The Carnegie Airborne Observatory (CAO), developed by GregAsner, is a fixed-wing aircraft that sweeps laser light across the vegetation canopy to image it in brilliant 3-D. The data can determine the location and size of each tree at a resolution of 3.5 feet (1.1 meter), a level of detail that is unprecedented. By combining field surveys with this airborne mapping and high-resolution satellite monitoring the team has been able to detail myriad ecological features of forests around the world.

As one example, Carnegie scientists with the Peruvian Ministry of Environment mapped the true extent of gold mining in the biologically diverse region of Madre de Dios in the Peruvian Amazon. The team found that the geographic extent of mining has increased 400% from 1999 to 2012 and that the average annual rate of forest loss has tripled since the Great Recession of 2008. Until this study, thousands of small, clandestine mines that have boomed since the economic crisis have gone unmonitored.

The team is also the first to map the carbon stocks in individual countries in high-resolution, which could provide the foundation for future market-based carbon economies. The first such map was for Panama (left), the second was for Perú (right). The carbon maps also reveal the high ecological diversity in these jurisdictions providing critical input to studies of deforestation and forest degradation for conservation, land use, and enforcement purposes. Numerous other studies have been conducted using this technology.

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November 14, 2016

Washington, DC—New research from two Carnegie scientists has serious implications for the development of management strategies to reduce nutrient runoff in waterways and coastal areas.

Human activities, including agriculture and fossil fuel use, have completely altered the biochemical cycle of nitrogen. In this cycle, nitrogen circulates in various forms through terrestrial, aquatic, and atmospheric systems. In the United States, the amount of nitrogen originating from human sources, particularly fertilizer, is four times the amount that comes from natural sources. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that 28 percent of streams and 20 percent of lakes around the

October 4, 2016

Stanford, CA— What would we do differently if sea level were to rise one foot per century versus one foot per decade? Until now, most policy and research has focused on adapting to specific amounts of climate change and not on how fast that climate change might happen.

Using sea-level rise as a case study, researchers at Carnegie’s Department of Global Ecology have developed a quantitative model that considers different rates of sea-level rise, in addition to economic factors, and shows how consideration of rates of change affect optimal adaptation strategies. If the sea level will rise slowly, it could still make sense to build near the shoreline, but if the sea level is going to

September 13, 2016

Stanford, CA—Using software tools developed by Near Zero, a research group hosted by the Carnegie Institution for Science’s Department of Global Ecology, a team of researchers has completed the largest expert survey yet on any energy technology, in this case wind energy.

Near Zero conducts research and assessment of energy and climate issues, focusing on integrating quantitative analysis with expert judgment. In this way, they inform decision-making to accelerate the global transition to a near-zero emission energy system. To support this work, Near Zero has developed open-source software tools to examine where experts agree and disagree and why.

Using Near Zero’s online

September 5, 2016

Stanford, CA—One of the world’s longest-running, most comprehensive climate change experiments produced some surprising results. The extensive experiment subjected grassland ecosystems to sixteen possible future climates and measured many aspects of ecosystem performance and sustainability. This study, appearing in the September 5, 2016, Early Online Edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, reports on 17 years of plant growth, an important bellwether of ecosystem health. Plant growth varied tremendously from year to year, reaching a peak under conditions near the average over the last several decades. As conditions move away from the averages, as happens with

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Anna Michalak’s team combined sampling and satellite-based observations of Lake Erie with computer simulations and determined that the 2011 record-breaking algal bloom in the lake was triggered by long-term agricultural practices coupled with extreme precipitation, followed by weak lake circulation and warm temperatures. The bloom began in the western region in mid-July and covered an area of 230 square miles (600 km2). At its peak in October, the bloom had expanded to over 1930 square miles (5000 km2). Its peak intensity was over 3 times greater than any other bloom on record. The scientists predicted that, unless agricultural policies change, the lake will continue to experience

