HMEI-STEP Topic: Examining Reforestation Potential of Agricultural Land in the Continental United States
HMEI-STEP Adviser: David Wilcove
Thesis Topic: Optimization of Energy Systems Models
Thesis Advisers: Stephen Pacala, Frederick D. Petrie Professor in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology; Simon Levin, James S. McDonnell Distinguished University Professor in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
Jacobson will work to identify American farms that could be reforested to help mitigate carbon emissions and restore local ecosystems. While reforestation is a goal of the administration of President Joseph Biden, obtaining and reforesting land carries significant tradeoffs, particularly the loss of agriculture. Jacobson will undertake an expansive case study to calculate the environmental value of reforesting 5, 10 or 15% of the nation’s farmland. She will use data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to identify the nation’s least productive farms and create a map of potential reforestation sites. Jacobson will then determine which of those tracts could support healthy forests, as well as their possible carbon uptake and ecological benefits. She will use data from the Princeton Net-Zero America project(link is external) to determine if certain tracts would provide more benefit as sites for wind or solar energy installations. Finally, Jacobson will explore existing federal incentives that could help in implementing reforestation.