Research Interests Molly E. Brown, PhD

I have two decades of experience in interdisciplinary research using satellite remote sensing data and models with socio-economic and demographic information to better understand food security drivers. I have worked on conflict, climate, and agricultural development impacts on communities in Africa and Asia, with a focus on improving decision making at a variety of scales. I have projects in Africa and south Asia and lived in Senegal while in the Peace Corps in the early 1990s. I have published over 120 journal articles in a variety of disciplines and have two books. In 2015, I was the lead author of a US Climate Assessment report published by the US Department of Agriculture entitled ‘Climate Change, Global Food Security and the U.S. Food System’. Previously, I worked for thirteen years first as a contractor and then as a civil servant at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in the Biospheric Sciences Branch. I work with the Carbon Monitoring System community to identify and document uptake of scientific data products by decision makers working to mitigate and adapt to climate change. I served as a member of the Coordination Group on Meteorological Satellites Working Group III Tiger team on Socio-Economic Benefits (CGMS), 2013-2015, the National Science Foundation (NSF) Environmental Research and Education Advisory Committee (ERE-AC), 2010-2012, and since 2017 have served as a member of the US National Academy of Sciences’ Committee on Earth Sciences and Applications from Space.

I recently have begun working with 6th Grain Corporation as their Chief Science Officer. 6th Grain is an innovative and agile digital agriculture technology company with solutions being used by leading input suppliers and other large international companies in both low and high-income country settings. 6th Grain provides high quality, actionable intelligence via mobile device that will guide focused marketing and infrastructure investments by growers and agricultural companies.

I have four areas of scientific contributions I'd like to highlight:

My early publications focused on studying climate drivers of agricultural growing seasons in Africa. This included evaluating satellite remote sensing data products and using them together with information about agricultural dynamics. During this period, moderate resolution rainfall data was still maturing as an option to monitor variability in food production, therefore there was significant scope to include vegetation together with rainfall to study changes in agricultural activity. In addition to these papers, there are also integration of satellite data into phenological models to better understand the impact of rainfall and temperature drivers on start, end and peak of the growing season in semi-arid Africa.

  1. C.J. Tucker, Pinzon J.E., Brown M.E., Slayback D.A., Pak E.W., Mahoney R., Vermote E.F., and El Saleous N. (2005). An Extended AVHRR 8-km NDVI Data Set Compatible with MODIS and SPOT Vegetation NDVI Data, International Journal of Remote Sensing 26 (20): 4485-4498. 10.1080/01431160500168686
  2. C.C. Funk and Brown, M.E. (2006) Intra-seasonal NDVI change projections in semi-arid Africa. Remote Sensing of Environment 101: 249-256. doi:10.1016/j.rse.2005.12.014    
  3. M.E. Brown, Pinzon, J.E., Didan, K., Morisette, J.T. and Tucker, C.J. (2006) Evaluation of the consistency of long-term NDVI time series derived from AVHRR, SPOT-Vegetation, SeaWIFS, MODIS and LandSAT ETM+’, IEEE Transactions Geoscience and Remote Sensing 44(7): 1787-1793. 10.1109/TGRS.2005.860205
  4. M.E. Brown and K. de Beurs (2008) Evaluation of Multi-Sensor Semi-Arid Crop Season Parameters Based on NDVI and Rainfall. Remote Sensing of Environment 112(5): 2261-2271. doi:10.1016/j.rse.2007.10.008
  5. S-J Jeong, C-H Ho, M. E. Brown, J-S Kug and S Piao (2010) Browning in desert boundaries in Asia in recent decades. Journal of Geophysical Research-Atmosphere 116, D02103,doi:10.1029/2010JD014633, 2011
  6. M.E. Brown, K. Grace, K. de Beurs (2015) Global Land Surface Phenology and Implications for Food Security. In the Remote Sensing Handbook, edited by Prasad Thenkabail.
  7. M.E. Brown, De Beurs, K. M. & Vrieling, A. (2010) The response of African land surface phenology to large scale climate oscillations. Remote Sensing of Environment 114 (2010), pp. 2286-2296, doi: 10.1016/j.rse.2010.05.005.
  8. Vrieling, A., K. M. De Beurs, and M. E. Brown (2011). Phenological characterization and variability of African farming systems with NDVI time series. Climatic Change, 109 (3-4), pp.455-477. Doi:10.1007/s10584-011-0049-1
  9. M.E. Brown, Funk, C.C., Pedreros, D., Korecha, D., Lemma, M., Rowland, J.D., Williams, E., Verdin, J.P., 2017. A Climate Trend Analysis of Ethiopia—Examining Subseasonal Climate Impacts on Crops and Pasture Conditions. Climatic Change 142(1-2): 169-182. doi: 10.1007/s10584-017-1948-6

Another area of research includes integrating satellite observations of agricultural productivity into economic models to capture external drivers of food affordability. This area of research is interdisciplinary and challenging as it uses econometric models and framing without conforming to macroeconomic theory. It seeks to help decision makers in the humanitarian and early warning community understand the likely impact of climate extremes on food price impacts. The final paper in this series, published in 2015, focused on determining if international commodity price variability or domestic agricultural productivity was more important in determining local food basket prices.

