David Lobell, an associate professor of environmental Earth system science and a senior fellow at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, has been named a 2013 MacArthur Fellow and one of Foreign Policy Magazine's 100 Leading Global Thinkers of 2013.
MacArthur "Genius Grant"
Lobell, who is also the associate director of FSI’s Center on Food Security and the Environment, was cited "for unearthing richly informative, but often underutilized sources of data to investigate the impact of climate change on crop production and global food security." He received his doctorate degree from Stanford in 2005 and was appointed to the faculty in 2009.
A pioneer of the emerging field of crop informatics, Lobell is revolutionizing the understanding of the environmental factors controlling crop yields, with a particular emphasis on adaptation to climate change.
His work provides decision makers, for the first time, with critical information about how to adapt agricultural development to climate change.
"I was completely surprised by this recognition, but am really excited by the opportunity it presents," said Lobell, who is also a senior fellow at Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment. "To have the MacArthur Foundation recognize the value of taking new approaches and the importance of the topics of hunger and food production is deeply gratifying."
Lobell's research focuses on identifying opportunities to increase yields of crops including wheat and corn in major agricultural regions, with projects currently underway in Africa, South Asia, Mexico and the United States.
"I'm interested in how to feed the world and protect the environment at the same time," he said. "While there are many theories about how to do that, my work tries to test these theories, often using data that were collected for completely different reasons."
The citation emphasized Lobell's work on understanding the risks of climate change, and options for adaptation. "Climate change is one of the reasons for concern about feeding people in the future, but it's not insurmountable if good decisions are made," he said.
When asked how he would use the funding, Lobell said he would not rush the decision. He said that some of the award would likely relieve him of writing grant proposals. In addition, he said he would consider using some toward more travel.
"A lot of my better ideas in the past have started with travel and interactions with international collaborations," he said. "And there's always a tradeoff between my work travel and family. I now might take my wife and young sons with me on some extended trips."
Foreign Policy's Leading Global Thinkers
In December, Foreign Policy named Lobell one of the 100 Leading Global Thinkers of 2013. The recognition comes for his work "helping farmers feed the world" in a changing climate. Lobell is joined on the magazine's list by fellow researchers working on climate issues, along with prominent public figures like German Chancellor Angela Merkel, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, and Pope Francis.
Widely sought throughout the world to provide expert advice, Lobell is a lead author for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Fifth Assessment Report chapter on food security, to be published in 2014. The IPCC, which won the Nobel Prize in 2007, also made Foreign Policy's 2013 Leading Global Thinkers list alongside Lobell, "for showing that humanity is on the brink of catastrophe" if climate change is not addressed quickly and aggressively.
Lobell studied applied mathematics at Brown University, and before receiving his bachelor's degree in 2000, he spent the summer of 1999 as a research intern at Stanford, developing remote sensing algorithms. He then pursued graduate studies at Stanford, receiving his doctorate in geological and environmental sciences in 2005.
He was a postdoctoral fellow at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory from 2005-2007, and returned to Stanford as a senior research scholar in the Program on Food Security and the Environment in 2008-2009. He accepted an appointment as assistant professor in the Stanford School of Earth Sciences in 2009.
In addition to his research, Lobell teaches several courses open to both undergraduates and graduate students, including "Feeding Nine Billion," "Climate and Agriculture," and "Global Land Use to 2050," as well as modeling and statistical methods classes.
Lobell received a NASA New Investigator Program Award for 2008-2011. He received the James B. Macelwane Medal from the American Geophysical Union in 2010, awarded for significant contributions to the geophysical sciences by an outstanding scientist under the age of 36.
Nancy Peterson is the chief communications officer for Stanford's School of Earth Sciences. Laura Seaman, communications manager for the Center on Food Security and the Environment, contributed to this article.