Wednesday, June 28, 2017
Bond, Nick

Bond, Nick

Interpreting climate for students, the media, and other scientists

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

From Physics to Fish Sticks

From climate research to teaching and interpreting climate data for the public, Nick Bond’s work requires refined communication skills. He is first and foremost a research meteorologist with the NOAA Joint Institute for the Study of the Atmosphere and Ocean (JISAO) at the University of Washington. His primary duties involve working with NOAA and other JISAO scientists at NOAA’s Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory as a member of the Ecosystems and Fisheries-Oceanography Coordinated Investigation group. As deputy director of JISAO, he serves as a liaison between scientists working at the NOAA facility and JISAO administration on the UW campus. He has an appointment as an affiliate professor with the UW Department of Atmospheric Sciences, for which he has taught the laboratory section of Weather Analysis and Forecasting since 1994. He has been the climatologist for the state of Washington since 2010. Especially in the latter role, he serves as a resource for the media and the public in general seeking information on the weather and climate of the Pacific Northwest.

Watch an example of Nick Bond engaging students and community members on climate change in Alaska in a JISAO Science in 180 video at


Why is your research important?

My research is aimed at better understanding the vagaries in the weather of the Pacific Northwest and of the climate forcing of the North Pacific. Everybody wants to know what the future is likely to bring. The ultimate goal of my work is to contribute towards improving predictions. The types of forecasts I am interested in range from the chance of rain this weekend to probable changes in fish populations due to global climate change.

What do you do to share your passion about research with broader audiences?

There are a number of ways through which I communicate the results of the work being carried out at JISAO and PMEL. Along with many of my colleagues, I make a point of doing public outreach. One of my favorite activities of this sort is leading a class on climate change and its implications for the Pacific Northwest as part of Sound Waters, an event sponsored by Washington State University Island County Beach Watchers. This event features a variety of workshops and classes and is very well attended. I must be doing something right as I have been invited back to present this class early next year.

"The ultimate goal of my work is to contribute towards improving predictions."

I also enjoy visits to K-12 classrooms. These recently have often involved a combined lecture/small group activity on extreme weather in Washington state followed by a video collage of past storms that was put together by the Seattle forecast office of the National Weather Service. The Office of the Washington State Climatologist posts a monthly newsletter on its website that is pitched towards the general public, as well as fellow scientists involved with local climate research. Finally, as state climatologist I do radio and TV interviews. I try to make my explanations succinct and understandable, of course, which is no cinch.

What do you enjoy the most about your work?

I have had the good fortune to be able to work on many topics, using a variety of tools. Being a jack-of-all-trades is a good thing, because I am surely not a master of one. Moreover, my interests have always been broad, and so I especially appreciate the chance to be involved with multi-disciplinary projects. I have also found it very satisfying to be able to bring a technique or concept from one field to another type of application.

Where do you do most of your work? In a lab? In field studies?

There would have been a different answer to this question a decade ago. Much of my research from the late 1980s into the early 2000s featured field work with research aircraft, primarily a NOAA P-3. This allowed me to spend time in the kinds of places weather junkies like to be, such as Alaska during winter. I now mostly sit in my office on the NOAA Sandpoint campus in Seattle, but also spend plenty of time at the UW, especially during the spring to teach my class.

What in your lab could you not live without?

My computer is essential. Due in large part to the Internet, there has been a revolution in how we gather, process, display, and share weather and climate data. Getting weather information used to mean going to the map room and squinting at poorly reproduced charts. I miss the camaraderie of that setting when a big storm is bearing down as much as the next guy, but these regrets are fleeting.

If you could invent any instrument to advance your research and cost were no object, what would it be? Why?

This is a tough question. I guess I will go with an instrument of sorts and that is an earth system type model of the ocean linking the physics all the way to the top of the food chain. These models are beginning to be developed, and so my dream entails a quantum leap in realism from what is presently available. And even a hack like myself should be able to run it on a desktop computer. Such a model would allow us to anticipate how fluctuations and trends in the climate are likely to impact marine ecosystems with a much higher degree of reliability.

When did you know you wanted to pursue science?

My father was a professor at a state college in Northern California, and he seemed to have a fine time trying to figure stuff out, and sharing his knowledge with his students. After taking high-school physics, I knew I wanted to do something in the physical sciences. It was a marvel to see that concepts and equations could actually account for our crude observations of the speeds of balls rolling down inclined planes.

What’s at the top of your recommended reading list for someone wanting to explore a career in science?

One recommendation is Chaos by James Gleick. This well-written account of the development of chaos theory gives the important message that scientific breakthroughs are still happening. Perhaps it especially resonated with me because of the central role played by one of the pioneers in my field, Ed Lorenz. It also illustrates that not only do many of the more important and interesting problems cross disciplines, but also that in general, we can learn from each other when we cross over the lines.

My other choice is a different kind of book, Bad Science: The Short Life and Weird Times of Cold Fusion by Gary Taubes. This is a fascinating tale that vividly describes the human side of the scientific endeavour. It illustrates that while it is not always direct, or pretty, the scientific process does provide a way forward. The universal lessons from the cold fusion case are that errors occur, and that independent observation and analysis, and peer review, ultimately allow mistaken concepts to wither rather than flourish.

What part of your job as a NOAA scientist did you least expect to be doing?

I had no clue that I would be involved in such a diversity of subjects. For example, recent studies I’ve worked on include consideration of the oceanic response to a typhoon in the western North Pacific, the effects of winds on the success of subsistence hunting for walrus in the Bering Sea, and the health impacts of heat waves in the Pacific Northwest. Specialization is for ants.

Do you have an outside hobby?

I play basketball and softball, and I am borderline obsessive about getting daily exercise. I enjoy cooking, generally winging it rather than following recipes. I would like to also claim to be a gardener, but I am unsure if the state of my yard justifies that.

What would you be doing if you had not become a scientist?

Who knows, but I have wondered what it would be like to be a patent attorney. I must confess that I do not know much about the day-to-day activities of these folks. I expect that at least some time is spent figuring out how things work, and amassing evidence that a particular perspective is the correct one. Come to think of it, that is more or less what I do now.

Who is your favorite historical scientist and why?

Richard Feynman. He was not just a brilliant scientist but also a fascinating character. His enthusiasm for physics, and for that matter curiosity about most everything, is apparent in his classic series of Lectures on Physics textbooks. I know of no other textbook that includes so many exclamation points, and they are used to good effect.


Nicholas Bond was born and raised in California. He is a graduate of the University of California, Riverside, with a B.S. in physics. He received a Ph.D. in atmospheric sciences from the University of Washington. He is a member of the American Meteorological Society, the American Geophysical Union, and Sigma Xi.

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