To celebrate Women’s History Month, we asked women throughout NOAA Research who make lasting impacts in scientific research, leadership, and support from the field to the office to share how their work contributes to NOAA’s mission of Climate Resilience and preparing for a Climate-Ready Nation. This article highlights an interview with Aleya Kaushik, a University of Colorado at Boulder/CIRES research scientist working in the Carbon Cycle Greenhouse Gases group at NOAA’s Global Monitoring Laboratory (GML).
Our conversation follows:
What does climate resilience or climate-ready nation mean to you? What would you want people to know about NOAA’s work on climate resilience?
Our informal motto at GML is that our job is to 'take the pulse of the planet'. Just as you would monitor your heart rate and temperature as indicators of your overall well-being, we make consistent and accurate long-term measurements of atmospheric gases, aerosol particles, clouds, and surface radiation to monitor the health of planet Earth. Having these long-term records gives us the knowledge to be prepared. By confronting models with these observations, we improve our understanding of physical processes and their impacts, which helps shape our framework for recovery and adaptation. As an organization, NOAA curates the US Climate Resilience Toolkit which is a great resource for communities to include climate risk and equity strategies into their long-term decision making.
What projects or research are you working on now, and how does your work contribute to climate resilience?
At GML, I use atmospheric data and carbon cycle observations to improve our understanding of biosphere-atmosphere interactions. I work on a number of projects which range in spatial scope from Alaska to the Continental US to the globe. The unifying theme is to understand how the land surface, and particularly plant carbon uptake, has changed in response to climate change. One of my current projects is to study drought in the Continental US, and how plants respond to drought stress. We evaluate drought conditions over several different biomes using biosphere models and atmospheric observations to understand the processes that impact resiliency, and what that means for drought severity now and in the future.
What drew you to your current career or field?
Climate change is one of the existential threats of our day. I feel privileged to be working in a field where I can contribute to our understanding of how sensitive land regions are changing in response to increasing stress from climate change. Land takes up approximately 25% of the anthropogenic carbon we emit into the atmosphere so the biosphere does us a great service, but it is uncertain how this land sink will change in the future. I use biosphere modeling and atmospheric carbon cycle tracers to understand how land processes have changed in recent decades. With a better understanding of our current climate, we can then make more accurate projections about future climate change.
What gives you hope, either with regard to science, your field in NOAA, or in general?
As a climate scientist, it's easy to become discouraged by the seeming lack of urgency in dealing with this crisis. But seeing the youth movement around climate, equity, and justice issues gives me hope. As a scientist involved in teaching and outreach, it's been a great experience for me to have conversations with students and local communities connecting the science to real-world impacts.
Looking back, what would you tell yourself when you were 12 years old?
I've always been interested in science and problem-solving from a young age, but I honestly didn't know what field I would end up in. I've taken classes in all the basic sciences and I now hold advanced degrees in chemistry, oceanography and atmospheric science, but I've also dabbled in microbiology, animal behavior and even theater! I credit my theater background with helping me be a better public speaker. I would tell my 12-year old self that whatever you choose to do, do it enthusiastically and to the best of your ability. Every step you take gives you a life experience that you will end up using down the road even if you don't know it at the time.
What would you tell someone who wants to do climate-centered work, but doesn’t know where to start?
These days it's becoming increasingly apparent that citizens play a huge role in how the world will respond to climate change. Yes, there is responsibility on the shoulders of governments and corporations, but I think regular people often underestimate the power they hold. Whether you consider it work or not, you can do things in your daily life that matter, like choosing where to shop or who to vote for. You can push for greener technology in your schools and neighborhoods, and start conversations about how to collectively reduce our carbon footprint. You can even get more involved with citizen science programs, including ones sponsored by NOAA that help us gather data we need to better understand Earth systems.
Special thanks to Aleya Kaushik for participating in this interview for Women’s History Month at NOAA.