  1. M.E. Brown, Pinzon, J.E, and Prince, S.D. (2006) The effect of vegetation productivity on millet Prices in the Informal Markets of Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger. Climatic Change 78: 181-202. doi: 10.1007/s10584-006-9096-4
  2. M.E. Brown, Pinzon, J.E, and Prince, S.D. (2008) Using Satellite Remote Sensing Data in a Spatially Explicit Price Model. Land Economics 84(2): 342–359. doi:  10.3368/le.84.2.340
  3. M.E. Brown, Hintermann, B., and Higgins, N. (2009) Markets, Climate Change and Food Security in West Africa, Environmental Science and Technology 43 (21), pp 8016–8020. doi: 10.1021/es901162d
  4. M.E. Brown, F. Tondel, T. Essam, J.A. Thorne, B.F. Mann, K. Leonard, B. Stabler, G. Eilerts (2012) Country and Regional Staple Food Price Indices for Improved Identification of Food Insecurity. Global Environmental Change - Policy Dimensions. 22(3): 784–794. doi: 10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2012.03.005.
  5. N. Higgins, B. Hintermann, M.E. Brown (2014) A Model of West African Millet Prices in Rural Markets. Food Policy. 52: 33-43 doi:10.1016/j.foodpol.2014.09.011
  6. M.E. Brown and V. Kshirsagar (2015) The impact of international prices and domestic weather on Local Food Prices in Developing Countries Global Environmental Change 35: 31-40. doi: 10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2015.08.003

Although droughts and extreme storms drive interannual variability in food production, connecting these weather events to changes in child nutrition in low income countries in ways that promote improved investment and decision making is more challenging. Food security is often equated with food production and agricultural activity, although there is little evidence that there is a direct link. Investment in social safety nets, education, health facilities and feeding centers can be triggered by environmental extremes if a clear connection between these climatic factors and child health outcomes can be established. This work, conducted with a team of collaborators who provide social science and demographic expertise, has been funded by a series of grants from the US Agency for International Development and the United Kingdom’s Department of International Development (DFID).  

  1. K. Johnson, A. Jacob, M.E. Brown (2013) Forest cover associated with improved health and nutrition outcomes in Malawi: Evidence from the Demographic and Health Surveys and NASA satellite remote sensing data. Global Health: Science and Practice, 1(2) pp. 237-248, doi: 10.9745/GHSP-D-13-00055
  2. M.E. Brown, K. Grace, G. Shively, K. Johnson, M. Carroll (2014) Using Satellite Remote Sensing and Household Survey Data to Assess Human Health and Nutrition Response to Environmental Change. Population and Environment. 36 (1) p. 48-72. doi: 10.1007/s11111-013-0201-0
  3. K. Grace, M.E. Brown, A. McNally (2014) Examining the link between food prices and food insecurity: A multi-level analysis of maize price and birthweight in Kenya Food Policy 46, p. 56-65. doi: 10.1016/j.foodpol.2014.01.010
  4. K. Johnson and M.E. Brown (2014) Environmental risk factors and child nutritional status and survival in a context of climate variability and change. Applied Geography 54 p. 209–221. Doi: 10.1016/j.apgeog.2014.08.007
  5. K. Grace, L. Frederick, M.E. Brown, L. Boukerrou, and B. Lloyd (2017) Investigating important interactions between water and food security for child health in Burkina Faso. Population and Environment Journal 39(1), pp 26-46. doi: 10.1007/s11111-017-0270-6
  6. Niles, M. and M.E. Brown (2017) A multi-country assessment of factors related to smallholder food security in varying rainfall conditions. Scientific Reports. 7: 16277, doi: 10.1038/s41598-017-16282-9.
  7. Cooper, M., M.E. Brown, C. Azzarri, and R. Meinzen-Dick (2019) Hunger, Nutrition and Precipitation: Evidence from Ghana and Bangladesh. Population and Environment. Doi: 10.1007/s11111-019-00323-8
  8. Cooper, M., M.E. Brown, S. Hochrainer-Stigler, G. Pflug, I. McCallum, S. Fritz, J. Silva, A. Zvoleff (2019) Mapping the Effects of Drought on Child Stunting. Proceeding of National Academy of Science.116 (35) 17219-17224; doi: 10.1073/pnas.1905228116
  9. M.E. Brown, Backer D., Billing T. White P., Grace K., Doocy S. and Huth P. (2020) Empirical Studies of Factors Associated with Child Malnutrition: Highlighting the Evidence about Climate and Conflict Shocks. Food Security Journal. DOI: 10.1007/s12571-020-01041-y
  10. Niles, M.T., B.F. Emery, S. Wiltshire, M.E. Brown, B. Fisher, T.H. Ricketts (2020) Climate Impacts associated with reduced diet diversity in children across nineteen countries. Environmental Research Letters. doi:10.1088/1748-9326/abd0ab

