INTERNATIONAL ARCTIC RESEARCH CENTER — UNIVERSITY OF ALASKA FAIRBANKS

People of IARC

walsh

John Walsh

John Walsh is distinguished at IARC as a Chief Scientist and a President’s Professor of Global Change. Over the last decade, Dr. Walsh has been central to IARC’s success and public profile, leading many of the organization’s strongest research and outreach efforts. In addition to extensive publications, he is the co-author of the textbook Severe and Hazardous Weather.

Contact Dr. Walsh

What would people be interested to know about your current projects?

My research has long focused on Arctic sea ice, and I’ve recently worked to establish a long-term sea ice database for use in an online Historical Sea Ice Atlas. Our research group for this project has established a common-format background for sea ice levels back to the 1850s, and we have examined the ability of models to simulate changes such as the recent rapid loss of summer sea ice.

In addition, I have served as a contributor on the subject of ongoing Arctic changes to a number of official reports, including the 2013 U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) National Climate Assessment (NCA), for which I was a Convening Lead Author in Climate Change Science.

What do you think is important for people to understand about your work?

The official assessment efforts to which I contribute serve to evaluate, integrate, and communicate recent science research, primarily for public leaders and decision makers. In my case, a goal has been to provide a balanced perspective on Alaska’s recent changes in the face of both growing interest and comparatively sparse data resources in the region.

In these assessments, we have synthesized information about changes in growing season length, temperatures, and extreme events—all integral to the understanding of climate change in the Arctic.

How has your background contributed to your scientific career?

Ever since I began Arctic research for the Navy in the late 1960s, immediately prior to the Pipeline period, it has been clear to me that Alaska and the Arctic require special emphasis by the climate science community. Throughout my career, I have focused my work on sea ice, the dynamics of which are intimately connected to changes throughout the rest of the Arctic system, and also on extreme weather events, which have greater impacts than changes in climatic averages.

These extreme events include unusual heat and cold waves, storms with high winds, floods, droughts, and severe winter weather. These features have characterized my drive for science that is practical, useful, and creative.

What advice can you offer for students in the sciences?

My advice for any young people interested in scientific careers would be to study our disciplines’ fundamentals first. Major in a subject that is both central and versatile—physics, math, chemistry, etc. These fields will always be essential, and the principles are unlikely to change over one’s career.

One caveat to this is computer science, which continues to advance rapidly. Skills in fields like these can then be applied to the earth sciences, including the study of the atmosphere, the oceans, and climate.

Nome experiences an unusually severe storm. (Photo: J. Steiger)
Nome experiences an unusually severe storm. (Photo: J. Steiger)
Yearly values of Arctic sea ice extent, 1870-2011, from extended sea ice database.  Different colors show ice extent in different calendar months.
Yearly values of Arctic sea ice extent, 1870-2011, from extended sea ice database. Different colors show ice extent in different calendar months.
Comparison of observed (left) and model-simulated (right) changes of surface air temperature over the 50-year period, 1957-2006.
Comparison of observed (left) and model-simulated (right) changes of surface air temperature over the 50-year period, 1957-2006.
Downscaled Alaskan temperatures for January 2000 and January 2099 from a climate model, as produced by Scenarios Network for Alaska and Arctic Planning (SNAP).