Claudia Corona ’13: Staying Curious

Claudia Corona ’13: Staying Curious

By Julia Munemo

In California, groundwater is the largest source of freshwater and a crucial resource for the state. However, it is pumped from aquifers at rates that exceed use in all other states. Claudia Corona ’13 learned about the groundwater crisis in California during a high school visit to Mono Lake, where she saw firsthand the “water wars” between a large city trying to supply water to its residents and a small town hoping to ensure the health of the lake. She came to Williams to learn as much as she could about environmental sciences, and to look for solutions to environmental challenges.Claudia Corona

The first in her family to attend college, Corona majored in geosciences and wrote an honors thesis about two adjacent alpine streams in Colorado. After graduation, she and a fellow classmate packed up their car and went on a two-month West Coast road trip. They drove north through the Sierra Nevada Mountains and the Cascades into Canada, and then back south through the Coast Range of Washington, Oregon, and California. They took every opportunity to learn about the geology of the regions they passed along the way.

“My brain needed some play time for simply exploring after writing the thesis,” Corona says of the reasons for her road trip. “But the trip also reaffirmed my passion for science and helped me meet people working on environmental issues on the West Coast.” Oceanographer and fellow alumnus Newell “Toby” Garfield ’72 told her about the master’s program at San Francisco State University (SFSU), and Corona held onto that nugget for future reference. She knew she wasn’t quite ready to apply to graduate school, but it was on the horizon.

Corona spent a year working at an architectural start-up in Los Angeles. Then, the following fall, she enrolled as a master’s student in the department of earth and climate sciences at SFSU. While there, she focused on hydrologic sciences and joined a team of researchers that was the first to demonstrate the influence of climate variability on groundwater levels and aquifer recharge.

“Precipitation that permeates the ground surface is called ‘infiltration’ and much of it is lost to plant-root uptake,” Corona says. “Water that continues traveling through the subsurface to the water table has the potential to become groundwater.” However Corona explains that infiltration events are controlled by nonlinear, complex interactions that can be difficult to predict, making preparation and planning also difficult.

Corona wrote a computer script for a subsurface flow model to examine how transient water behaves in the subsurface. She hopes findings from the study will improve future simulations of groundwater recharge processes. That will help people predict and plan for different types of infiltration events.

In May, when Corona gave the commencement address at SFSU, she urged her fellow graduates to “stay curious.” She told them, “We should all be driven by our desire to be better, to know more, and to move forward.” Corona’s own curiosity remains in water resources and the environment, and she plans to spend this year working in the water science field and applying to Ph.D. programs.

Of Corona’s academic path, she says, “At Williams, I learned that if you want to achieve your goals, you need to be dedicated, exercise a good sense of humor for the unexpected, and always find the marvel in what you do.”