Written by Andy McGlashen, Environmental Science and Policy Program
It made sense that Nathan Moore's recent work in the Brazilian Amazon was funded by NASA.
Moore, an assistant professor in the Department of Geography, minored in astronomy as an undergraduate, has bachelor's and master's degrees in physics and is a Star Trek fan. "I guess you could say TV got me into physics," he said.
But a post-graduation stint as a Peace Corps volunteer in Fiji, where he taught physics, math and English, convinced him that "the space race was secondary" to environmental concerns here on Earth.
His research in Brazil therefore concerned not black holes or neutron stars, but the effects of land-use change on rainfall. Some climate models suggest that deforestation could make the Amazon basin more arid, turning it into a savanna. But Moore's work – a collaborative effort with ESPP affiliate Robert Walker (Geography) that ended in February – suggests that tipping point won't be reached as long as already protected forest areas are left intact.
That project was typical of Moore's approach to studying climate change. "I'm interested in linking climate," he said. "Too often we look at IPCC reports and weather patterns and extreme events in isolation, but we don't look at all the pieces that go into that." Complete climate research ought to consider things like the role of land use changes and agriculture, he added, and shouldn't overlook how climate change affects decision-making in societies. "I want to train students that there's a whole framework, and the framework needs to be constantly in the foreground."
Moore came to Michigan State five years ago as a research associate with the Climate-Land Interactions Project, which sought an understanding of the relationship between climate change and land use in East Africa.
That project expires this year, but Moore won't get much of a rest; he's been named assistant professor and is jointly appointed by MSU and Zhejiang University. Starting next January he'll head to China for four months each year, his wife and three kids in tow, to examine the possible effects of climate change on what he called "exploding metropolitan areas around Shanghai and Beijing."