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Staal is a postdoctoral researcher within the Earth Resilience in the Anthropocene project. As part of the planetary boundaries group, he researches how land-cover changes and climate change affect the resilience of Earth’s tropical forests. These forests may be “tipping elements” due to the existence of positive (amplifying) feedbacks acting on different scales. One positive feedback occurs when loss of forest cover enhances fire, which in turn reduces forest cover. Another positive feedback involves the regional climate: forest cover increases rainfall, which in turn favours forest cover. To unravel such dynamics, Staal aims to bridge empirical observations with theoretical approaches, which range from simple ecological models to large-scale hydrological simulations.
Staal received his PhD in ecology in 2018 from Wageningen University, the Netherlands. He holds BSc and MSc (cum laude) degrees in environmental science from Utrecht University, the Netherlands. During his MSc studies, he was selected for the Honours Programme of the Netherlands Research School for Socio-Economic and Natural Sciences of the Environment (SENSE), leading to the award of a PhD scholarship “Complex Dynamics in Human-Environment Systems” by SENSE in 2013.
Staal has published more than ten scientific articles, including in Nature Climate Change and Nature Communications. He has also co-authored a certified teaching module for Dutch high school students about the mathematics behind tipping points.