Research News

Robin Bell and Richard Seager Appointed PGI Senior Scientists

2008-11-13

The Earth Institute at Columbia University is pleased to announce the recent appointments of geophysicist Robin Bell and climate modeler Richard Seager as Palisades Geophysical Institute senior scientists at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. PGI positions are awarded to Lamont scientists in recognition of outstanding research contributions to their fields, and leadership within national and international arenas as well as within the institution.

Robin Bell focuses on the dynamics and structure of the great polar ice sheets, as well as on more local issues including detailed mapping of the Hudson River bottom and sub-bottom. She was a leading early proponent of the 2007-2008 International Polar Year, and recently chaired the National Academies of Sciences Polar Research Board.  Her work frequently examines the implications of climate change, and involves adapting scientific instruments to produce imaginative new insights into how the polar regions work. A veteran of many Antarctic expeditions to map sub-ice lakes and geology, she is now headed to Antarctica to co-lead a six-nation effort to study the Gamburtsev Mountains, which are entirely hidden under the East Antarctic ice sheet.

Richard Seager has spent his career working on how oceans, especially the tropical oceans, control climate worldwide. Recently he has used climate models, instrumental observations and tree rings to show how persistent droughts in southwestern North America are controlled by small changes in tropical Pacific sea-surface temperatures. This includes significant events such as an extended period of greater aridity between about 800 and 1400 A.D, and the 1930s Dust Bowl. He has argued that the southwest is now poised to switch to a more arid climate as a consequence of how global warming affects the atmospheric circulation and hydrological cycle. Recently he has emphasized humans’ role, showing that poor farming practices in the 1930s intensified a naturally occurring drought  and created the environmental disaster of the Dust Bowl.

"While I personally am delighted to be awarded this position,” says Seager, “the advances it honors are the product of the incredible climate science research community at Lamont. Only at Lamont do we have the integration of climate modeling, observations and paleoclimate research that has allowed such a co-ordinated attack on the problem of North American hydroclimate variability and change."

Bell and Seager are integral members of the Earth Institute community. Bell directs the Earth Institute’s ADVANCE program. Funded by the National Science Foundation, the ADVANCE program seeks to increase the participation and advancement of women scientists and engineers at the university through institutional transformation. Seager has worked on several major research projects through the Earth Institute’s Cooperative Institute for Climate Applications and Research (CICAR), including Understanding Climate Change from the Medieval Warm Period to the Greenhouse Future and Mechanisms of Abrupt Climate Change.

“We are greatly indebted to Robin and Richard for the recognition they have brought Lamont and hope they will continue their productive and effective careers for decades into the future,” said Lamont director G. Michael Purdy.