How did you come to care about our sky?

I have been blessed with the opportunity to experience the beauty of our planet from the depths of our oceans to the heights of outer space.  I have marveled at the particular perspective that each of these vantage points provide.  The immersion of the sea and the separation of space, strangely left me feeling even more connected to my home planet and the people I share it with.   I was also left with a sense of our significance.  From just the standpoint of size it might be easy to use the word insignificant with respect to our place in this immense universe, but the immersion and separation of sea and space that I have experienced left me in awe and humbled by the perfect positioning of our planet with respect to the Sun and its ability to provide us with all we need to survive --- if that's not significant, I don't know what is.

The Sky, the only one sky we have, is the fragile interface between sea and space. The Sky is like our planet's space suit --- it is the blanket of protection that wraps around all of us and contains our entire life support system.  As Earthlings this is at the core of what we all have in common.  As an artist I am working to share my spaceflight and underwater experiences in a unique and meaningful way through my artwork. I believe that sharing these perspectives has the power to help us all acknowledge and act upon the shared responsibility we all have as Earthlings to care for each other and our planet.  As a mother, for the sake of the future of our children, I count on all of us doing our part to protect our Sky and the precious resources it holds in place for our survival.

My appreciation for the wild blue yonder began at a young age. Learning to sail, to navigate the wind and the sea, became a passion of mine as well as a source of comfort to me in difficult times. I reveled in the freedom the wind provided, the ingenuity of conveyance, and the relative silence of sailing. Today, as a former meteorologist and researching climate scientist I’ve developed a much more nuanced and clinical appreciation for the sky, along with a desire to better understand how it works and how it responds to human influences. This medium of life’s experiences – The Sky – deserves our communal appreciation, objective inquiry, and collective protection.

I have always cared a great deal about how we experience environment and I've spent a lot of time looking at it, breathing it, reflecting on it...  Our sky is amazing.  Always changing.  Never the same twice. It has to be one of the greatest shows on earth.  Sometimes things seem to be moving slowly up there, in ways barely perceptible to the eye.  At other times the changes are dramatic - bizarre even. And sometimes I wonder if anyone would believe what I just saw.  

Yet even more amazing is the idea that this thin wisp of an atmosphere wraps completely around our planet which means the sky I see is just a part of the same sky you see. The sky connects us all as one global family, living and breathing under one, shared sky. This is a very important idea.  It teaches us how much we all rely on it.  It teaches us that we are all responsible for its care and protection because what we do to the sky in London or Beijing directly impacts the sky in Antarctica and the Pacific Islands. It has never been more important that we all to come together as that one global family to do everything we can do to keep our sky healthy and functioning for the benefit of all.  Because we only have one sky.

In the summer right after I completed my Bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering at the University of Illinois in 1970, I accidentally got involved with research on studying the processes affecting the atmosphere. I got so interested in this topic, I essentially changed the direction of my career on the spot. Even though my Master’s degree is also in Electrical Engineering, I really used this time to mostly study the atmosphere. Within a few years after receiving my M.S. degree, I became a leader in developing numerical models of atmospheric physics and chemistry to study the stratospheric ozone layer and also to study urban air quality. My career as an atmospheric scientist really took off at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) where I also went back to school part-time at UC Davis to complete my Ph.D. I was quite fortunate to be asked to be involved in national and international assessments of stratospheric ozone that eventually led to the formation of the Montreal Protocol to protect the ozone layer.

Several of my colleagues at LLNL were already well known in studies of the Earth’s climate system, and by the early 1980s after many discussions with them (and with other well known scientists like Steve Schneider) I began to get quite interested in how human activities, through changes in atmospheric composition, could affect the forcing on the Earth’s climate. After publishing research studies in this direction, I was asked in the late 1980s to be a Coordinating Lead Author on the first international IPCC climate assessment.

I have really enjoyed my career. While I have continued atmospheric modeling research and the studies of atmospheric processes, I also have extended my work on the Earth’s climate to evaluate the potential impacts on human society and ecosystems from the changes occurring in the Earth’s climate. I am really pleased to work with Ben as a member of the SkyDay team on how we can help others learn from my experience as a scientist.