Faculty Spotlight: Klaus Keller: Leading a Penn State-based Sustainability Research Network

With a challenge like climate change, one deals with vast and complex systems. It requires an understanding of the numerous component parts and how they interact. It requires a broad and sustained effort. It requires a network.

Klaus Keller, associate professor of geosciences and director of the Center for Climate Risk Management at Penn State and PSIEE co-hire, recently worked with colleagues to apply for and succeed in attaining a National Science Foundation Sustainability Research Networks grant. The grant will total 11.9 million dollars in funding and firmly positions Penn State as a leader and resource base for scientists and institutions analyzing sustainable climate risk management strategies.

“I’m just a little part of the network,” Keller said, expressing excitement that the grant will bring so many people together internationally and promote more cooperation between institutions. The long list of network members, U.S. partners, and international partners brings together 18 universities and 5 research institutions across 6 nations.

Keller is the principle investigator and network director at Penn State. The Penn State co-investigators are Karen Fisher-Vanden, associate professor of environmental and resource economics, and Chris Forest, associate professor of climate dynamics. The team of co-investigators also includes Jae Edmonds, chief scientist and laboratory fellow at the Joint Global Change Research Institute, and Rob Lempert, professor at the Pardee RAND Graduate School and director of the Frederick S. Pardee Center for Longer Range Global Policy and the Future Human Condition.Rob Nicholas, research associate at Penn State's Earth and Environmental Systems Institute, is the managing director.

The goals of the research include: (i) improving the mechanistic understanding of the Earth system response to anthropogenic forcings, (ii) characterizing the risks of anthropogenic climate change, and (iii) characterizing trade-offs between different proposed risk management approaches, Keller explained. 

These approaches include mitigation (reducing carbon dioxide emissions), adaptation (reducing impacts for a given climate change), and geoengineering (the large-scale and intentional manipulation of the climate system).

One of the challenges that Keller and his team face moving forward with their research is integrating multiple disciplines.  “Climate change poses many problems that cross academic fields such as natural sciences, engineering, economics, and ethics,” Keller said.

 There will also be a strong education component that will support students and teachers alike such as a new class in the Integrated Assessment of Climate Change and new summer schools for graduate students.

Keller received an engineer’s degree from the Technical University of Berlin in 1991 and went on to receive master’s degrees from MIT and Princeton in civil engineering and environmental engineering. Keller’s doctorate from Princeton is also in civil and environmental engineering. He can be reached by email at klaus@psu.edu.

For more information, visit the Sustainable Climate Risk Management website online at http://scrimhub.org.