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Images from a fraught year

Stanford Earth’s 2020 photo contest drew 156 photographs from faculty, students, and staff. The images captured experiences coping with COVID-19 and more, as well as close encounters with nature from activities before the pandemic.

Mountains Ridge Hike, single hiker, photo by Hannah Shabb, MS '21
A hiker descends a golden ridge in the North Cascade Mountains, WA to base camp just before wildfire smoke settled in around Seattle. Photo by Hannah Shabb, MS 21, Sustainable Design and Construction.

This year’s Stanford Earth Photo Contest yielded visual evidence of 2020’s diverse and difficult experiences including wildfires, a heightened awareness of racial injustice, and a surging pandemic. Students and faculty quickly rose to the challenge with remote teaching, and lab researchers safely kept critical research going. This year’s pictures also reflect field learning and exploration that took place over the last two years – research and study everyone will surely return to with the promise of a vaccine in 2021.  

Contestants submitted 156 photos from all seven departments and programs at the Stanford School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences (Stanford Earth), as well as from two departments in the School of Engineering. Submissions were down from 226 last year, likely due in part to the decline in field and on-campus activities because of COVID-19. Photos were judged in four categories: In the Field, Landscapes, In the Lab – and a new category, Life in 2020, which aimed to capture scenes from the unusual year.

This year’s winners in each category are: Energy Resources Engineering PhD student Su Jiang for her shot of the Burghers of Calais in the quad (Life in 2020), Jasper Ridge research scientist Nona Chiariello for her fisheye view of oak trees while conducting research (In the Field), and Stanford Educational Farm staff member Jessica Gonzales-Chu for a photo of students conducting research at the Stanford Educational Farm during the ‘before times,’ prior to the pandemic (In the Lab). Energy Resources Engineering PhD candidate Nora Hennessy took first place for her shot of the Milky Way near North Dome in Yosemite (Landscapes). The contest judges love their astrophotography. This is the third year in a row that a shot of the Milky Way has taken first prize, perhaps unsurprisingly as night sky shots are not easy - and they are beautiful.

First-round judges were graduate student Marisa Mayer, undergraduate student Olivia Flournoy, digital producer Elenita Nicholas, educational affairs director Audrey Yau, associate communications directors Dee Tucker and Josie Garthwaite, and alumni relations director Nick Heinzen. Final judging was completed by Dean Stephan Graham, senior associate deans Jon Payne and Scott Fendorf, and associate dean for marketing & communications Barbara Buell. 

Winners will each receive a pair of Apple AirPods.

LIFE IN 2020 winner: "COVID angst" by Su Jiang

This photo of the Burghers of Calais in Stanford's main quad by Energy Resources Engineering PhD candidate Su Jiang captures some of the feelings of uncertainty and anxiety experienced after six months of COVID-19 shelter in place.
2020 Winnter - Su Jiang

IN THE FIELD winner - "Treetops" by Nona Chiariello

Krishna Rao, PhD '22, measures the xylem water potential of an oak tree in Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve in this fisheye shot taken by Nona Chiariello, a staff scientist at Jasper Ridge. (Photo submitted by Krishna Rao.)
fisheye of oak trees for research in the field

LANDSCAPE winner: "Milky Way" by Nora Hennessy

The Milky Way rises above Half Dome in Yosemite's high country as a yellow glow from light pollution emanates from the Central Valley in this photo taken by Nora Hennessy, Energy Resources Engineering PhD candidate.
Milky Way

IN THE LAB winner: "Living lab" by Jessica Gonzales-Chu

During the fall 2018 quarter, undergraduates in the Principles and Practices of Sustainable Agriculture class test soil for organic matter at the O'Donohue Family Stanford Educational Farm. Photo by farm programs coordinator Jessica Gonzales-Chu.
students conduct soil research at the Stanford Educational farm

Semi finalists

Check out more great photographs from our students, faculty and staff this year
Orange Tent, Andrew-Christer-Hume

GLOW   Andrew Hume, E-IPER PhD '22, practices astrophotography and captures the glow from a lone tent while camping near Kennedy Lake in Stanislaus National Forest in June 2020.

