Since he started sailing years ago, David Noone had his attention focused on climate. Now, the National Science Foundation is recognizing him as the next big thing in climate science and engineering.
Noone is an associate professor of atmospheric and oceanic sciences at CU-Boulder and a fellow at the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences. Over the summer, he received the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers, an award that honors early career scientists with remarkable potential for leadership in their field.
Noone received the award for his work on the relationship between the water and carbon cycle. For the project, he recruited local middle schools to participate in the research and provide data. He even went so far as to create a curriculum for the students based around the research they are doing. He has researched everything from the ice core record of glaciers in Greenland to the effects of climate change on atmospheric circulation in Hawaii.
The Boulder Stand talked with Noone about his research, receiving the honorary award and what it takes to become a notable scientist.
Tell us about the project that won you the PECASE?
There’s a project we have running here in Colorado where we’re looking at coupling the water cycle and carbon cycle through a series of measurements and then modeling the exchange of water between the land surface and the atmosphere. That project involves working with students from middle schools through the district, particularly the St. Vrain Valley School District, where students in the schools have little weather stations that we’ve installed. They’re also starting to collect water for us, and so they send the samples back to us. We do analysis — look at the chemical composition and the isotopic composition of the rain water. So that gives us a regional perspective on the water cycle in this area.
Why did you decided to get middle school children involved with this research?
I guess two reasons. There’s an increase in science literacy so I think there’s a guiding interest in helping out in that regard. We’re developing curriculum modules that we’re distributing to the science teachers. They’re rolling out that curriculum package at the moment, actually. The curriculum modules are focused on the aspects of the climate system that are related to our research project so they’re learning about the water cycle, but they’re also meeting their state’s standards with regard to basic chemistry and basic physics.
The other is that there really is a nice connection between opportunities for them to learn but opportunities for us to be able to collect data in the region. It’s only with a wide network of observations, which we can do through community science activities, that allows us to succeed in the research we want to do.
Why did you get into this field of research?
I guess originally I was sort of just naturally interested in the world around me. In particular I came into environmental and climate research through meteorology. I studied meteorology as an undergraduate and I really got into that for two reasons. One, I was curious about chaotic systems and mathematics, and weather forecasting’s amongst that. But perhaps even more so I was into sailing and yacht racing. I was told that to win yacht races you needed to know about the weather. So I decided, well, this is it, I’m going to go to school and learn about meteorology and win yacht races. But at some point, the sailing stopped and the weather continued.
How do you feel about receiving the PECASE award?
It’s pretty exciting, obviously. Yeah, it’s great. My group is about 10 to 15 people with grad students, postdocs, researchers and undergraduates as well. I think it’s nice for all of us to benefit from this award in various ways, that they can recognize the type of work we’re doing as well as the individual achievement.
What are you hoping to achieve through your work?
Well, that’s an interesting question. I think in a general sense that scientists are broadly driven by two things. One is sort of the applied side, to provide recommendations for how things work. There’s a lot of environmental consultancies, for instance, that are in that realm and with very specific goals to make recommendations for say, the impact of a coal power plant on a region of the environment and things like that. The other side is, I think scientists almost without exception are just really curious people in that it’s kind of really fascinating to learn how the world works. When you figure out how something works, that asks many more questions. So there’s also that curiosity-driven aspect.
What else are you currently working on?
Broadly, we are looking at the water cycle, to some degree the carbon cycle, too, but the relationship between atmospheric circulation and the water cycle is really the core component. There are a few different projects that we’re doing that are related to that in various ways. In some instances we’re looking at the relationship between precipitation patterns and the land surface. In other aspects we’re looking at the role of water in clouds and in the atmosphere with respect to global warming and the role of water vapor in the atmosphere and climate. All of our work is really that interface between observations and some sort of measure of the real world versus the climate models where it’s a different world that you’re modeling. It’s not quite the same as planet earth. It’s similar in some regards and you’ll learn something from the model and hopefully you can explain some of the observations with the models as well.
What advice would you give other young or aspiring scientists?
I think chase the dreams is one. If you’re interested in what you see out the window or data sets that you might see, learn more about it. Ask questions. I think the other side is that certainly in science, but in most pursuits, persistence is really the key. For every success there are 10 failures that preceded it. So don’t get discouraged by the first nine failures, the 10th will be the successful one. So always be persistent and when things don’t go right, think about why they didn’t go right and do it again.