Shaina Rogstad, Climate Modeler

My PhD work focuses on climate modeling, oceanography, and climate change. However, I have many scientific interests and in the past my research has been in astrophysics, physics, and applied mathematics researching a wide variety of topics including galactic evolution, quantum mechanics, and gravitational waves.

Shaina (fourth from right) after she defended her master’s thesis. Here, she is pictured with her research group as part of the Applied Math program at UMass Amherst. The research she presented was on modeling Solitons and Vorticies in Bose Einstein Condensates (or negative mass).

I use computer simulations to look at ways the global climate might change as Antarctica melts. As the ice sheet melts, water runs off and chunks of ice calve off from the sheet and float out into the ocean. The world’s oceans are all connected and water moves around allowing it to distribute heat, salt, and nutrients around the planet.  All of the water and ice running off changes how salty the water is and that in turn impacts that movement altering aspects of the climate such as global temperatures and precipitation patterns. Every part of the climate system is connected in these really complex but deeply beautiful ways. I study those connections to learn what might happen to the climate in the future.

Currently I am using data from Rob DeConto and Dave Pollard’s (2016) regional ice sheet simulations that they developed to model the Antarctic ice sheets. This data are really cool because their modeling techniques are state of the art. When their results were published in 2016 it made a big splash both in the scientific community and in the media. Now I am using their data, which was modeled just for Antarctica, along with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Representative Concentration Pathways data, which describes how greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere could evolve, and putting it into a global model that ties together land, atmosphere, oceans, and ice to take the research one step forward and see what their predictions for Antarctica might mean for the climate system as a whole.

A model image from Shaina’s current PhD work. On the left is the amount of runoff (melted ice that is flowing into the ocean) around Antarctica in year 2017. On the right is the modeled amount of runoff around Antarctica under increased CO2 scenarios in the year 2117. Runoff is measured in sverdrups (SV), which is a unit of volume transport. 1 SV is equal to 264,000,000 US gallons per second!

Most people are aware that the polar ice caps are melting as the planet heats up from all of our greenhouse gas emissions. This melting has significant impacts for how climate will change. There are a lot of feedbacks in the climate system and so there are these interactions where climate change causes the ice caps to melt and the melting of the ice caps then causes the climate to change in other ways such as altering ocean circulation. My research specifically looks at how the melting of the Antarctic ice sheet might change the climate, with a focus on changes in ocean circulation. Ocean circulation has a large influence on the planet with ramifications for global temperatures, sea ice distributions, and wind patterns. There is a subtle interplay between all of these things and I will be trying to determine what might happen based on what the computer simulations predict. The goal is to shed light on what may happen to our climate as the melting occurs in hopes of furthering our knowledge and spurring action to mitigate the severity of climate change.

One of my favorite parts of being a scientist is learning how our universe works. I used to be an astronomer and studied stars and galaxies, then I worked on gravitational waves and quantum mechanics, and now I study the earth and the oceans. I love learning all I can about how natural systems work because they have a fascinating logic to them all centering on physics and mathematics and it is very beautiful to me.

My advice to young scientists is to find a support group who will encourage you to grow and explore. Being a scientist can be difficult and occasionally a bit lonely. Most of what kept me going throughout undergrad and my masters work were my fellow students in the programs and clubs I was involved in, and my mom who is always a great cheerleader for me. There will be a lot of times along the way that it will be discouraging, especially if you are a member of a group traditionally underrepresented in the sciences. It is really helpful to have people to work with, study with, and talk to through the tough times. In addition to giving you the support to continue with your work you will also gain friends and collaborators that you will have going forward in your career and in your life.

To learn more about Shaina and the research she does, follow her on Twitter here!

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