Yale climate scientist honored by Packard Foundation

October 23, 2007

New Haven, Conn. -- The David and Lucile Packard Foundation recently awarded Alexey Fedorov, Yale assistant professor of geology and geophysics, a 2007 Packard Fellowship for Science and Engineering for his research on large-scale interactions between tropical oceans and the atmosphere.

Fedorov focuses on issues of contemporary and past climate variations by studying ocean dynamics and ocean-atmosphere interactions.

"Climate can change abruptly, and has on multiple occasions in the past with striking consequences. We need to know whether this can happen again in response to rising concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere," Fedorov said. "We do numerical modeling with state-of-the-art general circulation models, theoretical studies, statistical data analysis, as well as conceptual models of climate."

Among his projects, Fedorov is developing simulations of sudden climate change to estimate the effects of global warming in the northern Atlantic and in the tropical Pacific. For example, The Gulf Stream normally transports warm equatorial water to New England and then to Western Europe, explained Fedorov, noting that modern theories of climate change propose that the melting of polar ice in the North Atlantic could cause the Gulf Stream to weaken and thus lead to a cooling event in Western Europe even as the rest of the world gets warmer.

"While it is certain that the Gulf Stream will not disappear, moderate change in the strength of the circulation and in its path are possible, and would have an important effect on future climate, if amplified by ocean-atmosphere interactions," said Fedorov. "We are also investigating whether the climate, with increased global warming, could slide to a permanent El Nino-like condition in the tropics, as it did some 3-5 million years ago."

David Bercovici, professor and chair of geology and geophysics noted: "Alexey's work is not only innovative and cutting-edge, it is timely and of enormous social importance. Consider that contemporary El Niño cycles already cause widespread damage with drought and forest fires in Western Pacific nations, excessive rains and flooding in California, and collapse of fishing industries in Central America. While these events now last a year or so, the various communities eventually recover. In the permanent El Niño scenario that Alexey has proposed -- and for which he found evidence in the geologic past -- there are no recovery periods. It would likely lead to catastrophic collapse of these ecosystems and economies."

Fedorov joined the Department of Geology and Geophysics at Yale in July of 2004, where he leads the Ocean and Climate Dynamics group. Before that, he worked at Princeton University and at the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Lab, where he did research on El Niño predictability and decadal climate variability, oceanic general circulation and thermal structure, climate modeling, and the mechanisms for glacial cycles. He received his Ph.D. in 1997 from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography of the University of California San Diego.

Fedorov was one of the 20 new promising scientific researchers to receive the five year, unrestricted research grant of $625,000. The Packard Fellowship Program, established in 1988, strengthens university-based science and engineering programs by supporting unusually creative researchers early in their careers with "no strings attached" funding.

Over the past 19 years, the Fellowship Program has awarded 404 fellowships, totaling over $232 million, to faculty members at 52 top national universities in a broad range of disciplines that includes physics, chemistry, mathematics, biology, astronomy, computer science, earth science, ocean science, and all branches of engineering. Fellows are nominated by the presidents of the 50 universities that participate in the program and are reviewed by the Fellowship Advisory Panel for approval by the Packard Foundation Board of Trustees.

"Each year the Packard Foundation is honored to support a cadre of innovative young scientists and engineers who are attacking some of the most important research questions of our time," said Lynn Orr, Professor at Stanford University, Foundation Trustee, and Chairman of the Fellowship Advisory Panel.

Another Yale faculty member, Associate Professor David Evans received this fellowship in 2002 for his work on paleomagnetic reconstruction of plate tectonics and climatic events in the deep geological past.
-end-
References:
Science 312: 1485-1489 (9 June 2006).
Journal of Physical Oceanography (Fedorov et al 2007).
Annual. Reviews of Earth and Planetary Sciences (Barreiro et al 2007)

Yale University

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