Spacing out with climate scientist Ben Cook

Real Scientists is spacing out this week with Dr Benjamin Cook (@dustybowl), a research scientist with the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies.

How did you get into climate research?
I’ve always been interested in the natural world, and I’m fortunate enough to have a father who is a scientist, so I understood from an early age that science was something I could make into an actual career. It took me a few years to find a subject area that I was really passionate about, but once I settled on climate I was hooked.

What hooked you in?
The climate system fundamentally connects nearly everything happening on Earth, which to me is just so fascinating. By studying climate, one can get such a deep appreciation for how the different components of the earth interact (e.g., the oceans, atmosphere, land, and biosphere), and how ostensibly small changes (e.g., increasing greenhouse gases) can have big impacts. Further, everyday I am inspired and challenged by my excellent colleagues, who continually inspire me to up my game and work harder to push our understanding forward.

What are you working on right now?
My main area of research is drought. I try to understand the processes that affect the occurrence and severity of drought events, the impact these events have on ecosystems and water resources, and how climate change is likely to affect drought dynamics. I also study plant phenology, the timing of seasonal events (e.g., springtime flowering) in nature. Because plant phenology is strongly controlled by climate, and these records represent some of the longest ecological datasets available, phenology is an incredibly useful tool for studying climate change.

What do you want the public to know about your work?
Climate change affects so many things that directly, or indirectly, impact the functioning of society. These include things like flood and drought risk, agricultural production and food security, severe storms, and even disease vectors. Further, a climate change influence on many of these things is already detectable. Climate change is therefore not a theoretical future challenge-it is already here and something we need to be dealing with right now.

What to you get up to when you’re not at the lab?
In addition to my research, I also teach an introductory class on the Earth’s climate system at Columbia University. I also like cooking, craft cocktails, D&D, and video games.

What does a great day off look like for you?
A warm, sunny day, spent reading at the beach, followed by a nice dinner with family and friends.

Ben cook, welcome to Real Scientists!

Ben Headshot

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