Lei Zhao
Lei Zhao
Assistant Professor
(217) 300-9546
3211 Newmark Civil Engineering Bldg

For more information


  • B.S., Atmospheric Physics, Nanjing University, 2009
  • M.Phil., Environmental Science, Yale University, 2011
  • Ph.D., Environmental Science, Yale University, 2015
  • Postdoctoral Research Associate, Princeton University, November 2015 - May 2018


Dr. Lei Zhao is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC). His research concerns the physical and engineering processes in the Atmospheric Boundary Layer where most human activities and environmental systems are concentrated, with a particular focus on built surfaces and urban environments. He combines theory, numerical modeling, remote sensing and in situ observations, and cutting-edge machine learning methods to study environmental fluid mechanics and land-atmosphere dynamics that relate to urban environments, climatology and hydrology, climate change, climate impacts and adaptation. He received his Ph.D. (2015) in Atmospheric and Environmental Science from School of the Environment at Yale University. Before joining at UIUC, Dr. Zhao was a postdoctoral research fellow in the Program in Science, Technology and Environmental Policy (STEP) at Princeton University. Dr. Zhao obtained his B.S. degree (2009) in Physics and Atmospheric Physics from Nanjing University in China.

Academic Positions

  • Assistant Professor, Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, October 2018 - present
  • Assistant Professor, National Center for Supercomputing Applications, November 2018 - present

Graduate Research Opportunities

I am looking for highly motivated graduate students to join my group. Please contact me for questions about potential projects or about the application process at our department.

Research Interests

  • Urban climate and hydrology
  • Environmental fluid mechanics and turbulence
  • Land-atmosphere interactions
  • Multi-scale climate modeling
  • Machine learning and statistical modeling
  • Remote sensing
  • Climate change impacts, adaptation and mitigation
  • Boundary-layer meteorology

