Knowledge for a sustainable world

BSc, MA, PhD

Molly E Brown, Professor of Food-based Strategies for Nutrition at the Food and Nutrition Initiative (FaNSI), Natural Resources Institute, University of Greenwich, also holds a research professor position in the Department of Geographical Sciences at the University of Maryland College Park (UMCP), and is the Chief Science Officer of 6th Grain Corporation, a digital agriculture company based in the United States. Molly has two decades of experience in interdisciplinary research using satellite remote sensing data and models with socio-economic and demographic information to better understand food security drivers. She has worked on conflict, climate, and agricultural development impacts on communities in Africa and Asia, with a focus on improving decision making at a variety of scales. She has projects in Africa and south Asia and has lived in Senegal while in the Peace Corps in the early 1990s. She has published over 100 journal articles in a variety of disciplines and has two books. In 2015, she was the lead author of a US Climate Assessment report published by the US Department of Agriculture entitled ‘Climate Change, Global Food Security and the U.S. Food System’. Previously, Dr. Brown worked for thirteen years first as a contractor and then as a civil servant at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in the Biospheric Sciences Branch. She earned her Ph.D. in Geography from the University of Maryland in College Park, MD in 2002. She served as a member of the Coordination Group on Meteorological Satellites Working Group III Tiger team on Socio-Economic Benefits (CGMS), 2013-2015, the National Science Foundation (NSF) Environmental Research and Education Advisory Committee (ERE-AC), 2010-2012, and since 2017 has served as a member of the US National Academy of Sciences’ Committee on Earth Sciences and Applications from Space.

I am interested in doing research that informs food-based strategies to support vulnerable populations, including infants and young children. I’ve worked with several different teams to integrate satellite remote sensing observations that quantify climate variability and change, which will slow progress towards reducing undernutrition in children in low- and middle-income countries, particularly with Drs David Backer University of Maryland, Kathryn Grace University of Minnesota, Gerald Shively Purdue University and Meredith Niles University of Vermont. Increasing climate variability results in more frequent weather anomalies, including floods, droughts, and heatwaves, which have both direct and indirect effects on nutrition outcomes of children. Temperature shocks in particular are likely to significantly affect human health, as measured by excess mortality, reduced birthweight, and premature births. Through combining data about these extreme events, information on cropping systems and nutrition measurements in children in multilevel modeling frameworks, we can improve our understanding of these complex linkages and design policies and interventions most likely to result in improved outcomes.

Beyond studying nutrition, I’ve been working in digital agriculture through 6th Grain to provide satellite remote sensing information and models to commercial and public sector institutions. Early warning of problems such as disease prevalence and pest movements can provide useful information to input providers, commercial farmers and agriculture departments to  improve farmer productivity. I also work with funding programs within NASA to improve their engagement with stakeholders and users through the University of Maryland. 

NSF 2016:2020

US National Science Foundation (NSF) Food-Energy-Water project, funded through the Johns Hopkins University, focused on understanding the coupled system dynamics across scales in a manner that allows one to quantify the sensitivity of critical human outcomes (nutritional satisfaction, household economic well-being) to development and climate adaptation strategies. A coupled modeling framework will be implemented for Ethiopia and Mali, two rapidly developing but highly climate vulnerable countries that serve as test cases for a more generalizable analysis system. United States researchers have been working with African counterparts and development experts to create modeling tools and apply them to active and proposed energy and food security initiatives.

