Department of Geography
Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies
Center for Sustainability and the Global Environment (SAGE)
University of Wisconsin-Madison
Holly Gibbs is an Associate Professor of Geography and Environmental Studies, and part of the Center for Sustainability and the Global Environment and the Wisconsin Energy Initiative. Gibbs is a physical scientist by training and focuses on interdisciplinary, applied questions around land-use change, globalization, environment, and policy. Gibbs examines the drivers, patterns and pathways of tropical deforestation and agricultural change and what it means for climate change. She uses spatially explicit and data-driven modeling approaches, geographic information systems and remote sensing imagery combined with ground-based data on social and biophysical conditions to document and understand the causes and consequences of land-use change. She is also very interested in the effectiveness of different policy approaches to improve land-use governance in the tropics and here at home.
She is currently researching tropical land-use transitions in response to global economic drivers such as bioenergy mandates and public pressures from Greenpeace and other non-governmental organizations. Gibbs is especially engaged in understanding the potential of emerging demand-side efforts to reduce tropical deforestation such as zero-deforestation agreements in the Brazilian Amazon for soya and cattle, multi-stakeholder round tables for global commodities, and certification schemes for niche markets. In addition, she is mapping the world’s potentially available cropland and tackling the complex issues surrounding degraded lands and tenure. Gibbs continues to quantify and map the land sources for newly expanding croplands and pastures, and to estimate the associated carbon emissions. She also works closely with economists to help bring land into better focus in global economic models and improve our understanding of indirect land use change.
Gibbs is passionate about using her academic scholarship to change the world. Throughout her career, she has worked closely with policymakers, business leaders and non-governmental organizations. For nearly a decade, Gibbs has served as a science advisor for policymakers from developing countries in support of the UNFCCC initiative to Reduce Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD). She also was selected to serve on the California Low Carbon Fuel Standard Expert Working Group, where she chaired the Land Cover Change committee. Gibbs is committed to mentoring students in GLUE and beyond, and greatly enjoys helping them find ways to use their unique skills and achievements to bring science into action.
Since arriving at the UW, Gibbs has been awarded more than $7.5 million in direct research funding for GLUE. Recent awards include the Chancellor’s Distinguished Teaching Award (2016), Administrative Improvement Award (2016), and University Housing Honored Instructor Award (2016). Also in 2016, her paper on carbon debt from biofuels was selected as one of 10 “milestone” papers of the decade by Environmental Research Letters.
Previously, Gibbs was a David H. Smith Conservation Research Fellow in the Program on Food Security and Environment at Stanford University. She earned her Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the Center for Sustainability and the Global Environment (SAGE) where a DOE Global Change Environmental Fellowship supported her studies. Prior to moving to Madison, Gibbs worked as a Post-Masters Research Associate in Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s Environmental Sciences Division where she led remote-sensing and GIS research for global carbon and water cycle projects. She received a B.S. of Distinction in Natural Resources and M.S. in Environmental Science from The Ohio State University.