Stanford University
Gorelick, Lobell, and Lambin

Leading journal honors faculty research

BY Laura Seaman and Ker Than
ClockMarch 16, 2015

A study of urban water supply vulnerability coauthored by Steven Gorelick was recognized as the "Best Paper of 2014" by the scientific journal Environmental Research Letters (ERL). 

In the research article, “Global analysis of urban surface water supply vulnerability, Gorelick and co-author Julie Padowski, now a Clinical Assistant Professor at Washington State University, presented a global analysis of what the water needs of 70 cities will be in 2040 compared to a 2010 baseline. The pair concluded that by 2040, without additional measures, nearly half of the cities studied will be vulnerable to water shortages due to increased agricultural and urban demands.

"Our work focused on large cities that are dependent on river and reservoir supplies," Gorelick said. "Interestingly, reservoir-supplied cities account for the majority of those likely to become vulnerable by 2040.  This suggests that current reservoir storage in these cities will no longer be able to accommodate increasing urban, agricultural, and environmental needs."


Gorelick and Padowski's paper was also recognized by ERL as being one of 25 "ground-breaking" papers of 2014.

A July 2014 research paper co-authored by FSE deputy director David Lobell was amongst the 25 articles selected for recognition by the journal as well.

In "Getting caught with our plants down: the risk of a global crop yield slowdown from climate trends in the next two decades," Lobell and co-author Claudia Tebaldi, a senior researcher at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, find that the chance of a worldwide slowdown in yield growth for wheat and corn in the next 20 years is significantly higher due to global warming. With only natural climate variability the odds of a 10 percent yield drop over two decades - equivalent to a halving of the yield growth rate - are one in two hundred for wheat and corn. But under a scenario of human-induced climate change, the likelihood rises to one in ten for corn and one in twenty for wheat.

Lobell said these results are of particular interest to organizations working toward global food security and related issues that would be strongly impacted by falling crop yields in the next 20 years. 

“The people asking these questions are accustomed to planning for scenarios with much less than a 10 percent chance of happening, so it will be interesting to see whether this study has any effect on how they operate," Lobell said. “As scientists, we might prefer to work on time scales in which the answers are clearer, but we also want to be responsive to the actual concerns and questions that decision makers have.”

A November 2014 ERL paper coauthored by Earth System Science professor Eric Lambin was also singled out for recognition by the journal. The study, entitled "Global assessment of urban and peri-urban agriculture: irrigated and rainfed croplands," examined the increasing importance of urban agriculture for global food security.

In a statement, ERL said that the 25 selected papers "are representative of the truly remarkable breadth of topics which the journal covers, and highlight an increasing trend towards more interdisciplinary approaches within the environmental sciences.”

Gorelick is the Cyrus Fisher Tolman Professor in the School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences, and a Senior Fellow at the Woods Institute for the Environment.

Lobell is associate professor of Environmental Earth System Science at Stanford and associate director of the Center on Food Security and the Environment. He is also a senior fellow at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment and the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies.

Lambin is the George and Setsuko Ishiyama Provostial Professor in the School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences and a Senior Fellow at the Woods Institute for the Environment.

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