Images capture a year of exploration despite uncertainty
The 2021 Stanford Earth Photo Contest yielded evidence that despite another difficult year, faculty, students and staff kept their academics, research and engagement with nature going. Two undergraduates and three graduate students won the top prizes.
After months of lockdown, uncertainty, and travel restrictions, campus slowly returned to life in the fall. Despite limited activities over the previous year, students, faculty, and staff submitted 101 photos across four categories in the fourth annual Stanford Earth Photo Contest, affirming that study and research carried on – whether online, on campus, or in the field. Photos taken over the last two years were invited from across campus and considered in four categories: Landscapes, In the Field, In the Lab, and Life in 2021.
This year yielded a tie in the Landscape category. ESS PhD student Marius von Essen submitted a dramatic shot of postdoc Matthieu Stigler watching the sun set over the Yosemite Valley from the top of Half Dome in late May. The hikers climbed late in the day and also saw the moon rise. “Besides the spectacular views, a great benefit was being alone on the top of Half Dome,” said von Essen.
Tied with that tranquil image was a graceful, if slightly menacing, underwater photo of a blacktip reef shark circling over coral at Palmyra Atoll, located between Hawaii and American Samoa. The shot was made by Earth Systems Program undergraduate Ben Hodder, ’22, while he was a conservation science volunteer for The Nature Conservancy in spring and summer 2021.
In the Field category, which aims to capture hands-on experiences in research and work outside the classroom, Earth Systems undergraduate Patrick Monreal's photo of research on the high seas took first place. Earth Systems student Natalie Cross took first in the Lab category with a shot of a colleague examining a seahorse aboard a research tall ship. Finally, E-IPER student Meghan Shea snagged first place for the Life in 2021 category with a poignant beach scene near Santa Cruz, CA.
Notable semi-finalists included pictures from startling insects and reptiles to scenes of isolation, disaster, and hope for recovery.
One subject is a consistent favorite among photographers and judges: the Milky Way in the night sky. For each of the four years the contest has run, a Milky Way photo has been a finalist or semi-finalist. In 2018, Earth materials lab manager Katie Dunn took first place in Landscape for her shot of the galaxy over the Green River in Utah. Then in 2019, ERE graduate student Nora Hennessy took a first place for her shot of the Milky Way over the Peruvian Andes and won the award again in last year's 2020 contest for her shot of the Milky Way over Half Dome. This year, her shot of the band of stars over the Sierra (below) did not top the category but it garnered the third-highest vote count in Landscapes.
Judging of the photos took place in December 2021. First-round judges were GS PhD student Richard Stockey, ERE student Asia Zhang, digital producer Elenita Nicholas, educational affairs director Audrey Yau, associate communications directors Dee Tucker and Josie Garthwaite, and alumni relations director Nick Heinzen. Final round judging was completed by Dean Stephan Graham, senior associate deans Jon Payne and Scott Fendorf, assistant dean for educational affairs Jenny Saltzman, and associate dean for marketing and communications Barbara Buell.
First place winners each receive a pair of Apple AirPods.
Canyon Sunset: ESS PhD student Marius von Essen submitted a dramatic shot of postdoc Matthieu Stigler watching the sun set over the Yosemite Valley from the top of Half Dome in May. The hikers climbed late in the day and also saw the moon rise. “Besides the spectacular views, a great benefit was being alone on the top of Half Dome,” said von Essen.
Circling shark: A blacktip reef shark circles over coral at Palmyra Atoll, located between Hawaii and American Samoa. The shot was made by Earth Systems Program student Ben Hodder ’22 while he was a conservation science volunteer for The Nature Conservancy in spring and summer 2021.
High Seas Research: Patrick Monreal, Earth Systems '22, MS '23, participated in a research cruise in fall 2021 to study hydrothermal vents in the South Pacific. Here Monreal captured fellow researchers as they deployed a midnight cast of cylinders for samples - while having a bit of fun in whimsical costumes.
I Spy: Earth Systems Program undergraduate Natalie Cross snapped this photo of a fellow student peering at a seahorse captured on a microscope monitor during a dawn watch in the seafaring lab aboard the tall ship SSV Corwith Cramer. Cross was participating in a Sea Education Association (SEA) Semester program during spring quarter
Pandemic Beach: California's January 2021 stay-at-home order reduced crowds at popular tourist destinations. While sheltering-in-place in Santa Cruz, CA, EIPER PhD candidate Meghan Shea captured this image of Natural Bridges State Beach, with a discarded mask and few beachgoers as a reminder that this was not a typical blue-sky beach day.