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.
Andrew Badger (Climate Dynamics Ph.D. Spring 2015) has been named the recipient of the College of Science Dean’s Graduate Award of Excellence. He has been recognized for several accomplishments associated with completion of his dissertation titled, “The Role of Large-Scale Land-Use Change on the Global Climate – Response and Sensitivity to Amazon Deforestation”.
Andrew’s dissertation advisor has been AOES faculty member Paul Dirmeyer. Andrew developed a parameterization for tropical crops for the National Center for Environmental Research (NCAR) Community Earth System Model (CESM) that will be implemented in the next official version of CESM and contribute to the 6th IPCC climate assessment. He applied this innovation to improve upon past studies of tropical deforestation by conducting the first study to include a fully coupled ocean model, completely interactive biogeochemistry, irrigation effects, as well as a realistic assortment of crops and distribution of land use change over the Amazon region. He also conducted novel assessments of several categories of partial deforestation. His work has led to three papers published or under review, and a fourth paper in preparation.
This June 9-11 George Mason University will host the 19th Annual George Mason University Conference on Atmospheric Transport and Dispersion Modeling.
The technical topics to be included cover a wide range under the general category of atmospheric transport and dispersion modeling. The major topic areas include:
- New developments in basic theories of boundary layer models and transport and dispersion models
- Urban-scale meteorological and dispersion experiments and models
- CFD model theory and applications
- Field experiments and laboratory experiments concerned with boundary layer studies and turbulence and dispersion studies
Participants of the past 18 conferences included representatives from DoD, EPA, DOE, NOAA, universities, private companies and other agencies doing related research, as well as scientists from other countries. Very fruitful contacts have been made over the past eight years and many collaborative studies have been initiated as a result of the conference.
COLA has organized the Shukla Symposium on Predictability in the Midst of Chaos, 23-24 April, 2015. “Predictability in the Midst of Chaos” is the major research theme of COLA, which collaborates with AOES in research and teaching at George Mason University.
“Chaos” refers to the complex behavior displayed by the atmosphere which makes it theoretically impossible to predict weather more than a few weeks in advance. However, interactions with the ocean and land surface provide input into the atmosphere which help to determine and potentially predict aspects of weather such as seasonal averages of rainfall or temperature.
The symposium honors predictability pioneer and COLA co-founder Jagadish Shukla. Dr. Shukla will be joined by other leaders in the field from George Mason and institutions including National Center for Atmospheric Research, University of Washington, NOAA Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory, National Weather Service, and Oxford University.
George Mason University News has done a profile of COLA, climate dynamics, and predictability: “Climate Prediction Accuracy on the Rise, As Is The Sea Level”.