Born in Florida and raised a die-hard Gator fan, Dr. Erin Bunting came into the geographic discipline by happy accident, having been required to take an Extreme Weather course as an undergraduate at the University of Florida. After seeing how the field of geography brought together her interests in travel, climate, ecology, and environmental science Dr. Bunting was changed her major and never looked back. Throughout her career, she has diversified her roles and employment to develop a broad research network, gain multi-faceted teaching experience, manage and mentor both academic staff and students, and conduct interdisciplinary research. As such she has worked in academia, government organizations, and with private companies using advanced spatial analysis, particularly big data remote sensing and Geographic Information Systems (GIS), to answer applied interdisciplinary questions on global environmental change, climate change, landscape resilience, and coupled natural human systems. As such she commonly refers to herself as a physical geographer, but one with an extensive background in ecology, natural resource management, climatology, and the geospatial sciences. Her work spans from the local to global scales and includes active projects in tropical, temperate, and arctic landscapes; that said, Dr. Bunting specializes in remote sensing of arid to hyperarid regions around the world but particularly in Southern Africa. Dr. Erin Bunting joined the MSU Geography Department in August 2017 after finishing her postdoctoral fellowship at the United States Geological Survey with the Southwest Biological Science Center in Flagstaff, Arizona. Outside of work, Erin is an avid photographer, sports fan, reader, movie buff, and big into water sports (especially diving!).
An important and current issue across multiple disciplines is the resilience of coupled natural-human systems in the face of increased climate variability and climate change. I see geography as the necessary intersection of skills and knowledge needed to tackle such interdisciplinary applied research questions, and I, as a broadly trained geographer, possess the technological expertise and research experience needed answer such big data questions. As such my work is in the field of global environment change and coupled natural-human system, focusing primarily on climate induced socio-ecological change. My research is grounded in three theoretical frameworks: risk-hazards, resilience, and sustainable livelihoods.
My work centers on four complementary research questions:
- What are the main drivers of landscape-level environmental change in systems prone to state fluctuations? Additionally, how do climate extremes impact socio-ecological dynamics and development?
- At the plant species and community level, what are the spatio-temporal patterns of drought induced landscape tipping points?
- At the landscape level, how could climate change impact plant productivity and land use/cover change?
- Within the context of the sustainable livelihoods approach and risk-hazards framework, what sources of vulnerability do inhabitants perceive as the greatest source of risk to their livelihoods? Additionally, to what degree do residents of vulnerable areas understand climate change and mitigation strategies?
As Director of RS&GIS at MSU, I have been afforded the opportunity to work on a broad array of interdisciplinary research projects around the world. For more information on RS&GIS check out our website at rsgis.msu.edu