Climate Sciences

Sustainable human existence is inextricably linked to global interactions between the solid Earth, its hydrosphere, its atmosphere, and its biota. The Department of Earth & Planetary Sciences integrates broadly among all of these. We address climate sciences with a focus on anthropogenic climate change, weather and climate extremes, ocean and atmosphere circulation, the Earth’s cryosphere, paleoclimates of the past, the geologic carbon cycle including weathering, mountain building, and volcanism, and the dynamics of planetary oceans and atmospheres. This leads naturally to overarching questions about what factors facilitate the evolution of life and make a planet habitable in the first place, questions that require interrogation of everything from the deep interiors of planets to their outermost fluid or gaseous envelopes. Ultimately, our knowledge of Earth’s own past will inform our understanding of its future.

The years 2014, 2015, and 2016 have been the hottest years on record. Arctic sea ice is declining much faster than any predictions. The two strongest El Niño events on record happened in 1997 and 2015. Drought conditions continue over much of the US, including Connecticut, but in some regions dry conditions alternate with torrential downpours. Global ocean circulation appears to be slowing down. However, the science behind these phenomena remains far from settled, and new questions arise as we move into the uncharted territory of a 400-ppm-CO2 atmosphere – higher than any time in the last three million years of Earth history. Furthermore, climate sciences are not just about climate change—they provide an understanding of how physical and chemical processes operate in the oceans and the atmosphere. Climate scientists’ goal is to better understand and improve our predictive framework of many of the key factors—temperature, precipitation and wind patterns amongst others—that shape the surface of our planet and influence basic aspects of our civilization. The extent and consequences of global warming remain poorly understood, in part because of the many remaining open questions related to how Earth’s climate system responds to natural and anthropogenic drivers.

Broad research efforts in the department are currently directed toward understanding the surface and fluid envelope of Earth. Our expertise stretches across different disciplines (the physics of the atmosphere, ocean, and climate; geochemistry; geobiology), across immense spatial scales (from ice crystals to hurricanes, from clouds to large-scale ocean circulation), and across different temporal scales (from daily weather to deep geological time).