As a climatologist, I explore the relationships between the atmosphere, the environment, and human beings. I’m interested in water flow and how it’s affected by changing weather and climate patterns.
I’m the State Climatologist for Vermont, which gives me a unique opportunity to provide state-of-the-art information, data, and expertise directly from the federal government to state agencies, legislators, and citizens. I’m an applied climatologist, meaning that I work directly with those stakeholders on research questions or day-to-day needs they might have.
Finally, like most climatologists, I also do research and am active in teaching and mentoring undergraduate and graduate students.
There are at least 10 different types of climatologists. We work in many different areas, from teaching to private consulting, working for federal and state agencies, or working with other countries. Some climatologists carry out field studies; others use computer models in a lab. We specialize in agricultural, transportation, and human health concerns and explore the effects of climate change on forests and marine species, infrastructure, and humans.
I use remote sensing imagery in most of my work because the data that we acquire from airplanes, drones, and satellites allow us to see patterns that would not be readily observable from the ground. These images can be combined into color composites or analyzed by software, which helps us to visualize and quantify details that aren’t visible to the naked eye.
I also travel occasionally, either to meet with colleagues to do research, attend conferences where I present my research, serve on review panels for federal agencies and laboratories, or give presentations to interested groups around Vermont and New England.
I’ve always loved the environment and geography. I grew up in Trinidad, and I did a project on the scarlet ibis birds of the Caroni Swamp for my capstone project as a high school senior. I was always interested in a bird’s-eye view of the world around us and trying to figure out the patterns that I observed. For example, why do certain types of vegetation grow in some places and not others?
When I got to college, studying the environment was an easy decision because it allowed me to continue to ask why and to explore how the world around us supports all life. I realized that I was more drawn to the abstract parts of the environment than those requiring a lot of fieldwork, so climatology was a natural fit.
Many climatologists are trained in geography, environmental sciences, chemistry, and physics. We also train in mathematics, meteorology, oceanography, and statistics. For research and academic positions, advanced degrees are the norm. I have a bachelor’s degree in geography and development studies, a master’s degree in climatology and hydrology, and a Ph.D. in climatology and geographic information systems.
I like the growth potential of the field of climatology and the close-knit community that supports me both professionally and personally. And I like sharing my career path with others to inspire and empower the next generation of climatologists. My mantra is always: science in the service of society.
Some of the ongoing challenges that climatologists face are a lack of appreciation for our expertise and not always being included in critically important research or planning efforts.
Take as many geography and environmental sciences classes as you can. If none are available, then take as many math and physics courses as are offered. It helps to develop a deep sense of self-awareness so that you can discover your passion and meld that with your field of study, job, or career.
Always seek out role models and mentors who won’t be afraid to mirror back to you your shortcomings while also pushing you to achieve your maximum potential. If you can, volunteer to work with or intern for a scientist.
Finally, try to develop skills both in being detail oriented and in integrating seemingly disparate topics.
I’d like to continue promoting systems science and thinking about the world around us—and addressing the many challenges that we face. I’m deeply committed to lifting the voices of the most vulnerable and historically underserved.
I’d also like to continue to promote climate literacy and understanding of all things related to climate and climate change among lifelong learners. It is my greatest privilege to continue to empower the next generation of climatologists.
Patricia Tate, "Climatologist," Career Outlook, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, April 2022.