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Ruth Defries

Denning Family Chair of Sustainable Development Professor, Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Environmental Biology, Columbia University

Dr. Ruth DeFries examines human transformation of the landscape and its consequences for climate, biogeochemical cycling, biodiversity, and other ecosystem services that make our planet habitable. The work is based on the premise that land use change involves tradeoffs between human necessities such as food and unintended environmental consequences such as greenhouse gas emissions and habitat loss.  A particular focus is tropical deforestation and its impacts on atmospheric carbon emissions. Dr. DeFries examines land use changes over broad scales through the lens of satellite observations.  She is actively involved in linking scientific information into policy decisions.  

Previously, Dr. DeFries was professor in the Geography Department at the University of Maryland, staff at the National Research Council with the Committee on Global Change and taught at the Indian Institute of Technology in Bombay. She was elected to the U.S. National Academy of Sciences in 2006 and the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 2008, is a fellow of the Aldo Leopold Leadership Program, and received a MacArthur Foundation “genius” award in 2007.

Education

  • Ph.D., Johns Hopkins University
  • B.A., Washington University in St. Louis