Deborah Lawrence


Deborah Lawrence CV

Lawrence Policy experience

Deborah Lawrence, Ph.D., is a Professor of Environmental Sciences at the University of Virginia. Her research focuses on the links between tropical deforestation and climate change. She has spent the past twenty-five years doing field-based research in Indonesia, Costa Rica, Mexico and Cameroon. Most recently, she has been using global climate models to explore the cumulative effect of tropical land use decisions, exploring the climate impact of land allocation among food crops, biofuels and forests across the globe. Professor Lawrence and her students conduct interdisciplinary research with partners in hydrology, atmospheric science, economics, anthropology, ethics, engineering, and law to understand the drivers and consequences of land use change. This work has gained her a Sustainability Science Award from the Ecological Society of America, a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Jefferson Science Fellowship from the National Academy of Sciences, and a Fulbright Scholarship. She was a post-doctoral fellow at Harvard University, earned her Ph.D. (Botany) at Duke University, and received a B.A. (Biological Anthropology) from Harvard University. Current research addresses the challenge of understanding and minimizing climate impacts from forest use in the tropics and around the globe.

In 2009-2010, Professor Lawrence served as Science Advisor in the Office of Environment and Global Change and the Office of the Special Envoy for Climate Change at the US Department of State. Focusing on tropical forests and climate change, she participated in the international negotiations of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), supported the US delegation to the World Bank Forest Carbon Partnership Facility and Forest Investment Program, and was part of several inter-agency missions on reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation (REDD+) in Indonesia and Southeast Asia. She also served as the point of contact for the Group on Earth Observations (GEO) with a focus on the Forest Carbon Task. She worked with State, US Agency for International Development, US Forest Service and Department of the Treasury on issues regarding the Tropical Forest Conservation Act, mission program development for the sustainable landscapes program, and congressional issues relating to tropical forests.

Since 2010, Professor Lawrence has been consulting with the International Programs Office of the US Forest Service and the Climate Change Office of USAID on scientific and technical aspects of forest carbon measurement and monitoring under SilvaCarbon, the US contribution to the Global Forest Observation Initiative under GEO. In 2011, she was a visiting scientist at the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) in Bogor, Indonesia where she worked on minimizing the climate impacts of oil palm expansion with partners at World Resources Institute, Sekala Indonesia, and the Climate and Land Use Alliance.


UVA’s Deborah Lawrence On Food, Fuels and Forests

Environmental scientist Deborah Lawrence leads a multidisciplinary group of University of Virginia faculty members delving into the issues involving forecasts of land use, energy and the environment in 2050.

In Our Bones: A New Understanding for Climate Change | Deborah Lawrence | TEDxCharlottesville

Deborah Lawrence, a biogeochemist and tropical ecosystem ecologist, was banished from a remote village of Borneo after 6 years of research there on the tropical rainforest as a graduate student. The lessons learned, her failure to effectively make her work understood to the villagers, she now applies to how we as a people can address our own village, the planet earth, and positively affect our environment.



Professor Lawrence’s course offerings include a very popular introductory course on climate change called An Inconvenient Truce: Climate, you and CO2 (300 students). She also developed Conservation Ecology (165 students), an undergraduate seminar on Tropical Forests and Climate Change, a graduate course on Ecosystem Effects of Land Use Change, and a course on Climate Change Science, Policy and Markets cross-listed with the law school. She co-designed the introductory class for the Environmental Thought and Practice major (ETP 2030, 60 students) and currently directs the program. She also helped to found and served as director of the Program in Environmental and Biological Conservation (EBC) within Environmental Sciences.

Learning outside the classroom was a pivotal experience in Professor Lawrence’s decision to become a scientist. She has involved over 45 students, graduate and undergraduate, in her research, emphasizing both the intellectual stimulation and the social urgency of understanding the effects of tropical land use change on carbon and nutrient cycling.

Many undergraduates have worked with her team in the field, several with award-winning distinguished majors projects in Environmental Sciences. Laura Cacho, (Harrison Award), Rachel Gittman (Harrison Award), Chad Logan, (Harrison Award), and Amanda Schwantes (Double Hoo Award, Undergraduate Research Network Grant)conducted research in and near La Selva Biological Station (Costa Rica). Their projects focused on investigating tree species effects on microbial activity, stand-level variation in leaf nutrients, feedbacks from leaf nutrients to soil chemistry, and interactions between soil fertility, reproduction, and nutrient resorption in the dominant tree species.

A long bus ride away, Laura Bonner (Double Hoo Award) investigated nutrient budgets in the coffee farms of Costa Rica. Luke Dupont conducted research at the edge of the Calakmul Biosphere Reserve in southern Mexico on the impact of deforestation on soil carbon. Dana Richards’ study of the effect of hurricanes on forest species extended from the Calakmul Biosphere Reserve to the east coast of the Yucatan. Danielle Matthews conducted an experiment on the drivers of nutrient availability over hourly timescales in the Luqillo Experimental Forest in Puerto Rico and Dyanna Jaye worked on greenhouse gas emissions from oil palm plantations in Central Kalimantan.

Graduate students—Larissa Read, Tana Wood, Kate Tully, Keya Chatterjee, Jamie Eaton, Karen Vandecar, Marcia DeLonge, Rishi Das, Erin Swails, Stephanie Roe—were vital to making these undergraduate research experiences successful both personally and intellectually. They provided critical guidance, support and humor in the field.