Random Profile: Ben Felzer
Every other month, this series spotlights a stochastically chosen staff member.
Postdoctoral fellow in CGD, serving as the climate modeling coordinator (under supervisor Starley Thompson) for his supporting program, Paleoclimates from Arctic Lakes and Estuaries (PALE). "It's an NSF-funded program with an emphasis on the North Atlantic land areas and Beringia [the geologic term for the Alaska-Siberia land mass, once connected by a land bridge]. The primary emphasis has been on climate since the last glacial maximum, about 21,000 years ago."
Number of different disciplines in which he holds degrees:
Four. Ben, a native of the Philadelphia area, earned his bachelor's in physics and astronomy at Swarthmore College, where he observed and researched stellar phenomena. After Swarthmore, Ben found that "coinciding with my personal interest in the outdoors was a desire to do work more related to the earth's environment." Moving to Boulder, Ben earned a master's in geology at the University of Colorado with a thesis in reflectance spectroscopy, "the basis for remote sensing." He then switched to climate modeling for his doctorate at Brown University. "That was a nice blend. The paleoclimate part of my work comes from my geology background, but climate modeling allowed me to look at the big picture instead of a single core sample on a single field site, which is what the majority of geologists do." Ben came to NCAR in 1995.
Current model of choice:
ARCSym, a version of Filippo Giorgi's regional climate model developed for the Arctic by CU's Amanda Lynch. Ben is working on high-resolution simulations of the climate around 6,000 years ago, "particularly around Greenland, and Baffin and Ellesmere Islands. They have a lot of mountains and coastline that can't be captured in a general circulation model. The paths of storms and their precipitation really depend on the topography."
Why summer isn't the same up north as it was in 4,000 B.C.:
"The main thing that's different is the orbital insolation [the solar radiation reaching various parts of the globe], mainly because of changes in the earth's precession and obliquity." The earth now comes closest to the sun in the dead of northern winter, around 3 January, but due to precession (wobbling) of the earth about its axis, that date cycles through the calendar every 22,000 years. Around 6,000 years ago, the closest approach (perihelion) was near the end of September. That made the influence of the northern summer sun measurably stronger than today's, according to Ben. Moreover, the earth's axial tilt (now 23.44 degrees) was about half a degree greater. The increased obliquity added further to the summer sun's effects.
Biggest pet peeve:
"As computers have gotten advanced and the models have gotten more complicated, I've been spending more and more time on debugging and data assimilation and less time on science."
Recent career thread of interest:
Teaching. "I've been mentoring a SOARS student [Significant Opportunities in Atmospheric Research and Science] and conducting college entrance interviews [for Swarthmore and Brown]. I do enjoy explaining my work to other people."
Most politically incorrect viewpoint:
The redeeming value of politics. "I really admire people who are doing their best to make this world a better place. In spite of the common perception of politicians, they are in the best position to bring about the most change in the world."
Highest current office:
President of the Colorado chapter of the Mosaic Outdoor Mountain Club, a national hiking/adventuring group.
Vacation of choice:
A multiday backcountry camping trip. "Last year I went on three trips, two in Utah and one in Yellowstone. They were all on the order of four days. Backpacking is very difficult, and one thing I enjoy is getting far enough into the wilderness so you're out of the realm of day hikers. But what I most enjoy is day hiking--not having a backpack along."
Typical day on the backcountry trail:
Ten miles of hiking with a 55-pound backpack.
Seeds of environmentalism:
"I suppose it started with our first family trip to a national park [Yosemite and Yellowstone in the early 1980s]. Then I developed an interest on my own. It's an important part of my life."
"I'm really into folk rock and classic rock. My favorite group is CCR [Creedence Clearwater Revival]. This year I saw John Fogerty in concert singing CCR songs for the first time in my life. A close second to CCR is Bob Dylan, and the Byrds were the seminal folk-rock group. I think what I like in folk music is that there's meaning behind the words--they're about something."
Last movie he saw:
" 'Titanic'--me and everybody else."
Favorite cult film:
Favorite film of all time:
" '2001 [A Space Odyssey]' has to be on that list. Of course, there's 'Star Wars,' but everybody likes 'Star Wars.' "
Prepared for the Web by Jacque Marshall