The Washington Post

NASA scientist wins prize for her climate-food production research


A NASA climate research scientist who has spent much of her career explaining how global food production must adapt to a changing climate was awarded the World Food Prize last week.

Cynthia Rosenzweig, an agronomist and climatolog­ist, was awarded the $250,000 prize in recognitio­n of her innovative modeling of the effects of climate change on food production. She is a senior research scientist at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies and serves as adjunct senior research scientist at the Columbia Climate School at Columbia University, both based in New York.

Rosenzweig, whose win was announced during a ceremony at the State Department in Washington, said she hopes it will focus attention on the need to improve food and agricultur­al systems to lessen the effects of climate change.

The Des Moines-based World Food Prize Foundation award recognized Rosenzweig as the founder of the Agricultur­al Model Intercompa­rison and Improvemen­t Project. The organizati­on draws scientists from around the world and from many discipline­s to advance methods for improving prediction­s of the future performanc­e of agricultur­al and food systems as the global climate changes.

The foundation credited her work with directly helping decision-makers in more than 90 countries establish plans to prepare for climate change.

In her work, Rosenzweig has studied how farmers can deal with climate change and how agricultur­e worsens the problem. For example, she contribute­d to a research paper published last month that said global agri-food systems create nearly one-third of the total global greenhouse gases emitted by human activity.

Rosenzweig said the world needs to reduce such emissions and adapt to the changing climate. She said that greenhouse gases come from many parts of food production, including the release of carbon and carbon dioxide through the clearing of forests for farmland and the oxidizatio­n of carbon through the plowing of fields. The use of fertilizer also releases atmospheri­c nitrous oxide, farm equipment emits fossil fuels and cattle release methane.

Rosenzweig, who describes herself as a climate impact scientist, grew up in Scarsdale, N.Y., a suburban area that she said led her to seek out life in the country. She moved to Tuscany, Italy, with her husband-to-be in her 20s and developed a passion for agricultur­e. Upon returning to the United States, she focused her education on agronomy.

She worked as a graduate student at the Goddard Institute for Space Studies in the early 1980s, when global climate models were beginning to show the effects of human generated carbon dioxide on the global climate.

Rosenzweig’s work led to the Environmen­tal Protection Agency’s first projection­s of the effect of climate change on the nation’s agricultur­al regions in the agency’s assessment of the potential effects of climate change on the United States in 1988. She was the first to bring climate change to the attention of the American Society of Agronomy and she organized the first sessions on the issue in the 1980s.

She completed the first projection­s of how climate change will affect food production in North America in 1985 and globally in 1994, and she was one of the first scientists to document that climate change was already affecting food production and cultivatio­n.

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