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The USC Wrigley Institute For Environmental Studies Working for the Future of Our Planet

“Our collective responsibility as scholars at USC Dornsife is not only to identify problems, but to ensure that we are a leader in providing answers. As the university’s nexus for environmental understanding and solutions, the USC Wrigley Institute generates, transmits and translates knowledge for societal benefit.” Steve Kay Dean, USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences

Turning the Tide Humans and the natural world are deeply interwoven. While society’s impact upon the environment is significant, we see constant reminders of Earth’s beauty, power and capacity for renewal and recovery — and opportunities for us to turn the tide. By harnessing our ingenuity and the resilience of both civilization and nature, we can create pathways for sustainable living through which environmental security, economic prosperity and human health are ensured. The USC Wrigley Institute for Environmental Studies, housed within the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, is the university’s hub for environmental research, education and outreach. Founded in 1995, the institute remains devoted to an innovative, multidisciplinary approach to improving our understanding of how the world is changing and to finding ways to use natural resources more wisely. The institute accomplishes this by educating people of all ages, from elementary schoolchildren to policymakers, about the environment; by enriching the discovery-based learning experiences of undergraduate and graduate students as well as senior citizens and under-privileged youth; and by empowering faculty and students to translate new knowledge into innovative, practical and effective solutions with commercial potential. The USC Wrigley Institute’s headquarters reside in an expansive, international, coastal city facing continual ecological challenges. Sitting in a naturally arid region, with dense transportation networks, large population and coastal ocean, Los Angeles offers the perfect setting for the study of sustainable living in an urban seaside environment. By contrast, the institute’s crown jewel, the USC Philip K. Wrigley Marine Science Center on Catalina Island, provides a valuable setting for researchers to study differences between urban coastal Los Angeles and a more pristine island environment. The center features a dynamic, well-equipped and accessible laboratory for faculty researchers, visiting scientists and students to study natural and managed ecosystems in the ocean and on coastal lands. USC Wrigley Institute researchers study the interconnections of the natural world with human society, and how technological innovation provides new ways to protect our ecosystems while maintaining — and even promoting — economic development. Our scientific leaders engage with policymakers, businesses and the public to help stakeholders make informed decisions based on sound science.

“It takes collaboration among natural scientists, social scientists, our civic and business leaders, and our communities to chart the course for a better planet. The USC Wrigley Institute is committed to a sustainable future through understanding, innovation and leadership.” Roberta Marinelli Director, USC Wrigley Institute


The sun sets at the USC Wrigley Marine Science Center on Catalina Island. OPPOSITE: Postdoctoral researcher Anand Patel mounts fluorescently stained filters onto glass slides with an antifade solution. This technique is used to visually count the cells under a microscope and to obtain a close estimate of the cells in an ocean sediment sample.

Longstanding Leadership


In 1901, USC hired its first marine biologist, Albert Ulrey, who conducted research on water contamination off Venice Beach — the first of many important environmentally focused studies. From the 1930s through 1965, USC’s relationship with Captain Allan Hancock flourished through a series of significant expeditions to South America and the Galapagos, and led to the construction of the Allan Hancock Foundation Building in the center of the University Park campus. In 1965, in collaboration with the Wrigley and Offield families, USC created a marine laboratory in Big Fisherman Cove on Catalina Island, later to become the Philip K. Wrigley 2 1 The Anton Dohrn, Marine Science Center. The extend- the first vessel used by USC in its marine ed Wrigley family has a long history of science studies, partnership with USC and a longstand- works a harbor area in 1928. A device for ing commitment to conservation. In collecting specimens of marine life has 1995, William and Julie Wrigley been lowered over continued that legacy by funding the the side at the signal of the man with his launch of the USC Wrigley Institute arms in the air. for Environmental Studies, now the university’s multidisciplinary epicenter 2 In 1965, Philip K. Wrigley, pictured for environmental research, teaching here with his wife, Helen, deeded 5.5 and outreach. acres of land from Today, USC’s complex on Catathe Santa Catalina Island Company to lina Island is a centerpiece of the USC to create a mainstitute’s research and education, rine science center at Two Harbors. while the Allan Hancock Foundation Building remains the headquarters 3 and academic home of many of the institute’s mainland faculty. The institute’s influence extends well beyond USC. Our federally funded USC Sea Grant Program focuses on the urban ocean by supporting university leaders throughout California. Scientists from around the world conduct groundbreaking research at the USC Wrigley Marine Science Center with its unique setting on Catalina. And the George and MaryLou Boone Center for Science and Environmental Leadership is a launch pad for global initiatives in environmental science.

