GFDL - Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory

Dr. John R. Lanzante


Research Meteorologist
Climate Impacts & Extremes Group


Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory (GFDL)NOAA
Princeton University Forrestal Campus
201 Forrestal Road
Princeton, NJ 08540-6649


Phone: (609) 452-6529
FAX: (609) 987-5063




An Overview of GFDL

The goal of research at GFDL is to expand the scientific knowledge of the behavior of the atmospheric, oceanic, and earth systems. A major emphasis involves simulation of these systems using complex numerical models. Since it’s inception in 1955 GFDL has played a prominent role in the history of numerical modeling (gcm family tree; brief history). The scientific staff at GFDL frequently collaborates with scientists in the nearby (across the street) Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences (AOS) Program which is a part of Princeton University, as well as with scientists from other government labs, universities, colleges, and private research corporations, both within and outside of the United States. The AOS Program is also a source of graduate students and visiting scientists.

Each member of the research staff at GFDL belongs to one of nine groups, each of which focuses on a different scientific area encompassing the lab’s overall goals. These groups are: Biogeochemistry, Ecosystems, & ClimateOcean Processes & ClimateClimate Variability & PredictabilityClimate Processes & SensitivityWeather & Atmospheric DynamicsAtmospheric Chemistry & ClimateAtmospheric Physics & ClimateModeling Services, and the group to which I belong Climate Impacts & Extremes. Since many of the problems of interest are broader than the group designations, there is often collaboration across groups. The work at GFDL can also be viewed from a thematic standpoint

Climate Impacts And Extremes Group

The Climate Impacts & Extremes Group was formed in late 2012 as part of a major lab reorganization. The formation of this group marks a small historical shift in that GFDL is stepping a bit outside of it’s more traditional role of basic research and going a little more downstream towards applications. Because GFDL is one of the world’s leading climate modeling centers, a major focus of our work involves the analysis of “data” generated by computer models. But, as a compliment to this we continue GFDL’s long-standing commitment to the study of observed data as well. Both observations and models each have shortcomings so they serve as “reality checks” for each other. The models, which can be quite complex, are still based on simplifications of the laws of physics which govern the real world. The observations, while based on the real world are subject to deficiencies and so they may not always be entirely representative of the real world. Used in combination, observed and model data can lead to more robust conclusions than the use of either in isolation.

My Position (Past And Current)

Broadly speaking my role at GFDL is to conduct scientific research using model generated as well as observed data. While this can include a wide variety of space and time scales, my past research has tended to focus on large-scale climate diagnostics. I have studied phenomena on time scales ranging from days to decades. Since I am a meteorologist, my research focuses more on the atmosphere. However, since climate processes in the atmosphere are linked to the ocean, some of my research has also involved ocean data.

Prior to the lab reorganization in 2012 I had belonged to two other groups whose mission’s focused on the use of observed data. As a result I have worked with a variety of data types including twice daily weather balloon soundings from a global network of stations, gridded (analyzed) upper air data, land-surface temperature and precipitation, global sea surface temperatures, Ocean Weather Station observations, bathythermographic temperatures, and satellite radiances, as well as other data. In some cases I was involved in the preparation and maintenance of observational data bases.

Unlike the majority of my colleagues at GFDL I am not a climate modeler. Although I am a meteorologist, I have considerable interest in techniques from the realm of statistics and data analysis. In fact, most of my research involves the application of a variety of these techniques, where appropriate, to problems of scientific interest. My colleagues at GFDL frequently seek my advice on such matters but I must constantly remind them that I am not a statistician!

Since the formation of the “Climate Impacts & Extremes” group my work involves primarily Empirical Statistical Downscaling (ESD) of climate model output as part of a Statistical Downscaling Project. Our ESD Team is focused broadly on the critical evaluation of statistical downscaling techniques and practices. In keeping with GFDL’s slant towards more basic research, production and dissemination of downscaled products is considered secondary to our primary diagnostic mission. You can find out more about our downscaling efforts here.

My Background

I grew up in Wood-Ridge a small town, in northern New Jersey. I obtained a B.S. in meteorology from the Meteorology Department at Rutgers University in 1978. I continued my studies in the Graduate Program in Meteorology at Rutgers and received an M.S. in meteorology in 1981. After graduation I interrupted my studies and worked in the Rutgers Meteorology Department as a full-time research assistant until 1984. I then resumed my studies and in 1988 received a Ph.D. in meteorology from the
Meteorology Department at the University of Maryland.

After graduation I was a UCAR Postdoctoral Scientist at NOAA’s Climate Analysis Center from 1988-89. Following this I held another postdoctoral position as a Program Scientist in the Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences Program at Princeton University from 1990-92. This led to my appointment in 1992 to my current position as a research meteorologist at GFDL.

More Details About Me

Return to the GFDL Home Page