An Apocalyptic Commute, Essen Marius

APOCALYTIC COMMUTE  A whoosh of red light is captured from cars driving past in this photo of Bernal Heights homes in San Francisco against the eerie orange haze that encompassed the skies on September 9, 2020. Photo by Marius von Essen, ESS PhD candidate.

Working at the farm during COVID

BOUNTY IN COVID-19  Amidst tough times in 2020, farmer Will Chen reaps a bountiful harvest of flowers at the Stanford Educational Farm while wearing a protective respirator for wildfire smoke.  Photo by farm programs coordinator Jessica Gonzales-Chu.

Orange skies 2020

ORANGE SKIES Strange orange skies from wildfires darken the room where a student works on computer in Woodside at 2 p.m. September 9, 2020, adding to the surrealism during the pandemic. Photo by Kayci Nicole Lacob.

Lone cattle in wildfire smoke

SMOKE OVER SUNRISE  Wildfire smoke rolls over the ridge as we prepared to evacuate some increasingly anxious livestock in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Photo by Gemma Smith, E-IPER PhD candidate.

tide pool sampling. photo by Meghan Shea

SAMPLING   Civil & Environmental Engineering student Ryan Searcy collects a water sample from a tide pool in Fitzgerald Marine Reserve, Moss Beach, CA.  Photo by Meghan Shea, E-IPER PhD candidate.

Doylestown BLM ProtestorsMelina Walling

ENGAGEMENT  During her summer 2020 practicum reporting for the USA Today network in Eastern Pennsylvania, Melina Walling, MA Earth Systems, shot this Black Lives Matter protest, organized by a 17-year-old, in the small town of Doylestown. “It was an important reminder of the importance of civic engagement,” Walling said. “This image, one of thousands from across the country, represents what it can look like when we come together to work toward what is right.”

Iceberg Antartica Sunset, Roughgarden Joan

ICEBERGS AT SUNSET. The pink light of sunset settles on icebergs in Antarctica. Notice the penguins perched on the ice shelf at right. Photo by Joan Roughgarden, professor of biology and geophysics emerita.


FINDING LIFE'S LIMITS  First-year PhD student in Earth System Science Emily Paris assists in prepping hundreds of water samples for stable isotope incubation during COVID-19. Funded by NASA, the project aims to visualize cell activity with nanoSIMS technology. If members of the project, Oceans Across Space and Time, identify active microbial life in some of the hypersaline environments they are investigating, it will expand the known limits of life and could be promising for finding life on other planets. Photo by Earth system science faculty member Anne Dekas.

Mono Lake Tufa Marius von Essen

TOWERS  Tufa towers rise out of Mono Lake's unusual ecosystem in California. The towers take decades or centuries to form and only rose above the lake's surface when water levels fell. The lake's highly alkaline waters are home to brine shrimp and alkali flies, which support a large population of migratory birds. Photo by Marius von Essen, Earth System Science PhD candidate.

Close encounters

Students and faculty encounter incredible wildlife as they travel and conduct research. Here are some close-ups.
seal mother and pup

FAMILY  Female sea lion basking in sun with a pup she had recently given birth to. Photo by Alex Evers, Earth Systems Program undergraduate student.

fox in snow

FEARLESS A lone red fox look directly at the camera for a few seconds before running away near a community of homes in Jackson Hole, WY. As the habitat around them changes, foxes have found solace with the protection of humans. They feel safer from their wolf and coyote predators. With towns free of these fears, these red foxes have become comfortable living in and around human populations. Photo by Hannah Shabb, MS '21, Sustainable Design and Construction (School of Engineering).

Hawk. photo by Melina Zoe Walling

SATIATED  A juvenile red-tailed hawk rests after hunting in Wayne, PA. This hawk devoured multiple mice just a few hundred feet from the home of Melina Walling, MA student, Earth System Program. She started paying closer attention to birds once the pandemic set in. Photo by Melina Walling.

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