Dr. Sue Natali is an Arctic ecologist who studies the response of Arctic ecosystems to a changing environment and the impacts of these changes, from local communities to the global carbon budget. Her research focuses on feedbacks from permafrost thaw to global climate and impacts of fire and landscape characteristics on permafrost vulnerability. Sue has been conducting fieldwork for more than a decade in remote regions of Alaska and Siberia to understand how climate-driven changes in Arctic tundra and boreal forests affect carbon and nutrient cycling and the biosphere-atmosphere exchange of greenhouse gases. Her research is currently focused on studying fire and permafrost thaw effects on carbon dioxide and methane fluxes in the Yukon Kuskokwim (YK) Delta, Alaska. Sue has also been working with climate change-impacted communities in the YK Delta to monitor the impacts of permafrost thaw to assist in community-led adaption decision-making.
Sue is committed to training the next generation of scientists and to creating a more inclusive scientific community, which she implements, in part, through her role as the Director of the Polaris Project (thepolarisprject.org). The Polaris Project is a unique undergraduate training and research program that brings students to the Arctic to study climate change first-hand. Sue has worked with Polaris Project students since 2012 on expeditions to northeast Siberia and the YK Delta. She has gained invaluable insight from her students about how to create a more inclusive program and scientific community. She recognizes the importance of soliciting and implementing input from diverse voices, particularly from early career scientists. As a ‘non-traditional’ PhD student who attended graduate school with two young children, Sue has some understanding of the challenges and barriers to entering into an academic career. However, it was through the experiences shared by her students that she has gained a better understanding of the scope of these challenges, and she continues to work to remove institutional barriers to these bright and motivated young scientists. Insights from the students she has worked with have not only guided her thoughts and actions related to diversity, inclusion and equity in the sciences, but have also greatly expanded her scientific perspectives. By allowing students to develop their own ideas, Polaris Project has expanded the scope and breadth of Sue’s and her Polaris colleagues’ research through the new ideas, energy, and perspective that the Polaris students bring to their work.
Sue places strong emphasis on communicating the impacts of climate change in the Arctic to policy makers and public audiences. She aims to ensure that carbon emissions from Arctic permafrost are included in global carbon budgets and accounted for in international climate commitments. She has been actively involved in communicating permafrost carbon research to the media (including New York Times, Washington Post, CBS This Morning) and public audiences, as well as to national and international policy makers, including briefings on Capitol Hill and at several United Nations Climate Change Conferences.
Sue earned her B.S. in Biology from Villanova University and Ph.D. in Ecology and Evolution from Stony Brook University. She is the Arctic Program Director and an Associate Scientist at the Woods Hole Research Center.