Robinson Negron-Juarez

Sept. 6, 2022

When Robinson I. Negrón-Juárez grew up in Lima, Peru, it only rained during El Niño events, every three to five years. The weather was interesting to a young child. He earned his degrees in Peru and Brazil, did postdoctoral work at Tulane University and Georgia Institute of Technology, and in 2013 followed professor and Lab scientist Jeff Chambers to Berkeley Lab.

Negrón-Juárez’s interest in extreme weather events never left him, and today he works in the Earth and Environmental Sciences area where he studies atmospheric science and forest ecology. In July, he was awarded an honorary doctorate from the National University of the Peruvian Amazon.

What do you do at the Lab?

I study how extreme weather events from rainfall produce tree mortality in the Amazon rainforest. Tree mortality related to winds has never been studied across the whole Amazon rainforest, which is six million square kilometers. The application is that tree mortality will change in the future related to climate change.

I am part of the Next Generation Ecosystem Experiments-Tropics (NGEE-T) project that is directed by Professor Jeffrey Q. Chambers and the Reducing Uncertainties in Biogeochemical Interactions through Synthesis and Computation (RUBISCO) Science Focus Area. Dr. William Riley is one of the PIs. I am also part of Ameriflux, a network of PI-managed sites measuring ecosystem CO2, water, and energy fluxes in North, Central and South America. It was established to connect research on field sites representing major climate and ecological biomes, including tundra, grasslands, savanna, crops, and conifer, deciduous, and tropical forests.

When working in the field in the Amazon a bug net is important due to the number of mosquitos. This photo was taken at the Tambopata site in Peru atop the eddy flux tower. I was there in 2021 as part of my work on the NASA Soil Moisture Active Passive, or SMAP project, which is an orbiting observatory that measures the amount of water in the surface soil everywhere on Earth.

What is the role of Indigenous scientists in the Amazon?

Frequently we see Indigenous people participate in field research, but they have no possibility of becoming scientists. There is a lack of opportunities. Language is a barrier. Money is a barrier. I try to find opportunities for Indigenous people to study outside Peru and Brazil.

What is it like in the Amazon rainforest?

It is not like you see in cartoons where you grab fruits from the trees. If you want to stay for several days, you need to take food and get a team of people. Someone who knows the area is very important. Each part of the Amazon is completely different. For instance, you need a machete to be able to walk through some parts.

I’ve taken several scientific field trips to the Amazon. Most recently in August of this year, I was at the BIONTE site in the Central Amazon. I was installing soil moisture sensors in a pit that we dug. This is part of the NGEE-T project. You can learn more by following the project on Twitter.