Research

Agriculture is expanding mainly in the tropics. However, interactions between tropical land use and ecosystem function, as well as their socio-economic outcomes, are often poorly characterized. We leverage diverse methods including innovative analysis of remote sensing products, land change modeling, and field data collected using natural and social science methods to provide spatially-explicit datasets that can be used to examine these important research objectives. Our work is solutions-oriented and informs environmental policies and practices at local to global scales. Current research projects are summarized below.

Measuring and Modeling Land Use Outcomes Under Novel Environmental Governance Initiatives

International agricultural supply chains originating in the tropics are the focus of diverse efforts, such as zero-deforestation commitments by companies, to improve the sustainability of agriculture. Many of these initiatives rely on sourcing products that are certified as sustainable by third parties who frequently employ practice-based standards. Yet, the effects of such non-state market based governance initiatives on environmental and social outcomes remain largely untested. This project broadly examines how novel environmental governance initiatives levied on tropical agriculture alter land use and livelihoods. With collaborators including Holly Gibbs at the University of Wisconsin, the National Wildlife Federation, Douglas Morton at NASA Goddard, and Robert Heilmayr at the University of California Santa Barbara, we are assessing whether Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) certification alters land use outcomes in Southeast Asia. This work is supported in part by a grant from the NASA Early Career Investigator Program in Earth Science. In collaboration with Rachael Garrett at Boston University and supported by the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center (SESYNC), we are modeling the potential impacts of zero-deforestation commitments in the soybean sector of South America.

Mapping High Carbon Stock Forests

Diverse companies in the agricultural sector have recently committed to eliminate tropical deforestation from their supply chains. The High Carbon Stock (HCS) approach supports these commitments by providing a set of transparent and science-based steps to discern biodiverse, carbon-rich forests from other areas. This project applies the HCS Approach over Sumatra and Borneo islands using Google Earth Engine. We are using field-based forest structure assessments to support classification of multispectral satellite data to major HCS land cover classes. A grant from Google supports this work, which is done in collaboration with Robert Heilmayr at the University of California Santa Barbara.

Greenhouse Gas Emissions From Global Agriculture

Currently, the food system contributes about a third of total anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions. Improving cropland ’emissions efficiency’ – the amount of food produced relative to greenhouse gas emissions associated with this production – is necessary to jointly meet future climate and food targets. While agricultural expansion (e.g., forest clearing for croplands) is a commonly-recognized source of carbon dioxide emissions, agricultural management is also associated with net emissions, including nitrous oxide from fertilizer application, methane from rice flooding, and carbon dioxide from peatland draining. This project aims to assess the emissions efficiency of global croplands, with focus on individual crops and countries. This work is done in collaboration with the Global Landscapes Initiative at the Institute on the Environment at the University of Minnesota.

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