DURHAM, N.C. – Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment announces the appointment of Sarah Cooley as an assistant professor of planetary health, effective July 1, 2024. Her research interests include global variations in surface water storage, large-scale changes in surface water across the terrestrial pan-Arctic region, and Arctic coastal change and its impact on communities.

Cooley uses satellite data and machine learning to study changes in the movement, distribution and quality of global water resources (hydrologic changes). Her work has addressed rapid lake drainage events and Arctic lake area dynamics, as well as shorefast sea ice (ice anchored to the coastline or seabed) and pan-Arctic river ice breakup. Ice breakup is one indicator of climate change impacts in polar regions and beyond, affecting both natural ecosystems and human societies. Understanding and monitoring these changes helps assess and mitigate climate change impacts globally. Cooley’s fieldwork took her to Greenland, northern Canada and Alaska from 2016-2019. She joins Duke after almost three years as an assistant professor in the University of Oregon's geography department.

Cooley’s recent publications have explored the use of satellite imagery and deep machine learning to track seasonality in small water bodies, paddy rice methane emissions across Asia, and community-scale changes to ice along Alaska’s coast. These changes help forecast river flows, groundwater levels, flood and drought frequency and ecosystem health. She has also researched surface water storage, controls on changes in Arctic lakes and rivers, and cryo-hydrologic processes, which is the study and interaction of frozen water with the water cycle.

At the Nicholas School of the Environment, Cooley will continue her pioneering research on planetary health and climate change. 

“Sarah’s work with Alaska’s Indigenous communities on shorefast sea ice breakup exemplifies our school’s commitment to deploy scholarship in service of community, eschewing bylines based on extractive research,” said Lori Bennear, Stanback Dean of the Nicholas School of the Environment. “Her research aligns with the Nicholas School’s commitment to cultivate expertise, experiential learning and state-of-the-science research in climate science and planetary health.” 

Cooley received her bachelor's degree in geological sciences from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She received a Master of Philosophy in polar studies from the University of Cambridge and her doctorate in Earth, environmental and planetary sciences from Brown University.