Sally E. Thompson
Assistant Professor
Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering
(510) 642 1980

Research Expertise and Interest

nonlinear dynamics, spatial ecology, Ecohydrology, surface hydrology, arid and semi-arid watersheds and ecosystems, pattern formation, plant physiology, water resource sustainability


Sustainable land and water management in the face of global change is one of the critical challenges confronting environmental sciences. At almost all scales, the earth-system is characterized by high dimensionality, nonlinearity and process-interdependency, so that changes in one component can propagate between different processes in complex ways. Thus, predicting ecological, hydrological and geophysical responses in the face of global climate and land-use change, as required to ensure sustainable management, remains one of the grand scientific challenges of our times. My scientific goals lie in using self-organized or optimized components of hydrological systems, particularly as they relate to the distribution and water use by vegetation, to address the complex interactions between water, and its spatial and temporal distribution on the landscape, and ecosystems. Where self-organization occurs, emergent patterns may act as both signatures and drivers of the system, and offer a tractable approach to reduce the dimensionality and increase the tractability of prediction. I am particularly interested in applying these approaches to understanding the drivers of the distribution of vegetation (and related ecological processes) at landscape and watershed scales, and in using observations of such spatial distribution as indicators of ecosystem resilience and hydrological responses. My research expertise lies in the combined use of field, remote-sensing and modeling techniques to describe the spatial evolution of vegetation cover in arid and semi-arid ecosystems.

In Research News

October 24, 2016

An unprecedented 40-year experiment at Yosemite supports the idea that managing fire, rather than suppressing it, makes wilderness areas more resilient to fire, with the added benefit of resistance to drought.

 Eel River
February 16, 2016

Science isn’t generally considered an extreme sport, but you wouldn’t know that by watching researchers in the Eel River Critical Zone Observatory scale hundred-foot-tall trees and wade through rushing rivers.

June 24, 2015

The debate over the legalization of marijuana has focused primarily on questions of law, policy and health. But a new paper co-authored by UC Berkeley researchers shines a spotlight on the environmental damage caused by illegal marijuana plantations in sensitive watersheds.

January 15, 2014

University of California, Berkeley, scientists will receive $4,900,000 over the next five years to study the nearly 10,000 square kilometer Eel River watershed in Northern California and how its vegetation, geology and topography affect water flow all the way to the Pacific Ocean.

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