Mapping Climate Change: Gavin Schmidt Joins Real Scientists

We bid a fond farewell to Kimberly Nicholas in Paris as the Our Common Future Under Climate Change draws to a close. The next talks are in Copenhagen later this year.



We’re travelling to New York now, to meet our next curator for our special Climate Change Month feature. We’re delighted to be hosting Dr Gavin Schmidt (@ClimateOfGavin), Director, NASA Goddard Institute of Space Studies, and Columbia University’s Earth Institute. Dr Schmidt began his scientific life as a mathematician, training at Oxford before moving into a PhD in Applied Mathematics at University College London. As you’ll see, Gavin eventually ended up in modelling climate change after working on ocean modelling.






Gavin has been cited by Scientific American as one of the 50 Research Leaders of 2004. You can also watch him juggle while chatting to NOVA PBS Radio, and he’s also given a TED talk on the emergent patterns of climate change:



Gavin will  tweeting about the science of climate change, particularly observations over time (from deep time to today), basic physical concepts, climate simulations, how we build understanding of the climate system itself, and what that means for the future. We asked him our usual set of questions, and here he is in his own words:


Gavin Schmidt

I really only liked mathematics growing up and I followed that as far as I could, getting drawn more into applied problems. Kinda by accident I ended up doing a PhD with an ‘ocean’ application and found myself getting drawn into climate modeling.

I found that the more one works on a problem that people care about the more motivating it is to do something interesting. After working on idealised ocean wave calculations, and then on simplified models of the ocean circulation, I found that the most interesting questions to me were the ones where you didn’t have to make so many assumptions and where you could embrace the complexity of the real world.

I’m the PI of one the three global climate modeling groups in the US that contribute to the IPCC assessments on climate change. I spend most of my scientific time thinking about how the different aspects of climate connect together, how that can be encapsulated in simulations, and how that can be tested against observational data. This gets me involved in paleoclimate, attribution of current changes, and projections of the future. It has even gotten us involved in the search for life on newly discovered exoplanets. I also think quite a lot about the role of scientists in the public sphere.

Meet Gavin in this excellent video by science communicator Perrin Ireland:


No-one needs to be told that our weather, climate and environment are complex, dynamic and fascinating. Discussing why and how that is changing is something that people can grasp quickly. Unfortunately, the science suggests that humans are significantly changing the climate through a variety of effects (most strongly via the increases in CO2 from fossil fuel burning and deforestation) and that is leading to clear changes in the environment we live in. Since the science now has implications for policy (on energy, resilience, urban planning, agriculture etc.), people are naturally interested in the basis of that science and where the key unknowns remain.

Do you have any interesting external/extracurricular obligations?

Obligations? Not really sure what you mean. So probably, no.

Any interesting hobbies you’d like to share?

I try and juggle at least a few times a year… and many years ago I was part of the unicycle hockey UK National championship team. I have a plaque. 😉

How would you describe your ideal day off? (Scientists are people too!)

A picnic in New York’s Central Park, a crossword, a beer, my family.



Please welcome Gavin Schmidt to Real Scientists!

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