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3 Capt. Allan Hancock, wearing his skipper’s cap, examines sediment cores taken when the Velero IV is used soon after its launch to conduct contamination surveys ordered by outfall sewer design engineers for the Santa Monica Bay.

4 Building on Philip’s initial implementation of a conservation plan for Santa Catalina Island, William “Bill” Wrigley devoted much of his life to seeing that plan completed and expanded beyond the vision of his father and grandfather.

5 The USC Wrigley Marine Science Center at Big Fisherman Cove in 1976. 6 In 1919, William Wrigley Jr. purchased Santa Catalina Island from the Banning brothers sight unseen.

7 A gift from Capt. Allan Hancock, the Velero IV, stands ready to launch on April 11, 1948. 8 A graphic for the USC Wrigley Institute illustrates how studying all different environments — air, land and sea — is necessary to achieve the institute’s goals.


Researchers in USC’s Wrigley Institute and Marine and Environmental Biology section found that U.S. pollution controls dating back to the 1970s have noticeably reduced the levels of copper, cadmium, lead and other metals in Southern California’s coastal waters. They attribute the clearer ocean waters to sewage treatment regulations in the Clean Water Act of 1977 and the phasing out of leaded gasoline in the 1970s and ’80s — demonstrating that the science-based actions we take can reverse deteriorating ocean health and positively affect the Earth’s future.

The nation’s secondmost populous city, Los Angeles and its coastal areas face increasing environmental problems, including water shortages and pollution.


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Advancing Knowledge through Research Under the guidance of Associate Professor of Marine Environmental Biology Wiebke Ziebis, graduate student Melissa Madison performs real-time, high-resolution oxygen profiles of a sediment core from Catalina Harbor using a microsensor placed deep in the sandy sediment. Ziebis is an expert in developing novel instrumentation for in-situ measurements both on and beneath the ocean floor that provides insights into sedimentary ecosystems from coastal to deep-sea environments. She has participated in more than 25 sea-going expeditions that have utilized the world’s most advanced research submersibles and remotely operated vehicles. The seafood we eat and the air we breathe are tightly linked to the base of the ocean’s food web and the Earth’s geochemical cycles. Such connectivity means that finding effective solutions to environmental challenges necessitates a fundamental knowledge of all our natural systems and their phases. USC Wrigley Institute researchers in biological and earth sciences illuminate the secrets of our natural world to generate an informed foundation for building science-based solutions.

Asking Important Questions

As our oceans warm and we extract more resources from them, we face crucial challenges to the health of our marine ecosystems and the essential services and value they provide: food, recreational settings, rainfall, climate control and natural beauty. USC Wrigley Institute researchers are investigating what management strategies we can develop to sustain the ocean’s productivity and health. How do we work within our communities, and with other countries, to govern resources that lack national boundaries and are critical for our livelihoods?


Coastal regions are responsible for 60% of the U.S. GDP.

Adapting to Change

Excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is fundamentally altering the oceans, making them warmer and more acidic. Ocean acidification may harm the protective shells of crabs, oysters and clams; the fabric of coral reefs; the function of microbes; and the food webs and industries that depend on them. USC Wrigley Institute scientists combine molecular genetics and evolutionary biology to determine whether and how organisms can adapt to ocean change.

Professor Wiebke Ziebis (standing) and graduate student Melissa Madison examine a sediment core extracted from Catalina Harbor.


“We live in a place where one of the world’s largest urban areas meets one of the world’s most dynamic natural coastal systems. The effects of climate change on those dynamics and its interaction with the 18 million people in our greater urban area will be a crucial matter to people in the near future.” David Hutchins Professor of Biological Sciences

Much of Big Fisherman Cove is a marine life refuge: It has soft sediment, bedrock and boulder intertidal habitats, and subtidal kelp forest habitats, and a wide range of algae, invertebrates, fish and plankton live there. Deep water is accessible within a short distance from shore.

