Climate scientist receives CAREER grant

Anji Seth, assistant professor in the Geography department, recently received a CAREER award from the National Science Foundation. The grants, given to investigators in the early stages of their academic careers, recognize and encourage promising research and teaching.

Seth’s research focuses on modeling factors that contribute to climate change, with the goal of predicting how regional climates will vary in the future. The CAREER grant, which totals $574,711 for five years, will allow her to examine the factors that contribute to climate change in the Northeast United States.

The Eastern U.S., Seth says, is a hotspot for climate change.

“Because of its infrastructure and cities, the Northeast deserves attention, ” she says. “But it doesn’t get the attention that other areas of the country do. ”

Most Current climate models track and predict climate on a global scale. Seth says that although these models can simulate large-scale global patterns over the past 200 years, they’re not very good at small-scale, regional details.

“Regional climate change is a research problem in that there’s not a clear-cut method for determining changes at local spatial scales , ” Seth says. “We have coarse-resolution models that do a good job for a global mean, but we need to go from a large scale to what is meaningful at a small scale while keeping track of the fact that we don’t know what humans – the biggest driver of change – will do. ”

Seth is interested in the outcomes of climate change for the Northeast in the near-term, or for the next few decades. Her analyses will use the very large data sets generated by global climate models combined with local data on variables such as temperature, precipitation, winds and soil moisture.

Her data will help inform the public and policymakers on how the Northeast should adapt to and prepare for future climate changes in a practical way.

“Local plans will need to consider changing rainfall and temperature extremes on waste water systems, transportation and other infrastructure” says Seth.

For example, the current global models predict that winters will have more precipitation in the future, and her research could shed more light on the characteristics of that precipitation and its effects on the northeast.

“The kind of winter we’ve been having is not inconsistent with global warming, ” she says.

Public outreach and education is also crucial to Seth’s research. She has established a partnership with the Connecticut Climate Change Education Committee, and the Governor’s Steering Committee on climate change. Her work will be informed by dialogue with these committees to understand the major areas of concern to the public, and relevant research results will be shared to inform policy decisions that will help the state adapt to climate change.

Seth is also developing a course for advanced undergraduate students, which will involve service learning. This service-learning course will engage students in climate science education and outreach in local Connecticut towns.

Working in CLAS’s Geography department has been instrumental in the success of her research program. The interdisciplinary nature of her work, says Seth, is crucial to understanding and exploring climate change.

“Climate change is an interdisciplinary problem, and geography as a field of study inherently crosses the boundaries between disciplines., ” she says.

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