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MSU Director of Institute on Ecosystems and Professor of Earth Sciences
Montana State University
Cathy Whitlock came to MSU in 2004 from the University of Oregon where she was Department Head of Geography. Cathy is recognized nationally and internationally for her scholarly contributions and leadership activities in the field of past climatic and environmental change, and she has published over 140 peer-reviewed journal articles and book chapters on this topic. Under her direction, the MSU Paleoecology Lab is a nationally recognized research center that supports post-docs, graduate students, and undergraduates and visiting scientists from around the world. Her research has been supported by grants from NSF, Joint Fire Sciences Program, National Park Service, US Geological Survey, and Department of Energy, and she is currently working in the Rockies, New Zealand and Patagonia. Cathy is principal investigator on WildFIRE PIRE, a multi-institutional NSF-funded project to study the effects of climate change on fire regimes around the world, and she is the MSU Science Lead on the Montana EPSCoR award. She is past President of the American Quaternary Association, and chaired the US National Committee for the International Quaternary Association at the National Academy of Sciences. Cathy serves on executive committees focused on past climatic change and recently helped craft the climate change position for the Geological Society of America. In addition, she has been on NSF review panels and editorial boards for several disciplinary journals. Locally, she serves on the planning team for the Greater Yellowstone Science Agenda, which is defining future research/management directions in climate-change science.
Research focus: Cathy’s research focuses on the climate, vegetation, and fire history of temperate ecosystems through an examination of lake-sediment records. She and her students have conducted research in western North America, New Zealand, Europe, Patagonia, and Australia to better understand the role of climate and people in past environmental change.
1. What led you to the research you are engaged in?
I’ve always enjoyed hiking and my interest in environmental history grew from my travels and outdoor experiences. I also am fortunate to have had inspiring mentors along the way, who helped keep my attention on the interface between geology and ecology.
2. Which other disciplines have you collaborated with?
climatology, ecology, geology, geography, anthropology, limnology
3. What do you find most rewarding about collaborations?
Working with experts in other fields stimulates new research questions and leads to innovative approaches for tackling them. Interdisciplinary collaborations not only require one to think outside the box, they are a lot of fun.
4. What do you think is the greatest scientific challenge for the next 15-20 years?
We face the challenge of identifying those areas and species that will be most vulnerable to future climate change and land-use change. This requires interdisciplinary approaches and advancements in many disciplines. For example, we still don’t fully understand the causes and feedbacks of past climate variability or the ecological consequences associated with large-scale or abrupt environmental change.
5. How do you see the IoE making a difference in this or other scientific challenges?
The IoE is Montana’s opportunity to bring together scientists and practitioners to address pressing environmental problems, promote broader understanding, and seek sustainable solutions. Working across the two campuses, we have the capacity to make a real difference.
Program Director: Ray Callaway
Project Administrator: Todd Kipfer
University of Montana
Missoula, MT 59812
Office of the Commissioner of Higher Education
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Helena, MT 59620