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I am an Earth system scientist who studies the interactions between climate change, terrestrial ecosystems and the carbon cycle. I am interested in the effects of climate change on ecosystem disturbances and carbon fluxes, and their feedbacks to climate.

I received my PhD in Geography in 2010 from Ghent University. Between 2011 and 2016 I worked in the US; first as postdoctoral researcher at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), later as project scientist at the University of California, Irvine. In 2016, I started as Assistant Professor at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. Since 2021, I lead the Climate & Ecosystems Change research group at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam as Associate Professor.

In 2018, the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research granted my Vidi project Fires Pushing Trees North. In 2020, the European Research Council granted my consolidator project FireIce: Fire in the land of Ice. I am a member of the NASA Arctic-Boreal Vulnerability Experiment science team and a management committee member of the European COST research network ‘Fire in the Earth System’.

My research focuses on the role of ecosystem disturbance on the water, carbon and energy cycles within the context of global change. I use a combination of field, modeling and remote sensing methods. My goal is to better understand the complex interactions between ecosystems, carbon cycling, climate and humans in a changing world.


Environmental Remote Sensing (MSc)

Earth Observation (BSc)

Global Change (BSc)


 FireIce - Fire in the land of ice: climatic drivers & feedbacks

 A consolidator project funded by the ERC, 2021-2026 

2019 was the largest fire year since at least 1997 within the Arctic Circle, largely driven by Siberian fires. The arctic-boreal region stores about two atmospheres worth of soil carbon with 90 % currently locked in permafrost soils, or perennially frozen ground. Fire releases parts of this carbon stock, which may induce a vigorous climate warming feedback. 

FireIce will investigate feedbacks between climate warming and arctic-boreal fires by studying direct and longer-term carbon emissions from fires. FireIce will acquire highly needed observations of carbon emissions from Siberian forest and tundra fires. On top of the direct fire emissions, fires accelerate permafrost degradation, which leads to greenhouse gas emissions for several decades. Their sum may be substantially larger than the direct emissions, yet is largely unknown. In addition, FireIce will investigate the relative contribution of CH4 from smoldering fires to fire emissions. CH4 emissions represent a small, yet not well known, fraction of carbon emissions from fires, but CH4 is a more potent greenhouse gas than CO2. 

FireIce will investigate feedbacks between climate warming and arctic-boreal fires by studying controls on fire size and ignition. Fire growth can be limited because of fuel or fire weather limitations. The fire weather control is sensitive to warming, which may lead to larger future fires. Lightning ignition is the main source of burned area in arctic-boreal regions, and more lightning is expected in the future. By combining contemporary controls on fire size and ignition, and future predictions of climate and lightning, FireIce will assess the vulnerability of arctic-boreal permafrost and soil carbon to increases in fire.

FireIce’s results will be relevant to evidence-based policy. FireIce’s innovations are conceptual, i.e. unstudied aspects of an emerging warming feedback loop, methodological, e.g. inclusion of novel spaceborne data, and geographical, i.e. a focus on Siberia.


Fires Pushing Trees North

A Vidi project funded by NWO and affiliated with NASA ABoVE, 2018-2023

The vast arctic-boreal region stores about 35% of the world’s soil carbon. Climate warming is occurring more rapidly in these northern high latitudes than in the rest of the world. These warmer temperatures are causing the number of wildfires to rise. These fires release large amounts of terrestrial carbon into the atmosphere. After tundra fires, freshly exposed mineral soils may be susceptible to tree colonization. This alters surface heating patterns: darker forests absorb more heat than brighter tundra. This may further amplify high-latitude warming.

Much of what we know about these dynamics is based on research carried out in arctic-boreal North America, even though the surface area of arctic-boreal Eurasia is about twice as large. The knowledge gained from North America may not be transferable to Eurasia regions because ecosystems and fire regimes are fundamentally different between the two continents; stand-replacing high-intensity fires dominate in North America compared to lower intensity surface fires in Eurasia.

This project will sample carbon fluxes from fires and post-fire tree colonization around two field sites in Siberia. These rare field observations will be analyzed in combination with similar data collected in North America from NASA’s Arctic-Boreal Vulnerability Experiment (ABoVE). I will combine these sets of field data with remote sensing and climate datasets. This will result in a new circumpolar geospatial database of carbon emissions from all arctic-boreal fires since 2001. I will assess also continental-scale, including differences between continents, ecosystem shifts driven by fires and their effect on the carbon balance and climate.

The overarching objective of this project is quantify and understand the role of fire in high-latitude climate feedback loops. Our results are relevant to the process which provides evidence-based policy for governments.


FireScapes: towards an interdisciplinary understanding of wildfire risk mitigation in the Dutch landscape

A seed money project funded by the Amsterdam Sustainability Institute, 2021-2022

Over the last year, the number of wildfires has increased dramatically in the Netherlands and they are expected to increase further. This increase can be attributed to both climate change and changes in the use and management of the land. Researchers and fire practitioners plead for measures to prevent the spreading of fires over large nature areas, for example by developing vegetation buffers of low flammability between highly flammable areas. Like the wildfires themselves, these measures could have a great impact on the (historical) landscapes and the ecological, cultural and political values they constitute. 

