Working to build a next-generation, integrated suite of models and analytic tools to understand the interdependent stressors, impacts, adaptations, and vulnerabilities of global and regional change.


The interactions between food, energy, water, and land systems are poorly understood, yet have important implications for food security, reliability of electric power supply, demographic patterns, and the resilience of communities and critical infrastructure. Additionally, exploring risk and response behaviors is a major scientific challenge for understanding system dynamics, landscape evolution, and the resilience of complex systems. Understanding and modeling multiscale, multisystem response options and cross-system implications requires not only an understanding of multisector teleconnections in the coupled human and Earth system, but also how interconnected systems are exposed to hazards that create vulnerabilities and risks for society and how societies respond to these risks.

Doing this type of work requires working on multidisciplinary teams and coupling a variety of tools including statistical tools, data products, and computational models. This Critical Issue Initiative is motivated by two central research questions:

  1. What strategies should be made to be resilient to the range of possible future stresses from natural systems?
  2. What are the impacts of potential natural shocks to the coupled system of food, land, water, energy and economic activity? and
  3. How do populations and physical systems respond to these risks and how do those responses feed back to the fully coupled human and natural Earth system?


Karen Fisher-Vanden, Ph.D.
Professor of Environmental and Resource Economics and Public Policy
Director, Institute for Sustainable Agricultural, Food, and Environmental Science (SAFES)
Co-Director, Program on Coupled Human and Earth Systems (PCHES)

Associated Members


Mary Ann Bruns
Associate Professor, Soil Microbiology and Biogeochemistry

Bradley Cardinale*
Department Head, Ecosystem Science and Management

Patrick Drohan*
Associate Professor, Pedology

Lara Fowler*
Senior Lecturer, Penn State Law & Assistant Director IEE

Michael Jacobson

Joshua Lambert*
Professor, Food Science

Cibin Raj*
Assistant Professor, Agricultural and Biological Engineering

Matthew Royer
Assistant Research Professor, Director Agriculture & Environment Center


Elizabeth Boyer*
Professor, Water Resources

Rachel Brennan*
Associate Professor, Environmental Engineering

Daniel Brent
Assistant Professor

Paige Castellanos*
Assistant Research Professor

Anil Kumar Chaudhary*
Assistant Professor, Agricultural & Extension Education

Guangqing Chi
Professor, Rural Sociology, Demography & Public Health Sciences

Carolyn Lowry*
Assistant Professor

Marc McDill
Associate Professor, Forest Management

Robert Nicholas*
Associate Research Professor

Andrew Read*
Director, Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences

Hong Wu*
Stuckeman Career Development Assistant Professor in Design

Katherine Zipp
Associate Professor, Environmental & Resource Economics

Related Penn State Projects

Related College of Agricultural Sciences Research Impact Areas