Mountain Sunset in Tibet

Q&A with Dan Joswiak

Alpine Exploration in Central Asia

Q: Where are you from?
A: I'm from Oregon, Wisconsin, a small town in South Central Wisconsin, very close to Madison.

Q: Why did you decide to conservation biology?

A: I double-majored in geology and conservation biology because these brought together my interests in environmental studies, and in the processes related to the formation of the natural landscapes we see today.

Q: After you received your undergraduate degree, why did you select the University of Idaho for your master's and Ph.D. in geography?
A: The research opportunity in the Department of Geography with Dr. Vladimir Aizen's team presented itself, and I was always interested in living in the Northwest.

Q: What makes the University of Idaho a great place to study science in general, and specifically geography?
A: I was impressed with the faculty support and individual attention to students. Also, the University of Idaho’s location in the Inland Northwest provides great outdoor laboratories in the surrounding natural environments. Another benefit is the international scope of research projects at the University related to my field of interest in alpine environments, particularly in alpine ice-coring and paleoclimatic reconstructions. As a graduate student, I was fortunate to participate in scientific expeditions to Siberia, Tibet, and Tadjikistan and to work on ice-core processing and chemical analysis with University of Idaho Professor of Glaciology Dr. Vladimir Aizen.

Q: Can you tell me about your current project with the Institute of Tibetan Plateau, Chinese Academy of Sciences?
A: Currently, I am working to analyze the atmospheric chemical composition in ice cores from the Tibetan Plateau. Ice cores are drilled deep into glaciers and can tell us about changes in climate and atmospheric composition during the past hundreds to thousands of years.

Q: How long have you been there, and what specific role do you play in the larger research project?
A: I moved here with my family at the beginning of October, 2008. My role is to analyze ice core samples from Tibetan glaciers and to use these results for reconstructing past climates on the Tibetan Plateau. This is part of a larger project to document regional climate and environmental changes across the Tibetan Plateau.

Q: Why is this research important?
In order to predict future climate and environment changes, we must understand causes and changes of the past. The high mountain regions are extremely sensitive to changing climates while these areas store huge amounts of fresh water in the low and middle latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere that is in great demand due to rapidly growing population, agriculture, and the local economies. Future climate changes in these areas may have dramatic implications on water resources that affect large populated Asian countries.

In addition, the current warming, particularly in high elevated alpine areas, is effectively destroying the glacial climatic/environmental archives, and it is urgent to retrieve glacier records while they are still available.

Q: What have you and your team learned; what do you hope to learn?
A: We have documented some of the impacts of industrialization on atmospheric chemistry and the past variability of atmospheric processes in central Asia that are responsible for incoming moisture and local water resources. We have been able to document past changes in climate at annual and decadal scales. Additionally, members of our team have quantified the extent of glacial area retreat in central Asia. We hope to better predict the effects of future changes, and to further document climatic conditions and causes of past changes to be confident in the modeling of regional and global climate and water resource changes.

Q: What’s next for you?
A: I have several manuscripts nearing completion that will summarize some of our important findings. I will continue analysis of ice cores at the Institute here in Beijing, and work on the interpretation of these results as it applies to regional climate and environmental changes. After my post doctorate here, I believe I will find a teaching or research position in a world-class university to study impacts of global environmental changes.

Q: How has the University of Idaho helped prepare you for what you’re doing now and other adventures in your future?
A: The University of Idaho was instrumental in providing me with an interdisciplinary education and the skills necessary to work with international research teams.

The University of Idaho has high caliber research and teaching professors who share their knowledge with their students in order to give them the best possible opportunity to find jobs and continue their professional careers.

Q: Do you have any advice for undergraduate students who are interested in pursuing a career in science?
A: With the increased specialization in science, I think it's important to establish a strong background in fundamental science in order to be prepared for any future directions your career or graduate studies might take.

*Photos courtesy of D. Joswiak