STEM Shoutout: Dr. Yolanda Lin

New GES professor continues natural hazards research at UNM


Dr. Yolanda Lin, an assistant professor of Geography and Environmental Studies, brings research on computational modeling and disaster risk for natural hazards to UNM. 


Lin, who joined UNM in January 2021, said her research is focused on the intersection of human, environmental and built systems. 


“My training was in engineering, but my postdoc was very multidisciplinary and I wanted to continue to be in that transdisciplinary space where I can pull in elements of engineering but also look at hazards from the lens of risk, earth science, social science, and policy. Geography and Environmental Studies is really the ideal department to be able to continue this work,” Lin said. 


Before arriving at UNM, Lin obtained her Master’s in Civil Engineering with a focus on earthquake engineering. In 2018, Lin finished her PhD at Cornell University in Civil and Environmental Engineering where she was developing a system to monitor extreme events for ships in the arctic. She then completed her postdoc in Singapore at Nanyang Technological University, with a focus on natural hazards and disasters. 


“I grew up in California so the experience of living with earthquakes, wildfires, and other hazards have all been key motivators for my research. I want my research to really focus on improving the lives of people, allowing them to move with confidence in their day,” Lin said. “Sometimes when we talk about disasters, we often want to describe the event by quantifying the hazard itself, like the magnitude of an earthquake or hurricane category, lives lost, dollars lost, and/or building damage. But, at the end of the day what I’m most interested in is how hazards affect people and communities, and how we can be more resilient in the face of these hazards. I’m really excited to work with the department and my colleagues to recognize that.”


Currently, her work applies two main ideas to disaster risk analysis: first, examining factors that increase or decrease the magnitude of a disaster, and second, shifting risk analysis to a more human centric approach.


“We usually only consider past disasters exactly how they happened. In my work, we instead explore the probabilistic range of what could have happened, examining factors like what time of day who was where etc. This is a way to  consider the past as not just one event, but really exploring all of the possibilities around that so that we don’t have to live a disaster to learn from one,” Lin said. “That is one strand of things that I’ve been working on; the other is in fostering a human-centric approach in risk analysis and scenario development. Instead of starting at the hazard and then calculating impacts, I’ve been working to flip the process and instead, first identify the thresholds or the consequences that we as a societal system can’t handle and map that back to the hazards that we need to be prepared for. This can help us  hone in on truly consequential scenarios in addition to the typical routes for identifying scenarios, such as the ‘worst case’ scenario or a ‘likely’ scenario.”


Recently, Lin has been awarded three grants to apply to this research, one from the USGS Earthquake Hazards Program, a UNM internal RAC award, and is co-PI on an NSF grant that monitors for flood risks after wildfires. Along with these grants, Lin said she is looking forward to applying her work more regionally as well. 


“Hazards driven by climate change, such as droughts, extreme heat, flooding, and wildfires, are really important in New Mexico, and there’s also some seismic risk here too,” Lin said. “I think one of the major shifts happening now in my field is moving from a single hazard approach to a multi hazard approach. New Mexico is a great place to be working on that.”


In regards to UNM, Lin said even without being on campus, she has already experienced a really collaborative and open environment.


“I really love the people who I’ve met, even if it’s just over Zoom. They’re really passionate about what they do, they do amazing research, and they’ve been really welcoming. Especially being in the department of Geography and Environmental Studies, I feel that there’s a lot of enthusiasm for interdisciplinary collaboration and that’s something that I’m very excited about,” Lin said.