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Karen Holmberg

Research Scientist and Co-Director of the Gallatin WetLab
712 - 1 Wash Pl

Office Hours
Tuesday 2:00-4:00
Wednesday 2:00-4:00

B.A., Anthropology, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, 1995
M.A., Anthropology, Columbia University, 1999
M.Phil., Anthropology, Columbia University, 2001
Ph.D., Anthropology (specialization in Archaeology & Volcanology), Columbia University, 2009

Karen Holmberg is an archaeologist who specializes in volcanic contexts to examine the long-term experiences humans have had with environments that change unpredictably. She is interested in how the past can aid understanding of the environmental challenges and crises of the 21st century, particularly in the Global South. Holmberg received her PhD from Columbia University after which she taught at Brown and Stanford Universities. Her doctoral work was funded by Fulbright, Mellon, and Wenner-Gren awards. She is the recipient of awards including a Creating Earth Futures award from the Geohumanities Centre of Royal Holloway University and the Leverhulme Trust, Make Our Planet Great Again award to collaborate with the Laboratoire de Gèographie Physique at the Panthèon-Sorbonne in Paris, and the This is Not a Drill award through the NYU-Tisch Future Imagination Fund that utilizes public pedagogy to address the intractable social problems of the climate emergency through technology, the arts, and critical thinking. Some recent science outreach activities include an appearance as a volcano expert on a new Disney+ game show for children that teaches science and critical thinking skills, The Big Fib; an immersive art-science piece, Double-Sided Immersion, at ZKM gallery in Karlsruhe, Germany as part of the 'Critical Zones' exhibition (May 2020-January 2022) curated by Bruno Latour and Peter Weibel; and co-directorship of the New York Virtual Volcano Observatory on Governors Island as Earth science outreach. She is the scientific director of the Gallatin WetLab, an experimental initiative for public-facing teaching and a living art-science laboratory. Holmberg currently directs interdisciplinary field projects examining past environmental changes and future volcanic risks on coastlines in Patagonia (Chaitèn, Chile) and near Naples, Italy (Campi Flegrei); closer to home, she researches the radically transforming past and future coastlines of New York City.

Teaching and Research Interests

environmental change  volcanism  archaeology  human-environment intersections  disaster  the sublime  rock art  art-science collaboration 

Recent News


2022 NAACP Trailblazer award, Women’s History Month
2021 This is Not a Drill, Future Imagination Fund, Tisch School of the Arts, NYU
2020 Green Grant, Office of Sustainability (Urban Greening Lab), NYU
2020 Bennett-Polonsky Humanities-Lab grant (Radical Ecologies Lab), NYU
2019 Djerassi Scientific Delirium Madness art-science residency [declined]
2019 National Geographic Women in STEM award (SciencesPo, SPEAP program)
2018 Make Our Planet Great Again (Laboratoire de Géographie Physique, Panthéon-Sorbonne)
2018 National Geographic Research Grant, Principal Investigator (NGS-185C-18), Chaitén, Patagonia
2018 Creating Earth Futures Commission, Royal Holloway Geohumanities Centre/Leverhulme Trust

Recent Discussions of my research: 

Disaster Artist. Scope: Research at New York University (4):30-34. May, 2023

Archeology in an Emergency,’ Art Papers, Part I. June 8, 2021

Archaeology in an Emergency,’ Art Papers,  Part 2. Oct 6, 2021


Refereed Journal Articles

2023   Rummel, Dorothee, Simone Muller, Karen  Holmberg, Benedict Boucsein, Avi Sharma, and Talitta Rietz. 2023. ‘Variations on a Theme: Temporality, Cities and the Environment.’  Global Environment: A Journal of Transdisciplinary History 16 (2. Special Issue: Irritations and Unforeseen Consequences of the Urban: Debating Natures, Politics, and Timescapes): 258-290 (for Holmberg see esp. pp 265-369).

2023 Holmberg, Karen, Andres Burbano, Constanza Gomez, Javiera Letelier, Amy Donovan, Julie Morin, Rory Walshe, Thierry Dupradou, Pierre Puentes. ‘Chaitén: Land of Volcanoes.’ March. 

2021  Fedele, Alessandro, Renato Somma, Claudia Troise, Karen Holmberg, Giuseppe De Natale and Fabio Matano. ‘Time-lapse landform monitoring in Pisciarelli (Campi Flegrei-Italy) fumarolic field by using UAV Photogrammetry.'  Remote Sensing 13 (118): 1-20. 

2020 De Natale, Giuseppe, Lorenzo De Natale, Claudia Troise, Vito Marchitelli, Antonio Coviello, Karen Holmberg, and Renato Somma. ‘The evolution of COVID-19 in Italy after the spring of 2020: an unpredicted summer respite followed by a second wave.’  International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health 17: 1-12. 

2020 Riede, Felix, Gina Barnes, Ben Fitzhugh, Richard Vanderhoek, Mark Elson, James Zeidler, Gerald Oetelaar, Karen Holmberg, and Payson Sheets. ‘Prospects and pitfalls in integrating volcanology and archaeology: a review.’ Journal of Volcanological and Geothermal Research 401: 1-12. 

2016 Holmberg, Karen. ‘The cultural nature of tephra: 'Problematic' ecofacts and artifacts and the Barú volcano, Panama’, Quaternary International, 394, 133-51.

Refereed Book Chapters

2024 Scarlett, Jazmin, Felix Riede, Miriam Rothenberg, and Karen Holmberg. 2024. "'Dark heritage': landscape, hazard and heritage." In Routledge Handbook on Cultural Heritage and Disaster Risk Management, edited by Rohit Jigyasu and Ksenia Chmutina. Routledge.

2023 Holmberg, Karen. ‘Merapi and its dynamic “disaster culture”.’ In Merapi Volcano: Geology, Eruptive Activity, and Monitoring of a High-Risk Volcano, edited by Ralf Gertisser, Valentin R. Troll, IGM Agung Nandaka and Antonius Ratdomopurbo. Berlin & Heidelberg: Springer-Verlag.

2022 Holmberg, Karen. 2022. "Nuevas consideraciones sobre la historia eruptiva y el impacto del Volcán Barú en tiempos prehispánicos." In Mucho Más que un Puente Terrestre: Avances de la Arqueología en Panamá, edited by Juan Martin-Rincon and Tomás Mendizábal. Panama: Smithsonian.

2020 Holmberg, Karen. ‘Landing on the Terrestrial volcano.’ In Critical Zones: The Science and Politics of Landing on Earth, ed. by Bruno Latour and Peter Weibel. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press: 56-7.

2020 Holmberg, Karen. ‘Risky business and the future of the past: Nuclear power in the Ring of Fire.’ In Going Forward by Looking Back: Archaeological Perspectives on Socio-Ecological Crisis, Response, and Collapse, edited by Felix Riede and Payson Sheets. New York and Oxford: Berghahn Books.