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Atmospheric science

Nobel Laureate speaks at Mason science symposium 

Nobel Laureate speaks to passionately curious climate dynamics students at Mason-sponsored Earth Systems symposium.

The Center for Ocean-Land-Atmosphere Studies and Department of Atmospheric, Oceanic and Earth Sciences hosted its Third Earth System Observations and Modeling Graduate Symposium Friday, April 22. The event, organized by Mason graduate students, invited other masters and doctoral level students from Mason and beyond interested in earth system observations and modeling researchto come and discuss their research and learn from each other.

“The pandemic has meant that many early career scientists have missed out on important networking opportunities and so today creates a valuable moment to make up for those missed opportunities,” said Natalie Burls, Director of the Climate Dynamics Program and Associate Professor, AOES in her welcome to the day’s attendees.

Graduate student presenters at AOES Symposium
Graduate student presenters at AOES Symposium. Photo by Jade Durant.

Fittingly held on Earth Day, students made oral and poster presentations in front of peers from Mason, Johns Hopkins University, University of Virginia, and North Carolina State University. Students spoke on topics ranging from the effect of global warming on soil moisture to improved understanding of the relationships among Stem Baleen Whales. They also heard keynote lectures from Dr. Emily Becker, Associate Scientist at the NOAA Cooperative Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Studies at the University of Miami and Dr. Kirsten Findell,Research Physical Scientist at NOAA’s Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory.

“As Earth scientists, we are always thinking about and marveling about the Earth and how it operates, so for us every day is Earth day,” said Jim Kinter, AOES professor, COLA Director, and co-Director of the recently established Virginia Climate Center at Mason.

“We turned it around and decided we would celebrate Earth Day as a people day, i.e., give our students the opportunity to network with each other and their cohort at other universities by sharing the results of their research in a no-pressure, collegial atmosphere,” Kinter added.

One of the event’s organizers, Mary Korendyke, a current Climate Dynamics PhD student, said that she appreciates times like this to communicate with other scientists as there are few opportunities—particularly due to COVID-19—to do so. “It’s really great to be able to see what other people are doing in other fields because climate is inherently an interdisciplinary thing,” she added. Korendyke helped plan the symposium alongside Rachel Gaal, Kai Huang, and Finley Hay-chapman.

Attendees received a unique opportunity to engage with Dr. Syukuro Manabe, a 2021 Nobel Prize recipient for contributions to the physical modeling of earth's climate. Manabe spent close to an hour speaking about his career and some of the most significant challenges the world still faces as it relates to climate change. Students had the opportunity to ask the Nobel Laureate questions, gaining insights to his thoughts on improved communication to climate change skeptics, the opportunity the next generation has to make an impact given great advancements in technology, as well as some of the biggest climate change indicators to keep an eye on.

When asked if there was any advice he would give graduate students, Dr. Manabe said that students should take every opportunity to utilize the technology available to them, citing the power of modern-day computers and satellite imagery. “My gosh, how lucky you are,” he said.

Burles said that in order to inspire the next generation of bold thinkers in this climate domain, students have to be passionate about their work. “Once that is in place, then it’s encouragement and support at every turn. Building confidence is key,” she said. And these presentations and interactions definitely help. “For this, I like to quote Albert Einstein ‘I have no special talent. I am only passionately curious’.”