Robin M. Grossinger

Program Director
Senior Scientist
Resilient Landscapes Program
Historical Ecology
Urban Nature Lab
510-746-7380

Robin Grossinger is a Senior Scientist at the San Francisco Estuary Institute, where he co-directs, with Letitia Grenier, SFEI’s Resilient Landscapes program. For over twenty years, Robin has analyzed how California landscapes have changed since European contact, using these data to guide landscape-scale restoration strategies. Robin leads efforts throughout the state to reintegrate natural processes within our highly modified landscapes, creating healthier and more adaptive neighborhoods, cities, and surrounding landscapes. He has advised restoration strategies for San Francisco Bay, the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, urban landscapes such as the Google campus, and rivers throughout California.

Robin's innovative work to synthesize history and science has been acclaimed for helping scientists, managers, and the public appreciate both the dramatic transformation and the impressive resilience of the state's ecosystems. Robin’s publications include the Napa Valley Historical Ecology Atlas (University of California Press 2012) and his work has been featured by NPR, KQED’s QUEST, Saving the Bay, and The New York Times. Recently he has led the development of SFEI's Landscape Resilience Framework, which is guiding regional adaptation efforts.

Among his popular science communication efforts, Robin served as a guest curator for the award-winning multi-disciplinary exhibit on San Francisco Bay Above and Below, at the Oakland Museum of California. He has been recognized with a Local Hero award from Bay Nature magazine and the Carla Bard Bay Education Award from The Bay Institute and Aquarium of the Bay.

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Related Projects, News, and Events

Russian River Watershed Projects at the San Francisco Estuary Institute (Project)

Our projects in the Russian River Watershed help us to understand our past, understand our present, and envision our future. Learn more about what SFEI is doing in partnership with others to advance our scientific understanding of this valuable landscape.

Photo credit: Connor Radnovich / San Francisco Chronicle

SFEI featured in LA Times about earthquake risk to San Francisco (News)

A recent story in the LA Times by Ron Lin underscores the newly identified threat that earthquakes pose to the San Francisco Bay waterfront. Under certain circumstances, the sea wall that currently protects the Embarcadero and its surrounding infrastructure could be dramatically compromised during a strong enough seismic event. The results could be capastrophic to a key driver of San Francisco's economy. And the fix to the vulnerability would be expensive at $3 billion.

"A Delta Renewed" report released at the 2016 Bay-Delta Science Conference (News)

The San Francisco Estuary Institute (SFEI) released A Delta Renewed – A Guide to Science-Based Ecological Restoration in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

Coyote Creek Watershed Historical Ecology Study (Project)

This report synthesizes historical evidence into a picture of how Coyote Creek looked and functioned before intensive modification. Prepared for the Santa Clara Valley Water District, the report helps explain contemporary landscape conditions and identify options for watershed restoration, natural flood protection, and integrated water management.

Sunnyvale Moffett Park Specific Plan (Project)

The City of Sunnyvale is re-zoning the Moffett Park district with the goal of creating a complete live-work community and ecological innovation district. We draw on the science-based Urban Biodiversity Framework to develop technical specifications, specific guidance, clear graphic representations, and rationale for an urban biodiversity strategy for this part of the city.

Ventura County Historical Ecology Study (Project)

This project investigated the historical ecological patterns and hydrological dynamics of most of lowland Ventura County.

U.S. Coast Survey Maps of California (South Coast) (Project)

Until the advent of this new map viewer, a valuable resource was largely unavailable to coastal planners. Now, US Coastal Survey maps are free for broad use.

Urban Ecological Planning Guide for Santa Clara Valley (Project)

SFEI partnered with Santa Clara Valley Open Space Authority to create a guide on how to support biodiversity across the urbanized Santa Clara Valley. Urban greening projects (e.g., street trees, bioswales, gardens) are developing in piecemeal fashion. Designing and linking projects with ecology in mind can better support biodiversity, which in turn can help cultivate a sense of place and human health benefits.

Upper Penitencia Creek: Resilient Landscape Vision (Project)

The San Francisco Estuary Institute-Aquatic Science Center and the Santa Clara Valley Water District worked with technical advisors and a group of local stakeholders to explore a range of multi-benefit management opportunities along Upper Penitencia Creek, culminating in this Resilient Landscape Vision. The vision focuses on ways to expand flow conveyance and flood water storage from the Coyote Creek confluence upstream to the Dorel Drive bridge in a manner that works with the existing landscape features and supports habitats for native species.

