January Monthly Highlight- Welcome Elizabeth MaroonJanuary 31, 2020
The AOS department would like to extend a warm welcome to one of our new faculty members, Assistant Professor Elizabeth Maroon. We are glad to have her here at UW-Madison and as a member of the AOS team.
Her personal website can be found here.
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I’m originally from St. Louis, but have spent the past 15-ish years on the move. I went to college in Boston (well, Cambridge really) at MIT, grad school at the other UW in Seattle, then moved to Boulder for a postdoc at CU/CIRES and then a project scientist position at NCAR, and now I’m here! It feels like I’ve now made a closed loop around the country, especially since I’m closer to family again.
I really enjoy being outdoors and traveling – running, hiking, downhill skiing, photography, camping, long scenic drives to the middle of nowhere – especially with my husband/best friend/partner-in-crime Luke. I wouldn’t have made it this far without his support.
What research projects are you currently working on?
I’m a climate scientist, and I work on both topics related to the ocean and the atmosphere. Right now, I work primarily on how the ocean circulation and climate interact, things like the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation (AMOC) and SST variability. While at NCAR I got into interannual-to-decadal (I2D) timescale predictability; at these timescales, understanding the ocean’s influence on climate is especially important for improving predictive skill. That’s going to be a theme of my research going forward: how do we apply our understanding of coupled climate dynamics to understand and then improve I2D climate predictions. Right now, I’m finishing up a couple of projects from my time at NCAR. While I was in Boulder, my collaborators at NCAR released this great new dataset, the Community Earth System Model Decadal Prediction Large Ensemble (CESM-DPLE), and two of the projects I’m wrapping up used that dataset. One examines a prediction failure and the other a prediction success.
The first is a case study of a near-record cold anomaly, or ‘Cold Blob’, in the North Atlantic during 2015. The CESM-DPLE totally missed this cold anomaly, despite being highly skillful in the subpolar North Atlantic otherwise. Why care about predictability in the subpolar North Atlantic? SST variability there connect to the atmosphere remotely and can influence things like heat waves and droughts in Europe, and this 2015 blob likely influenced the summer heatwaves in Europe that year. Can we figure out what went wrong in our predictions? Was it the initial conditions, was it something in the model, does it come from the ocean, the atmosphere? Our best guess at the moment is that it’s an issue in the initial conditions, so that’s what we’re testing right now.
The successful prediction relates to the Sahel region in Africa – a region prone to long droughts. The most remarkable result from the CESM-DPLE is its unprecedently high skill in the Sahel. My collaborator Steve Yeager showed that the correlation of 5-year rainfall predictions with observations is almost 0.8 in the DPLE. If 1 is a perfect forecast and 0 means no skill, then 0.8 is really quite amazing five years out, the most exciting result in this dataset in my opinion. So, I spent some time trying to trace what improved in CESM since the previous NCAR decadal predictions that didn’t have any Sahel skill. Sahel rainfall is influenced by SST all around the world, and it turns out, you can trace the improved Sahel skill to how Pacific SSTs are being initialized in the DPLE.
As a climate scientist, what has been one of the challenges working in your field?
I don’t think of this so much as a challenge so much as what’s really fun about climate science: you have to think broadly about a range of different disciplines. For many atmospheric questions, you need to understand the ocean dynamics, because if you don’t explicitly include them, you risk being pushed in the wrong direction. Likewise, for oceanography, you need to know the atmospheric boundary, why surface heat fluxes and winds and rainfall are the way they are in different places. The full global warming problem is even broader than oceanography and atmospheric science, a full Earth System problem. I enjoy the challenge of recognizing when the expertise of another discipline is needed. (And I love having a reason to collaborate with my friends and colleagues in adjacent disciplines.)
What do you find exciting about coming to UW-Madison?
There’s a lot of things! I’m really excited to join the people in this department. There’s so many wonderful scientists here, and I’m looking forward to getting to know everyone, all the faculty, students, and staff in AOS, and contributing to the research and teaching life here. It’s nice to be back in a place with a regular weather discussion again. I’ve already reclaimed my old WxChallenge name from 4 years ago. Weather discussions and WxChallenge – that’s what initially got me into atmospheric science.
I’m also excited about being a part of the broader environmental science community on campus. Environmental scholarship at the University of Wisconsin, going back all the way to Aldo Leopold, has had such a huge influence on environmental thought and policy around the world. Joining this community, especially as a part of the CCR and Nelson Institute, is going be personally rewarding and a lot of fun.
What courses are you interested in teaching or are currently teaching?
I’m currently teaching AOS 660, Intro to Physical Oceanography. It’s been fun so far for me (hopefully the students agree). There’s lots of courses that I’m potentially interested in teaching: data analysis and statistical methods, coupled climate and climate variability, global warming, dynamics for undergrad or grad students, Earth System prediction, climate modeling.
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