NatureNet Science Fellowship Now Accepting Applications for 2019

by |June 19, 2018
Windmill farm near Udumalpet in Tamil Nadu, India.

Windmill farm near Udumalpet in Tamil Nadu, India. Photo: Thangaraj Kumaravel via Flickr CC

The Nature Conservancy (TNC) is soliciting applications for the 2019 NatureNet Science Fellowship, a two-year, trans-disciplinary postdoctoral fellowship and research grant program for outstanding early-career scientists. The program bridges academic excellence and conservation practice to create a new generation of climate change leaders who combine the rigor of academic science with real-world application.

As part of their applications, candidates must select from a set of existing projects and mentors, available here. Fellows identify and work with mentors from The Nature Conservancy and one of the NatureNet Partner Universities to develop a research program.

At Columbia University and the Earth Institute, four projects are being offered in the research areas of economics, re-powering, and agriculture:

1. Economics of connecting solar ground water pumps to the grid (Economics)

Farmers in India are beginning to use solar pumps to obtain ground water. This cheap electricity is very good for farmers but may reduce ground water in the aquifers. Thus, we need to figure out a way to connect these pumps to the grid, so farmers can sell their electricity to the grid and not waste ground water. TNC Mentor: Priya Shyamsundar, Lead Economist – Global Science; University Mentor: Vijay Modi, Department of Mechanical Engineering.

2. Optimizing re-powering to benefit people and nature (Re-powering)

As we target re-powering for conservation, central applied questions are: (1) what energy hierarchy combinations are realistic (e.g., How much well-sited solar/wind could we really get into the grid? How much hydro power could we get out or not build at all?); and (2) what impacts or trade-offs come with different energy hierarchy combinations? Research approaches should include implementation of a spatially explicit water-energy model that considers hierarchy of energy across urban and rural/agricultural development and across different development trajectories considered as case studies (e.g., Eastern Africa vs. the Balkans vs. Eastern U.S.) to inform development of global strategies. TNC Mentor: Steven Lyon, Freshwater Scientist – New Jersey Chapter; University Mentor: Upmanu Lall, Departments of Earth and Environmental Engineering and of Civil Engineering and Engineering Mechanics.

3. Integrating low environmental impact intermittent renewable energy (Re-powering)

Expanding renewable energy generation requires significantly large land areas, which can create environmental or social land-use conflict that can impede development. Siting renewable energy on already converted lands (e.g., urban, agricultural lands, etc.), while also considering impacts to existing land-use and livelihoods, can reduce the potential for conflict while maintaining existing carbon storage. Given the intermittency of several renewable energy resources (wind and solar), it remains unclear to what degree it will be possible to integrate them into existing, or new, energy systems to meet future targets, and if so at what costs? Analyses will assess these costs along with exploring the possibility of siting renewables on current land, incorporating engineering feasibility and economic costs of renewable energy development siting on already converted and unconverted lands in India, the Amazon, and/or the Balkans. Energy system analysis expertise (engineering, economics) preferred. TNC Mentors: Joseph Kiesecker, Lead Scientist – Global Lands, and Sharon Baruch-Mordo, Spatial Scientist – Global Lands; University Mentor: Vijay Modi, Department of Mechanical Engineering.

4. Monitoring agricultural fires and air pollution in the Indo-Gangetic Plains (Agriculture)

This project will develop operational remote sensing methods to monitor agricultural fires that degrade air quality in northern India. The candidate will ground truth remote sensing data using information from household surveys, develop methods for an operational monitoring system to identify fires from agricultural burning, and support the monitoring of interventions undertaken to reduce agricultural residue burning in northwest India. TNC Mentors: Priya Shyamsundar, Lead Economist – Global Science, and Tim Boucher, Senior Conservation Geographer – Global Science; University Mentors: Arlene Fiore, Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, and Ruth DeFries, Ecology, Evolution and Environmental Biology.

Applications to the NatureNet Science Fellowship are due by September 7, 2018. For more information and to apply, please visit

Candidates may also be interested in the Earth Institute Postdoctoral Research Program, which offers two-year appointments in sustainable development. For more information about the program or to apply for a fellowship, please visit or email Applicants may apply to both the TNC and the Earth Institute Postdoctoral Research Program.

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