Understanding Change in Primary Production at a Landscape Scale in the Delta (Project)

Constraints on primary production and the relative importance of different production sources to the food web remain major uncertainties in the Delta ecosystem. Newly available spatial data developed as part of the Delta Historical Ecology and Delta Landscapes projects make it possible to explore the effects of landscape configuration and hydrodynamics on primary production in a way that was not previously possible. Proposed order-of-magnitude calculations estimating primary production can ‘bookend’ the potential magnitude of production in the Delta, and inform what is possible in terms of restoration and management options.

Tijuana River Valley Historical Ecology Investigation (Project)

The Tijuana River Valley Historical Ecology Investigation synthesized hundreds of historical maps, photographs, and texts to reconstruct the the ecological, hydrological, and geomorphic conditions of the valley prior to major European-American landscape modification.

South Santa Clara Valley Historical Ecology Study (Project)

This study assesses historical conditions and landscape change in the southern part of the Santa Clara Valley. It is designed to inform strategies for natural flood protection, habitat conservation and restoration, and other management challenges.

San Francisco Bay Shore Inventory (Project)

SFEI is developing an online interactive map to support regional planning and assessment given accelerated sea level rise around the Bay.

Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Historical Ecology Study (Project)

The San Francisco Estuary Institute-Aquatic Science Center, in collaboration with the California Department of Fish and Game, has completed a historical ecology study of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. The project improves understanding of what the Delta looked like and how it functioned prior to the significant modification that has occurred over the last 160 years.https://www.sfei.org/documents/sacramento-san-joaquin-delta-historical-ecology-investigation-exploring-pattern-and-proces

Resilient By Design: Science Advisors (Project)

The challenges of accelerating sea level rise and aging shoreline infrastructure are creating a once-in-a-century opportunity to redesign the Bay shore. Originally constructed with little regard for the Bay, the future shoreline can more successfully integrate the natural and built environments to make a healthier shore for both the Bay and local communities. New shoreline design approaches must incorporate the complex ecological and physical processes of our urbanized estuary while anticipating the future challenges of climate change and extreme weather.

Photo by Shira Bezalel

Re-Oaking (Project)

“Re-Oaking” is an approach to reintegrating oaks and other native trees within the developed California landscape to provide a range of ecosystem services. The concept has emerged from SFEI's research into the distribution and characteristics of California's former valley oak savannas -- a distinctive, widespread habitat that was mostly lost a century ago. Now valley oaks and other native trees are being recognized for the benefits they did -- and could again – provide, as communities design the ecologically healthy and resilient landscapes of the future.

Petaluma Valley Historical Hydrology and Ecology Study (Project)

This project reconstructs the historical hydrology and ecology of the Petaluma River watershed prior to major Euro-American modification. It demonstrates the efficacy of historical hydrology and ecology in identifying and prioritizing multi-benefit restoration opportunities.

Photo Courtesy of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission

Peninsula Watershed Historical Ecology Study (Project)

The Peninsula Watershed, located in San Mateo County on the San Francisco Peninsula, is the site of three of the Bay Area’s largest reservoirs—San Andreas, Upper and Lower Crystal Springs, and Pilarcitos—which provide drinking water for residents throughout region. Encompassing the upper portions of San Mateo Creek and Pilarcitos Creek watersheds, the “Peninsula Watershed” also supports some of the largest intact remnants of contiguous habitat in the region, including extensive oak woodlands, old-growth Douglas Fir forests, serpentine grasslands, and chaparral.

North San Diego County Lagoons Historical Ecology Study (Project)

The Northern San Diego County Lagoons Historical Ecology Investigation draws on hundreds of historical documents to analyze and reconstruct historical landscape conditions for six northern San Diego County estuaries prior to the major modifications of the late 19th and 20th centuries.

Napa Valley Historical Ecology Atlas (Project)

The Napa Valley Historical Ecology Atlas takes readers on a richly illustrated tour of the iconic Napa Valley landscape from 200 years ago to the present and future.

Using the pioneering SFEI Historical Ecology approach, the Atlas challenges many preconceived notions about the nature of California landscapes, and suggests strategies to increase the health and resilience of local watersheds based on an understanding of how natural systems function. The Atlas is designed to support a broad range of local efforts for ecological restoration and watershed stewardship in Napa Valley, while providing a new and accessible model for historical ecology studies in other regions.