Stanford University
Honu turtle in the surf on Oahu Hawaii

2021 Photo Contest

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.

BY Barbara Buell
ClockJanuary 18, 2022

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.

A tie for first place in Landscapes

PHOTOS BY MARIUS VON ESSEN AND BEN HODDER.
Half Dome at Sunset Yosemite by Marius von Essen

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. 

Shark circling underwater

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.

In the Field

PHOTO BY PATRICK MONREAL
Researchers deploying a midnight cast of cylinders for water samples while wearing whimsical costumes.

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.

In the Lab

PHOTO BY NATALIE CROSS
Seahorse study in lab photo by Natalie Cross

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

Life in 2021

PHOTO BY MEGHAN SHEA
Meghan Shea

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. 

Semi-finalists

Redoubt Mountain reflected in the lake below
LANDSCAPES: Twin Peaks. Mount Redoubt, an active, 10,100-ft volcano is captured in the reflection of  Crescent Lake in the Lake Clark National Park in Alaska. Photo by Joan Roughgarden, professor of biology and geophysics emerita.
Glass frog
IN THE FIELD: Show me. Earth Systems Program MS student TJ Francisco took this photo in February as part of his thesis investigating reptile and amphibian responses to diversification of palm oil farms in Costa Rica. There are at least eight species of glass frogs in the area, and one of the best ways to identify an individual is by checking the transparent underbelly, or ventral. This frog is a Dusty Glassfrog because the bones are pale green and the intestines and heart are covered by a white, opaque membrane.
Mt. Teewinot emerges from a layer of fog from the semi-frozen surface of Jenny Lake in Grand Teton National Park
LANDSCAPES:  First Freeze. The summit of Mt. Teewinot emerges from a layer of fog from the semi-frozen surface of Jenny Lake in Grand Teton National Park. After snowshoeing for several hours under the moonlight on a sub-zero Wyoming morning, Earth Systems MS student Syler Peralta-Ramos saw the rising sun create a dense fog that made the glowing peaks of the Teton range invisible from the lakeshore. "Shortly after the first sun hit the mountains there was a strange crackling echo from the semi-frozen lake," recalled Peralta-Ramos. "Through the thick fog, a long dark line on the frost-covered ice revealed a newly formed crack that spewed water like a leak in the hull of a sinking ship. Waves from the unfrozen center of the lake collided with the ice, forcing the water onto the surface, smoothing it and making it transparent to the rocks just below. For only a few brief moments, the fog opened slightly, allowing the tip of Mt. Teewinot to poke out from the icy mist. I made this image just before the scene plunged back into the fog."
Milky Way shot by Nora Hennessy
LANDSCAPES: Milky Way Rise over Banner Lake. This photo was taken by ERE PhD student Nora Hennessy in the Inyo National Forest in August during a backpacking trip. The core of the Milky Way is just over the peak. Nora won first place for her shot of the Milky Way rising over Half Dome in Yosemite in the 2020 photo contest.
A specimen of the 17-year emergence of cicadas in 2021
LIFE IN 2021: Catching the red eye. E-IPER PhD candidate Andrew Hume caught this image of a Brood X cicada that emerged on the East Coast in 2021. The cicadas emerge every 17-years by the billions, making it one of the many unique news stories from the year. The photo was taken at a park in Alexandria, Virginia.
Dry Waugh Lake reservoir shrouded in smoke in 2020
IN THE FIELD: Eerie scene. Sustainability Science and Practice MS student Megan Belongia took this shot of the dry Waugh Lake reservoir shrouded in wildfire smoke on September 6, 2020, one day prior to the first fire-related closure of the Inyo National Forest, CA. Belongia was an intern working for the John Muir Trail Wilderness Conservancy surveying recreational damage in the Inyo National Forest to inform upcoming restoration projects. She spent 8 weeks collecting data and aiding forest service rangers with restoration projects. This photo was taken on her last day in the backcountry as she and others began their emergency evacuation from the Rodger's Peak region to June Lake along the Rush Creek Trail. Heavy smoke had descended suddenly the afternoon before, raining down ash and embers from the Creek fire. "The reservoir pictured was full of water two weeks prior but had been drained to fill reservoirs downstream," said Belongia. "Much of the reservoir was left dry, creating this eerie scene."
oil spill cleanup in Mauritius
LIFE: Disaster cleanup. E-IPER PhD candidate Josheena Naggea took this shot of her community mobilizing to assist clean up operations following the Wakashio oil spill in Mauritius (August 2020). She was in her home country for summer research. At least 1,000 tons of fuel oil spilled over 18 miles of pristine coastline, which included multiple protected areas and coastal communities heavily reliant on marine resources. It was Mauritius' worst-ever ecological disaster.

Media Contacts

Danielle T. Tucker

School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences

dttucker@stanford.edu, 650-497-9541

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