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Collaborating Across Disciplines Led by Darren Ruddell of USC Dornsife’s Spatial Science Institute, graduate students Elizabeth Hart and Jessica Eselius use a Trimble GeoXH — the highest-grade civilian GPS unit available — to collect data as part of their capstone field project at the USC Wrigley Marine Science Center. Their work is part of USC Dornsife’s unique online graduate program in Geographic Information Science and Technology (GIST). GIST fosters the geospatial skills that are in ever-increasing demand in such fields as emergency management, environmental management, food production, intelligence, public safety, real estate, telecommunications and utilities, as well as fundamental Earth system research. The U.S. Department of Labor recently identified geospatial analysis as one of the three most important emerging areas of future employment growth. Solutions to our environmental challenges must incorporate many fields of study because our natural resources are linked to individual, economic and social well-being. The USC Wrigley Institute unites faculty from a wide range of disciplines across USC Dornsife and throughout the university: ecologists, geologists, architects, spatial scientists, physicists, urban planners, filmmakers, paleontologists, computer scientists and economists. Their goals: to understand the relationship between our natural capital and our livelihoods, and to engage the public in the discussion and debate.

Ancient Lessons

Can we take a page from past civilizations and their deep connection to the land to learn lessons about sustainable living in the future? USC archaeologists and the USC Wrigley Institute are part of a multidisciplinary project studying ancient human settlements on Catalina Island. Staff and students examine island artifacts and date them with radiocarbon analysis or accelerator mass spectrometry. The ages and locations of the artifacts allow scientists to understand settlement patterns throughout the island’s history, and the relationships of settlements to water sources, ocean currents, topography and weather.


Coastal marine fisheries contribute more than $100 billion to our nation’s economy.

Testing Alternative Methods and Technologies

Megacities such as Los Angeles face ongoing problems with air and water pollution, waste management and water shortages, which are exacerbated by inefficient use of resources. By contrast, managed ecosystems such as Catalina Island, upon which humans have a lesser impact, offer opportunities for small-scale experimentation in sustainable living. The USC Wrigley Institute is ideally positioned to serve as a test-bed for new alternative methods and technologies. What lessons can we learn from sustainable living on our island campus? How can scientists, engineers, architects and government agencies apply these insights to large urban systems? Can we encourage the development of novel and feasible new methods for producing energy and reclaiming waste?

Elizabeth Hart (left) references the network of satellites shown on the Trimble GeoXH unit’s screen to provide the coordinates for field readings, while Jessica Eselius uses a laser range finder to record measurements at a distance.


Naturalist Ellen Kelley (third from left) leads a group of USC students on the Deer Valley Trail overlooking the USC Wrigley Marine Science Center.

“We want to demonstrate to oyster growers that science translates to the bottom line. We want to show them that a better seed is a better business.” Dennis Hedgecock Paxson H. Offield Professor in Fisheries Ecology

Developed under professor Dennis Hedgecock’s leadership, new crossbreeds of Pacific oyster that increase yields significantly above the industry standard are being hailed as a breakthrough that could dramatically increase the West Coast’s oyster-growing industry. Hedgecock uses genetic mapping and functional genomics to improve crossbreeding techniques for farmed Pacific oysters, a commercially important and sustainable species in modern aquaculture. The USC Wrigley Institute’s new Future of Food from the Sea initiative promotes research on sustainable shellfish production, such as Hedgecock’s, and is working with industry, policy experts and economists to optimize aquaculture production so that consumer demand is met even as ocean conditions change.

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Merrell Gage’s sculptured panels adorning USC’s Allan Hancock Foundation Building illustrate a series of 13 general zoological types across an evolutionary gradient.

From Discovery to Application Professor of Biological Sciences David Caron and postdoctoral researcher Victoria Campbell examine the biology of a laboratory culture of harmful, bloom-forming algae. Understanding the growth dynamics of these species will help identify factors to prevent their uncontrolled and unwanted growth in nature, and aid earlier detection. Some species of algal blooms produce a neurotoxin eaten by shellfish that can cause illness and death in humans, marine mammals and birds that consume the seafoods. Research conducted by Caron shows that the incidence of these toxic algal blooms is likely to increase with global warming as algae thrive in warmer, acidified oceans, and may lead to more damaging environmental, economic and public health impacts. Just as choices made many years ago affect today’s environment, decisions we make today will affect tomorrow’s natural world. With support from the USC Wrigley Institute, university researchers are empowered to devise practical applications for their scientific discoveries. They partner with community, industry and government agency leaders to translate their breakthroughs into lasting, tangible improvements that benefit the health of coastal ecosystems, economies and societies around the globe.

