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USGS Mendenhall Postdoctoral  Research Fellowship Program

14-1. Integrated Modeling of Scenarios of Land Use and Ecosystem Carbon in Ecoregions of the United States

We seek a postdoctoral fellow to study how regional-scale weather and climate variability impacts land-use decisions at the United States ecoregion scale, and how those changes affect regional carbon dynamics. Changes in land use and land cover affect a wide range of ecosystem services and natural processes. There are many drivers of land use and land cover changes, and increasingly land managers are making both long- and short-term decisions to adapt to fluctuations in weather and climate.  As climate varies and changes in the future, the extent and types of changes in land use and land cover may have a significant influence on physical processes.  Changes in the rate of urbanization, forest use and timber production, and agricultural intensification, alter the exchange of energy between the land surface and atmosphere, the cycling of nutrients, and the form and structure of ecosystems. Ultimately, land-use change results in modifications of regional carbon balance, through the removal/regeneration of biomass and alteration of soils. To balance short-term land management decisions with long-term ecological consequences, land managers and policy makers require information on how the interaction between climate and land use might change in the future, and what the consequences of those changes are on the ability of ecosystems to produce goods and services, such as the sequestration of carbon.

A core element of the USGS mission is to provide scientific information and knowledge to assist policy and management of the nation’s natural resources. The USGS has a long history of providing scientific data describing the current state of land use and land cover (LULC) for the nation (Loveland and others, 2002; Homer and others, 2007; Sleeter, Wilson, and Acevedo (eds.), 2012) and more recently, has embarked on an effort to produce future projections of LULC change, under a range of alternative future scenarios linked to global assessments conducted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) (Sleeter and others, 2012). These downscaled land-use scenarios have been used to address impacts of LULC change on carbon dynamics for ecoregions of the conterminous United States (Zhu and others, 2010; Zhu (ed.), 2011; Zhu and Reed (eds.), 2012). However, the role of climate variability and change as a driver of land-use decisions, and eventually land-cover change, was not considered in this assessment.  This is a significant gap in our understanding of regional carbon dynamics.

The goal of research under this Opportunity is to investigate how future projected changes in weather and climate variability have and will continue to influence the extent, patterns, and characteristics of US land use and land cover. The postdoctoral researcher should link these results in order to understand how future land-use scenarios ultimately impact ecosystem carbon dynamics under a range of different conditions. The establishment of such weather and climate-land use change-ecosystem carbon linkages will contribute to USGS efforts to conduct comprehensive and integrated assessments of land-use and carbon dynamics and serve as a useful tool for decision makers to evaluate adaptation and mitigation responses to climate change.

There is a unique opportunity for the Mendenhall Fellow to work at the intersection of land-use science, climate science, and ecosystem modeling. This requires a strong background and understanding of land-change dynamics and geography, as well as biogeochemical cycling, climate change, remote sensing, spatial analysis, GIS, and statistics. The primary challenge in this research is the development of new and novel understanding of the ways weather and climate drive regional land change, and to project those changes into the future under a range of globally consistent environmental change scenarios. Secondly, this research should integrate with existing efforts by U.S. Geological Survey land-change scientists developing and parameterizing models capable of projecting changes across a full spectrum of land use and land cover changes and track the consequences on ecosystem carbon.

A long-term goal of the USGS is to establish the capability to address the interaction of weather and climate, land use and land cover, and carbon dynamics across the U.S.  For this Research Opportunity, a regional study focused on specific sets of ecoregions is an acceptable initial step.  Questions that may be addressed during the course of this research include:


Homer, C., Huang, C., Yang, L., Wylie, B., Coan, M., 2004. Development of a 2001 National Landcover Database for the United States, Photogrammetric Engineering and Remote Sensing 70 (7), 829–840.

Loveland, T.R., Sohl, T.L., Stehman, S.V., Gallant, A.L., Sayler, K.L., Napton, D.E., 2002. A strategy for estimating the rates of recent United States land-cover changes, Photogrammetric Engineering and Remote Sensing 68 (10), 1091–1099.

Sleeter, B. M., T. S. Wilson, and W. Acevedo (eds.), 2012, Status and trends of land change in the western United States – 1973 to 2000, U.S. Geological Survey Professional Paper 1794-A.

Sleeter, B. M., T. L. Sohl, M. A. Bouchard, R. R. Reker, C. E. Soulard, W. Acevedo, G. E. Griffith, R. R. Sleeter, R. F. Auch, K. L. Sayler, S. Prisley, Z, Zhu, 2012, Scenarios of Land Use and Land Cover Change in the Conterminous United States: Utilizing the Special Report on Emission Scenarios at Ecoregional Scales, Global Environmental Change, Vol. 22(4): pp. 896-914.

Zhu, Z., Bergamaschi, B., Bernknopf, R., Clow, D., Dye, D., Faulkner, S., Forney, W., Gleason, R., Hawbaker, T., Liu, J., Liu, S., Prisley, S., Reed, B., Reeves, M., Rollins, M.G., Sleeter, B., Sohl, T.L., Stackpoole, S., Stehman, S., Striegl, R., Wein, A., 2010. A method for assessing carbon stocks, carbon sequestration, and greenhouse-gas fluxes in ecosystems of the United States under present conditions and future scenarios. In: U.S. Geological Scientific Investigations Report, 2010–5233, 196 pp.

Zhu, Z. ed., M. Bouchard, D. Butman, T. Hawbaker, Z. Li, J. Liu, S. Liu, C. McDonald, R. Reker, K. Sayler, B. Sleeter, T. Sohl, S. Stackpoole, A. Wein, Z. Zhu, 2011, Baseline and projected future carbon storage and greenhouse-gas fluxes in the Great Plains region of the United States, U. S. Geological Survey Professional Paper 2011-1787, 28 pp.

Zhu, Z, and Reed, B (eds.), Baseline and projected future carbon storage and greenhouse-gas fluxes in ecosystems of the Western United States: U.S. Geological Survey Professional Paper 2012-1797, 192 pp.

Proposed Duty Station: Menlo Park, CA; Sioux Falls, SD

Areas of Ph.D.: Geography, social science, physical science, environmental science, ecology, or related fields (candidates holding a Ph.D. in other disciplines, but with extensive knowledge and skills relevant to the Research Opportunity may be considered).

Qualifications: Applicants must meet one of the following qualifications - Research Geographer, Research Physical Scientist, Research Ecologist.

(This type of research is performed by those who have backgrounds for the occupations stated above. However, other titles may be applicable depending on the applicant’s background, educations, and research proposal. The final classifications of theposition will be made by the Human Resources specialist).

Research Advisor(s): Thomas Loveland, (605) 594-6066,; Benjamin Sleeter, (650) 329-4350,; Bradley Reed, (703) 648-4564,

Human Resources Office Contact: Jennifer Daberkow, (303) 236-9566,

Go back to Summary of Opportunities

U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey
URL: Loveland.htm
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Last modified: 17:58:30 Tue 23 Jul 2013
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