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Rachel’s research focuses on connections between agriculture and climate change, in both directions. Her most recent work has involved simulating crop yields and environmental outcomes (runoff, erosion, etc.) on dairy farms in a warmer, wetter climate, and evaluating the scientific literature on cattle production and climate change.
At SESYNC, Rachel will be investigating links between elevated atmospheric CO2 levels and the nitrogen (N) content of plants. Some researchers have reported that N in plants is declining, and as N is an essential component of protein, this could have far-reaching effects on things that eat plants—from insects, to grazing animals, to humans. Rachel and her collaborators aim to improve our understanding of the trends in plant N levels, then assess the potential consequences for people, such as grass-based beef producers or humans with predominantly plant-based diets.
Environmental science is a distinct change of field for Rachel. After a PhD in astronomy, she spent several years as a scientist at some of the world’s major astronomical observatories, before becoming increasingly preoccupied with the question of “How can we have good food, happy people and animals, and a healthy environment—preferably all at the same time?”. As well as the biophysical underpinnings of sustainable agriculture, Rachel is fascinated by the ways in which we frame and debate issues in the food system.