Climate change is dramatically and profoundly altering our planet from the highest mountains to the deepest seas. For example, atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases now far exceed the range observed in the last million years, and even optimistic forecasts make it clear there is no precedent for 21st century climate in historical or recent geological archives. In our oceans, marine biodiversity is changing more rapidly than at any point in recent history, and understanding these changes is critical to support healthy ecosystems and productive coastal communities. Forests, which cover around 30 percent of the planet, are essential to life on earth. They store carbon, influence climatic and hydrological cycles, house 70% of all species, and provide medicines and fuel for billions of people. The response of forests to climate change will strongly influence Earth’s future temperature and rainfall patterns, and, ultimately, determine which parts of our planet remain inhabitable for humans and wildlife.
For decades, Smithsonian researchers have been conducting studies and collecting data to understand these changes. Through a newly formed Climate Change Fellowship, the Smithsonian seeks to support five fellows to conduct independent research, in collaboration with Smithsonian researchers and utilizing Smithsonian collections, exhibits, and data sets, to advance scientific understanding on the following topics.
Fellows will be hosted by the Smithsonian museum or research unit(s) identified in the description. Fellows must identify an advisor from one of the identified units and will be encouraged to identify a second advisor from another Smithsonian museum or research center to foster cross-institutional collaboration. Research topics include:
The View from Space (SAO)
The atmospheric measurements group, based at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory’s Atomic and Molecular Physics Division at the Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian in Cambridge, MA currently leads the TEMPO satellite mission and heads the retrieval algorithm and calibration effort of the MethaneSAT satellite mission. Both missions will be operational in 2023, and will provide revolutionary measurements of gases and aerosols that are important for understanding climate change and its interactions with atmospheric composition, surface emissions and ecosystems, and underlying physical/chemical/biological processes. This opportunity provides a fellow with access to SAO scientists, resources, and extensive satellite data to explore scientific questions at the nexus of air quality and climate, such as understanding the roles of forest and coastal marine ecosystems in the climate system and the impacts of climate change on these ecosystems leveraging Smithsonian ForestGEO and MarineGEO measurements.
Atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases now far exceed the range observed in the last million years, and even optimistic forecasts make it clear there is no precedent for 21st century climate in historical or recent geological archives. Using Smithsonian resources to explore past periods of greenhouse climate, a fellow would have the opportunity to test the skillfulness of climate and/or ecosystem models at predicting future hot conditions, with an emphasis on terrestrial climate and vegetation.
Global synthesis of ForestGEO data to accelerate understanding and support policy on the response of forests to climate change
The response of forests to climate change will have profound effects on future global patterns of temperature and rainfall. Predicting the future of forests under climate change will be advanced through the synthesis of decades of forest monitoring data produced by the Forest Global Earth Observatory (ForestGEO) network. This opportunity provides a fellow access to robust data, a global network of researchers, and the potential to contribute to the development of an online dashboard for Forest Health that may support policy and decision making by providing real-time, verifiable estimates of forest carbon stocks, trajectories of forest change, and projections of likely future changes in response to climate change.
Biodiversity breaching boundaries in a warming ocean (MarineGEO)
Marine biodiversity is changing more rapidly than at any point in recent history, and understanding these changes is critical to support healthy ecosystems and productive coastal communities. This opportunity provides a fellow access to large-scale data generated by the Marine Global Earth Observatory (MarineGEO) and its partners and the chance to employ new technologies to assess biodiversity change in order to understand the role of changing climate in driving current and future patterns in biodiversity.
Accelerating blue carbon climate mitigation through action-informed synthesis of global data (SERC, NMNH)
The Coastal Carbon Network seeks to accelerate the pace of discovery in coastal wetland carbon science by providing access to data, analysis tools, and synthesis opportunities. This opportunity provides a fellow with access to the Coastal Carbon Atlas, containing over 6,000 Blue Carbon soil profiles globally, data libraries on coastal wetland plant biomass and methane emissions, and data from the MarineGEO network and its partners. Fellows with research interests in natural climate solutions through the synthesis of knowledge and data to support the preservation, restoration, and management of coastal ecosystems are strongly encouraged to apply.
Designing resilient landscapes that will support humans and biodiversity in the face of unprecedented global change is one of the great challenges of this century. The Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) and the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute (NZCBI) seek to leverage three flagship programs based in in the tropical Americas—Smart Reforestation®/Agua Salud, Cañete River Watershed “De la Sierra al Mar”, and Bird Friendly® Coffee—to enhance the resilience of tropical working landscapes to deliver critical ecosystem services, conserve biodiversity, and support livelihoods on our changing planet. Potential research themes include optimization of biodiversity or ecosystem services under different scenarios of change; prioritization of reforestation within landscapes or watersheds; tradeoffs between social, economic, and ecological outputs of landscapes; and/or co-development of sustainable land use practices with local stakeholders.