Michelle Newcomer (UC Berkeley) in the field
Michelle Newcomer, PhD Candidate, UC Berkeley

Education & Experience


BA French & Sociology UC Santa Barbara

MS Geosciences San Francisco State University

PhD Candidate Civil & Environmental Engineering UC Berkeley


Research Scientist, Center Lead for the NASA DEVELOP National Program at NASA Ames Research Center

Visiting Scholar, UFZ Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research, Leipzig, Germany

Research Interests

My research interests focus on topics in hydrology related to groundwater recharge, issues of drought, urban water management, and water policy. For my MS thesis work, I addressed the topic of recharge beneath low-impact development (LID) in urban settings, and how recharge beneath these features changes as a function of climate variability. I also have also worked extensively on groundwater related research at NASA Ames Research Center with the Applied Sciences DEVELOP National program. My work with NASA DEVELOP focused on analyzing changes in groundwater storage in the Central Valley using the NASA GRACE satellite. For my PhD, I am currently developing innovative research techniques with the Sonoma County Water Agency to assess the factors involved in sustainable/unsustainable pumping from a riverbank filtration system. Factors include sedimentation, clogging, and the development of an unsaturated zone which prevents additional pumping and interferes with the supply of water to the public. In pursuit of these goals, I am collaborating with researchers from UFZ in Germany who are leaders in the fields of river-aquifer connection, hyporheic zone dynamics, and riverbed permeability.

How I became a scientist

I began my career with a BA degree in French & Sociology. My path to becoming a scientist was a little windy, and it took much trail and error for me to really figure out, and discover, what I loved to do. My best advice to those unsure of where their degree or career is taking them is to be patient, give yourself time to reflect on what really makes you happy, and to not be afraid to change your mind.

How my work benefits society

My current research addresses the most pragmatic needs of an agricultural district—keeping and maintaining a consistent and healthy water supply, which is a monumental task in our current drought. Their needs also include access to knowledge about how and why river infiltration changes and what pumping schedule perpetuates or mitigates the riverbed clogging process. Working in the field of hydrology allows me to develop tools and methods to provide water management agencies with more up-to-date estimates of groundwater/surface water storage than currently used techniques. Forecasting and prediction techniques will better prepare agencies such as the the Sonoma Country Water Agency and other California agencies for future changes and will equip them with useful information for managing water resources in California.