Selected Articles in Journals

  • J. Zhu, X. Li, Y. Fan, H. Shi, L. Zhao (2022) Effect of carbon market on air pollution: Firm-level evidence in China. Resources, Conservation and Recycling 182, 106321
  • K. Zhang, X. Lee, N.M. Schultz, L. Zhao, C. He, Q. Huang, Z. Liu, H. Chu, J. Zhao (2022) A global dataset on subgrid land surface climate (2015–2100) from the Community Earth System Model. Geoscience Data Journal https://doi.org/10.1002/gdj3.153
  • R. Xu, Y. Li, A.J. Teuling, L. Zhao, D.V. Spracklen, L. Garcia-Carreras, R. Meier, L. Chen, Y. Zheng, H. Lin, B. Fu (2022) Contrasting impacts of forests on cloud cover based on satellite observations. Nature Communications 13, 670. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-022-28161-7
  • Y. Qin, M. Zhou, D. Pan, Z. Klimont, D.B. Gingerich, D.L. Mauzerall, L. Zhao, G. He, J.M. Bielicki (2022) Environmental consequences of potential strategies for China to prepare for natural gas import disruptions. Environmental science & technology 56, 2, 1183–1193, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1021/acs.est.1c03685
  • L. Chen, B. Fang, L. Zhao, Y. Zang, W. Liu, Y. Chen, C. Wang, J. Li (2022) DeepUrbanDownscale: A physics informed deep learning framework for high-resolution urban surface temperature estimation via 3D point clouds. International Journal of Applied Earth Observation and Geoinformation 106, 102650. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jag.2021.102650
  • R. Xu, Y. Li, K. Guan, L. Zhao, B. Peng, C. Miao, B. Fu (2021) Divergent responses of maize yield to precipitation in the United States. Environmental Research Letters 17 (1), 014016
  • Z. Zheng, M. West, L. Zhao, P.L. Ma, X. Liu, N. Riemer (2021) Quantifying the structural uncertainty of the aerosol mixing state representation in a modal model. Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics 21 (23), 17727-17741
  • Z. Zheng, L. Zhao, & K.W. Oleson (2021) Large model structural uncertainty in global projections of urban heat waves. Nature Communications 12, 3736, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-021-24113-9
  • W. Zhou, K. Guan, B. Peng, Z. Wang, R. Fu, B. Li, E. A. Ainsworth, E. DeLucia, L. Zhao, Z. Chen (2021) A generic risk assessment framework to evaluate historical and future climate-induced risk for rainfed corn and soybean yield in the US Midwest. Weather and Climate Extremes 100369. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.wace.2021.100369
  • T. Xu, K. Guan, B. Peng, S. Wei and L. Zhao (2021) Machine Learning-Based Modeling of Spatio-Temporally Varying Responses of Rainfed Corn Yield to Climate, Soil, and Management in the U.S. Corn Belt. Front. Artif. Intell. 4:647999. DOI: 10.3389/frai.2021.647999
  • E.S. Krayenhoff, A.M. Broadbent, L. Zhao, M. Georgescu, A. Middel, J.A. Voogt, A. Martilli, D.J. Sailor, E. Erell (2021) Cooling hot cities: A systematic and critical review of the numerical modelling literature. Environmental Research Letters, https://doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/abdcf1
  • K. Yuan, Q. Zhu, S. Zheng, L. Zhao, M. Chen, W.J. Riley, X. Cai, H. Ma, F. Li, H. Wu, L. Chen (2021) Deforestation Reshapes Land-Surface Energy-Flux Partitioning. Environmental Research Letters, https://doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/abd8f9
  • L. Zhao, K. Oleson, E. Bou-Zeid, E.S. Krayenhoff, A. Bray, Q. Zhu, Z. Zheng, C. Chen, M. Oppenheimer (2021) Global multi-model projections of local urban climates. Nature Climate Change 11 (2), 152-157, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41558-020-00958-8
  • Z. Zheng, J. Curtis, Y. Yao, J. Gasparik, V. Anantharaj, L. Zhao, M. West, N. Riemer (2021) Estimating Submicron Aerosol Mixing State at the Global Scale with Machine Learning and Earth System Modeling. Earth and Space Science 8 (2), e2020EA001500, https://doi.org/10.1029/2020EA001500
  • D. Wuebbles, A. Sharma, A. Ando, L. Zhao, C. Rigsbee (2020) Converging on Solutions to Plan Sustainable Cities. AGU Eos
  • W. Zhang, L. Chen, Z. Xiong, Y. Zang, J. Li, L. Zhao (2020) Large-scale point cloud contour extraction via 3D guided multi-conditional generative adversarial network. ISPRS Journal of Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing 164, 97-105
  • Y. Li, K. Guan, A. Yu, B. Peng, L. Zhao, B. Li, J. Peng (2019) Toward building a transparent statistical model for improving crop yield prediction: Modeling rainfed corn in the U.S. Field Crops Research 234, 55-65
  • B.Y. Liu, Q. Zhu, W.J. Riley, L. Zhao, H. Ma, L. Larsen (2019) Using Information Theory to Evaluate Directional Precipitation Interactions Over the West Sahel Region In Observations and Models. Journal of Geophysical Research – Atmospheres 124 (3), 1463-1473
  • L. Zhao (2018) Urban growth and climate adaptation, Nature Climate Change 8 (12), 1034
  • W. Wang, X. Lee, W. Xiao, S. Liu, M. Zhang, Y. Wang, N. Schultz, L. Zhao (2018) Global lake evaporation accelerated by changes in surface energy allocation in a warmer climate. Nature Geoscience 11 (6), 410-414
  • L. Zhao, M. Oppenheimer, Q. Zhu, J. Baldwin, K. Ebi, E. Bou-Zeid, K. Guan, X. Liu (2018) Interactions between urban heat islands and heat waves. Environmental Research Letters 13, 034003, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/aa9f73.
  • L. Zhao, X. Lee, N.M. Schultz (2017) A wedge strategy for mitigation of urban warming in future climate scenarios. Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics 17 (14), 9067-9080.
  • C. Cao, X. Lee, S. Liu, N.M. Schultz, W. Xiao, M. Zhang, L. Zhao (2016) Urban heat islands in China enhanced by haze pollution. Nature Communications 7, 12509, DOI: 10.1038/ncomms12509.
  • N.M. Schultz, X. Lee, P.J. Lawrence, D.M. Lawrence, L. Zhao (2016) Assessing the use of sub-grid land model output to study impacts of land cover change. Journal of Geophysical Research – Atmospheres 121: 6133-6147.
  • L. Zhao, X. Lee, A.E. Suyker, X. Wen (2016) Influence of leaf area index on the radiometric resistance to heat transfer. Boundary-Layer Meteorology 158 (1), 105-123.
  • L. Zhao, X. Lee, R.B. Smith, K. Oleson (2014) Strong contributions of local background climate to urban heat islands. Nature 511: 216-219.
  • L. Zhao, X. Lee, S. Liu (2013) Correcting surface solar radiation of two data assimilation systems against FLUXNET observations in North America. Journal of Geophysical Research – Atmospheres 118: 9552-9564.
  • X. Lee, M.L. Goulden, D.Y. Hollinger, A. Barr, T.A. Black, G. Bohrer, R. Bracho, B. Drake, A. Goldstein, L. Gu, G. Katul, T. Kolb, B. Law, H. Margolis, T. Meyers, R. Monson, W. Munger, R. Oren, K.T. Paw U, A.D. Richardson, H.P. Schmid, R. Staebler, S. Wofsy, L. Zhao (2011) Observed increase in local cooling effect of deforestation at higher latitudes. Nature 479: 384-387.

Journal Editorships

  • Topic Editor, Journal Topics Board, Atmosphere, 2021 - present

Teaching Honors

  • Teachers Ranked as Excellent by Their Students (10/2021)

Research Honors

  • NSF CAREER Award (01/2022)
  • STEP Research Fellowship, Princeton University (2015-2017)

Other Honors

  • Chinese Government Award for Outstanding Students Abroad (2015)
  • CEID Award, Center for Engineering Innovation and Design, Yale University (2014)

Recent Courses Taught

  • CEE 202 - Engineering Risk & Uncertainty
  • CEE 592 (UP 576, NRES 592) - Sustainable Urban Systems