Skip to main content

News & Events

October 5th, 2017

Alan Townsend named new director of INSTAAR

After an internal search, Terri Fiez, Interim Dean of the Institutes and Vice Chancellor for Research & Innovation, appointed Alan R. Townsend director of INSTAAR on October 2nd. The appointment followed the recommendation of the INSTAAR Directorate. Previously, Townsend spent 17 years on the faculty at CU Boulder before becoming dean of the Duke University Nicholas School of the Environment in 2014. He returned to CU Boulder early this year as the associate vice chancellor for research, INSTAAR Fellow, and professor of Environmental Studies (ENVS).

“Alan's vision, his success as a leader in a variety of roles and his strong relationships and history at INSTAAR make him a natural choice to build on the strong foundation already in place,” said Fiez.

Prior to his time at Duke, Townsend served as director of the Division of Environmental Biology at the National Science Foundation and the lead of CU Boulder’s efforts to secure the U.S. hub of Future Earth, now located in CU Boulder’s Sustainability, Energy and Environment Community (SEEC). Before that, he held various roles at CU Boulder, including director of the ENVS, professor and assistant professor in the department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology (EBIO), and Fellow and associate director at INSTAAR. He also co-directed the national Aldo Leopold Leadership Program. Townsend continues to hold a faculty appointment in ENVS.

Townsend is an ecosystem ecologist who studies how ecosystems work, how they are changing, and what those changes might mean for society. A particular focus has been nutrient cycling and biogeochemistry in tropical forests.

“I'm both humbled and thrilled to take on the INSTAAR directorship,” said Townsend. “We are committed to helping use our scientific knowledge to address society’s grand environmental challenges, and to doing so in a place where people of any background can thrive.”

Townsend succeeds James W. C. White, who completed a decade of service as INSTAAR director before recently being tapped to be the interim dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. “I want to thank Jim White for his decade-long dedication and commitment to INSTAAR,” Fiez said. “Through his leadership, he has been a strong advocate for INSTAAR and sought out collaborative opportunities. He will bring this same quality leadership as Dean of the College of A&S. We are fortunate to have Alan ready and willing to take the helm and continue on the foundation that Jim has built together with all of INSTAAR.”

INSTAAR is CU Boulder’s oldest research institute, with historic strengths in polar and alpine regions, where effects of global change are especially pronounced. INSTAAR research has broadened to include environmental challenges that span local, regional, and global scales, and includes topics in Quaternary and modern environments, human and ecosystem ecology, biogeochemistry, landscape evolution, hydrology, oceanography, and climate.