArizona senior vice president for research and innovation. "AIR builds on the university's role as a land-grant university, exemplifying sustainable practices and social and environmental justice, enabling innovation and taking science-based solutions into the real world to prepare for a new era of environmental realities."

AIR also aims to train students to become leaders who can thrive in a rapidly changing world. For example, AIR co-hosted a Green Orientation Webinar on Aug. 31 for students to learn more about environmental degree programs at UArizona. AIR plans to help colleges and departments develop new online and in-person degree programs focused on resilience.

Other units and programs under AIR include the Bridging Biodiversity and Conservation Science initiative, the Carson Scholars Program, the Center for Climate Adaptation Science and Solutions, the Climate Assessment for the Southwest, the International Research and Applications, the Southwest Climate Adaptation Science Center and the University Climate Change Coalition.


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