GFDL - Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory

Understanding the relationship between Earth’s Climate and Ecosystems with John Krasting

John KrastingJohn Krasting has always been naturally curious about his surroundings, particularly the weather and its different patterns. Over his career, this love for weather has led him to study the complexities of the Earth’s climate system. This curiosity has guided the GFDL scientist’s work for years.

A former television meteorologist, Krasting now works in the Climate and Ecosystems Group at GFDL. There, the New Jersey native dives into his research interests, which include developing and using computer models to study how the climate system and the carbon cycle interact with each other. He uses these computer models to understand how these relationships behave today and how they might change over time. Both jobs, he says, have yielded immense fulfillment, feeding the curiosity that sprouted during his childhood.

A GFDL scientist since 2009, Krasting studied at Rutgers University, earning a Bachelor of Science degree in Meteorology in 2003 and a Ph.D. in Atmospheric Science in 2008. In the following interview, he discusses why his research at GFDL matters, and he reveals the one scientist with whom he’d like to share a toast.

Why does your research matter?

The Earth’s climate system and ecosystems have complex interactions with each other. Each year, the amount of carbon that flows through the biosphere depends partly on natural modes of climate variability, such as El Nino. I study how these interactions occur in the climate system with the aid of computer modeling. In the Climate and Ecosystems group here at GFDL, I help to develop our coupled climate-carbon cycle models. I run experiments with these models to study past, present, and future climate scenarios which will be a key part of the upcoming Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in 2014.

What do you enjoy the most about your work?

The coupling of a fully-interactive carbon cycle model to a climate model is still a relatively new advancement in our field. I love the feeling of excitement when I learn something new about the way the Earth’s climate system interacts with carbon cycle. I find a lot of satisfaction in knowing that my work will help others understand these interactions in more ways than just through observations.

Where do you do most of your work? In a lab? In field studies?

Most of my work is done at GFDL in Princeton at my computer terminal. I am constantly looking at the climate model results, working with computer model code, and monitoring climate simulations that are running on NOAA’s new research and development high-performance computing system located at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee.

What in your lab could you not live without?

Our high-speed data networks are a crucial element in enabling me to do my work. My experiments generate terabytes of data in Tennessee and that data has to make its way back to Princeton for storage and analysis. I am always impressed at our ability to transfer such large amounts of data so quickly.

If you could invent any instrument to advance your research and cost were no object, what would it be? Why?

Our present day computers at NOAA are state-of-the-art. Even with this technology, there are still some elements of the climate system that we cannot fully resolve given our computational constraints. For example, the role of clouds is still a source of uncertainty in climate projections. The ability to consistently run a global cloud-resolving model that is coupled to carbon-cycle model would be a tremendous achievement. GFDL is working on this task today.

When did you know you wanted to pursue science?

I ask a lot of questions. I always have. When I was growing up, I was always fascinated by the weather and found myself asking “why.” I can’t recall an exact moment when I decided to become a scientist; it’s always been with me.

What’s at the top of your recommended reading list for someone wanting to explore a career in science?

Andrew Revkin is a phenomenal science writer for the New York Times. His articles are always relevant, insightful, and can help people learn more about hot science topics.

What is your personal favorite book?

It’s hard to pick just one. I love reading about 20th century history.

What part of your job as a NOAA scientist did you least expect to be doing?

I never knew that there were so many opportunities with NOAA to talk about my science. I enjoy speaking to school groups, training school teachers, and giving talks at national meetings about my work. Science is most beneficial to the world when it is shared.

Do you have an outside hobby?

I’m a meteorologist at heart. I love tracking exciting weather in and around New Jersey and I drop everything when a thunderstorm rolls into town. I also love animals, so I like to spend time with my pets and volunteer at a local animal shelter here in Princeton.

What would you be doing if you had not become a scientist?

Before coming to NOAA, I was a television meteorologist in New York City and Philadelphia. It was a lot of fun and it was exciting.

Who is your favorite historical scientist and why?

Benjamin Franklin was an intriguing man. I would love to sit down with him and have a beer (preferably one that he had brewed himself!) Benjamin Franklin was truly a multi-disciplinary scientist. He studied just about everything that piqued his curiosity.