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Greta Easthom

Graduate Student | Department of Marine, Earth, and Atmospheric Sciences | North Carolina State University

2020 – 2021 Global Change Fellow

Statement of purpose:

Communicating weather phenomena and climate trends became a discovered passion of mine at University of Maryland where I obtained double undergraduate degrees in atmospheric science and multiplatform journalism. I have always had a penchant for writing but I found that stories were much more rewarding to report on when they involved solving or understanding a multifaceted problem. One example is climate change. A warming climate leads to an increase in the severity and frequency extreme weather events that subsequently adversely impact humans and upset the balance of other species’ ecosystems. With the right tools and applications accessible to the public, the far-reaching implications of a warming climate can be effectively conveyed.

Description of research:

One extreme weather event I am studying is the increased transport of moisture from the tropics to the coasts via a narrow, elongated plume deemed an ‘atmospheric river’ or ‘river in the sky’. Atmospheric rivers are complex meteorological systems that relate the largest and smallest scales of weather by sometimes feeding into extratropical cyclones and overall leading to heavy rainfall. Four or five atmospheric rivers may constitute the majority of poleward moisture flux on the planet and California can get 25-50% of its rainfall annually from these plumes. However, a warming climate can further intensify atmospheric rivers by increasing the moisture available for transport, and thereby in turn enhance the dynamic condensation of the system.

Diagnosing whether atmospheric rivers are driven by either the dynamic small-scale weather features, the overall climate they formed in, or a likely combination of both will help improve forecasts for hazards such as flash flooding, coastal flooding, and extratropical cyclones. Through analyzing reforecast and reanalysis data centered over the atmospheric rivers and their associated features and isolating the impacts of each through weather research forecast (WRF) modeling, I hope to elucidate the precursors to these necessary yet sometimes volatile moisture corridors.

I’m a first year graduate student under Dr. Gary Lackmann, excited to be working in collaboration with the Center for Western Weather and Water Extremes at Scripps Institution of UC San Diego. Atmospheric rivers predominantly occur on the west coast, however, preliminary plans are also in place to analyze when events are triggered along the east coast. As someone passionate about science communication, CW3E’s stakeholder-driven forecast improvement mission resonates with me and presents a meaningful challenge.

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