Richard A. Houghton Ph.D.

  • Senior Scientist Emeritus
Richard Houghton

Dr. Richard (Skee) Houghton discovered a surprising disconnect between the fields of ecology and global carbon modeling when he was a graduate student, and he has spent his career working to bridge that gap. Dr. Houghton is an ecologist who studies the role that terrestrial ecosystems play in climate change and the global carbon cycle. His early work highlighted the importance of land use changes in generating carbon emissions. While he works primarily with empirical carbon bookkeeping models, he is constantly looking for the basic biological and ecological processes that could explain the results they generate.

Houghton speaks to MV High_March 2019_1

Above: Dr. Houghton speaks to high school students from Martha’s Vineyard.

Dr. Houghton has helped shape Woodwell Climate and his research field at large. He contributed to the reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007. In 2012, he was elected a Fellow of the American Geophysical Union. In 2014, he accepted the International Center for Climate Governance award for the world’s top-ranked climate change think tank on behalf of Woodwell Climate Research Center (then Woods Hole Research Center).

Dr. Houghton has served as Acting Director and Acting President, and held the George M. Woodwell Chair for Global Ecology from 2011-2021. When he’s not at work, he spends time on his property at the edge of the woods, reading, brewing beer, and practicing tai chi.

About half of fossil fuel emissions are absorbed by the land and oceans. As carbon dioxide in the atmosphere increases, we would expect that fraction to decrease and we don’t understand fully why it hasn’t.


A forested swamp where the ground is mossy

Land as a natural climate solution

Estimating the global potential for increasing carbon storage on land.

Selected Publications

Annual emissions of carbon from land use, land-use change, and forestry from 1850 to 2020

R.A. Houghton & A. Castanho (2023). Earth System Science Data.


Terrestrial fluxes of carbon in GCP carbon budgets

Houghton, R.A. (2020). Global Change Biology.


Where is the residual terrestrial carbon sink?

Houghton, R.A., A. Baccini, and W.S. Walker (2018). Global Change Biology.