May 4, 2020


University of Arizona Regents Professor Diana Liverman has been elected to both the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (AAAS), two of the highest honors a scientist can receive.

Liverman is a world-renowned expert on the human dimensions of global environmental change and the impacts of climate on society. Her election into NAS and AAAS highlights both the importance of her social science approach to global change and the scientific accomplishments of women in academia. Early in her career when Liverman served on the U.S. National Research Council (NRC) – a program of the NAS that reviews and recommends research agendas and policy options – very few women were members of the NAS. There were only 57 female members in 1989, compared to the 1,516 male members.

“One of the nicest things [about being elected to these academies] was receiving phone calls from some of the women in my field I have worked with saying it meant a lot not just because we are colleagues or friends, but because I was a woman who supports other women being elected to the academies,” said Liverman.

Career & Selected Accomplishments

Liverman completed her Ph.D. in Geography at UCLA, in collaboration with the National Center for Atmospheric Research, working with Steve Schneider, a pioneering climate change scientist who introduced her to many key figures in the field. Partly through these interdisciplinary contacts, Liverman was invited to serve on the NRC’s standing Committee on Human Dimensions of Global Change.

Liverman broke barriers as a younger female scholar serving the NRC, becoming the committee’s chair and providing the U.S. government with policy advice. During her tenure as committee chair, Liverman commissioned studies on emerging research issues related to global change; initiated a pioneering study commissioned by NOAA titled Making Climate Forecasts Matter, exploring the social impacts of climate forecasting, what has become the field of climate services; and led the committee as a co-author for their pivotal NASA-sponsored study that produced the book People and Pixels, which links remote sensing with the social sciences.

“[The experience] was really cool because NASA then created a whole research initiative on the human drivers of deforestation and other global change issues,” said Liverman.

Liverman went on to help build social science programs in the Earth Systems Science Center at Penn State University and the Environmental Change Institute at the University of Oxford in the U.K. She has played a key role on a number of international projects and committees, as well, including the Inter-American Institute for Global Change (IAI) and for the International Council for Science’s (ICSU) Global Environmental Change and Food Security and Earth Systems Governance projects.

Building the Environment at the University of Arizona

As a global land grant institution, the University of Arizona is renowned for its inclusive, interdisciplinary approach to understanding and responding to the climate crisis and the Anthropocene.

Liverman first joined the UArizona in 1994 as a sabbatical visitor at the Udall Center, just as the Institute for the Study of Planet Earth (ISPE) was created. “ISPE brought together some of the very best global change researchers at UArizona,” said Liverman. “ISPE shaped UArizona’s historical strength of inviting social science into the study of climate change and was one of the reasons I applied for a faculty position here.”

ISPE collaborators, including Liverman, helped bring major global change research grants to the University of Arizona in the 2000s, including the still-present Climate Assessment for the Southwest (CLIMAS) and an NSF Science and Technology Center focusing on water in semi-arid areas (SAHRA).

In 2010, she joined ISPE Director Jonathan Overpeck to create and codirect the University of Arizona Institute of the Environment, which brought together several hundred faculty across campus to collaborate on environmental issues and has since been reshaped into the Arizona Institutes for Resilience (AIR).

“Over the last decade, UArizona has been able to attract some fabulous faculty in both social and natural sciences to work on environmental grand challenges, further building a reputation for interdisciplinary research,” said Liverman.

Liverman has many led international projects and committees, and routinely accepts requests from the National Research Council as a leading global change scholar. In 2009, Congress commissioned the set of reports called America’s Climate Choices; these reports aimed to study the serious and sweeping issues associated with global climate change, including the science and technology challenges involved, and to provide advice on the most effective steps and promising strategies that can be taken to respond.

America’s Climate Choices was an exciting challenge, and UArizona featured very strongly because Kathy Jacobs and I each co-chaired one of the four core panels,” said Liverman. “That really expanded our networks for climate change at the University of Arizona.” One of the other panel leaders, Marilyn Brown, was the other geographer recently elected to the National Academies with Liverman.

Liverman’s election into both academies reflects her essential research connecting the science of global climate change to human-focused solutions and celebrates the progress and achievement that she and other female scientists are making around the world.

“I just told myself I would never get in,” said Liverman. “The social sciences don’t get to elect many people into the academy and there are not many geographers. That’s one reason why it’s such an amazing honor.”