Once again, George Mason University will be hosting the Conference on Atmospheric Transport and Dispersion Modeling. For more information, see http://camp.cos.gmu.edu/20th-announcement.html
Graduating Climate Dynamics PhD Xiaoqin Yan is one of two COS students chosen to receive the Dean’s Graduate Award for Excellence, which comes with a $1000 scholarship. Her dissertation, under the guidance of AOES professor Tim DelSole, is “A Systematic Framework for Improving Estimates of Anthropogenic Aerosol Cooling”.
Dr. Yan’s thesis attempts to answer the most outstanding question in climate change research: how much will the earth warm in response to increasing greenhouse gas concentrations? State-of-the-art climate models produce a range of answers to this question. Xiaoqin’s thesis project was to constrain each model’s sensitivity to greenhouse gases using past observational data. The biggest challenge with this approach is to account for the cooling effect of aerosol emissions from human activities which have partly “masked” greenhouse warming. Xiaoqin improved upon previous estimates by using optimal filtering techniques and developing a new statistical framework for rapidly exploring variable combinations.
Xiaoqin Yan grew up in a small town in landlocked Sichuan province in southwest China. A two-day’s journey to the coast brought her to Ocean University of China, where she majored in atmospheric science. She then earned an MS at University of Northern British Columbia, where she corresponded with Dr. DelSole about his statistical techniques for measuring changes in the climate. Upon graduation, she will be starting a postdoctoral fellowship at NOAA’s Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Lab, which is on the campus of Princeton University.
Mason professor Jim Kinter was recently elected to the Council of the American Meteorological Society (AMS). Dr. Kinter is a Professor in AOES and the Director of the Center for Ocean-Land-Atmosphere Studies (COLA) at Mason. As a Council member, he will be serving with 17 other members on the principal governing body of the nation’s premier scientific and professional organization promoting atmospheric, oceanic, and hydrologic sciences.
In addition to his participation in the AMS Council, Dr. Kinter has served as chair or co-chair of several steering committees in the climate modeling community, including International CLIVAR Climate of the 20th Century Project, Community Advisory Committee for National Centers for Environmental Prediction (NCEP), and the Modeling, Analysis, Prediction and Projections (MAPP) CMIP5 Task Force. His research centers on using numerical models to investigate the predictability of climate.
Robert Hazen, Robinson Professor of Earth Science at Mason and research scientist at Carnegie Institution of Washington’s Geophysical Laboratory, is featured in the recent Nova episode “Life’s Rocky Start”. The show describes Earth’s earliest transformations from a hellish landscape of molten rock to the solar system’s unique (perhaps) cradle of life. This is also the topic of Hazen’s research and his 2012 book The Story of Earth.
Dr. Martha Buckley, Assistant Research Professor at AOES, is attracting notice for her recent paper with MIT Physical Oceanographer John Marshall. The paper, Observations, inferences, and mechanisms of Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation variability: A Review, was highlighted in the “research spotlight” of Eos, the weekly journal of the American Geophysical Union.
The Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), pictured in the figure above from the Buckley and Marshall paper (after Church, 2007), is an ocean-spanning set of currents which carry millions of tons per second of warm near-surface water northward where it cools off and returns southward as deep, cold flow. Because of its heat transport, the AMOC plays an important role in climate and has been identified as a possible driver of oscillations which change climate from decade to decade. Buckley and other AOES and COLA scientists and students have been studying the AMOC and its role in climate.
Thirty six million years after it swam in the seas of the Eocene, the fossilized bones of whale ancestor Zygorhiza kochii has found a home floating in the atrium of Exploratory Hall. Mason News tells the story of how AOES faculty member Dr. Mark Uhen was able to get the skeleton to migrate to the Fairfax Campus from the Smithsonian Institution.
Dr. Jagadish Shukla, AOES Professor and Director of the Climate Dynamics Doctoral Program, was appointed to the Prime Minister’s Council on Climate Change in India. George Mason University has a profile of Shukla and the appointment.
Dr. Natalie Burls joined the faculty of AOES in Spring 2015 from her position as a postdoctoral associate at Yale University Dept of Geology and Geophysics. Dr. Burls, who comes from South Africa, received her PhD, MSc, and BSc at University of Cape Town, where she studied atmospheric science and physical oceanography and received awards at 3 conferences for best student presentation. Dr. Burls has also joined the scientific staff of COLA.Dr. Burls brings a broad range of climate-related interests to the department. She studies the fluid dynamics of the atmosphere and ocean, which determine wind and ocean current variations such as the El Nino phenomenon in the tropical Pacific and an analogous mode in the tropical Atlantic. Her studies of tropical climate led her to investigate the role of clouds in modifying the amount of sunshine falling on the sea surface there. These studies, in turn, have helped spark an interest in past climates, such as the Pliocene Epoch (about 2.5 to 5 million years ago). The Pliocene was a warm period which may provide insight into future changes under global warming.
Dr. Burls contributed lectures to AOES geologist Linda Hinnov’s Paleoceanography class Spring semester and will be teaching atmospheric dynamics next year. She has acquired and assembled a rotating tank to create laboratory demonstrations for dynamics and other classes.
An exchange with Dr. Burls (edited for brevity):
What are the challenges and benefits of trying to get expertise over such a broad range of different, technically difficult, subjects?
The exciting and unanswered questions in climate dynamics lie on the edges of our discipline, however we must avoid becoming a jack of all trades and a master of none. Whenever possible, we team up with experts from other disciplines and leverage their expertise.
What question about the climate would you most like to be able to answer?
The biggest question on my mind right now is: What role did changes in cloud… reflectivity, play in maintaining the really warm periods we know existed in Earth’s history? This is a really hard question to answer particularly because no proxy for past cloud changes currently exists. Contemporary work on ocean dynamics and coupled ocean-atmosphere interactions keeps pointing back to just how important it is to understand and correctly reproduce cloud radiative forcing and feedbacks.
Could you talk a bit about your plans for the new rotating tank?
The effects of Earth’s rotation on atmospheric and oceanic circulation can seem so abstract when you are sitting in a classroom observing derivations on a chalkboard. The rotating tank will allow GMU… students to witness first-hand the amazing phenomena that arise due to Earth’s rotation.
Geophysical fluid dynamics tell us that the “water going down the drain the other way in the southern hemisphere” is a myth. As a South African have you ever checked this yourself?
I made a point of watching water draining out of our kitchen sink after doing the evening dishes – sometimes it drained out clockwise but other times anti-clockwise. I thought perhaps I was doing something wrong…. until college, where we learned that, relative to other forces acting on the water as it drains out of the sink, the effect of Earth’s rotation is negligible. With the theory confirming my observations I can attest to it being a myth, the effects of Earth’s rotation only take hold on much larger spatial and temporal scales.
We recently heard that Whit Anderson (PhD, 2004), one of the first people to get a PhD studying Climate Dynamics at Mason, has been named “Acting Deputy Director of GFDL”. GFDL, the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory of NOAA (National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration) is a federal center of climate modeling on the campus of Princeton University. For his dissertation, advised by current AOES Chair Paul Schopf, Whit studied simulations of “overflows”, which are dense plumes of water tumbling out of shallow straits such as the Strait of Gibraltar between the Atlantic and the Mediterranean. At GFDL, Whit has worked on atmosphere-ocean climate models to study diverse topics such as hurricane behavior and global warming. Congratulations to Whit on his promotion.