Professor, Department Chair

Professor Rayback’s research focuses on understanding the response of trees and shrubs to climate and other environmental changes across varying temporal and spatial scales. She uses dendrochronological (the study of tree rings) techniques and stable isotope analysis to investigate the influence of climate, pollution and rising atmospheric carbon dioxide on plant growth and leaf-gas exchange, as well as to reconstruct past climate.  Her research takes place in the Canadian Arctic, the Colorado Rockies, the Cascades, the Himalayas, and the Northern Forest of New England.  Her current research focuses on understanding leaf-gas exchange changes in Northern Forest trees in response to rising carbon dioxide, legacy pollutants and variable climate. She is also working on developing an eastern North American past temperature network using blue intensity analysis with colleagues from University of Idaho and Indiana University. This work is funded by a grant from NSF’s Paleo Perspectives on Climate Change program.  She is also a co-founder and co-director of the DendroEcological Network (

Professor Rayback teaches in the Department of Geography and Geosciences and the Environmental Sciences program.  She teaches the introductory physical geography course, Weather, Climate and Landscapes (Geography 040), as well as intermediate level courses in Biogeography 140, Global Environmental Change 148 and Circumpolar Arctic 153.  At the advanced level, she teaches a field-based, Service-Learning seminar in Dendrochronology 244 and a spring seminar in Paleoclimatology 246. Her Dendrochronology 244 classes have partnered with The Nature Conservancy of Vermont, the U.S. Forest Service and South Burlington’s Recreation and Parks to reconstruct past environmental and climate response of trees at multiple sites in northwestern Vermont. 

Professor Rayback holds a B.A. in French and English from Wellesley College (1993), an M. A. in Geography from University of Texas at Austin (1997) and a Ph.D. in Geography from University of British Columbia, Canada (2003).

Shelly smiling in a sunny, outdoor setting

Areas of Expertise and/or Research

Biogeography, paleoclimatology, dendrochronology, climate change, isotopes, Arctic.


  • Ph.D., University of British Columbia (2003)


  • 802-656-3019
Office Location:

Old Mill Rm 207

Courses Taught

GEOG 244 – Global Change

Dendrochronology is the study of tree rings and what tree rings can tell us about the past. This course introduces students to the principles and theory, as well as field and lab techniques used by dendrochronologists to unravel the mysteries contained within tree rings. We will learn the basic principles of how trees grow, function and interact with their environment, as well as the scientific basis, techniques and applications of dendrochronological research.

GEOG 296 – Paleoclimatology

The need to place current environmental changes within a long-term context and distinguish between natural and anthropogenic variability has brought the paleo-perspective into the forefront of global climate change research. The focus of the course will be the Quaternary Period, with special attention paid to the last 10,000 years (Holocene Epoch). In this course, we will explore paleoclimate theory, techniques, databases and case studies through lectures, readings, in-class exercises, videos and discussions. Visits to UVM labs and guest lectures by UVM faculty will highlight examples of current research in the field of paleoclimatology.

HCOL 186 – SU: Transforming Earth

Changes to our environment are occurring at a rate and magnitude not experienced in 400,000 years. Understanding the science behind these observed changes is critical to predicting and addressing future ones in the next 100 years. In this course, we will approach the broad topic of anthropogenic (i.e., human) drivers of environmental change. We will explore in-depth how and why changes in human activities have influenced the air, water and forests of our planet and how these activities might lead to future changes on Earth. We will also explore some of the effects these changes may have on human populations by critically examining the human-environment interface.