Rodrigo Vargas is a Professor in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences at the University of Delaware. He has a Ph.D. from the University of California-Riverside and completed his postdoc at the University of California-Berkeley. Vargas is an ecosystem ecologist who studies how nature-based solutions can help address global environmental change in both terrestrial and coastal ecosystems. He uses a variety of research methods, including data mining, machine learning, remote sensing, measurements of greenhouse gas fluxes, and modeling techniques for forecasting applications. He has published over 170 peer-reviewed publications and has received funding from NSF, NASA, USDA, DOE, DARPA, and several state and international organizations. Vargas has also contributed to the development of decision support systems and policy-relevant applications, such as the “Mexican Report on Climate Change,” the FAO of the United Nations report “Status of the World’s Soil Resources,” and the “Second State of the Carbon Cycle Report” (SOCCR2). He has received multiple recognitions for supporting minority students in STEM, the Piers Sellers Mid-Career Award from the American Geophysical Union, the Mid-Career Faculty Excellence in Scholarship Award from the University of Delaware, and is a Highly Cited Researcher by the Web of Science. Vargas serves on the Science Steering Committees of AmeriFlux and the Mexican Carbon Program and is a member of the editorial boards of multiple scientific journals. He is a fellow of the Earth Leadership Program, a member of the U.S. National Committee for Soil Science of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, and a member of the Science and Arts cluster in the Earth and Environmental Science of the Franklin Institute. Vargas formerly served on the North American Carbon Program (NACP) Science Leadership Group, the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON) soil sensor technical working group, and the Atmosphere group of the North American Forestry Commission.
Industry Expertise (2)
Areas of Expertise (8)
Environmental Data Science
Media Appearances (9)
Rodrigo Vargas earns prestigious environmental award
University of Delaware online
The American Geophysical Union (AGU) named University of Delaware faculty member Rodrigo Vargas the 2022 recipient of the Piers J. Sellers Global Environmental Change Mid-Career Award. The annual honor recognizes outstanding contributions in research, educational or societal impacts in the area of global environmental change, especially through interdisciplinary approaches.
New observatory to probe the mysteries of Earth’s ‘forgotten’ subsoil
Just a meter or two down, below the topsoil that nurtures crops, is a little known part of the ecosystem that may be critical to the planet’s climate future. But this deep soil is surprisingly hard to study. It helps to know the right backhoe operator, and even then extracting samples without disturbing their structure or inhabitants is tricky. “The deeper you go, the harder it is,” says Daniel Richter, a soil scientist at Duke University.
Our coastal wetlands absorb CO2 — but environmental changes alter that
The Hill online
A few years ago, I spent the spring exploring coastal wetlands up and down the Mid-Atlantic coast, looking for a new place to start an experiment to study how landscapes “breathe.” After driving a thousand miles and talking with outdoor enthusiasts, environmental managers, scientists and farmers, I found the perfect place: a tidal marsh, a stunning place where the land and the coastal ocean meet.
Climate Change Brings Changes To Coastal Wetlands' Carbon Absorption
Coastal wetlands can absorb and store carbon even faster than forests do. But new research raises questions about whether that may be changing as the climate warms.
Coastal marshes help mitigate climate change. So why is this Delaware marsh contributing to it?
Delaware Public Media online
“This is a meteorological tower that measures the breathing of the estuary,” explains ecosystem ecologist and University of Delaware professor Rodrigo Vargas.
Enlighten Me: UD research challenges established thinking on salt marshes and carbon
Delaware Public Media online
“When we do the sum up of all the CO2 emissions and all the emissions of methane, we end up with a different story,” said Rodrigo Vargas, professor in UD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources and co-author of the study. “The different story is that these ecosystems are net carbon sources—or at least could be net carbon sources for the years that we measured them.”
University of Delaware UDaily online
“Understanding these patterns is critical to national and international security,” said Rodrigo Vargas, associate professor of ecosystem ecology and environmental change in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences at the University of Delaware. “We cannot measure everything everywhere all the time…. So we are using alternative approaches, such as machine learning that helps us get insight from complex sets of data.”
Getting Fire From A Tree Without Burning The Wood
But University of Delaware ecologist Rodrigo Vargas says trees are most likely doing more good than harm. "It's not like now trees are the bad actors and now they're emitting methane, and now we're seeing a big source of that," he says.
