Asmeret Asefaw Berhe

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Asmeret Asefaw Berhe
ResidenceCalifornia, USA
Alma materUniversity of Asmara
Michigan State University
University of California, Berkeley
AwardsNSF CAREER Award
Scientific career
FieldsSoil biogeochemistry, Ecology
InstitutionsUniversity of California, Merced
ThesisStorage, replacement, stabilization, and destabilization of soil organic carbon in eroding and depositional settings (2006)
Doctoral advisorJohn Harte, Margaret Torn, and Jennifer Harden
Other academic advisorsJohan Six and Jillian F. Banfield
WebsiteResearch website

Asmeret Asefaw Berhe is a soil biogeochemist, political ecologist and associate professor at University of California, Merced. Her research group works to understand how soil helps regulate the earth's climate.

Education and early career[edit]

Asmeret was born and raised in Asmara, Eritrea in northeast Africa bordering the Red Sea. She received her Bachelors of Science in Soil and Water Conservation at the University of Asmara in Eritrea. There, she was one of three women in a 55-person class in the soil science department.[1] She later attended Michigan State University for her Masters in Political Ecology with an emphasis on the effects of land degradation, working to understand how landmines cause land degradation.[2] She then performed her doctoral work at University of California, Berkeley, where she received her PhD in Biogeochemistry in ecologist John Harte's laboratory, where she was also co-advised by Margaret Torn (Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory) and Jennifer Harden (US Geological Survey, Menlo Park).[3] Her graduate work sought to understand how erosion affected the exchange of carbon between the land and the air. She found that erosion can actually cause soil to store more carbon.[4][5] She continued her postdoctoral research at UC Berkeley with the support of the President's Postdoctoral Fellowship Program under the mentorship of Johan Six and Jillian Banfield, and then moved to University of California, Davis to continue her postdoctoral work.[6]


Asmeret's research interests center on the effect of changing environmental conditions—specifically fire, erosion, and climate change—on important soil processes. Her group is working to understand how perturbations in the environment affect how essential elements like carbon and nitrogen cycle through the soil system. One of her group's projects is to understand how drought and wildfire affect soil's ability to store carbon, taking her out to Yosemite National Park and the Sierra Nevada for fieldwork.[7][8][9] Given the prevalence of drought in California, this work is of particular public importance, and as a result, has been highlighted by public figures like California Congressman Jerry McNerney (D-CA 9th District).[10]

Her research extends to political ecology, working to understand the contribution of armed conflict to land degradation and how people interact with their environment.[11][12] She has co-authored a review taking stock of the relationship between global change, soil, and human security (including food security and water quality) in the 21st century, citing possible interventions and solutions for sustainable soil management.[13][14]

Asmeret's work has garnered support from a number of funding sources, including the National Science Foundation CAREER Award, the University of California President's Research Catalyst Awards, the United States Department of Energy, and more.[15][16][17]

Advocacy and global impact work[edit]

Asmeret's work at the intersection of soil, climate change, and political ecology lends itself well to a number of global issues. During her graduate career, she was a member of the working group that produced the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, which was called for by the United Nations Secretary Kofi Annan to assess the impact of humans on the environment. She was one of the lead authors on the 2005 report's chapter on "Drivers of Change in Ecosystem Condition and Services."[18] The Assessment received the Zayed International Prize for the Environment in 2005.[19]

In 2018, Asmeret was selected as part of the inaugural National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine New Voices in Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine cohort, as an early career leader working to advance the conversation around key emerging global issues issues and communicate the evidence base around those challenges.[20]

An advocate for women in science, Berhe is currently a co-Principal Investigator of ADVANCEGeo, which is working to transform the workplace climate of the geosciences to increase retention of women in the field and develop a sustainable model that can be transferred to other scientific domains. Currently, the Earth Science Women's Network, the Association for Women Geoscientists, and the American Geophysical Union have partnered to address the issue of sexual harassment in the earth, space and environmental sciences.[21] The program led by Erika Marín-Spiotta and is run with support from a four-year $1.1 million grant from the National Science Foundation.[22]

She currently serves as an advisory board member of 500 Women Scientists, a grassroots organization working to make science open, inclusive, and accessible, and is on the leadership board of the Earth Science Women's Network.

