Heather J. Lynch

2019 National Award Winner — Faculty

Heather J. Lynch

Current Position:
Associate Professor with a joint appointment in Ecology and Evolution (Stony Brook University) and the Institute for Advanced Computational Science (Stony Brook University)

Stony Brook University

Ecology and Evolution

Recognized for: Unique synthesis of cutting-edge statistics, mathematical models, satellite remote sensing and Antarctic field biology to understand the spatial and temporal patterns of penguin colonies to predict population growth, collapse and possible extinction. 

Areas of Research Interest and Expertise: Ecology, Remote Sensing, Statistical modeling, Antarctic Penguins, Conservation Biology

Heather Lynch


PhD, Harvard University
MA, Harvard University
AB, Princeton University 

Research Summary:

Dr. Heather J. Lynch studies the temporal and spatial organization of Antarctic penguin colonies, with a particular interest in understanding where penguins breed, how populations might be changing, and how we can use new technologies to monitor them more efficiently. Dr. Lynch’s interest spans all spatial scales, from understanding the detailed three-dimensional structure of penguin colonies to continental-scale surveys using satellite imagery. Through her use of satellite imagery, Dr. Lynch discovered several previously unknown colonies of Adélie penguins in an archipelago known as the Danger Islands, 1.5 million penguins in all, and is now at the forefront of using computer vision to automate satellite imagery interpretation for tracking Antarctic wildlife. By combining population data from satellite imagery, decades of data collected from remote site visits of Antarctic breeding grounds, and sophisticated statistical models tailored for integrating patchy data, Dr. Lynch and her collaborators have uncovered fluctuations in population abundance stretching back to the late 1970s. In concert with detailed simulations of how penguin colonies form and collapse, these models can predict whether a penguin colony is likely to undergo population collapse. Beyond her groundbreaking advances in understanding ecological spatial dynamics, Dr. Lynch is a regular advisor to Antarctic policymakers, has developed decision support software to aid in the design of Marine Protected Areas, and works closely with the Antarctic tourism industry to identify environmentally sensitive sites. At the crossroads of basic and applied research, Dr. Lynch is perfectly positioned to translate population forecasting into improved decision-making and management in Antarctica.

“As someone who loves all areas of science and math equally, it’s been difficult to “settle down” into a research career that fits neatly into any one discipline. But I’ve come to appreciate that there are some beautiful stories to be told in the no-man’s land between different research areas and that basic science and applied science can work hand-in-hand. I am absolutely stunned by this honor and deeply humbled to join the company of previous Finalists.”

Key Publications:

  1. A. Borowicz, P. McDowall, C. Youngflesh, T. Sayre-McCord, G. Clucas, R. Herman, S. Forrest, M. Rider, M. Schwaller, T. Hart, S. Jenouvrier, M.J. Polito, H. Singh, and H.J. Lynch. Multi-modal survey of Adélie penguin mega-colonies reveals the Danger Islands as a seabird hotspot. Scientific Reports, 2018.  
  2. C. Che-Castaldo, , S. Jenouvrier, C. Youngflesh, K. Shoemaker, G. Humphries, P. McDowall, L. Landrum, M. Holland, Y. Li, R. Ji, H.J. Lynch. Pan-Antarctic analysis aggregating spatial estimates of Adélie penguin abundance reveals robust dynamics despite stochastic noise. Nature Communications, 2017. 
  3. C. Foley, M. Lynch, L. H. Thorne, H.J. Lynch. Listing foreign species under the Endangered Species Act: A Primer for Conservation Biologists?  BioScience, 2017.
  4. C. Youngflesh, S. Jenouvrier, J.T. Hinke, L. DuBois, J. St. Leger, W.Z. Trivelpiece, S.G. Trivelpiece, H.J. Lynch. Rethinking ‘normal’: The role of stochasticity in the phenology of a synchronously breeding seabird. Journal of Animal Ecology, 2018.

Other Honors:

2018 National Geographic Explorer (AI for Earth program)
2014 Ecological Society of America Early Career Fellow
2013 NSF CAREER Award
2000 American Physical Society Leroy Apker Award

In the Media:

On the discovery of the Danger Islands:

CBS - “Super Colony of Penguins Discovered”

New York Post – There’s a penguin colony so large you can see it from space

New York Times – “A Supercolony of Penguins Has Been Found Near Antarctica”

Wall Street Journal - “The Secret Is Out: Scientists Spot Penguin ‘Super-Colony’ in Antarctica”

Forbes - NASA Tracks Penguin Poop From Space – ‘Smell’ An Explanation Coming?”

First global Adélie survey from satellites:

Newsday – “Researchers tally 53% more Adélie penguins using satellites”

Audubon – “One, Two, 3.79 million: How many penguins are there?”

On the impacts of climate change and tourism:

Wall Street Journal – “Counting Penguins Isn’t Black and White”

NBC’s Sunday Night with Megyn Kelly – “Counting penguins: What penguins in Antarctica might be telling us about climate change”

Washington Post – “Antarctica’s penguins could be decimated by climate change”

Mother Jones – “March of the Tourists”