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Venkatachalam “Ram” Ramaswamy, Ph.D.

Director
Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory
GFDL Bibliography

Venkatachalam Ramaswamy
Venkatachalam “Ram” Ramaswamy

Venkatachalam “Ram” Ramaswamy is a central figure in climate science. From 1992 to 2021, Ram has been a Lead Author, Coordinating Lead Author, or Review Editor for each of the major assessment reports of the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change. He has also been a Coordinating Lead Author on the World Meteorological Organization assessments on stratospheric ozone and climate, and the first US Climate Change Science Program (Global Change Research Program) assessment. A Fellow of the American Geophysical Union, American Meteorological Society, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Ram has also been involved in the leadership of the US Global Change Research Program’s Interagency Group on Integrative Modeling and the Joint Scientific Committee of the World Climate Research Program.

Ram took the helm at GFDL in 2008, as the lab’s fourth director. He says leading the lab requires the flexibility to let folks pursue their research interests while fulfilling NOAA mission objectives, and being constantly aware that it can take many years for basic research to be ready for inclusion in GFDL’s models. Advances in basic sciences (e.g., processes, mechanisms) are pivotal for improvements in modeling, understanding, and predictions. The challenge is knowing how to support basic research and shape it into cutting-edge GFDL models for weather, climate, and the Earth System.

Ram’s Career at GFDL

  • 1985: Ram first joins the Lab as a visiting scientist with the GFD (later called AOS) Program at Princeton.
  • 1995: Ram joins GFDL as Physical Scientist (GS-15) and Group Leader for Middle Atmospheric Sciences.
  • 2000: Ram becomes a Senior Technical (ST) Scientist at GFDL.
  • 2007: Ram becomes Acting Director of GFDL.
  • 2008: Ram becomes the fourth Director of GFDL.

“Our work has to be recognized by the peer scientific community as advancing science and, at the same time, that science has to be manifest into a practical domain which encompasses use-inspired research,” he says. “GFDL continuously delivers on NOAA’s mission of science, service, and stewardship, consistent with NOAA’s adherence to the Pasteur’s Quadrant principle of research being relevant for both fundamental understanding and applications.”

Under Ram’s leadership, the GFDL community has grown by approximately 60 percent in terms of the number of employees. (This includes Federal, Cooperative Institute (with Princeton University), and UCAR employees, as well as other contractors.) Ram says the lab is working to increase the diversity, equity, and inclusivity in the lab, in particular the recruitment of under-represented minority groups to participate in developments on all fronts.

The lab’s scope and impact have broadened considerably, too, on the Earth’s weather, climate, biogeochemistry and ecosystems.

“The most exciting growth has been on both the fundamental side — in essence, creative science and innovation – and the subsequent deliverables to operational activities and applications,” Ram says.

Specifically, Ram notes the impact of the Modular Ocean Model, and its applications to ocean circulation and heat and carbon uptake.

“This fundamental development — spearheaded by GFDL — is now being used by several agencies and academic institutions,” Ram says.

Ram also points to the unique development of FV3, which is the revolutionary atmospheric dynamics engine that delivers a seamless modeling system across time scales. This has enabled GFDL to be a world-leading institution in weather and climate modeling. FV3 is now the dynamical core for the operational forecasts of the National Weather Service, being selected as the winner in the first-ever national competition. Both FV3 and MOM6 are being used at other national centers as well as by institutions abroad.

Other recent principal thrusts arising from fundamental advances in physics, chemistry (including biogeochemistry) and dynamics that have placed NOAA/OAR/GFDL at the center of innovation successes include: improved understanding of the global-to-regional precipitation patterns through models of increased resolution and complexity; climate models (e.g., AM4, OM4, CM4) that have garnered world acclaim as being among the topmost models; novel modeling techniques to make predictions from weather to multidecadal timescales (e.g., SHiELD, SPEAR); and linking the physical climate processes to marine, and terrestrial, biogeochemistry and ecosystem dynamics, enable future projections of the Earth System (ESM4). These recent developments expand the Lab’s credo set by the founder and first Director, Dr. Joseph Smagorinsky, at GFDL’s inception in 1955: “Our goal is to expand Man’s basic knowledge of the atmosphere and oceans, by expressing accurately the physical laws which govern their behavior” and to use “these mathematical frameworks to make predictions”.

Award Highlights

    • American Meteorological Society Henry G. Houghton Award, 1994
    • Three-time winner/co-winner of the World Meteorological Organization’s Norbert Gerbier MUMM International Award (1998, 2003, 2013)
    • Presidential Rank Award for Meritorious Senior Professional, 2005
    • Member of the IPCC Team that was co-awarded the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize
    • Bert Bolin Lecture, Stockholm University, 2009
    • Walter Orr Roberts Lecturer in Interdisciplinary Sciences, American Meteorological Society, 2016
    • Distinguished Alumni, University at Albany, Excellence in Science and Technology Award, 2017
    • Distinguished Executive Presidential Rank Award, 2018
    • Finalist, Samuel J. Heyman Service to America recognition, 2019
    • American Geophysical Union Jule Gregory Charney Lecturer, 2020

A hallmark of the lab has been the long-standing association between GFDL and Princeton University, with cooperative agreements dating back to 1968. This has produced more than 100 doctoral students and about 500 visiting scientists at GFDL. These unique interactions between government and university researchers have advanced atmospheric and oceanic sciences and their applications for NOAA.

Practical science wasn’t top-of-mind for Ram when he first started studying physics at the University of Delhi, India. Initially, he studied theoretical physics but soon learned he preferred the applied side and, in particular, applying the science to understanding of environmental problems. His Master’s thesis investigated how non-spherical rain drops distort microwave telecommunications, by impacting electromagnetic wave propagation. He sent his rain-drop paper to several US universities where he hoped to go on for graduate studies and earn a PhD. Professor Petr Chylek, then at Purdue University, wrote back saying quite directly that he’d already solved that problem, and included an elegant paper on the subject written by him a couple of years before Ram’s. Fortunately, Chylek also extended an offer to have Ram come on board as his graduate student. The two worked well together and Ram wound up following Chylek as a visitor to several institutions, including Harvard University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Tufts University before getting his PhD from the State University of New York at Albany. He then embarked on postdoctoral research in the Advanced Study Program at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in Boulder. Chylek was a creative scientist and highly inspiring mentor, and working with him lent an exposure to many areas of research in the atmospheric and climate sciences, Ram says.

Ram says he learned further from senior scientists, mentors, and colleagues at both NCAR and GFDL about how to generate bold research that advances the frontiers of knowledge. One invaluable lesson was to keep the big picture of integrated Earth System in mind while building from fundamental scientific principles.

“One of the most exciting things that is happening at the Lab now is the increasingly interdisciplinary nature of the research in the science of weather and climate, and into all aspects of Earth Sciences. Indeed, there is a growing nexus extending to the economic and social sciences disciplines,” Ram says. “GFDL’s work is poised to deliver even more science-based information on a host of challenges facing society in the environmental area: predicting weather extremes including those in the context of climate change, the onset and duration of environmental stressors, science-based information for planning resiliency, and coping with the risks.”

Ram says he encourages his team to go after these kinds of research challenges. “Don’t hold back. There is lots to discover, more opportunities to produce actionable science, and deliver information of practical relevance to society. Take on the complex research problem that stirs your mind, enjoy the pursuits, and you will find that you emerge with innovative science and products that benefit GFDL and NOAA.”