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CURS is pleased to announce that Xiaodong Chen, associate professor of geography, will be our 2018-2019 Scholar-in-Residence. Chen’s research focuses on Coupled Human and Natural Systems (CHANS), and includes topics such as how human activities affect the natural environment, how human livelihood may be changed due to changes in environmental conditions, what are complex interactions among components in human and natural systems and how human-environment interactions are influenced by policies.

Chen’s current research looks at the effects of conservation and development policies at the nexus of Food, Energy and Water systems (FEW) around the world.

As CURS Scholar-in-Residence, Chen plans to begin a study of the Heihe River Basin of northwest China. The Heihe River Basin provides more than 300 million cubic meters of fresh water to Xi’an city annually, accounting for more than 70% of the fresh water demand of a total of over eight million people in the city.

Heihe is also home to more than 12,000 human residents, including more than 2,300 labor migrants. Most local residents are farmers, and use fuelwood as the primary energy source. Fuelwood collection is now the most important factor affecting forest cover in Heihe. In addition, Heihe and its neighboring townships attract approximately 14 million tourists annually.

China’s two nation-wide “Payment for Ecosystems Service” (PES) programs, the Grain-to-Green Program and the Natural Forest Conservation Program, are also implemented in Heihe. Previous studies suggested that intensive use of fertilizer and pesticide for crop production, domestic human and livestock wastes, and soil erosion from deforestation and forest degradation have been increasingly affecting the quality and quantity of fresh water of the Heihe River Basin.

Heihe River Basin
The Heihe River Basin is the second largest inland river basin of China. It is situated in the arid northwest of China, extending over the provinces of Qinghai, Gansu and Inner Mongolia.

His research on Heihe will address the following questions, with an eye toward global implications: 1) What changes in ecosystem services can be attributed to PES programs? 2) How development processes such as labor migration and tourism affect human livelihoods, demographic structure and environment behavior, which ultimately result in changes in FEW systems? 3) How will the interactions, feedbacks and outcomes among FEW systems, PES programs, labor migration and tourism evolve over time and across space?

Chen earned his Ph.D. from Michigan State University and was a post-doctoral scholar at Harvard University before coming to The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2011.

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