Alexandra Zachwieja

Tenure-Track Assistant Professor


I am a biological anthropologist and field researcher interested broadly in how climate change affects social-environmental systems, both past and present. My research broadly focuses on how climate change affects humans – their mobility, access, and health.

Currently, I have two main projects. First the Alaska Social-Environmental Systems Project (AkSES) seeks to understand how ongoing climate change will affect rural communities in Alaska under various Representative Controlled Pathway models (RCPs) representing the future of carbon emissions. We model how thawing permafrost increases risks for communities from environmental hazards, infrastructure damage, and thawing historical cemeteries from past epidemics using GIS, remote sensing methodologies, and multivariate statistics. This project prioritizes multiple forms of data use including public climate data and climate projections, archival and historical primary source data, as well as community created data. This project is currently recruiting research assistants. To find out more:

My second project focuses on human evolutionary anatomy, paleoecology, and human dispersal patterns in Southeast Asia during the past 80,000 years. Specifically, I investigate how past climate change and competition for resources may have influenced human dispersal pathways in Southeast Asia. I use paleoclimate niche modeling and GIS with the goal of increasing the success of traditional fossil survey methods. I am a National Geographic Explorer for this research and, since 2014, a member of an international team of researchers doing human origins excavations in the Lao PDR in concert with the Lao Ministry of Heritage, Culture, and Tourism, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS), and the Musée de l’Homme, Paris.

My area of expertise are: human gross anatomy, human evolutionary anatomy, climate change modeling/species distribution modeling, and GIS/remote sensing.


PhD, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Major: Anthropology
BA, Cum Laude, Highest Departmental Distinction, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Major: BA



Department of Biomedical Sciences
Smed 205
1035 University Drive
Duluth, MN 55812