Faces of the Foundation: Laurel Larsen

Laurel Larsen
posted: 12/17/2018

listed in Faces of the Foundation

Since she was a child growing up in Florida, Hertz Fellow Laurel Larsen was intrigued with water, from the way it moved to the way it would change season to season. When Laurel was selected to pursue her academic passion in 2003 under the Hertz Fellowship, she knew what she wanted to study – the deltas and river systems that inspired her interest in hydrology.

While working toward her PhD at the University of Colorado at Boulder, she was able to find the perfect advisor who would in turn help her to further discover her interests in simulating ecosystems and flowing water. With the support of the Hertz Fellowship behind her, she didn’t have to worry about one of the largest hurdle’s researchers face – funding. The Fellowship enabled her to study what she wanted at a pace that worked for her.

After Laurel graduated from the University of Colorado, Boulder with her PhD, she worked for the US Geological Survey, where she was able to apply her thesis work to the restoration and protection of large swaths of the Everglades. Now, as an associate professor at the University of California, Berkeley, she continues to pursue the element she fell in love with as a child – water. In her research, she challenges herself to answer important questions, such as how do ecological changes impact hydrology and vice versa. The variety of tools she’s able to use along with the creativity that her research allows for is something that brings her even closer to the topic.

Every year, Laurel takes her love for water to another level. She spends a month out of the year in some of the country’s most delicate and critical ecosystems – South Florida’s Everglades, Louisiana’s Mississippi Delta and the streams and rivers of Sonoma County, California. In doing this, she’s performing something bigger, something that will have a larger impact on the U.S. Her hope is to save these wetlands from the climate and ecological forces that threaten their survival.

Not only is Laurel impressive inside and outside of the lab, she also wants to have an impact on the younger generation. Her children’s book, One Night in the Everglades, tells the story of two scientists studying the Everglades to uncover the mysterious ecosystem they’ve gone on an adventure in. The book brings awareness to the topic and looks to inspire children to take up an interest in conservation studies.

In July of this year, Laurel earned the Young Scientist Award from the Geological Society of America to pursue a new wave of systems analysis-based approaches to improve environmental predictions in the face of changing land use and climate.

When she’s not working, Laurel enjoys cyclocross racing, cooking and hiking with her dog!