Methane emissions from trees
"We believe our work can help fill in some gaps in methane budgets and environmental processes in global ecosystem models," said the study's leader, Rodrigo Vargas, assistant professor in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences in UD's College of Agriculture and Natural Resources.
Experimentally simulated sea level rise destabilizes carbon-mineral associations in temperate tidal marsh soilBiogeochemistry
2023 How sea level rise (SLR) alters carbon (C) dynamics in tidal salt marsh soils is unresolved. Changes in hydrodynamics could influence organo-mineral associations, influencing dissolved organic carbon (DOC) fluxes. As SLR increases the duration of inundation, we hypothesize that lateral DOC export will increase due to reductive dissolution of C-bearing iron (Fe) oxides, destabilizing soil C stocks and influencing greenhouse gas emissions.
Harmonized Soil Database of Ecuador (HESD): data from 2009 to 2015Earth System Science Data
2023 One of the largest challenges with soil information around the world is how to harmonize archived soil data from different sources and how to make it accessible to soil scientist. In Ecuador, there have been two major projects that have provided soil information, but the methodology of these projects, although comparable, did not coincide, especially with respect to how information was reported.
The paradox of assessing greenhouse gases from soils for nature-based solutionsBiogeosciences
2023 Quantifying the role of soils in nature-based solutions requires accurate estimates of soil greenhouse gas (GHG) fluxes. Technological advances allow us to measure multiple GHGs simultaneously, and now it is possible to provide complete GHG budgets from soils (i.e., CO2, CH4, and N2O fluxes). We propose that there is a conflict between the convenience of simultaneously measuring multiple soil GHG fluxes at fixed time intervals (e.g., once or twice per month) and the intrinsic temporal variability in and patterns of different GHG fluxes.
Ecosystem-atmosphere CO2 exchange from semiarid mangroves in the Gulf of CaliforniaJournal of Arid Environments
2023 Mangrove wetlands play an essential role as blue carbon ecosystems. However, worldwide they also face imminent threats caused by anthropogenic activities and climate change. Mangroves in the semiarid region of the Gulf of California are highly vulnerable to both threats. In this study, we present eddy covariance measurements of net ecosystem exchange of CO2 (NEE), gross primary productivity (GPP), and ecosystem respiration (Reco) at a preserved mangrove (Estero El Sargento) and a site influenced by anthropogenic activities (Bahia del Tobari) located in northwest Mexico.
Building Trust in Earth Science Findings through Data Traceability and Results ExplainabilityIEEE Transactions on Parallel and Distributed Systems
2022 To trust findings in computational science, scientists need workflows that trace the data provenance and support results explainability. As workflows become more complex, tracing data provenance and explaining results become harder to achieve. In this paper, we propose a computational environment that automatically creates a workflow execution's record trail and invisibly attaches it to the workflow's output, enabling data traceability and results explainability.
Trace gas fluxes from tidal salt marsh soils: implications for carbon–sulfur biogeochemistryBiogeosciences
2022 Tidal salt marsh soils can be a dynamic source of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), and nitrous oxide (N2O), as well as sulfur-based trace gases such as carbon disulfide (CS2) and dimethylsulfide (DMS) which play roles in global climate and carbon–sulfur biogeochemistry. Due to the difficulty in measuring trace gases in coastal ecosystems (e.g., flooding, salinity), our current understanding is based on snapshot instantaneous measurements (e.g., performed during daytime low tide) which complicates our ability to assess the role of these ecosystems for natural climate solutions.
Downscaling Satellite Soil Moisture Using a Modular Spatial Inference FrameworkRemote Sensing
2022 Soil moisture is an important parameter that regulates multiple ecosystem processes and provides important information for environmental management and policy decision-making. Spaceborne sensors provide soil moisture information over large areas, but information is commonly available at coarse resolution with spatial and temporal gaps. Here, we present a modular spatial inference framework to downscale satellite-derived soil moisture using terrain parameters and test the performance of two modeling methods (Kernel-Weighted K-Nearest Neighbor and Random Forest ).
