Karen Seto is the Frederick C. Hixon Professor of Geography and Urbanization Science at the Yale School of the Environment. She is an urban and land change scientist whose central research focus is how urbanization will affect the planet. A geographer by training, she integrates remote sensing, field interviews, and modeling methods to study urbanization and land change, forecast urban growth, and examine the environmental consequences of urban expansion. She is an expert in satellite remote sensing analysis and has pioneered methods to reconstruct historical land-use and to develop empirical models to explain and forecast the expansion of urban areas. Seto is a specialist in contemporary urbanization in China and India, where she has conducted research for over 20 and 10 years, respectively. Her research is notable for its systematic use of big data and a scientific lens to study urbanization as a process and to understand the aggregate global impacts of urbanization. Seto’s research has made discoveries on the interaction between urbanization and food systems, the effects of urban expansion on biodiversity and cropland loss, urban energy use and emissions, and urban mitigation of climate change.
Professor Seto has served on numerous national and international scientific bodies. She currently co-chairs the Climate Security Roundtable, established by the US National Academies by the direction of Congress to help better understand and anticipate the ways climate change affects U.S. national security interests. She also co-chairs the U.S. National Academies Subcommittee on U.S.-China Scientific Engagement. She has been a Coordinating Lead Author for two UN Climate Change Reports, the IPCC 6th Assessment Report published in 2022 and the IPCC 5th Assessment Report published in 2014. In both reports she co-led the chapter on urban mitigation of climate change.
From 2000 to 2008, she was faculty at Stanford, where she held joint appointments in the Woods Institute for the Environment and the School of Earth Sciences. She has received many awards for her scientific contributions, including the Sustainability Science Award from the Ecological Society of America and the Outstanding Contributions to Remote Sensing Research Award from the American Association of Geographers. She is an elected member of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the Connecticut Academy of Science and Engineering, and a Fellow with the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Professor Seto has a PhD in geography from Boston University.