Anna Michalak joined Carnegie in 2011 from the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Michigan. She was named Director of the Department of Global Ecology in 2020. Her research focuses on characterizing complexity and quantifying uncertainty in environmental systems to improve our understanding of these systems and our ability to forecast their variability. She is looking at a variety of interactions including atmospheric greenhouse gas emission and sequestration estimation, water quality monitoring and contaminant source identification, and use of remote sensing data for Earth system characterization.

The common theme of her research is to develop and apply spatiotemporal statistical data methods for optimizing the use of limited in situ and remote sensing environmental data. She is also interested in the environmental policy, economic and legal impact, and applicability of environmental research.

Michalak received her bachelors from the University of Guelph, Canada, in Environmental Engineering. She received both her M.S. and Ph.D. from Stanford University in Civil and Environmental Engineering. She conducted her postdoctoral work at the Earth System Research Laboratory at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Boulder Colorado. Learn more at  

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Lizard Island National Park sign. Courtesy Ken Caldeira.
March 17, 2021

Washington, DC— Algae colonizing dead coral are upending scientists’ ability to accurately assess the health of a coral reef community, according to new work from a team of marine science experts led by Carnegie’s Manoela Romanó de Orte and Ken Caldeira. Their findings are published in Limnology and Oceanography.

Corals are marine invertebrates that build tiny exoskeletons, which accumulate to form giant coral reefs. Widely appreciated for their beauty, these reefs are havens for biodiversity and crucial for the economies of many coastal communities. But they are endangered by ocean warming, seawater acidification, extreme storms, pollution, and

December 15, 2020

Washington, DC— Developing nations have an opportunity to avoid long-term dependence on fossil fuel-burning infrastructure as they move toward economic stability, even if they are slow to cut carbon emissions, say the authors of a new paper in Environmental Research Letters.

Countries with low per capita incomes can keep their contributions to global warming to 0.3 degrees Celsius with careful foresight and planning, urge Carnegie’s Lei Duan and Ken Caldeira with Juan Moreno-Cruz of the University of Waterloo. However, fueling economic development with coal, oil, or gas risks locking societies into a fossil-fuel burning infrastructure in the long-term, the authors

September 29, 2020

Washington, DC— A 10-year effort by China to improve air quality and reduce pollution-related health risks has caused warming in areas across the northern hemisphere, according to new work published in Environmental Research Letters.

Aerosols are tiny particles that are spewed into the atmosphere by human activities, such as burning coal and wood, or by geological phenomena, like volcanos. Their negative effects on air quality can damage human health and agricultural productivity.

Similar to how the aerosols emitted in a volcanic eruption can cause global temperatures to drop, some aerosols from human activity also have a cooling effect on the climate. Unlike

Anna Michalak
August 19, 2020

Palo Alto, CA—Anna Michalak has been named the Director of Carnegie’s Department of Global Ecology. As a world-renowned researcher, her leadership will be invaluable as Carnegie works to rebuild the department and to establish its new home in Pasadena.

Michalak's work centers on characterizing the emissions and cycling of greenhouse gases on scales ranging from urban to global, making it possible to track and anticipate changes in carbon emissions and uptake. She also explores the impacts of climate change on water quality in freshwater and coastal systems in support of water sustainability goals. These research areas demonstrate the urgent

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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.

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

Johanna Teske became the first new staff member to join Carnegie’s newly named Earth and Planets Laboratory (EPL) in Washington, D.C., on September 1, 2020. She has been a NASA Hubble Fellow at the Carnegie Observatories in Pasadena, CA, since 2018. From 2014 to 2017 she was the Carnegie Origins Postdoctoral Fellow—a joint position between Carnegie’s Department of Terrestrial Magnetism (now part of EPL) and the Carnegie Observatories.

Teske is interested in the diversity in exoplanet compositions and the origins of that diversity. She uses observations to estimate exoplanet interior and atmospheric compositions, and the chemical environments of their formation

Phillip Cleves’ Ph.D. research was on determining the genetic changes that drive morphological evolution. He used the emerging model organism, the stickleback fish, to map genetic changes that control skeletal evolution. Using new genetic mapping and reverse genetic tools developed during his Ph.D., Cleves identified regulatory changes in a protein called bone morphogenetic protein 6 that were responsible for an evolved increase in tooth number in stickleback. This work illustrated how molecular changes can generate morphological novelty in vertebrates.

Cleves returned to his passion for coral research in his postdoctoral work in John Pringles’ lab at Stanford

Brittany Belin joined the Department of Embryology staff in August 2020. Her Ph.D. research involved developing new tools for in vivo imaging of actin in cell nuclei. Actin is a major structural element in eukaryotic cells—cells with a nucleus and organelles —forming contractile polymers that drive muscle contraction, the migration of immune cells to  infection sites, and the movement of signals from one part of a cell to another. Using the tools developed in her Ph.D., Belin discovered a new role for actin in aiding the repair of DNA breaks in human cells caused by carcinogens, UV light, and other mutagens.

Belin changed course for her postdoctoral work, in

Evolutionary geneticist Moises Exposito-Alonso joined the Department of Plant Biology as a staff associate in September 2019. He investigates whether and how plants will evolve to keep pace with climate change by conducting large-scale ecological and genome sequencing experiments. He also develops computational methods to derive fundamental principles of evolution, such as how fast natural populations acquire new mutations and how past climates shaped continental-scale biodiversity patterns. His goal is to use these first principles and computational approaches to forecast evolutionary outcomes of populations under climate change to anticipate potential future