Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey

Liz Chornesky

Associate Professor

I am passionate about: Sustaining nature and its benefits in an era of accelerating global change.

What excites me most about being a professor at MIIS: The creativity, drive, and pragmatism of the students. MIIS students want to make a meaningful difference in the world and eagerly engage in collaborative learning to build the knowledge and skills they need to succeed.

Liz Chornesky works at the interface of science and policy on issues related to ecosystem management, sustainability, and global change. Since 2002, through her consulting practice and scholarly activities, Dr. Chornesky has assisted numerous non-profit organizations, philanthropies, and public agencies in designing and evaluating science, policy, investment, and organizational strategies. Her primary focus for the past decade has been developing practical solutions for anticipating and adapting to climate change. Related projects have included assessments of emerging policy frameworks, best practices for adaptively managing marine protected areas and fisheries, and principles for sustaining ecosystem functions and benefits.

Dr. Chornesky’s diverse experiences in the public and private sectors contribute to her robust real-world understanding of nature and of the roles people and organizations play in advancing effective conservation and natural resources management. Her early career as a research scientist introduced her to marine ecosystems and underwater exploration, as she traveled extensively throughout the Caribbean, spent hundreds of hours underwater, and participated in submersible and saturation dives in pursing her studies of tropical coral reefs. While working for the U.S. Congress, she developed a keen appreciation of the interplay of policy, political context, institutions, and individual leadership as she assessed national global change and environmental issues. And, conservation practitioners taught her much about the realities of place-based conservation and ecological management during her service as National Director of Stewardship and as a senior scientist at The Nature Conservancy. These and her varied consulting experiences continue to drive and shape Dr. Chornesky’s approach and commitment to teaching and policy engagement.


Global change, Marine ecology & coral reef ecology, Ecosystem management, Climate change adaptation & resilience, Marine protected areas, Science integration & communication, Strategy development, policy analysis, & organizational design

Recent Accomplishments

Dr. Chornesky served on West Coast Ocean Acidification and Hypoxia Science Panel from 2013 through 2016. This timely panel summarized current understanding of ocean acidification and hypoxia and developed actionable recommendations for the states of California, Oregon, Washington and British Columbia. Efforts are now underway along the west coast to implement many of the panel’s science and management recommendations.

In 2014, the American Association for the Advancement of Science elected Dr. Chornesky a Fellow in recognition of her work applying environmental science to policy development and evaluation in the public and private sectors.


PhD, Biological Sciences (Ecology), University of Texas at Austin, United States; BA, Biology, Cornell University, United States


Klinger, T., E.A. Chornesky, E.A. Whiteman, F. Chan, J.L. Largier, W. Wakefield. 2017. Using integrated ecosystem-level management to address intensifying ocean acidification and hypoxia in the California Current Large Marine Ecosystem. Elementa: Science of the Anthropocene 5:16.

Chan, F., Boehm, A.B., Barth, J.A., Chornesky, E.A., Dickson, A.G., et al. 2016. The West Coast Ocean Acidification and Hypoxia Science Panel: Major Findings, Recommendations, and Actions. California Ocean Science Trust, Oakland, California, USA. April 2016.

Chornesky, E.A., Ackerly, D.D., Beier, P., Davis, F.W., Flint, L.E., et al. 2015. Adapting California’s ecosystems to a changing climate. Bioscience 65: 247-262.

Davis, F.W. and E.A. Chornesky. 2014. Adapting to climate change in California. Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 70: 62-73.

Course List

Courses offered in the past four years.
indicates offered in the current term
indicates offered in the upcoming term[s]

IEPG 8503 - Resrch Strategies for Env Pol      

This course introduces students to the design and implementation of research, with an emphasis on applied research into contemporary social and ecological issues that part of policy development and implementation. The course will be interdisciplinary in scope and will include the use of historical, ethnographic, biophysical, political and contextual data and information. The course will cover various social science methods, including political science, policy analysis, and sociology, and associated analytical approaches that can be used to develop and design research proposals, including case study and comparative case studies, survey design, content analysis, documentary analysis, and ethnographic approaches.

Fall 2017 - MIIS, MIIS Second Half of Term

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IEPG 8611 - Sustainable Coastal Management      

Coasts are an important source of native species diversity and provide a rich array of ecosystem services to humans. About forty percent of the world’s population lives within 100 km of a coast. Urban and economic development over the past fifty years has taken a heavy ecological toll on coasts and they are highly degraded. Going forward, coastal economies, communities and ecosystems are all highly vulnerable to the projected impacts of climate change, including flooding, storm surges, subsidence and sea level rise.

This course provides a foundation in the management challenges and governance frameworks of sustainable coastal management. The central focus of the course is on coastal climate vulnerability and resilience. Taught by a multi-disciplinary team, the course integrates science, economics, and policy perspectives on climate risk, adaptation, and resilience.

Part One examines current policy and legal frameworks for coastal management, explores ecological vulnerability to climate change and considers how current frameworks promote or impede adaptation. Part two examines the socio-economic vulnerability of coastal cities to climate change, explores the benefits and costs of both top-down and bottom-up adaptation options, and considers the role of households and the private sector in promoting community resilience. Many of the readings focus on the California coast but we will examine case studies from other parts of the US and internationally. Students will work in teams to produce a Consultation Practicum and a case study of a coastal city which includes a climate vulnerability assessment and adaptation options analysis.

Fall 2017 - MIIS

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IEPG 8635 - Intl Marine Science & Policy      

This course focuses on the interface between science and policy in the management, sustainable use, and conservation of ocean ecosystems and resources. The framework for understanding this nexus will include an overview of: (i) the ecological and oceanographic processes that structure marine ecosystems and affect the delivery of societal benefits from the oceans; and (ii) the roles of relevant governance systems, institutions, and actors in ocean policymaking, with a particular emphasis on the role of science and scientists in decision-making. The course will introduce best practices and emerging issues, and will explore a portfolio of ecosystem-based tools for ocean planning, management, assessment, and decision-making. Emphasis will be placed throughout on understanding the drivers, impacts and implications of accelerating global change, including those related to intensifying and shifting human uses and anthropogenic climate change.

Spring 2017 - MIIS, MIIS Winter/J Term only, Fall 2017 - MIIS

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