Advancing Climate Tech Solutions Through CITRIS

UC Program Drives Climate Adaptation and Mitigation Research

drone flies over open field at sunset
(Getty Images)

In her plenary remarks at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, Scotland (COP26), Jennifer Granholm — current U.S. Secretary of Energy and former senior research fellow at the Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society and the Banatao Institute (CITRIS) — said, “We face a great challenge in eliminating carbon pollution and avoiding the worst impacts of climate change, but the opportunity at hand is even greater.”

Since CITRIS was founded as a California Institute of Science and Innovation at the University of California in 2001, it has sought to catalyze IT solutions to society’s most pressing issues by uniting the unique strengths of the UC’s campuses at Berkeley, Davis, Merced and Santa Cruz under a single interdisciplinary banner.

From enabling more accurate models of California’s water supply with Sierra-Net, to building resource-saving agricultural tools such as the Robot-Assisted Precision Irrigation and Diagnostics (RAPID) system, to launching transformative green tech startups, CITRIS researchers have seen a number of the challenges emerging in our warming world and risen to address the opportunities. 

Sustainability is woven into CITRIS’s infrastructure: Its Berkeley headquarters, Sutardja Dai Hall has stood as a proving ground and “living laboratory” for green building technologies such as smart dust and distributed intelligence automated demand response since its construction in 2009.

At UC Davis, a 2022 CITRIS Seed Award to Shima Nazari aims to help her team create system-level models for heavy machinery and their batteries, as well as alternative battery designs for electric construction vehicles such as loaders and excavators.

CITRIS’s flagship Seed Funding program has also supported research that improves wildfire detection with un-crewed aerial vehicles, such as the EUREKA project led by UC Santa Cruz’s Katia Obraczka, and creates drone-based remote sensing tools for post-wildfire landscape surveys, such as an ecological resilience project led by UC Davis’ Gary Bucciarelli. 

Addressing climate justice

As the heart of CITRIS’s climate, energy and sustainability technology research, the CITRIS Climate initiative works to confront the harmful effects of climate change, especially those burdens that disproportionately fall upon underserved communities, through multicampus, multidisciplinary activities.

“There is no climate solution without climate justice,” said Michele Barbato, professor of civil and environmental engineering at UC Davis and director of CITRIS Climate. “If we do not address the problem of climate change now, we will see these problems grow exponentially and be more painful in the future.” 

Under Barbato’s leadership, CITRIS Climate is focusing its efforts on climate mitigation, or reducing the negative effects of climate change, and climate adaptation, or adjusting society to the effects that we see now and expect to see in the future. 

Four people in blue construction suits and white hard hats and face masks pose with earth blocks
Nitin Kumar, Michele Barbato, Julie Nguyen and Thomas Tonthat pose with earth blocks they made at their Bainer Hall site. (Karin Higgins/UC Davis)

Current areas of dedicated research for the initiative include lessening the severity and impact of wildfires, building sustainable and resilient communities, and, in alliance with CITRIS Health, developing resources for healthy aging in a warming world.

CITRIS Climate holds thoughtful collaboration as a fundamental strategy of its work. Beyond the four CITRIS campuses and associated centers such as the UC Davis Climate Adaptation Research Center (CARC), the initiative has partners across the University of California, as well as the California State University system, state and federal agencies, nonprofit organizations, for-profit companies, and national laboratories. 

“When addressing the problem of climate change, you cannot do it in a vacuum,” said Barbato. “We need to build a community across disciplines. 

“The superpower of CITRIS is putting together people in very different fields who otherwise would not have an opportunity to work together.”

There is no climate solution without climate justice. - Michele Barbato, UC Davis, director of CITRIS Climate

These relationships are often between individual investigators and partner organizations, but Barbato is excited to explore more formal institutionalization, since these outside institutions offer valuable perspectives in solving problems.

“The capacity to look at the problem from different angles is a major benefit of working within CITRIS,” he said.

He also identifies workforce development as an essential tactic for tackling climate change. Having a climate-specific track in the CITRIS Workforce Innovation Program and similar initiatives trains college students for jobs that require climate mitigation knowledge, including those at the local and federal policy levels.

In support of UC’s sustainability goals, CITRIS Climate aims to use its silo-busting superpower to convene UC faculty, staff and students to drive progress in critical climate and energy technology. With the potential to accelerate this work through climate action funding from the state, CITRIS’s holistic approach is poised to lead the transition to a more sustainable future.

“As researchers, engineers and educators, we are doing the best we can to provide the tools to address the problem now and in the decades to come,” said Barbato.


This article is an excerpt from “Preparing for a warming world: CITRIS at the vanguard of climate tech research” by Karen Vo of CITRIS. Read the full article at


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Kat Kerlin, UC Davis News and Media Relations, 530-750-9195,

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