Harnessing Microbial Digestion

Kenneth Nealson, Wrigley Chair in Environmental Studies, and his research group examine how the metabolism of bacteria can be harnessed to facilitate more efficient breakdown of municipal and industrial waste. Microbial digestion of organic materials results in significantly cleaner end products than traditional processing techniques and also can be used to generate electricity. Nealson’s research is currently being tested in pilot plants for wastewater in San Diego, food recycling in Los Angeles and industrial waste processing for commercial breweries.


Today’s atmospheric carbon dioxide has risen by about 40% above pre-industrial levels.

Addressing Rising Carbon Dioxide Levels

Rapidly rising carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is responsible for today’s warming atmosphere and ocean acidification. But gradual carbon dioxide changes are part of Earth’s many natural processes and cycles. Analyzing these complex relationships is critical to understanding our present climate and why it has changed through geologic time. Joshua West, Zinsmeyer Early Career Chair in Environmental Geochemistry, investigates how the chemistry behind the natural process of rock weathering affects atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations. His research may help generate workable solutions for addressing rising carbon dioxide levels and the associated climate challenges of our future. Professor David Caron and postdoctoral researcher Victoria Campbell view algal cultures under a microscope.


“Students learn how the Earth, with all its life and beauty, is the product of unpredictable and possibly unreproducible developments ruled by chance. This allows them to recognize that the choices we make impact a unique environment that took billions of years to form.” Sergio Sañudo-Wilhelmy Professor of Biological Sciences and Earth Sciences

In professor Sergio Sañudo-Wilhelmy’s course The Global Environment, students discuss Earth’s development as a habitable planet, from origin to human impacts on global biogeochemical cycles in the ocean, land and atmosphere.

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Engaging Stakeholders After receiving training in scientific diving and research techniques, undergraduates such as environmental studies majors Michele Felberg and Wendy Whitcombe have the opportunity to put those skills to use. Each month, they visit Big Fisherman Cove — a marine life refuge on Catalina Island — to collect data on the density of the surfgrass meadow, a key indicator of the health of the ecosystem. They also document the presence or absence of Sargassum, an invasive seaweed that disrupts this flourishing marine ecosystem. Taking advantage of the USC Wrigley Marine Science Center as an environmental field station for studying both terrestrial and marine environments — arid coastal sage plant communities, riparian zones, grasslands, shallow and deep ocean ecosystems — the USC Wrigley Institute engages students and stakeholders through discovery, understanding and dissemination. The institute reaches out to K-12 and college educators; policymakers; local, national and international business leaders; scientists from numerous institutions and disciplines; and community members of all ages and interests.

QuikSCience Challenge

The institute’s 10-year QuikSCience Challenge has cultivated a passion for scientific research and leadership among thousands of middle and high school students from around the country. Working with USC undergraduate and graduate mentors, participants have engaged in a range of research and community service projects in marine and environmental science.

Extensive Field Training


The ocean currently absorbs about 25% of humancaused carbon dioxide emissions.

USC Dornsife’s Environmental Studies Program, the USC Wrigley Institute and the Catalina Island Conservancy work together to give USC undergraduate students extensive field training in Catalina Island ecology. During an eight-week summer internship, students benefit from hands-on experiences, as well as outreach training that includes creating animated films to explain environmental challenges to young people. Students join faculty in conducting coastal marine research in Guam and Palau in the Western Pacific. Their investigations involve coastal and marine ecosystem management, the health of coral reefs, invasive and endangered species, and the environmental impacts of a major military facilities build-up.

USC’s “Camp David for the Environment”

The George and MaryLou Boone Center for Science and Environmental Leadership at the USC Wrigley Marine Science Center offers scientists, educators and policymakers an ideal setting for collaboration and intensive, purposeful focus. Soon to be solar-powered as part of the institute’s sustainability implementation, the Boone Center offers the conveniences of a conference facility and the stimulation of a university setting, with meeting and lodging accommodations for up to 50 people on a small cove at the northwest end of Catalina Island.