Coral reefs are havens for marine biodiversity and underpin the economies of many coastal communities. But they are very sensitive to changes in ocean chemistry resulting from greenhouse gas emissions, as well as to pollution, warming waters, overdevelopment, and overfishing. Reefs use a mineral called aragonite, a naturally occurring form of calcium carbonate, CaCO3, to make their skeletons.  When carbon dioxide, CO2, from the atmosphere is absorbed by the ocean, it forms carbonic acid—the same stuff that makes soda fizz--making the ocean more acidic and thus more difficult for many marine organisms to grow their shells and skeletons and threatening coral reefs globally.


Chris Field is a co-principal investigator of the Jasper Ridge Global Change Experiment at the Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve in northern California. The site, designed to exploit grasslands as models for understanding how ecosystems may respond to climate change, hosts a number of studies of the potential effects from elevated atmospheric carbon dioxide, elevated temperature, increased precipitation, and increased nitrogen deposition. The site houses experimental plots that replicate all possible combinations of the four treatments and additional sampling sites that control for the effects of project infrastructure. Studies focus on several integrated ecosystem responses to the

Until now, computer models have been the primary tool for estimating photosynthetic productivity on a global scale. They are based on estimating a measure for plant energy called gross primary production (GPP), which is the rate at which plants capture and store a unit of chemical energy as biomass over a specific time. Joe Berry was part of a team that took an entirely new approach by using satellite technology to measure light that is emitted by plant leaves as a byproduct of photosynthesis as shown by the artwork.

The plant produces fluorescent light when sunlight excites the photosynthetic pigment chlorophyll. Satellite instruments sense this fluorescence yielding a direct

Peter van Keken studies the thermal and chemical evolution of the Earth. In particularly he looks at the causes and consequences of plate tectonics; element modeling of mantle convection,  and the dynamics of subduction zones--locations where one tectonic plate slides under another. He also studies mantle plumes; the integration of geodynamics with seismology; geochemistry and mineral physics. He uses parallel computing and scientific visualization in this work.

He received his BS and Ph D from the University of Utrecht in The Netherlands. Prior to joining Carnegie he was on the faculty of the University of Michigan.

Peter Driscoll studies the evolution of Earth’s core and magnetic field including magnetic pole reversal. Over the last 20 million or so years, the north and south magnetic poles on Earth have reversed about every 200,000, to 300,000 years and is now long overdue. He also investigates the Earth’s inner core structure; core-mantle coupling; tectonic-volatile cycling; orbital migration—how Earth’s orbit moves—and tidal dissipation—the dissipation of tidal forces between two closely orbiting bodies. He is also interested in planetary interiors, dynamos, upper planetary atmospheres and exoplanets—planets orbiting other stars. He uses large-scale numerical simulations in much of his research

Andrew Newman works in several areas in extragalactic astronomy, including the distribution of dark matter--the mysterious, invisible  matter that makes up most of the universe--on galaxies, the evolution of the structure and dynamics of massive early galaxies including dwarf galaxies, ellipticals and cluster. He uses tools such as gravitational lensing, stellar dynamics, and stellar population synthesis from data gathered from the Magellan, Keck, Palomar, and Hubble telescopes.

Newman received his AB in physics and mathematics from the Washington University in St. Louis, and his MS and Ph D in astrophysics from Caltech. Before becomming a staff astronomer in 2015, he was a

Gwen Rudie studies the chemical and physical properties of very distant, so-called  high-redshift galaxies and their surrounding circumgalactic medium. She is primarily an observational astronomer working on the analysis and interpretation of high-resolution spectroscopy of high-redshift Quasi Stellar Objects and low to medium-resolution near-infrared and optical spectroscopy of high-redshift galaxies. She is interested in understanding the intergalactic medium as a tool for understanding galaxy evolution and the physical properties of very distant galaxies such as the composition of stars and their star formation rates

Rudie received her AB from Dartmouth College and her Ph D