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Understanding humans as a critical component of the whole Earth system

July 20, 2017 @ 3:00 pm - 4:00 pm

About the Speaker: Alan Di Vittorio, CESD, LBNL

Dr. Di Vittorio earned his B.S. in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at UC Berkeley before applying his technical skills to studying Remote Sensing and Atmospheric and Oceanic Science at CU Boulder, where he earned an M.S. in Aerospace Engineering and Sciences. During his Ph.D. program in Environmental Science, Policy, and Management at UC Berkeley he focused on radiative transfer processes in vegetation to develop a method for remotely identifying ozone-damaged pine trees. Simultaneously, he extensively studied environmental history and philosophy and human geography to gain a more rounded perspective on human-environment interactions. His first postdoc with the Energy Biosciences Institute included climate downscaling, bioenergy crop model development, and assessing scale-induced model bias. He then joined Lawrence Berkeley National Lab as a postdoc to work on forest carbon modeling and analysis, and later transitioned to a project scientist to facilitate an evaluation of runoff and soil water in an ecosystem model and also couple an integrated assessment model with an Earth system model. As a project scientist, Dr. Di Vittorio continues to study human-environment interactions through modeling and data analysis, and has recently assumed leadership roles for a collaborative US-China project on water availability under changing conditions and for a project to assess land management effects on the California landscape carbon budget.


The environmental challenges society faces today result from ongoing human-environment interactions. Humans respond to environmental changes, and the environment responds to evolving human activity. As such, in order to address today’s environmental challenges we need to understand humans as a critical component within the Earth system. Unfortunately, environmental science is traditionally split between natural science, which focuses on physical and biological processes, and social science, which focuses on human processes. My research aims to bridge this traditional divide by asking questions that integrate and highlight the role of human activity in the evolution of the Earth system. These questions require new frameworks that include human activities as environmental processes, and corresponding methods to help understand feedbacks between humans and the environment. For example, land management is generally segregated by sector and has been understood primarily in terms of its production for society with limited study of its ecosystem properties such as biogeochemistry, biodiversity, or biometeorology. However, I have developed a new tool that assesses the the effects of different types of land management on landscape carbon and the associated greenhouse gas budget for all land in California. Forest, cropland, and rangeland management occur simultaneously with marsh and meadow restoration, land cover change, wildfire, vegetation growth and mortality, and urban forest expansion to provide an integrated evaluation of individual and total contributions to greenhouse gas emissions.This tool provides the first internally-consistent comparison of how very different practices across different land types affect California’s carbon budget. Key insights learned from this tool include the dominant roles of land type and land management extents in determining changes in the carbon budget, how land cover data uncertainty drives uncertainty in absolute carbon budget estimates, and the dominance of highly uncertain black carbon estimates in the greenhouse gas budget. This tool has been designed to provide policy-makers with decision-relevant information on how California-wide land management scenarios could meet landscape greenhouse gas emission reduction targets. Overall, incorporating human practices into the environment in this new research tool enables direct application toward developing and meeting emission reduction policies.

Host: Bill Collins


LBNL, 74-324
1 Cyclotron Rd
Berkeley, CA 94720 United States
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