Kyle Frankel Davis

Columbia University

2018 Science for Solutions Award Winner

Kyle Frankel Davis received the Science for Solutions Award at the 2018 AGU Fall Meeting Honors Ceremony, held 12 December 2018 in Washington, D. C. The award recognizes a student or postdoctoral scientist “for significant contributions in the application and use of the Earth and space sciences to solve societal problems.”


Dr. Davis’s research addresses questions in the general area of global crop production, water and food security, environmental sustainability, and the food–water–energy nexus. His early work evaluated the extent to which agricultural intensification would be able to meet the increasing food demand of human societies under a variety of dietary and land use change conditions. His research quantitatively demonstrated how—under suitable diet moderation and agricultural intensification scenarios—enough water and food would be available to feed the growing global population until the end of the century. He also evaluated the “hydrologic feasibility” of yield gap closure scenarios.

His research has also investigated ongoing changes in livestock production and quantified the relative importance of feed-fed and grass-fed production in different regions of the world and the associated impacts on the water footprint of the livestock. He identified patterns of virtual water flow associated with the animal feed trade and documented the ongoing “livestock transition” resulting from the increasing reliance on less resource intensive livestock types.

One of the effects of the recent food crises has been the increase in transnational investments in agriculture by agribusiness corporations. Kyle’s research has evaluated the role of climate change in this phenomenon and quantified the impact of large-scale land acquisitions on rural livelihoods and the environment. His work focused on the impact of large-scale land acquisitions on land use change and demonstrated how the ongoing land rush is contributing to deforestation in Cambodia.

Some of his research work is investigating alternative models of agricultural development that would allow for an increase in yields without requiring massive investments in modern irrigation technology that local farmers in the developing world would not be able to afford. For instance, by planting more suitable crops in the “right place,” it would be possible to increase food production while reducing water consumption.

Collectively, these contributions demonstrate his ability to identify important societal problems and develop a research agenda that can provide the basis for effective solutions. Through fieldwork in Mozambique, Nigeria, and India, he is filling the gap traditionally existing between science and the solution of societal problems by means of interactions with local farmers, communities, and policy makers in some of the areas of the world that are most in need. Kyle has a unique intellectual curiosity, a diverse range of interests, and a strong personal motivation to contribute to a better world with his work and studies.

—Maria Cristina Rulli, Politecnico di Milano, Milan, Italy


I am greatly humbled and honored to be receiving the 2018 Science for Solutions Award. I am deeply grateful to Cristina Rulli for leading my nomination, to the award committee for their time and effort during the selection process, and to AGU for its continued support of early-career scientists.

As with many of us, I was originally drawn to Earth and environmental sciences by a fascination with nature and the excitement of scientific discovery. While the role of such scientific curiosity and of basic science will always be vital to what we do, there is a growing need for research that pursues direct benefits to societal challenges. Processes like globalization and climate change mean that the issues facing decision makers are increasingly complex. As scientists, we have a critical role to play in understanding these interconnections and in providing evidence and information that are readily comprehendible beyond our scientific community. Developing relationships with stakeholders and decision makers will be essential for bridging the gap between our science and the policies that it can ultimately help to inform. AGU’s efforts at improving the ability of its members to effectively interact and communicate with the public and policy makers—for example, through its Science Policy and Sharing Science initiatives—are recognition that these skills and connections are becoming increasingly important for researchers and for young scientists in particular.

All of my work continues to be possible due in large part to the guidance, support, and collaborative efforts of a great many people. I am especially indebted to my Ph.D. and postdoctoral advisors, Paolo D’Odorico and Ruth DeFries, who have encouraged me to think big, to be creative, and to pursue solutions that benefit people and the environment. I am also grateful to Cristina Rulli and Brian Richter for the invaluable roles they have played in nurturing my scientific interests and for showing me that my work can potentially play a part in tackling some of today’s grand societal challenges. I would also like to thank The Nature Conservancy and Columbia University’s Earth Institute and Data Science Institute for their support of my work.

Thank you again for this award. I am excited to be part of the next generation of international scientists with profound and far-reaching opportunities for (and challenges to) realizing positive change for people and the planet.

—Kyle Frankel Davis, Columbia University, New York