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Associate Professor

Liz Chornesky
McCone Building
(831) 647-4155

Liz Chornesky works at the interface of science and policy on issues related to ecosystem management, sustainability, and global change, bringing a robust real-world perspective developed over her diverse career. 

Chornesky’s early experiences as a research scientist introduced her to marine ecosystems and exploration, as she traveled the Caribbean, spent hours underwater, and participated in submersible and saturation dives while studying coral reefs. Working for the U.S. Congress’ Office of Technology Assessment, she developed a keen appreciation of the interplay of policy, political context, institutions, and individual leadership as she assessed national global change and environmental issues. Conservation practitioners taught her much about the realities of place-based conservation and ecosystem management during her service as National Director of Stewardship and senior scientist at The Nature Conservancy. 

Most recently, Dr. Chornesky has consulted for and advised various public and private organizations in the design and evaluation of science, policy, investment, and organizational strategies. Her professional service has included numerous committees examining global change and ocean stewardship issues. In 2014, the American Association for the Advancement of Science elected her a Fellow in recognition of her work applying environmental science to policy development and evaluation.

Courses Taught

Courses offered in the past four years.

  • Current term
  • Upcoming term(s)

This course introduces students to the design and implementation of research, with an emphasis on applied research into contemporary social and ecological issues that part of policy development and implementation. The course will be interdisciplinary in scope and will include the use of historical, ethnographic, biophysical, political and contextual data and information. The course will cover various social science methods, including political science, policy analysis, and sociology, and associated analytical approaches that can be used to develop and design research proposals, including case study and comparative case studies, survey design, content analysis, documentary analysis, and ethnographic approaches.

Fall 2017 - MIIS, MIIS Second Half of Term

View in Course Catalog

Coasts are an important source of native species diversity and provide a rich array of ecosystem services to humans. About forty percent of the world’s population lives within 100 km of a coast. Urban and economic development over the past fifty years has taken a heavy ecological toll on coasts and they are highly degraded. Going forward, coastal economies, communities and ecosystems are all highly vulnerable to the projected impacts of climate change, including flooding, storm surges, subsidence and sea level rise.

This course provides a foundation in the management challenges and governance frameworks of sustainable coastal management. The central focus of the course is on coastal climate vulnerability and resilience. Taught by a multi-disciplinary team, the course integrates science, economics, and policy perspectives on climate risk, adaptation, and resilience.

Part One examines current policy and legal frameworks for coastal management, explores ecological vulnerability to climate change and considers how current frameworks promote or impede adaptation. Part two examines the socio-economic vulnerability of coastal cities to climate change, explores the benefits and costs of both top-down and bottom-up adaptation options, and considers the role of households and the private sector in promoting community resilience. Many of the readings focus on the California coast but we will examine case studies from other parts of the US and internationally. Students will work in teams to produce a Consultation Practicum and a case study of a coastal city which includes a climate vulnerability assessment and adaptation options analysis.

Fall 2017 - MIIS

View in Course Catalog

This course focuses on the interface between science and policy in the management, sustainable use, and conservation of ocean ecosystems and resources. The framework for understanding this nexus will include an overview of: (i) the ecological and oceanographic processes that structure marine ecosystems and affect the delivery of societal benefits from the oceans; and (ii) the roles of relevant governance systems, institutions, and actors in ocean policymaking, with a particular emphasis on the role of science and scientists in decision-making. The course will introduce best practices and emerging issues, and will explore a portfolio of ecosystem-based tools for ocean planning, management, assessment, and decision-making. Emphasis will be placed throughout on understanding the drivers, impacts and implications of accelerating global change, including those related to intensifying and shifting human uses and anthropogenic climate change.

Spring 2017 - MIIS, MIIS Winter/J Term only, Fall 2017 - MIIS

View in Course Catalog

Areas of Interest

My deep commitment to sustaining nature and its benefits in an era of accelerating global change drives and informs my teaching and policy engagements. Effective action requires using practical science-based tools, realistically sizing up the uncertainties, and then making the leap to take pragmatic action with imperfect knowledge. My classes are designed to help students collaboratively acquire and apply the understanding, critical thinking, and intellectual agility they will need to advance sustainable solutions in a changing world. Applications on the ground are progressing rapidly in this field, and classes emphasize innovations and lessons from this leading edge of practice.


Academic Degrees

  • Ph.D. in the Biological Sciences (Ecology), University of Texas at Austin
  • B.A. in Biology, Cornell University College of Arts and Sciences

Dr. Chornesky has been teaching at the Institute since 2017.


  • Klinger, T., E.A. Chornesky, E.A. Whiteman, F. Chan, J.L. Largier, W. Wakefield. 2017. Using integrated ecosystem-level management to address intensifying ocean acidification and hypoxia in the California Current Large Marine Ecosystem. Elementa: Science of the Anthropocene 5:16.
  • Chan, F., Boehm, A.B., Barth, J.A., Chornesky, E.A., Dickson, A.G., et al. 2016. The West Coast Ocean Acidification and Hypoxia Science Panel: Major Findings, Recommendations, and Actions. California Ocean Science Trust, Oakland, California, USA. April 2016.
  • Chornesky, E.A., Ackerly, D.D., Beier, P., Davis, F.W., Flint, L.E., et al. 2015. Adapting California’s ecosystems to a changing climate. Bioscience 65: 247-262.
  • Davis, F.W. and E.A. Chornesky. 2014. Adapting to climate change in California. Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 70: 62-73.