Nothing But Clear Skies
University of Idaho faculty is connected and those connections benefit the students. Just ask Christopher Cox (Master of Science, environmental science, ’09; Ph.D. environmental science, ’13) whose career has followed a trajectory based on the connections of his graduate advisor, Von Walden, a geography professor.
Upon arriving at UI in 2007, Cox began studying the atmosphere over Barrow, Alaska and northern Canada. In 2009 funding came through for a large project to study clouds over Greenland and Cox’s career path was paved.
“I fell into this whole world of Arctic cloud research as soon as I got to Idaho,” he said.
From Idaho to Greenland
Cox’s doctoral research, funded by the National Science Foundation, sent him to Greenland as part of the Integrated Characterization of Energy, Clouds, Atmospheric state, and Precipitation at Summit (ICECAPS) project, which both the universities of Idaho and Colorado are collaborators, as well as Wisconsin and Oklahoma. ICECAPS looks at the clouds in the atmosphere over Greenland, providing insight into how clouds interact with the ice sheet surface.
With the ICECAPS funding, upgrades were made at Summit Station, on the Greenland Ice Sheet, and the barriers to data collection melted away.
“There hadn’t been a lot of cloud-related data collected on much of the ice cap prior to this,” Cox said.
While working at the two-mile thick ice sheet at Summit Station, Cox got to know the scientists working on other projects. That included the scientists from the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Science (CIRES), a collaborative institute between the University of Colorado and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). They were measuring properties of the atmosphere near the surface to better understand how hydrology of snow is modified by clouds in the atmosphere.
Connections Open Opportunities
That polar connection led to a post-doctoral position with CIRES, which recently transitioned into a full-time research position with CIRES and the Physical Sciences Division of the NOAA Earth System Research Laboratory. Cox works with researchers who facilitate international collaboration and support the effort to make comparable measurements in the pan-Arctic region. He studies data from Northern Russia, Canada, Scandinavia and Greenland, comparing data gathered by international scientists. The purpose of this research is to better understand climate change in the Arctic and to support improvement of climate modeling and sea ice forecasting.
“We are continuing to standardize measurements and do better science,” Cox said. “My colleagues are working on, and have improved, data accessibility, which can be difficult when work- ing with an international network of research stations,” he said.
It has been a smooth research path for this Vermont native. His undergraduate interests at the University of Maine revolved around anthropology and glacial geology. But in grad school he found his true passion in atmospheric science.
“Part of grad school is discovering what you are interested in.”
He said studying in the Environmental Science program helped him discover his career. “The interdisciplinary aspects of Environmental Science attracted me. It is important to have multiple perspectives.”