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  • Earth and Atmospheric Sciences
  • Environment
  • Planet
  • Climate
Flavio Lehner, assistant professor, Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences

Academic focus: Climate variability and change

Research summary:

I study the statistics and mechanisms of climate variability on regional to global scales. Our focus is on atmospheric processes, but since many weather and climate phenomena involve interactions with other components of the earth system, we also study the coupling of the atmosphere with the land surface, the ocean or even sea ice. 

We primarily use numerical models to better understand reality, but also to make future projections. An overarching goal of our research is to understand and reduce uncertainties associated with projections of climate change and climate impacts.

What do you like to do when you’re not working?

I like the outdoors, be it hiking, skiing, or in recent years, more and more biking. I’m hoping to find a group of people to do semi-regular rides with here in the region.

What are your current outreach/extension projects?

For a few years now, I’ve helped the non-profit Polar Bears International with outreach activities — primarily aimed at educating school classes and the general public about climate change in the Arctic and beyond. I’m passionate about communicating climate change science to a broader audience, and so I will be looking for opportunities to do the same in the region here.

What are three adjectives people might use to describe you?

Compassionate, open-minded, curious

What brought you to Cornell CALS?

Scientific excellence, great colleagues. So, in short, an environment that helps one to do good science in a humane way.

What do you think is important for people to understand about your field?

Climate change is affecting essentially all ecosystems on the globe, and through that, also a lot of resources humans depend on — water and agriculture, for example, but also socio-economic factors such as insurance for natural disasters.

Recent surveys in the U.S. and elsewhere revealed that a majority of people think climate change is a problem for people around them, but at the same time, they think it won’t affect them personally. This disconnect suggests that not everyone appreciates or is familiar with the many ways through which climate change already affects them and will continue to affect them. My research on the physical science of climate change often just forms the start of this conversation, but I’m always eager to communicate the linkages with other systems.

Why did you feel inspired to pursue a career in this field?

I love thinking about large-scale connections between regions and components of the earth system. My curiosity and open-mindedness led me to work on various topics — from the role of volcanic eruptions in past climate variability, to the importance of climate change for streamflow prediction. I also like that climate science is a growing field where we are witnessing and trying to understand some unprecedented phenomena.

What’s the most surprising thing you’ve discovered about Ithaca so far?

I’ve heard that the Finger Lakes region is beautiful in the fall, so my expectations were high, but I was still amazed by the stunning interplay of trees and water when I actually arrived in October. I’m looking forward to exploring it in other seasons as well.

If you had unlimited grant funding, what major problem in your field would you want to solve?

Like many scientists that use numerical models, I often wish we had more computing and storage resources available to produce climate projections at higher resolution and sampling a larger parameter space. With truly unlimited funding, I would also ensure that our observational network gets maintained and built out — as we ultimately rely on good observations to be able to constrain the climate model projections, which is where much of my research’s focus lies.

Learn more about Flavio's work on his profile page and in his research spotlight on the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences website.

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