Global/Climate Change

In focusing on one of the most pressing issues of our time, we examine the complex drivers and highly unequal consequences of global change for populations and ecosystems around the globe. We have particular expertise in climate change mitigation and adaptation, natural hazards impact and vulnerability assessments, adaptive capacity, biodiversity analysis, both depletion/extinction and conservation/protection, as well as coupled social-ecological systems, feedback mechanisms, and surprises.

Brent Yarnal and his students study the causes and consequences of global environmental change in local places. Current research on causes involves interaction with communities and other local entities to inventory local greenhouse gas emissions and then to develop climate change mitigation plans from those inventories. This research on consequences takes many forms, but especially focuses on vulnerability and its dimensions: exposure, sensitivity, and adaptive capacity. One focus involves the vulnerability of Community Water Systems, their managers' perceptions of that vulnerability, and the systems' capacity to address natural hazards and adapt to climate change. A second focus is the vulnerability of mobile home to natural hazards and the risk perceptions of the residents of those dwellings. Perhaps the most exciting research focus involves assessing the vulnerability of coastal zones to contemporary and future hurricane storm surge. This work entails intense GIS analysis and interaction with local decision-makers. The geographical foci of this research are the Mid-Atlantic Region-especially Central Pennsylvania-and Southwest Florida.

Petra Tschakert's research in this domain follows three streams. The first focuses on collective and anticipatory learning for climate change adaptation and resilience, with partners in Ghana and Tanzania. There is a growing need for social learning activities that boost local memory of climate stresses and adaptive responses to cope with the increasing frequency and severity of extreme events. The second stream is related to community-based participation in carbon offset schemes, both in West Africa dryland farming systems and among indigenous populations in Panama. Her interests are how to involve communities into carbon measurements and monitoring and how to design equitable and transparent cost-sharing mechanisms between carbon producers and buyers. More recently. Tschakert has become involved in researching environmentally-induced migration with particular emphasis on psychological and emotional distress and loss of belonging among those who stay behind in pathological homes, triggered by slow-onset, creeping environmental changes.


Agricultural biodiversity ("agrobiodiversity") is the focus of Karl Zimmerer's research in this area. His research on major global crops (principally potatoes and maize) examines the combination of the landscape-scale biogeographic, ecological, and population genetic dynamics of these food plant complexes and corresponding human adaptation and social-ecological resilience.

  • Wetlands and streams are diverse and productive, and provide a number of tangible and intangible benefits to society and the environment. These goods and services have recently been termed "ecosystem services", and the realization that they are critical for human health and well being has heightened the need for assessments that can estimate the level of service provided, detect the impact of human activities (including climate change) on these ecosystem services, and guide us to their restoration.
  • Denice Wardrop's work focuses on the assessment and characterization of ecosystem services provided by aquatic systems, including flood storage, carbon storage, biogeochemical cycling, and provision of habitat, and the predicted change in production of these services under human disturbance and climate change. The work of Robert Brooks addresses the need for restoration of these ecosystems and develops design and performance guidelines to enhance the quality of mitigation projects.
  • Brian King is working with U.S. and Botswana-based collaborators to assess the social and ecological dynamics associated with seasonal flooding in the Okavango Delta. The environmental uncertainty in terms of the location and intensity of the flooding has significant implications for human populations dependent upon various resources for livelihood production. Additionally, competing resource pressures from conservation and development agencies, in conjunction with anticipated variability due to climate change, are reshaping social systems within the region.