Environmental studies majors Michele Felberg (left) and Wendy Whitcombe return from scuba diving in Catalina Island’s Big Fisherman Cove.


“The USC Wrigley Institute fosters a tremendous partnership between the university and the community. This collaboration provides a framework for young minds to engage in real science and sustainability projects that show them how they can truly make a difference in protecting and preserving the Earth.” Benjamin Kay Teacher, Santa Monica High School

With the guidance of a marine biologist, visitors to the USC Wrigley Marine Science Center can truly have a handson experience at the “touch tank.” During events such as Saturdays at the Lab, people of all ages get close to many of the creatures that inhabit Catalina’s watery realm.

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Investing in Innovation Finding and implementing solutions to global environmental challenges requires new thinking, sound science, bold leadership and visionary investment. Already an established leader and an extraordinary locus of multidisciplinary scholarship in the environmental sciences, the USC Wrigley Institute is ideally poised to have an even broader impact on research, teaching and outreach in the critical decades ahead. The institute must continue to serve as a leading forum to ensure progress in sustainability, environmental security and economic health, making full use of the incomparable USC Wrigley Marine Science Center as a living laboratory. Your support will enable the institute to achieve this vision, to build upon the firm foundations of USC and the Wrigley family’s investments of the last century, and to become a leader in providing solutions to this century’s grand challenges. Investment in the USC Wrigley Institute’s infrastructure could include: • Creating the Center for Environmental Understanding at the USC Wrigley Marine Science Center to serve as a solutions-focused collaborative space to complement the Boone Center. • Renovating and outfitting of laboratories to facilitate cutting-edge, interdisciplinary research and training and to enable exploration and the next wave of breakthroughs and applications. • Constructing new housing at the USC Wrigley Marine Science Center to accommodate a growing pool of USC faculty and visiting scientists who need to spend extended time on Catalina immersed in research, teaching and hands-on training. Advancing environmental knowledge and innovative solutions is possible through: • Endowing faculty chairs to strengthen our resident expertise in ocean ecology and food webs, observational science, terrestrial ecology and land–sea interaction. • Establishing new scholarships for exceptional undergraduate and graduate students from numerous fields who want to study with USC Wrigley Institute faculty and use the USC Wrigley Marine Science Center as an intellectual and natural environment in which to launch their own professional aspirations in environmental research, policy, stewardship and the pursuit of sustainability goals. • Supporting pioneering research efforts such as the application of the lessons learned from managed ecosystems into large, urban areas; new scientific models for mitigating damage from excess carbon dioxide; promotion of new aquaculture production techniques; and earlier detection of harmful algal blooms. • Creating visiting scientist fellowships to forge new interdisciplinary collabo rations between the USC Wrigley Institute’s world-leading faculty and other leaders across Southern California and around the globe. • Developing community programs that engage citizens of all ages, foster an understanding of the natural world and encourage informed decisions on the future of our nation and world.


50% of the U.S. population lives in a coastal watershed.

McCulloch-Crosby Chair in Marine Biology Jed Fuhrman and postdoctoral researcher Laura Gómez Consarnau discuss her experiments on the physiology and molecular genetics of marine bacteria that express proteorhodopsin, a light-capturing pigment that has recently been found to be ubiquitous and important in sunlit ocean waters.


The lecture hall located in the USC Wrigley Marine Science Center’s main laboratory building seats 85 people. The entire Catalina campus offers wireless access and there are video-conferencing capabilities as well. OPPOSITE: The George and MaryLou Boone Center for Science and Environmental Leadership, a complex of six houses on Catalina Island, is designed as a “Camp David for the Environment,” where scientists and policymakers meet to resolve environmental disputes and address marine science concerns.


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“The Wrigley Institute is perfectly positioned at USC, where it benefits greatly from synergies between the university’s incredibly bright student and faculty minds and innovative leaders. This interaction is critical, as the institute works to understand, protect and act creatively on behalf of our Earth and future generations.” Alison Wrigley Rusack Member, USC Wrigley Institute Advisory Board

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