David Lobell is an agricultural ecologist who unearths and connects richly informative sources of data to investigate the impact of climate change on crop production and food security around the globe. His multidisciplinary background in remote sensing, statistics, ecosystem modeling, land use, and agronomy informs his approach and enables him to draw significant insights from enormous and diverse data sets on weather, agricultural practices, and natural resources such as soil and water.
For research projects that span major agricultural areas in Africa, South Asia, Mexico, and the United States, he uses a wide array of methods and tools to study how factors such as temperature and moisture have affected crop yields over time and to project the consequences of future climate change on food production. For one influential paper on trials of maize varieties in Africa, he used an untapped wealth of historical data from experimental farms in the sub-Saharan area, which he correlated with records from meteorological stations throughout the region in order to analyze the effect of drought and temperature on yields. Lobell’s findings indicate that maize is much more sensitive to heat extremes and drought conditions than previously understood and demonstrate that even varieties engineered to have high heat and drought tolerances suffer marked yield losses when exposed to temperatures above 30 degrees Celsius. The design of this study has also opened new avenues for related research on other staple crops—such as wheat, soybeans, and rice—in geographic locations in North and South America and Central and South Asia.
Among the many additional topics he explores are specific adaptations and investments for reducing food-security risks posed by imminent climatic shifts and the environmental consequences of increased food and biofuel production. With the world’s population predicted to reach nine billion by 2050, Lobell’s work is addressing critical questions about how to meet a rapidly growing demand for food across a warming, changing planet.
David Lobell received a Sc.B. (2000) from Brown University and a Ph.D. (2005) from Stanford University. He was a postdoctoral fellow (2005–2007) at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory prior to joining the faculty at Stanford University, where he is currently an associate professor in the Department of Environmental Earth System Science and associate director of the Center on Food Security and the Environment, a joint project of the Freeman Spogli Institute and Woods Institute for the Environment. His research has been published in such journals as Science, Nature Climate Change, and PNAS.