NCDC Insider: Meet Paleoclimate Scientist Dr. Eugene Wahl
How could one person be both a detective and a climate scientist? In a sense, NCDC Paleoclimate Scientist, Dr. Eugene “Gene” Wahl, does both jobs every day by looking for clues that the Earth has left behind to reconstruct past climate conditions, similar to how a detective looks for clues to reconstruct a crime scene. As a paleoclimate scientist, Gene examines the information found in natural sources such as pollen, tree rings, and lake sediments to reconstruct the climate conditions on Earth hundreds to thousands of years ago. “Understanding the past climate,” says Gene, “is one key way humans can build a new, more knowledgeable relationship with nature."
Gene’s expertise lies not only in the reconstruction of past climate but also in examining climate change. He is currently focusing on reconstructing climate conditions over the past 2,000 years for North America, the Northern Hemisphere, and the entire globe. With these data, scientists can gauge the performance of global climate models and evaluate the intensity and duration of climate extremes by comparing them to a much longer record than what instruments alone provide.
Gene not only works with scientists throughout NCDC and NOAA, but he also collaborates with international groups to enhance paleoclimate data development and use, most notably the Past Global Changes Programme of the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme. Gene is also engaging with a broader set of users to enable resource and emergency managers, decision makers, and other interested persons, along with scientists, to make the best use of paleoclimate reconstructions and their associated environmental data.
In addition to his work as a “climate detective,” Gene has worked as a teacher and professor at the secondary, undergraduate, and graduate levels. He has taught classes in a variety of fields including science, economics, social science, and environmental ethics. Most recently, he was assistant professor of environmental studies at Alfred University in New York and adjunct graduate professor of environmental ethics and environmental economics at St. Mary-of-the-Woods College in Indiana.
Outside of his career, Gene is a music lover and plays blues, R&B, rock, and some bluegrass harmonica. He also enjoys the great outdoors, and you can find him hiking in the wilderness near Boulder, Colorado, where NCDC’s Paleoclimatology Program is located. His love of the environment combined with his interest in understanding history gives Gene an edge as a paleoclimate scientist. “It is a privilege to attempt to understand the history of Earth and to hold the present as both a participant in the now and as a caregiver for those yet to come,” says Gene, who wouldn’t rather do anything else—except maybe pass his knowledge along to future generations in the classroom.
Stay tuned for the next edition of NCDC Insider to meet more of the Center’s dedicated staff.