A final area of research has been focused on determining how information is used to change decision making. How do people use information? How can we measure effective outreach and communication programs? This area of research involves contributing to how we can design effective programs that allow for the co-development of knowledge with stakeholders so that our scientific data products result in changes in programming, investment and policy to improve human health and wellbeing. This research is funded primarily by the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) via their applied sciences and carbon monitoring system programs but is also very relevant to agricultural development and food security activities. If the scientific community can more effectively engage with policy and decision makers, then the information they produce can have an impact beyond research publications.

  1. M.E. Brown (2006). Assessing Natural Resource Management Challenges in Senegal: Integrating data from Participatory Rural Appraisals with Remote Sensing. World Development 34(4): 751-767. doi:10.1016/j.worlddev.2005.10.002   
  2. M.E. Brown, Funk, C.C., Galu, G. and Choularton, R. (2007) Earlier Famine Warning Possible Using Remote Sensing and Models. EOS, Transactions of the American Geophysical Union 88(39): 381–382.
  3. K.W. Ross, Brown, M.E., Verdin, J.P. and Underwood, L.W. (2009) Review of FEWS NET biophysical monitoring requirements, Environmental Research Letters. 4 (2009) 024009 (10pp) doi: 10.1088/1748-9326/4/2/024009
  4. M.E. Brown, V.M. Escobar, M. Macauley, J. Aschbacher, M.P. Milagro-Perez, B. Doorn, L. Friedl (2013) Policy for Robust Space-based Earth Science, Technology and Applications. Space Policy. 29(1). pp 76–82. doi: 10.1016/j.spacepol.2012.11.007
  5. M.E. Brown and V.M. Escobar (2014) Assessment of Soil Moisture Data Requirements by the Potential SMAP Data User Community: Review of SMAP Mission User Community. IEEE Journal of Selected Topics in Applied Earth Observations and Remote Sensing. 7 (1) 277–283. doi: 10.1109/JSTARS.2013.2261473
  6. M.E. Brown, E. B. Brickley (2012) Evaluating the Use of Remote Sensing data in the USAID Famine Early Warning Systems Network. Journal of Applied Remote Sensing. 6, 063511, DOI:10.1117/1.JRS.6.063511
  7. M.E. Brown, M. Carroll, V.M. Escobar (2014) User needs and assessing the impact of low latency NASA Earth observation data availability on societal benefit. Space Policy 30, p 135-137. doi: 10.1016/j.spacepol.2014.05.002
  8. M.E. Brown, Monica Ihli, Oscar Hendrick, Sabrina Delgado-Arias, Vanessa M. Escobar, Peter Griffith (2015) Social Network and Content Analysis of the North American Carbon Program as a Scientific Community of Practice Social Networks Journal. 44: 22-237. doi:10.1016/j.socnet.2015. 10.002
  9. M.E. Brown, V.M. Escobar (2019) NASA’s Early Adopter Program Links Satellite Data to Decision Making. Remote Sensing Journal. 11:4, 406; doi: 10.3390/rs11040406
  10. M.E. Brown, C.W. Cooper, P. Griffith (2020) NASA’s Carbon Monitoring System (CMS) and Arctic-Boreal Vulnerability Experiment (ABoVE) Social Network and Community of Practice. Environmental Research Letters. doi: 10.1088/1748-9326/aba300



Areas of Interest

  • remote sensing, agriculture, food security, digital software


  • Degree Type
    Degree Details
    Department of Geographical Sciences, University of Maryland College Park
  • Degree Type
    Degree Details
    Department of Geographical Sciences, University of Maryland College Park
  • Degree Type
    Degree Details
    Biology and Environmental Studies, Tufts University
  • National
    National Academy of Science's Committee on Earth Sciences and Applications from Space
  • National
    Member of the NACP Science Implementation Plan writing committee, to be issued in 2021
  • International
    Associate Editor for Open Climate Change Journal from the Oxford University Press

Former Students

  • Matthew Cooper
    Post-doctoral Fellow, Harvard University

Related Students (Listed by Student on Student's Profile)

  • Walid Ouaret
Photo of Molly from June 2021
Off campus office
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