Building a Global Ecosystem Research Infrastructure to Address Global Grand Challenges for Macrosystem EcologyEarth's Future
2022 The development of several large-, “continental”-scale ecosystem research infrastructures over recent decades has provided a unique opportunity in the history of ecological science. The Global Ecosystem Research Infrastructure (GERI) is an integrated network of analogous, but independent, site-based ecosystem research infrastructures (ERI) dedicated to better understand the function and change of indicator ecosystems across global biomes. Bringing together these ERIs, harmonizing their respective data and reducing uncertainties enables broader cross-continental ecological research.
Spatial variability and uncertainty of soil nitrogen across the conterminous United States at different depthsEcosphere
2022 Soil nitrogen (N) is an important driver of plant productivity and ecosystem functioning; consequently, it is critical to understand its spatial variability from local-to-global scales. Here, we provide a quantitative assessment of the three-dimensional spatial distribution of soil N across the United States (CONUS) using a digital soil mapping approach. We used a random forest-regression kriging algorithm to predict soil N concentrations and associated uncertainty across six soil depths (0–5, 5–15, 15–30, 30–60, 60–100, and 100–200 cm) at 5-km spatial grids.
Historically inconsistent productivity and respiration fluxes in the global terrestrial carbon cycleNature Communications
2022 The terrestrial carbon cycle is a major source of uncertainty in climate projections. Its dominant fluxes, gross primary productivity (GPP), and respiration (in particular soil respiration, RS), are typically estimated from independent satellite-driven models and upscaled in situ measurements, respectively. We combine carbon-cycle flux estimates and partitioning coefficients to show that historical estimates of global GPP and RS are irreconcilable. When we estimate GPP based on RS measurements and some assumptions about RS:GPP ratios, we found the resulted global GPP values (bootstrap mean 149+29−23 Pg C yr−1) are significantly higher than most GPP estimates reported in the literature (113+18−18 Pg C yr−1).
Research Grants (8)
Acquisition of an Ultraportable Field CO2 Isotope Analyzer and a Soil Gas Flux Chamber for Investigating CO2 Efflux and Stable Carbon Isotopes of CO2 in Carbon Cycling Research
Machine learning for computational LiDAR imaging in Earth Sciences
UD Artificial Intelligence Center of Excellence $15,000
Mid-scale RI-1 (M1:IP): A Deep Soil Ecotron facility to explore belowground communities and ecosystem processes.
STEEP-CF: Storm Treatment Effects on Ecosystem Processes of Coastal Forests
Global Respiration Comparison (ResCom): evaluation of satellite constrained top-down and bottom-up respiration estimates and their relationship with model simulations
High-frequency Data Integration for Landscape Model Calibration of Carbon Fluxes Across Diverse Tidal Marshes
SENSORY: Software Ecosystem for kNowledge discovery – a data-driven framework for soil moisture applications
Carbon monitoring systems across Mexico to support implementation of REDD+: continued development and application at the national scale
Member of USDA’s National Climate Change Working Group to develop a National Climate Change Roadmap (NCCR) and Implementation Plan (professional)
Earth Leadership Program Fellow (professional)
Latino/Hispanic Heritage Impact Award; University of Delaware (professional)
Piers J. Sellers Global Environmental Change Mid-Career Award; American Geophysical Union (AGU) (professional)
Mid-Career Faculty Excellence in Scholarship Award; University of Delaware (professional)
Highly Cited Researcher Web of Science (category: cross-field) (professional)
Member of the committee on Science and the Arts in the Earth and Environmental Science Cluster of The Franklin Institute (professional)
NSF CAREER Award (professional)
Highly Cited Researcher Web of Science (category: cross-field) (professional)
Associate Editor: JGR-Biogeosciences (professional)
Investigador Nacional Level 3 (SNI-CONACYT; Mexican recognition for scientific productivity [highest level]) (professional)
Mentorship/Advancement award of the Hispanic/Latino Graduate Student Association (HLGSA); University of Delaware (professional)
Mexican Carbon Program National Award (professional)
University of California: Post-doctoral Research, Ecosystem Ecology 2009
University of California-Riverside: PhD, Environmental Sciences 2007
Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México: Licenciatura, Biology 2002
- American Geophysical Union : Member
- Ecological Society of America : Member
- American Association for Advancement of Science : Member
- European Geophysical Union : Member
- Soil Science Society of America : Member