Awards and honors[edit]


  1. ^ "How a girl who loved learning became a top soil scientist – Sally Ride Science". Retrieved 2018-07-23.
  2. ^ "Asmeret Asefaw Berhe – ESWN". Retrieved 2018-07-22.
  3. ^ Berhe, Asmeret Asefaw (2006). Storage, replacement, stabilization, and destabilization of soil organic carbon in eroding and depositional settings (Thesis).
  4. ^ "Science@Berkeley Lab: Damaged Land, Buried Carbon". Retrieved 2018-07-23.
  5. ^ Berhe, Asmeret Asefaw; Harte, John; Harden, Jennifer W.; Torn, Margaret S. (2007-04-01). "The Significance of the Erosion-induced Terrestrial Carbon Sink". BioScience. 57 (4): 337–346. doi:10.1641/B570408. ISSN 1525-3244.
  6. ^ a b "Fellows 2006 | President's Postdoctoral Fellowship Program". Retrieved 2018-07-22.
  7. ^ Araya, Samuel N.; Fogel, Marilyn L.; Berhe, Asmeret Asefaw (2017-02-06). "Thermal alteration of soil organic matter properties: a systematic study to infer response of Sierra Nevada climosequence soils to forest fires". SOIL. 3 (1): 31–44. doi:10.5194/soil-3-31-2017. ISSN 2199-398X.
  8. ^ Araya, Samuel N.; Meding, Mercer; Berhe, Asmeret Asefaw (2016-07-22). "Thermal alteration of soil physico-chemical properties: a systematic study to infer response of Sierra Nevada climosequence soils to forest fires". SOIL. 2 (3): 351–366. doi:10.5194/soil-2-351-2016. ISSN 2199-398X.
  9. ^ Arnold, Chelsea; Ghezzehei, Teamrat A.; Berhe, Asmeret Asefaw (2014-09-10). "Early Spring, Severe Frost Events, and Drought Induce Rapid Carbon Loss in High Elevation Meadows". PLOS ONE. 9 (9): e106058. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0106058. ISSN 1932-6203. PMC 4160192. PMID 25207640.
  10. ^ "Our research highlighted in the US Congress". PI: Asmeret Asefaw Berhe. 2014-06-29. Retrieved 2018-07-23.
  11. ^ Berhe, Asmeret Asefaw (2005-09-01). "Politicizing Indiscriminate Terror: Imagining an Inclusive Framework for the Anti-Landmines Movement". The Journal of Environment & Development. 14 (3): 375–393. doi:10.1177/1070496505280186. ISSN 1070-4965.
  12. ^ Berhe, A. A. (January 2007). "The contribution of landmines to land degradation". Land Degradation & Development. 18 (1): 1–15. doi:10.1002/ldr.754. ISSN 1085-3278.
  13. ^ Amundson, Ronald; Berhe, Asmeret Asefaw; Hopmans, Jan W.; Olson, Carolyn; Sztein, A. Ester; Sparks, Donald L. (2015-05-08). "Soil and human security in the 21st century". Science. 348 (6235): 1261071. doi:10.1126/science.1261071. ISSN 0036-8075. PMID 25954014.
  14. ^ "The next big war might be over phosphorus". Grist. 2015-05-11. Retrieved 2018-07-22.
  15. ^ a b "NSF Award Search: Award#1352627 - CAREER: Persistence of soil organic matter in dynamic landscapes: interactive effects of fire and erosion". Retrieved 2018-07-22.
  16. ^ "UC Merced Shares in Three of Four UC Catalyst Grants | UC Merced". Retrieved 2018-07-22.
  17. ^ "Experimental and modeling investigation of the impact of atmospherically deposited phosphorus on terrestrial soil nutrient and carbon cycling, and ecosystem productivity". Retrieved 2018-07-22.
  18. ^ Nelson, Gerald; Bennett, Elena; Berhe, Asmeret; Cassman, Kenneth; Defries, Ruth; Dietz, Thomas; Dobson, Andy; Dobermann, Achim; Janetos, Anthony (2005-01-01), Drivers of Change in Ecosystem Condition and Services, 2, retrieved 2018-07-22
  19. ^ "Zayed International Prize for the Environment". Retrieved 2018-07-22.
  20. ^ a b "New Voices in Sciences, Engineering and Medicine | | National Research Council | Where the Nation Turns for Independent, Expert Advice". Retrieved 2018-07-22.
  21. ^ "ADVANCEGeo Partnership". ADVANCEGeo. Retrieved 2018-07-22.
  22. ^ "NSF Award Search: Award#1725650 - ADVANCE Partnership: From the Classroom to the Field: Improving the Workplace in the Geosciences". Retrieved 2018-07-22.
  23. ^ "Hellman Fellows". Retrieved 2018-07-22.
  24. ^ "Chapter Awards | Office of Research and Economic Development". Retrieved 2018-07-22.