There are some important knowledge gaps that hamper the design of appropriate and effective prevention methods of wildfires in the Netherlands. While some measures exist, they may not be suitable for the Dutch landscape. Secondly, the current increase as well as prevention and mitigation of wildfires are the result of complex human-nature interactions. The design of appropriate measures therefore requires transdisciplinary collaboration and knowledge production.

In this project, we want to map this knowledge gap on the relationship between wildfires, wildfire risk reduction and mitigation measures and the ecological, cultural and political values of the Dutch landscape. We will conduct a pilot study of the Veluwe and connect with land managers and policy makers in the area. Finally, we aim to integrate the project within their different bachelor and master teaching programmes.

Ancillary activities

No ancillary activities

Ancillary activities are updated daily

Ancillary activities

Selected press & media

Lightning fires threaten planet-cooling forests. BBC, November 2023

The ancient subarctic forests at risk from climate change and war. Financial Times, September 2022

Why Arctic wildfires are releasing more carbon than ever. Reuters, September 2022

Russia's war in Ukraine forces Arctic climate project to pivot. Nature, July 2022

The great Siberian thaw. The New Yorker, January 2022

The ‘zombie’ fires that keep burning under snow-covered forests. Nature podcast, May 2021

Blazes that refuse to die: ‘zombie fires’. New York Times, May 2021 

‘Zombie’ fires in the Arctic are linked to climate change. National Geographic, May 2021 

Once-rare Arctic lightning is now more frequent – and may reshape the region. National Geographic, April 2021

Worsening wildfires spark photonics demand and innovations. Photonics spectra, April 2021 

Is lightning striking the Arctic more than ever before? Nature, December 2020 

The rise of zombie fires. EOS, June 2020

Lightning is silently killing forests – and it's going to get worse. New Scientist, June 2020

'Zombie' fires might be reigniting after Siberian winter. E&E News, June 2020

Nunavut warmed, Siberia burned and Greenland melted: the Arctic summer that was like no other, The Star, September 2019

Climate change made the Arctic greener. Now parts of it are turning brown, Science News, April 2019

Discussion about climate change and fires in the Arctic, This Morning (South Korean radio), July 2018

Climate change: Greenland wildfires triggered by rising temperatures, scientists warn, Newsweek, August 2017

Lightning-caused fires on the rise in the world's largest forest, National Geographic, June 2017

Lightning-caused fires rise in Arctic as regions warms, Scientific American, June 2017

Alaska’s wildfire season was so intense you can see the consequences from space, Washington Post, September 2015

Satellite images show how wildfires have devastated Alaska, Time, September 2015

In Dutch

Sander Veraverbeke doet onderzoek naar natuurbranden, Met Het Oog Op Morgen NPO Radio 1, juli 2023

De link tussen natuurbranden en klimaatverandering: welke uitspraken kloppen en welke niet, VRT, juli 2023

Er vallen gaten in de Siberische bodem en dat baart wetenschappers zorgen, NRC Handelsblad, December 2022

Bosbranden verwoesten nu al fors meer Europese natuur dan in heel 2021, NOS, July 2022

Weerrecord in Siberië: deze zomer meeste bosbranden sinds begin metingen, NOS Radio 1 Journaal, August 2021 

Opwarming leidt tot meer ‘zombie-branden’ in Noordpoolgebied, National Geographic, May 2021

Zombiebranden overleven onder winters sneeuwdek, NRC Handelsblad, May 2021 

Bosbranden die een winterslaap houden, Wetenschap vandaag BNR Nieuwsradio, May 2021 

Onweer in het Noordpoolgebied wordt steeds minder zeldzaam, National Geographic, April 2021

Hoe kunnen we de branden temmen?, Bureau Buitenland NPO Radio 1, September 2020

Temperaturen Siberië stijgen snel, De Ochtendspits BNR Nieuwsradio, June 2020

Interview about fires in Siberia, NOS Nieuwsuur, July 2019

Steeds vaker bosbranden op de poolcirkel, De Ochtendspits BNR Nieuwsradio, July 2019

Vlucht naar waar het vuur al was, NRC Handelsblad, July 2018

De ongelijke strijd tegen bliksem, Het Parool, March 2018

Discussion of the 2017 fires in Southern California, RTL Boulevard, December 2017

Brand bij de Poolcirkel, Met Het Oog Op Morgen NPO Radio 1, August 2017

Discussion of the 2017 fire season in southern Europe, RTL Summer Night, July 2017

Het is niet de droogte maar de bliksem die de bossen in Alaska en Canada in vlammen doet opgaan, de Volkskrant, June 2017

Grotere kans op bosbranden, Radio Een Vandaag, June 2017

Bliksem ontsteekt branden in noordelijke bossen, NRC, June 2017

Expertise related to UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This person’s work contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 13 - Climate Action
  • SDG 15 - Life on Land


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