Postdoctoral position in savanna fire ecology and lidar remote sensing


Earth System Sciences Interdisciplinary Center (ESSIC) at the University of Maryland, College Park (UMD)


Monday, November 30, 2020

Start Date

Monday, November 16, 2020

The Earth System Sciences Interdisciplinary Center (ESSIC) at the University of  Maryland, College Park (UMD), in conjunction with the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC), is seeking a postdoctoral fellow to participate in an exciting new research project to investigate changes in savanna vegetation structure and savanna fire regimes using time series of satellite-derived burned area and new lidar data from NASA’s ICESat-2 mission. 

The position is to be filled as soon as possible. The successful candidate will work as part of an interdisciplinary team of experts that includes scientists at NASA and Cardiff University in Wales, along with close collaboration with the full ICESat-2 Science Team.  The postdoctoral fellow will be based at NASA GSFC. The initial appointment is for two years.

Savannas are the largest tropical biome and a critical component of the global carbon cycle, responsible for 30% of net primary productivity and 85% of burned area worldwide. However, fire activity has declined by >25% across the biome in just the past 20 years. Less frequent fire activity allows woody vegetation to outcompete grasses, increasing carbon storage at the expense of other ecosystem services, including grazing and biodiversity conservation. New ICESat-2 observations of vegetation structure, combined with long time series of global fire activity, provide a unique opportunity to quantify the response of savannas to changing fire activity, including the ability to characterize pantropical changes in ecosystem structure from woody encroachment and fire suppression.

The successful candidate will use ICESat-2 data to 1) quantify the distributions of woody cover and vegetation structure across the savanna biome, stratified based on fire history, to investigate changes in woody cover as a function of the time since last fire, and 2) directly estimate ecosystem changes in burned and unburned savannas based on multiple years of ICESat-2 data. These investigations will contribute to revised estimates of fire carbon emissions and provide new constraints for the representation of fire in ecosystem models.


Candidates should have a recent Ph.D. in Geography, Geographical Sciences, Ecology, Biology, Earth System Science, Engineering, Physics, or related field, with a strong interest in Earth science, remote sensing observations, fire ecology, and ecosystem models.  Experience with lidar remote sensing, the manipulation and analysis of remotely-sensed Earth observations, and field measurements of vegetation structure is highly desirable.  Experience in numerical modeling, data assimilation, and high-performance computing environments is also desirable.  Familiarity with open-source programming for science analysis (e.g., Python or R) is essential. Excellent spoken and written English is required.

To Apply: Interested candidates should send a CV with a list of at least 3 professional references and a cover letter explaining how your qualifications meet the posted requirements to and