Billie Lee Turner II

Billie Lee Turner II (born December 22, 1945, Texas City, Texas, USA) is an American geographer and human-environmental scientist, member of the National Academy of Sciences and other honorary institutions. Prominent among the third generation of the Berkeley School of Latin Americanist Geography and cultural ecological research, he has been a leader in bridging this work with the Chicago School of natural hazards and risk research. In August 2008, he took a position as the first Gilbert F. White Chair in Environment and Society at Arizona State University, where he is affiliated with the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning and the School of Sustainability. In November 2015, he was named a Regent’s Professor, the highest faculty honor that can be bestowed by Arizona State University.

Billie Lee Turner, II

For most of his career (1980–2008) he taught at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts. There, he served as Alice C. Higgins and Milton P. Professor of Environment and Society, and Director of the Graduate School of Geography. In 2019, he was appointed Adjunct Faculty of Graduate Studies at Dalhousie University.


Raised and educated in Texas, he is the first son of Billie Lee Turner, a noted taxonomist and desert botanist. He has a B.A. and M.A. in Geography from the University of Texas at Austin (1968, 1969) and received his PhD at the University of Wisconsin–Madison in 1974 for work on Mayan agriculture and landscape change, under the tutelage of William M. Denevan. He then taught at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County for two years, and was based from 1975-1979 in the Department of Geography, University of Oklahoma before moving to Clark University in 1980 and Arizona State University in 2008.


Turner's contributions to knowledge have evolved from an interest in human impacts on the natural world. His early study was on the borders of archaeology, paleoecology and geography - the pre-Hispanic agricultural systems of the Maya in the Yucatán Peninsula of Mexico (Turner, 1983; Harrison & Turner, 1978). This work fueled an interest in agricultural pathways and livelihoods more generally, particularly patterns of agricultural intensification. As an authority of agricultural systems, Turner produced several influential texts on the theory of agrarian change (Turner and Brush, 1989; Turner, 1974; Turner, Hyden & Kates, 1993) and advanced understanding of induced thesis of agricultural intensification.

His position at Clark University assisted in the merger of his cultural ecological interests with the natural hazards-risk work in human ecology, launching him into various leadership roles for international science addressing land change and culminating in the fields of land system science. A major initiative at Clark University involving Robert Kates, who Turner notes as his “second mentor," generated the Earth Transformed by Human Action (1990), a major stocktaking of anthropogenic impacts on the planet and its ecosystems. Over the last 20 years Turner has led, or participated in, other research on the science and dynamics of global environmental change (e.g. Steffen et al., 2004).

His interest in specific impacts of populations and societies on land use change and alterations in land cover led to a return to fieldwork in Central America in the 1990s, supported by several large research grants and supporting a large number of PhD students. The specific focus was to understand contemporary patterns of land use, informed by social investigations and GIS and remote sensing (Turner et al., 2004; Gutman et al., 2004). This research helped to reinterpret climate and landscape change involving the demise of Classic Maya civilization (Turner & Sabloff, 2012). He also promoted the emerging field of 'Sustainability Science', an emerging focus at Arizona State University (Rindfuss et al., 2004), lately applying it to the landscape in the Phoenix metropolitan area, including the design of urban land systems on microclimates. He has served as the Associate Editor of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences focused on sustainability and human-environmental science since 2009.

He has a lifelong interest in the promotion of geographic and human-environmental science as an academic discipline. He lists, among his hobbies, "entertaining grad students," and he has supervised more than 45 PhDs through to successful careers, and been their great supporters.

Awards and honors

Selected bibliography


Important articles

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