Karletta Chief

Professor & Extension Specialist, Environmental Science
Director, Indigenous Resilience Center
Associate Professor, Environmental Physics/Hydrology
Associate Professor, American Indian Studies
Associate Professor, American Indian Studies-GIDP
Associate Professor, Arid Lands Resources Sciences - GIDP
Chair, Indigenous Food / Energy / Water Systems - GIDP
Associate Professor, Public Health
Project Director - CCASS and Haury Native Nations Climate Adaptation Program
Tribal Affiliation
Diné (Navajo Nation)

Dr. Karletta Chief is an Assistant Professor and Assistant Specialist in the Department of Soil, Water, and Environmental Sciences at the University of Arizona in Tucson, AZ. As an assistant professor, the goal of her research is to improve our understanding, tools, and predictions of watershed hydrology, unsaturated flow in arid environments, and how natural and human disturbances affect soil hydrology through the use of physically based methods. Dr. Chief research also focuses on how indigenous communities will be affected by climate change and collaborated in an interdisciplinary group of scientists including hydrologists, system dynamic modelers, and social scientists to determine how hydrological models can be improved to identify and mitigate risks to these vulnerable populations (nativeadaptation.arizona.edu). As an extension specialist, she works to bring relevant science to Native American communities in a culturally sensitive manner by providing hydrology expertise, transferring knowledge, assessing information needs, and developing applied science projects. Dr. Chief is a member of a national network of indigenous and non-indigenous scientists focusing on climate change impacts to indigenous peoples and co-authored several publications in the Special Issue of Climatic Change entitled “Climate Change and Indigenous Peoples in the United States: Impacts, Experiences, and Actions” and Forest Conservation in the Anthroprocene. Dr. Chief is a member of the Indigenous People Climate Change Working Group, Rising Voices, and Climate and Traditional Knowledges Workgroup with a focus on climate impacts to tribal waters. She co-authored a tribes chapter in the Southwest Climate Assessment Report (swcarr.arizona.edu) and provisional guidelines for considering traditional knowledges in climate change initiatives (climatetkw.wordpress.com). Dr. Chief worked with the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe since 2009 focusing on collaborative water management planning under climatic and non-climatic stressors (link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs10584-013-0737-0) and is a member of the Groundwater, Climate And Stakeholder Engagement Project employing a novel modeling framework and extensive stakeholder interactions to look at adapting water planning and management to future climate uncertainties (https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0022169414009846).

With her students, Dr. Chief developed educational learning modules for tribal colleges on the environmental impacts of mining (superfund.pharmacy.arizona.edu/learning-modules/tribal-modules). Dr. Chief supervises and advises the research of 11 students, 10 of which are Native American working on topics related to tribal environmental issues. She is also the faculty advisor to the UA American Indian Science and Engineering Chapter (AISES) (arizonaaises.weebly.com/index.html). Dr. Chief is Diné originally from Black Mesa, AZ and received a B.S. and M.S. in Civil and Environmental Engineering from Stanford University in 1998 and 2000. As a National Science Foundation Doctoral Fellow, Dr. Chief received her Ph.D. in Hydrology and Water Resources in the School of Engineering at the University of Arizona (UA) in 2007. She completed her post-doctorate at Desert Research Institute in the Division of Hydrologic Sciences in Las Vegas, NV where she worked on large weighing lysimeters at the Scaling Environmental Processes in Heterogeneous Arid Soils (SEPHAS) Project in Boulder City (sephas.dri.edu). In 2011, Dr. Chief was named AISES Most Promising Scientist or Scholar, 2013 Stanford University Distinguished Alumni Scholar award, and 2015 Native American 40 under 40.


  • Ph.D. Hydrology and Water Resources
    • University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona, United States
    • Soil air permeability and saturated hydraulic conductivity: Development of a soil corer air permeameter, post-fire soil physical changes, and 3D air flow model in anisotropic soils
  • M.S. Civil & Environmental Engineering
    • Stanford University, Stanford, California, United States
  • B.S. Civil & Environmental Engineering
    • Stanford University, Stanford, Arizona, United States

Work Experience

  • University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona (2011 - Ongoing)
  • Desert Research Institute (2007 - 2011)


  • Area/Regional Impact Award
    • National Indian Health Board, Fall 2019
  • Friends of UCOWR Award
    • University Council on Water Resources (UCOWR), Summer 2019
  • 2018 National TRIO Achiever Award
    • Council for Opportunity in Education (COE), Fall 2018
  • 2017 Multi-Cultural Hall of Fame Inductee, Stanford University
    • Stanford University, Fall 2017
  • 2016 Professional of the Year
    • American Indian Science and Engineering Society, Fall 2016
  • 2016 Woman of the Year
    • Phoenix Indian Center, Fall 2016
  • 2015 Ely S. Parker Leadership Award Nominee
    • American Indian Science and Engineering Society, Fall 2015 (Award Nominee)
  • 2015 Faculty Fellow
    • National Research Mentoring Network Grantwriting for Underrepresented Minorities Seminar: Help, Opportunity, Experience” (GUMSHOE) Program, University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus and Washington State University, Fall 2015
  • 2015 Grand Marshall
    • Navajo Nation Fair and Parade, “Protecting Mother Earth for Future Generations.”, Fall 2015
  • 2015 Native American 40 Under 40 Award
    • The National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development, Fall 2015
  • 2015 Special Contributions to Indian Education Award
    • University of Arizona American Indian Alumni Club, Fall 2015
  • 2015 Spirit of EAGLES Hampton Faculty Fellow
    • Mayo Clinic Comprehensive Cancer Center, Fall 2015
  • 2015 Summer Leadership Institute Fellow
    • Society for the Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans, Summer 2015
  • AISES Outstanding Sustainability/Environmental Program
    • Associated Students of the University of Arizona (ASUA), Spring 2015
  • Stanford University Distinguished Alumni Scholar
    • Fall 2013

Licensure & Certification

  • Engineering-in-Training Certification, National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (2003)


  • PhD