Mark J. Lara, Assistant Professor

Although I am originally from the hot and arid southwestern United States, these days I spend much of my time and energy thinking about another arid environment, the Arctic tundra. My research aims to advance our understanding of the causes of dynamic spatiotemporal patterns of permafrost landscape evolution in response to warming, wildfire, and permafrost degradation, and the consequences on regional to global-scale biogeophysical feedbacks. When not spending time with my three girls, I enjoy spending time outdoors and electrifying my senses.

Bhagyashree Verma, Postdoctoral Research Associate

I completed my master’s degree in Physics from the Indian Institue of Technology (IIT) Delhi (India) and subsequently pursued a doctorate in Remote Sensing from IIT BHU (India). Throughout my doctoral research, I engaged in the utilization and development of various models for the estimation of biophysical and biochemical parameters for agricultural species. This involved working with techniques such as image simulation, denoising spectra, and the application of machine learning algorithms. Presently, I am affiliated with Mark’s laboratory, where I use the techniques and expertise I gained from my previous studies to investigate a new field: Arctic disturbances in the NASA-ABoVE project.

Aiden Schore, Graduate Research Assistant

I’m interested in changing ecosystem function and dynamics, especially in relation to climate change and at the poles. After studying how polar bear population dynamics were effected by changing sea ice, I received by B.S. in Biology with a focus in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology from Brown University and then spend a year and a half working for the US Army Corps of Engineers looking at wetland ecosystems. My research in the Lara lab focuses on large spatial and temporal scale disturbance patterns in the Alaskan tundra with an eye towards modeling future change.

Caroline Ludden, Graduate Research Assistant

The dance between ecosystems and the atmosphere has long fascinated me. I graduated with a B.S. in Integrative Biology from the University of Illinois. After graduation, I spent a year working as a Cultural Orientation Provider to refugees in Central New York and am happy to return to the University of Illinois.  This intrigue with ecosystem-atmospheric interactions led me to Dr. Lara’s lab. My research will focus on carbon emissions from permafrost degradation in arctic ecosystems.

Emma Hall, Graduate Research Assistant

After receiving my B.S. in Environmental Geology from Beloit College, I interned as a GIS Technician for Big Bend National Park. Conducting field work in this arid environment secured my passion for utilizing spatial analysis to research ecosystems and land processes that are impacted by climate change. My work in Lara’s lab will involve using remote sensing to study evolving landscapes in the Alaskan tundra, including the investigation of shrub expansion and permafrost degradation.

Wenqu Chen, Graduate Research Assistant

I am currently a PhD student in the Department of Geography & Geographic Information Science at the University of Illinois Urbana – Champaign. I obtained my master degree in GIS from Clark University. I am interested in the computational aspects of developing and applying geographic data science to solve environmental issues.

Lijia Guo, Graduate Research Assistant

I’m a Ph.D. student in plant biology program, school of integrative biology. I got my bachelor’s and master’s degrees in environmental science from Beijing Normal University. I worked on revealing environmental factors changes (including land surface temperature, net primary productivity etc.) using remote sensing data and some ecological models in Beijing, China. My work in Lara’s lab will involve understanding the fundamental plant-soil-microbial interactions and the spatial temporal dynamics following thermokarst initiation in Arctic tundra ecosystems.

Zhuoxuan Xia, Visiting Graduate Research Assistant

I am a PhD student at the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK), working on investigating the temporal and spatial variation of thermokarst landforms on the Qinghai Tibet Plateau (QTP) using remote sensing and machine learning methods. Now, as a visiting graduate research assistant at Lara’s Lab, I will combine and compare the thermokarst landforms on the QTP and those in the Alaskan Arctic. Specifically, how the NDVI changes in the short term after disturbance.

Nick Beronio, Undergraduate Research Assistant


Duncan Anderson, Graduate Research Assistant (2021-2023)

Coming from Huntersville, North Carolina, I graduated with a B.S. in Environmental Technology and Management from North Carolina State University in 2020, and worked as a GIS Specialist with the NC Coastal Reserve throughout a gap year before joining Dr. Lara’s lab as a master’s student here at Illinois. Winding my way through both geospatial data science and environmental change, I’m examining landslide occurrence over time in Southeast Alaksa and British Columbia though time-series Landsat data and relating occurrence to heavy precipitation from atmospheric river events in the powerful, flexible, and accessible Google Earth Engine and my own fieldwork in BC. I also enjoy exploring various human geography topics, including environmental and mobility justice and queer geographies. In my free time I love to cycle, bake, play tabletop and video games – my favorite being Kerbal Space Program.

Yaping Chen, Graduate Research Assistant (2016-2020)

The Arctic is one of the most pristine regions on earth. I developed my interests in Arctic ecosystem when I was little, and this obsession lead me to Dr. Lara’s lab to gain a deeper understanding of the unique landscape. My research focuses on Alaskan tundra ecosystem, which has been experiencing pronounced warming and intensified disturbances over past decades. I use numerical modeling and remote sensing to explore the complex interactions between climate change, fire disturbance and tundra ecology. My latest work uses high-resolution imagery and field observations to investigate the long-term responses of permafrost and tundra shrubs to multi-decades’ warming and burning

Kyle Thornton, URA ( 2022-2023)

Srishti Rawat, GRA Programmer (2020 )

Wenshan Xiong, URA Programmer (2019-2020)

Mohamed Amn, URA Programmer (2019-2020)