Jen is a National Geographic Emerging Explorer researching the connection between climate change and hunger. This involves many different factors: weather, crop prices, smog, nutrition, fuel costs, health care, roads, family income, melting glaciers, and more.

EARLY WORK

Growing up in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Jen always had an interest in the outdoors. She took part in her high school’s outdoor education programs, and enjoyed camping and backpacking.

Jen also excelled in science. She studied physics at Harvard University, integrating science with its impact on American history. She later earned a Ph.D. from Stanford University, where she focused on astrophysics.

MOST EXCITING PART OF YOUR WORK


“I love my job. I’m a scientist, so I still ‘dork out’ with the data . . . but I also get to go into the field.”

MOST DEMANDING PART OF YOUR WORK

“Dealing with climate skeptics!”

HOW DO YOU DEFINE GEOGRAPHY?

“Global variation—in climate, culture, food, language, you name it.”

GEO-CONNECTION


Jen’s work addresses both human geography (hunger) and physical geography (climate). Food prices, she says, are one of the most familiar ways these concepts interact. “A 1 degree change in climate can lead to a 1 percent change in food prices,” she says.

Global food prices force consumers to be aware of international weather patterns. “Indian consumers are afraid of drought in Australia,” Jen says, because India imports tons of grain from Australia.

Jen says agricultural technology can “help us use resources more efficiently. . . . We have improved varieties of crops,” and genetic modification has created “well-adapted species.” These species of crop may reduce reliance on irrigation, conserving water resources. Other species may require fewer fertilizers or pesticides, reducing runoff. Still other species may be able to tolerate diverse climates, lowering transportation and storage costs for farmers and consumers.

Simple cooking technology can also have a great impact on the environment and consumers. Jen and her team have worked with residents of northern India, for example, to replace their traditional cook stoves with more sustainable models.

“Traditional cook stoves rely on biomass fuels such as wood and dung,” she explains. “Combustion is incomplete, so a lot of black carbon (soot) is emitted. Inside homes, the sooty air causes terrible respiratory infections. Outside, it can alter monsoon cycles, speed glacial melting, and almost equal the impact of longer-term greenhouse gases. In contrast, the improved ventilation and efficiency of fully combusting eco-stoves significantly limit emissions and cut fuel use by up to one-half.”

SO, YOU WANT TO BE AN . . . ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENTIST

Jen encourages students to take economics classes, as well as those in science and math. “These things do not happen in a bubble, and there are always economic impacts.”

GET INVOLVED

“Starting a garden is a great way to understand the process of how food is grown, and to begin thinking about food sources.”

Environmental Scientist: Dr. Jennifer Burney
Jennifer Burney (left) is an environmental scientist.
agricultural technology
Noun

the art and science of complex machines used to perform tasks associated with farming and ranching.

astrophysics
Noun

study of the composition of matter and the activity of radiation in space.

biomass
Noun

living organisms, and the energy contained within them.

black carbon
Noun

sticky black particles produced as some fuels, such as coal and wood, are burned. Also called soot.

Noun

all weather conditions for a given location over a period of time.

Noun

gradual changes in all the interconnected weather elements on our planet.

climate skeptic
Noun

person who does not believe human activity contributes to the process of global warming.

combustion
Noun

burning, or the process of a substance reacting with oxygen to produce heat and light.

concept
Noun

idea.

consumer
Noun

organism on the food chain that depends on autotrophs (producers) or other consumers for food, nutrition, and energy.

Noun

agricultural produce.

culture
Noun

learned behavior of people, including their languages, belief systems, social structures, institutions, and material goods.

data
Plural Noun

(singular: datum) information collected during a scientific study.

diverse
Adjective

varied or having many different types.

Noun

period of greatly reduced precipitation.

dung
Noun

manure, or the excrement of animals.

economics
Noun

study of monetary systems, or the creation, buying, and selling of goods and services.

Emerging Explorer
Noun

an adventurer, scientist, innovator, or storyteller recognized by National Geographic for their visionary work while still early in their careers.

encourage
Verb

to inspire or support a person or idea.

farmer
Noun

person who cultivates land and raises crops.

fertilizer
Noun

nutrient-rich chemical substance (natural or manmade) applied to soil to encourage plant growth.

Noun

material, usually of plant or animal origin, that living organisms use to obtain nutrients.

fuel
Noun

material that provides power or energy.

garden
Noun

area of ground where food, flowers, and other plants are cultivated.

genetic modification
Noun

process of altering the genes of an organism.

Noun

mass of ice that moves slowly over land.

Noun

harvested seed of such grasses as wheat, oats, and rice.

greenhouse gas
Noun

gas in the atmosphere, such as carbon dioxide, methane, water vapor, and ozone, that absorbs solar heat reflected by the surface of the Earth, warming the atmosphere.

health care
Noun

system for addressing the physical health of a population.

history
Noun

study of the past.

human geography
Noun

the study of the way human communities and systems interact with their environment.

hunger
Noun

the need for food.

import
Noun

good traded from another area.

income
Noun

wages, salary, or amount of money earned.

integrate
Verb

to combine, unite, or bring together.

Noun

watering land, usually for agriculture, by artificial means.

language
Noun

set of sounds, gestures, or symbols that allows people to communicate.

Noun

seasonal change in the direction of the prevailing winds of a region. Monsoon usually refers to the winds of the Indian Ocean and South Asia, which often bring heavy rains.

nutrition
Noun

process by which living organisms obtain food or nutrients, and use it for growth.

pesticide
Noun

natural or manufactured substance used to kill organisms that threaten agriculture or are undesirable. Pesticides can be fungicides (which kill harmful fungi), insecticides (which kill harmful insects), herbicides (which kill harmful plants), or rodenticides (which kill harmful rodents.)

PhD
Noun

(doctor of philosophy) highest degree offered by most graduate schools.

physical geography
Noun

study of the natural features and processes of the Earth.

physics
Noun

study of the physical processes of the universe, especially the interaction of matter and energy.

reliance
Noun

dependence.

resource
Noun

available supply of materials, goods, or services. Resources can be natural or human.

Noun

overflow of fluid from a farm or industrial factory.

significant
Adjective

important or impressive.

Noun

type of air pollution common in manufacturing areas or areas with high traffic.

soot
Noun

sticky black particles produced as some fuels, such as coal and wood, are burned. Also called black carbon.

storage
Noun

space for keeping materials for use at a later time.

sustainable
Adjective

able to be continued at the same rate for a long period of time.

tolerate
Verb

to endure, allow, or put up with.

ventilation
Noun

movement or circulation of fresh air in a closed environment. Also called air circulation.

Noun

state of the atmosphere, including temperature, atmospheric pressure, wind, humidity, precipitation, and cloudiness.

weather pattern
Noun

repeating or predictable changes in the Earth's atmosphere, such as winds, precipitation, and temperatures.