Academics / Career
Where have you worked in the past?
In college, I worked as a landscaper and a carpenter’s aide in the summers. My first real job was as a climate analyst at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies and the Center for Climate Systems Research at Columbia University.
Are you a weather, a climate, or an ocean kind of person? What is the broad topic of your research thus far?
I’d say I’m more of a climate person – I like looking at the big picture of how a lot of different things come together. Before coming to Maryland, I worked a lot with the societal impacts of climate change like how it impacts agriculture, and cities and urban infrastructure. More recently I’ve moved into the realm of the cryosphere.
Right now, I’m doing experiments at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center to try and better quantify the effects of reflection, scattering, and absorption of green laser light near the surface of snow. The goal of all of this is to better improve the laser altimetry measurements for the ICESat-2 satellite mission (hasn’t launched yet). It’s going to use a green laser to determine the elevation of ice sheets, glaciers, and sea ice (among other things). One of the really cool things about this mission is that it’s going to be able to count the number of photons from the laser that get reflected off the surface of whatever it’s looking at and make it back to the satellite. Since snow and ice isn’t perfectly flat some of the photons take a little bit longer to get back than others, which causes some uncertainty in where exactly the surface is. For snow in particular, photons can actually scatter around the snowflakes and ice crystals near the surface and take even longer to get back to the satellite – so getting a better idea of what’s happening to the photons in near surface snow could really help improve the measurements made by the satellite when it becomes operational.
Why did you choose this career path? When did you first realize this career was meant for you?
I didn’t realize I wanted to study climate science until I was a freshman in college. I was a music education major at the time, and was on my way to a friend’s recital when I heard James Hansen – director of NASA GISS at the time – giving an interview on NPR about climate change. I hadn’t really heard much about climate change before and thought it was really crazy that ice caps and glaciers were melting so fast, and that we didn’t (and still don’t) fully understand why and by how much these things will change. I thought about it for a couple months before it dawned on me that if I wanted to be a climate scientist (the fact someone could actually be one of those…), college was the time when you could actually start becoming one.
If you could hit the “Redo” button, what career would you choose instead?
If I could do it all over again and I couldn’t do climate science, I would probably have gone for something to do with astronomy or astrophysics – I’ve always loved space.
What are you most passionate about, besides your research and career at the University of Maryland?
I really like astronomy. I haven’t been as into it recently as I’d like (grad school keeps you pretty busy…). I want to get a telescope someday (a really BIG one) because I love looking at the night sky. I think it’d be kind of cool to retrace Galileo’s observations that he used to support the idea of heliocentricity of the solar system. I’m also a pretty big fan of all things Vermont – grew up there and try to get back whenever I can. If I could find a way to work on climate science and move back up there some day, I probably would.
Where did you grow up? Tell us about your family and hometown.
I grew up in Jericho, Vermont. It’s a pretty small town in the foothills of the Green Mountains. Only about 5500 people live there, no traffic lights, lots of trees and hills, and a general store in the town center. I have one sister who’s a couple years younger than me.
What is the most exotic/interesting place you have ever visited?
Definitely American Samoa. It’s a U.S. territory, but was much different than I expected. Absolutely gorgeous though! It’s in the tropics and has lots of coral reefs so incredibly different than anything I’d ever seen or experienced before. Sort of like something out of Lost World or Narnia.
What is your favorite memory as a youngster?
Probably skiing with my best friend in the winter. Great times!
Do you enjoy watching sports? What is your favorite team to watch?
I really like watching baseball, especially when I get to go to games at the stadium! Favorite team is unequivocally the Boston Red Sox, though I’m also a big fan of whichever team happens to be playing the Yankees. Hockey is growing on me so I’d have to go with the Bruins for that one.
What about playing sports? Which do you enjoy playing the most, as a child and more recently?
I played baseball and soccer growing up, and ran track in high school. I don’t know that I could pick a favorite between baseball and soccer – they’re both great to play. I guess if I had to pick one it’d be baseball.
What kinds of hobbies do you have?
Downhill skiing, cross-country skiing, mountain biking, kayaking, hiking/camping, woodworking, home brewing beer (this is a new one) – I’m a pretty big fan of being out doors, adventures, and creating things from scratch.
What is your favorite type of music? Who is your favorite band/artist?
Rock. Favorite band would be the Foo Fighters or the Beatles. I also really like movie soundtracks (and plenty of other stuff too).
What and where were your first and last concerts?
First concert was a Switchfoot show up in Vermont. Last concert was Shinedown this past August in Virginia.
What is your favorite color and why?
Navy blue. Why? Uhhhh, I don’t know. I started out with red as a little kid and switched to navy blue sometime in late elementary school I think? Maybe I hit my head (entirely possible if you’d known me then…)?
What is the most exciting thing you have ever done, or have ever been a part of?
Probably one of the most exciting things I’ve done was help set off the New Years Eve fireworks at midnight in Burlington, Vermont a few years back. Firework shows are really different from the perspective of being right beneath them and when you have to dodge burning pieces of metal.