Gavin Schmidt

Photo of Gavin Schmidt

Gavin Schmidt is a climate scientist at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, in New York City, where he develops and tests models of past, present, and future climate. He's particularly interested in how these results can be compared to paleoclimate data recorded in deep-sea sediment cores, ice cores, tree rings, and coral. The objective, he explains, is to "try and understand why the climate has changed in the past, why it's changing now, and what might happen in the future."

Models, Gavin says, are "just tools to ask interesting questions about all sorts of different aspects of the climate system. I've found that the more big-picture your view of the modeling you're doing, the more feedback you get, the more connections are made to things that you might not have been aware of, and the more great ideas you get. People are now bringing us ideas that we can test with the models and see if we can come up with solutions."

As a kid growing up in a small town in the southwest of England, Gavin liked mathematics so much that "it never really crossed my mind that I would do anything else." But not pure math, as it turned out: at Oxford University he found himself clearly drawn towards applied mathematics. In 1994, after a stint "getting my world-traveling bug out of my system," he received a Ph.D. in Applied Mathematics from University College London, where he concentrated on geophysical fluid mechanics. Gavin was a postdoctoral fellow at McGill University, in Montreal, when he was awarded a Climate and Global Change Fellowship from NOAA in 1966 and moved to the Goddard Institute.

Gavin is the co-author, with Joshua Wolfe, of Climate Change: Picturing the Science (2009), and has published over 90 peer-reviewed journal articles. In November 2004 he was named one of Scientific American's "Top 50 Research Leaders" of the year. He was a contributing author for the 2007 Nobel Prize-winning report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Gavin is a founding member and contributor to RealClimate, a climate science blog for journalists and the public, and a prominent spokesperson for the climate science community. "When I was a mathematician, if people didn't agree with you, they'd just say, 'I don't agree with you.' They'd publish a paper. But now I publish a paper and suddenly I find myself on a list of 17 international climate criminals being waved around on the floor of the Senate," Gavin comments wryly. "The way scientific information informs policymakers and the public has become a lot more complex over the years."