Sienna White

  • Program Year: 1
  • Academic Institution: University of California, Berkeley
  • Field of Study: Environmental Fluid Mechanics
  • Academic Advisor: Mark Stacey
  • Practicum(s): Practicum Not Yet Completed
  • Degree(s):
    B.S. Environmental Engineering, Stanford University, 2019

Summary of Research

Water quality in the San Francisco Bay Delta affects regional water resources, ecosystem health, and quality of life for any of the two million people who interact with the Delta or call its shores home. However, water management in the Delta has become a heavily politicized issue, as large-scale water withdrawal for agriculture and state water projects often comes at the cost of ecosystem protection measures.

The Delta receives large inputs of anthropogenic nutrients from wastewater treatment plants which result in elevated dissolved inorganic nitrogen levels (Novick et al., 2015). This nutrient-enriched status places the Delta at high risk for algal blooms (Paerl, 2009; Dahm et al., 2016), including risk for bloom events with toxic, or harmful algal species (commonly referred to as harmful algal blooms, or HAB events). These harmful algal blooms threaten public health and endanger the potability of the water supply. Furthermore, climate change, reduced sediment load, and increased nutrient delivery have accelerated algal bloom activity, resulting in increased harmful algal bloom events (Lehman et al., 2017).

My PhD research will focus on using numerical models to investigate the specific mechanisms that precipitate harmful algal blooms, which likely involves a "goldilocks zone" of wind-driven mixing, tidal forcing, river outflow, nutrient supply, and temperature. Better understanding what conditions allow Microcystis (a harmful algal species) to dominate over "beneficial algal species" (diatoms) will then be used to inform a prediction framework, providing water managers with much-needed visibility of where (and when) harmful algal blooms are likely to occur.


S.R. White, P. Mugunthan, A.T. King, F. Karimpour, T.E.C. Kraus, E.B. Stumpner, B.A. Bergamaschi, D.B. Senn. "Delta-Suisun Biogeochemical Model: Calibration and Validation (WY2016, WY2011)." San Francisco Estuary Institute. Richmond, CA. September 2021.

S.R. White, A. King, F. Karimpour, P. Mugunthan, D. Senn. "Nutrients in the Northern San Francisco Estuary: Transport, Cycling, and Forecasted Changes after Nutrient Load Reductions." San Francisco Estuary Institute. Richmond, CA. March 2021.

F. Karimpour, S.R. White, A. King, P. Mugunthan, D. Senn. "Delta Biogeochemical Model Water Year 2016: Progress Update." San Francisco Estuary Institute. Richmond, CA. December 2019.

S.R. White, A. Blom, "Quantifying sediment transport and associated bed elevation change over the fixed layers at Nijmegen and St. Andries," in Netherland Centre for River Studies 2020, Nijmegen, the Netherlands, Feb 2020.

S.R. White, O.B. Fringer, "Using D-Water Quality and D-Flow FM to model cohesive sediment transport in San Francisco Bay," in Delta Science and Software Days 2019, Deltares, Delft, the Netherlands, Nov 2019.

S.R. White, O.B. Fringer, "Estimating a Sediment Budget in South San Francisco Bay from limited streamflow data," in Ocean Sciences 2018, Portland, Oregon, USA, Jan 2018.


Berkeley Fellowship, 2021. Two-year fellowship for top incoming PhD students.

Firestone Medal, 2019. Given to top 10% of honors theses at Stanford.

Fulbright Fellowship, 2019-2020. Flood Management-NAF Fulbright Fellow.

1st place, Creative Nonfiction Prize 2017. Stanford's annual award for best creative nonfiction essay written that year.

Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship, 2017 & 2018.

Human Cities Urban Innovation Contest Finalist, 2016. Declared a finalist (top 5) for an idea linking water-sustainable cap + trade rate structuring to community microgrants.