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Charles Stock
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Charles Stock

Laying the groundwork for understanding climate impacts today and centuries from now

By Bonnie Myers, NOAA Research Office of Communications

“Climate scientists call me the fish guy and fisheries scientists call me the climate guy,” jokes Charles “Charlie” Stock, research oceanographer and modeler, at NOAA’s Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory (GFDL)

Dr. Charlie Stock, Research Oceanographer at NOAA's Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory

Dr. Charlie Stock, Research Oceanographer at NOAA's Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory

Stock's main research focus is studying and modeling interactions between marine ecosystems and climate. He works closely with both climate scientists and fisheries scientists to provide the most-up-to-date information on the impacts of climate on marine resources. Credit: NOAA

Stock’s multidisciplinary approach to research puts him in his own unique niche at GFDL, much like the organisms he studies.  His main focus, since starting with NOAA in 2007, has been studying and modeling interactions between marine ecosystems, including fish and other organisms, and climate at timescales ranging from present day to centuries into the future.

“Interdisciplinary work is becoming more and more important to NOAA's mission and Charlie [Stock] is an important leader linking marine ecosystems to climate change and variability,” says Jon Hare, a colleague of Stock’s and the Narragansett Laboratory Director/Oceanography Branch Chief at NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service.

Stock’s initial curiosity with the ocean began when he was a child sailing up and down the New England coast squished in a 30 foot boat with his family and, when on land, becoming a self-proclaimed Discovery Channel junkie. From then on, he wanted to know how the ocean worked.

Initially concerned that majoring in science and engineering would stifle his creative side, Stock says he found while working on his Ph.D. in Environmental and Ocean Engineering at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute/MIT Joint Program and throughout his career that “creativity lies at the core of science.”

Luckily for Stock, creativity is vital to his research every day.  Interactions between climate and marine resources like fish, plankton, and even sea turtles are complex and there is no "cook book" for understanding these interactions and making reliable predictions.  Creative solutions combining ecosystem and climate science are essential for meeting this challenge.

"I believe that improved prediction of climate impacts on marine resources can lead to better management of these resources."

“I believe that improved prediction of climate impacts on marine resources can lead to better management of these resources.” Stock says.  “This includes the potential for improved fisheries management, preservation of key habitat for endangered species, and planning for possible large-scale redistributions of fisheries resources in a changing climate.”

One of his recent findings is a perfect example of this.  Stock and his colleagues found that changes in the plankton food web, which controls the food available to fish, may amplify projected 21st century changes in plankton productivity and lead to large regional changes in fisheries yields.  He is presently working with colleagues to improve projected global-scale redistributions of fisheries to inform long-term conservation and management.

However, as with the nature of science, Stock points out that sometimes his research produces as many questions as answers, like a recent study he was involved in projecting the impacts of climate on young cod.  One question that was raised was how the projected impacts of climate on larval cod survival would change if Stock and his colleagues had higher resolution models or knew if predators of cod would decline in the future. This solidified Stock’s healthy appreciation for scientific uncertainty and the need to progressively build scientific understanding.

“[As scientists,] we are not advocates of any particular position.  We try to interpret the information we have as well as possible and then communicate it [to the public and other scientists].  The next advance often comes from accurately quantified uncertainties in the previous study.”

"Creativity lies at the core of science."

Even with the inherent uncertainty, Stock will continue to answer these difficult questions using ecosystem and climate models developed at GFDL and the ingenuity and knowledge of his colleagues and himself to understand the complex connections between climate and the ocean.

Although some oceanographers see the ocean more often than Stock, he is content working at his computer to provide the most up-to-date research to resource managers and to lay down building blocks for future research efforts.

After all, Stock says, “one upside [of being a modeler] is that when I do see the ocean it is usually while relaxing by the shore rather than collecting samples on a rainy midnight shift in a heavy swell.”

Dr. Charles A. Stock received his Ph.D. in Civil, Environmental and Ocean Engineering from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution/MIT Joint Program and his M.S of Engineering in Environmental Fluid Mechanics and Hydrology from Stanford University.  He began working at NOAA in 2007 as an associate research scholar with NOAA’s GFDL and Princeton University.  In 2010, Stock received the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers for innovative research at the frontiers of climate and ecosystem science. He is currently a research oceanographer at NOAA’s GFDL.

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