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UNIVERSITY OF ALASKA FAIRBANKS | INTERNATIONAL ARCTIC RESEARCH CENTER

People of IARC

bieniek

Peter Bieniek

Peter Bieniek’s work is focused on Alaska’s vast and complex climate, and he aims to improve the accuracy and reliability of climate analysis. Bieniek completed his PhD dissertation on climate variability across Alaska’s recent history; his work has been recognized by the World Climate Research Program Open Science Conference and published in the Journal of Climate.

Contact Dr. Bieniek

What might people find interesting about your current projects?

Right now, I’m working to expand my study defining the climatic regions of Alaska. In conjunction with the National Weather Service, I had previously completed a profile of the state’s climate divisions based on weather station data from 1977 to the present.

This type of project is particularly useful to scientific communities and the government because it can improve our sense of long-term climate trends and further standardize the metrics by which official studies and resources are administered.

As a result, federal agencies such as the National Climate Data Center and the Climate Prediction Center have an interest in the further development of the project.

Throughout this process, we have already reached some very important validations regarding our climate, as well as some revelations. Using downscale techniques (to add more precision and detail to existing large-scale observations), we can now locate more specifically where one Alaskan climate zone ends and another begins.

Consequently we have found, for example, that the climatic conditions of the “Interior,” as many of us understand them, are divided into three divisions, one of which extends further south than previously assumed. Southeast Alaska also has many more distinct climate zones than had previously been identified.

Now we are building on these regional definitions, using a larger dataset, to construct historical time series for each regional division going back to 1920. We hope to learn more about long-term climate trends in different regions of Alaska.

Have you always been interested in studying the climate?

From a young age, I was interested in the weather (and Alaska, for that matter), but it wasn’t until more recently in my formal education that these interests cohered into a study of the climate here. When I was growing up in Michigan, I was very taken by the region’s active weather systems, including thunderstorms and a dramatic tornado I remember very clearly as a child.

It was only upon a formative internship with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory, however, that I began to favor the longer-term and more comprehensive study of climate.

Do you have pursuits or interests outside of climatology?

A lot of my interests derive from my work. I’ve developed a particular fondness for teaching—I’ve very much appreciated the opportunities I’ve had to lead a classroom. I also have a great deal of interest in the work that I and other climatologists can do to improve our modeling and predictive tools.

Beyond that, I have always had an affinity for music, and I continue to enjoy playing the organ as often as I can find time. I also enjoy going for walks around campus in the evening.

Map of historical climate zones of Alaska. Red dashed lines show Fitton (1930) zones; green dashed lines the National Climate Data Center climate divisions; and solid blue lines the Alaska Climate Research Center climate regions. Stations used in the cluster analysis are shown by red dots and airport codes. Climate zones have undergone only minor revisions since their inception and are based on mean station temperature, precipitation, and/or major terrain features and river basins.
Climate division boundaries over Alaska topography, with division names (Bieniek et al., 2012). Black dots indicate locations of Alaska stations used in the cluster analysis. “Interior” Alaska actually has three distinctive climate regions—Northeast Interior, Central Interior, and Southeast Interior, as shown here.
Climate division boundaries over Alaska topography, with division names (Bieniek et al., 2012). Black dots indicate locations of Alaska stations used in the cluster analysis. “Interior” Alaska actually has three distinctive climate regions—Northeast Interior, Central Interior, and Southeast Interior, as shown here.
Annual cycle of long-term monthly mean temperature (lines) and precipitation (bars). Black shows division average, while gray shows individual station long-term means. Within each division there is little spread, and annual cycles are similar. The Northeast Interior division has the largest annual temperature range in Alaska, while the Northeast Gulf and South Panhandle are the wettest.