About me

Dr Sarah Cornell, 2009

Photo taken at the 2009 EC Research DG conference ‘Sustainable Development: a challenge for European research’.

I am a research scientist and science coordinator, working on issues relating to human-environment interactions in the context of global change.

My research interests are linked by a common theme of deep interdisciplinarity, requiring engagement both between and beyond academic disciplines.  Current activities explore the following themes:

  • Global biogeochemical cycles – dynamics and socio-economic implications of human alteration of Earth system processes.
  • Social-environmental systems – exploring the implications of human agency in our understanding of the Earth system, and addressing the nature and assessment of ecosystem services in a changing climate.
  • Sustainability – conceptualising and exploring sustainable responses to human-induced environmental change.

In a cross-cutting research effort, I address the ethical, institutional and governance aspects of an improved understanding of these changes, recognising that the evolving nature and role of academia in society is itself a frontier research area.

My academic role:

I joined the Stockholm Resilience Centre in October 2011, where I am currently responsible for establishing and supporting a ‘collaboratory’ for research on planetary boundaries. This hybrid role is a mixture of research, coordination of operations across an international network of scientists, and engagement across the science-policy interface for global sustainability. In a 2009 article, an international group of scientists led by Johan Rockström drew attention to the importance of biophysical processes and functions at the planetary scale for global sustainability. They proposed that ‘living within environmental limits’ means recognizing the dynamics, feedbacks and thresholds in the Earth system, not just Earth’s resource limits.

Prior to this, I was a core team scientist and the science manager of QUEST, the UK Natural Environment Research Council’s £23M directed programme for Earth System Science, which ran from 2004 to 2011.  I have also worked in environmental consultancy, and post-doctoral research at the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change (2002-2004), the ESRC’s Centre for Social and Economic Research on the Global Environment (2000-2002) and the University of East Anglia’s Laboratory for Global Marine and Atmospheric Chemistry (1996-2000).

My research background is in marine and atmospheric chemistry.  One strand of my research addresses the human perturbation of global biogeochemical cycles.  I am particularly interested in the vulnerability and responses of societies to environmental change that they themselves have created.  I am exploring better ways to conceptualise the complex interlinkages in social-ecological systems.
In recent years, I have become more engaged in transdisciplinary research that informs real-world environmental decision-making on many scales.   I am also interested in exploring ways to develop the interface between the ‘producers’ and the ‘users’ of environmental change science.

My qualifications:
BSc Chemistry with Business
PhD Environmental Chemistry

  • Member of the Royal Society of Chemistry, CChem
  • Member of the Institute of Marine Engineering, Science & Technology, CMarSci
  • Fellow of the UK Higher Education Academy