MERIAM 2017:2020

Action Against Hunger, the Graduate Institute of Geneva, and the University of Maryland have worked to integrate climate and conflict variables to develop predictive models using both computational and econometric methods. The project has been primarily focused on Kenya, Uganda, Mali and Nigeria, and using the Demographic and Health Survey data, SMART surveys, and conflict data from ACLED, SCAD and others to develop models that can provide early warning of food security crises. Engaging with stakeholders on how predictive models may inform decision making, and how early, accurate and in what form these predictive models need to take is a central part of this project. https://www.actionagainsthunger.org/meriam

NASA Carbon Monitoring 2010:2021

Working with NASA Headquarters, the Ecosystem and Carbon Cycle Sciences Support office at NASA Goddard, and the NASA Carbon Monitoring System (CMS) science team, this project focuses on exploring how the CMS program engages with stakeholders and develops new datasets to meet their policy objectives. The focus of CMS is to use the full range of NASA satellite observations and modeling/analysis capabilities to establish the accuracy, uncertainties, and utility of products for supporting national and international policy, regulatory, and carbon management activities. My research focuses on providing evidence and program recommendations to NASA that will help them enhance their ability to fund high quality science and stakeholder engagement simultaneously.  https://carbon.nasa.gov

BGMF Pest Modeling Platform 2019:2020

Funded through a 2019 Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BGMF) Global Grand Challenges funding opportunity, this 6th Grain project conducted research on how to develop a machine learning platform that used satellite remote sensing and publicly available data to inform decision making around in-season and off-season fall armyworm (FAW) (Spodoptera frugiperda) infestations across east and southern Africa. https://6grain.com

  • Cooper, M.; M.E. Brown, M. Niles, Mahmoud, M. (2020) Text Mining the Food Security Literature Reveals Substantial Spatial Bias and Thematic Broadening Over Time. Global Food Security. (in press) 
  • Brown M.E., Backer D., Billing T. White P., Grace K., Doocy S. and Huth P. (2020) Empirical Studies of Factors Associated with Child Malnutrition: Highlighting the Evidence about Climate and Conflict Shocks. Food Security Journal. DOI: 10.1007/s12571-020-01041-y
  • Cooper, M., M.E. Brown, S. Hochrainer-Stigler, G. Pflug, I. McCallum, S. Fritz, J. Silva, A. Zvoleff (2019) Mapping the Effects of Drought on Child Stunting. Proceeding of National Academy of Science. 116 (35) 17219-17224; doi: 10.1073/pnas.1905228116
  • M.E. Brown, V.M. Escobar (2019) NASA’s Early Adopter Program Links Satellite Data to Decision Making. Remote Sensing Journal. 11:4, 406; doi: 10.3390/rs11040406
  • Niles, M. and M.E. Brown (2017) A multi-country assessment of factors related to smallholder food security in varying rainfall conditions. Scientific Reports. 7: 16277, doi: 10.1038/s41598-017-16282-9.
  • M.E. Brown, E.R. Carr, K. Grace, K. Wiebe, C. Funk, W. Attavanich, P. Backlund, L. Buja (2017) Do markets and trade help or hurt the global food system adapt to climate change? Food Policy Journal. 68 pp154–159. doi: 10.1016/j.foodpol.2017.02.004
  • M.E. Brown and V. Kshirsagar (2015) The impact of international prices and domestic weather on Local Food Prices in Developing Countries Global Environmental Change 35: 31-40. Doi: 10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2015.08.003
  • M.E. Brown, Monica Ihli, Oscar Hendrick, Sabrina Delgado-Arias, Vanessa M. Escobar, Peter Griffith (2015) Social Network and Content Analysis of the North American Carbon Program as a Scientific Community of Practice Social Networks Journal. 44: 22-237. doi:10.1016/j.socnet.2015.10.002
  • NASA Robert H. Goddard Honor Science Award in 2008
  • NOAA David Johnson Award National Space Club in 2010
  • Women in Aerospace (WIA) Outstanding Achievement Award in 2013
  • USDA Abraham Lincoln Honor Award for the writing team ‘Climate Change, Global Food Security, and the US Food System’ in 2016
  • Editor in Chief of Elsevier journal Remote Sensing Applications: Society and Environment, 2015-2017.
  • Lead author of a USDA Technical report entitled Climate Change, Global Food Security, and the US Food System’, publication date Fall 2015, as part of the National Climate Assessment process
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