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What They Do

Atmospheric and Space Scientists Career Video

Insider Info

Climatologists try to forecast major long-term changes in climate based on past climatic history. Long-term changes in climate are important. They have an impact on things like our use of power and energy, our ability to produce food, our health and the survival of endangered species.

Pam Knox is the assistant state climatologist in the Georgia State Climatology Office. She says climatologists are scientists who study long-term trends in climate. They are different from meteorologists. Meteorologists study current weather conditions and make short-term forecasts.

Climatologists who do research usually become specialists in a certain area -- such as snow cover, solar radiation or the effects of heavy rainfall.

Paleoclimatology is a unique branch of climatology. Paleoclimatologists study climates hundreds or even millions of years ago. This information is important because it helps to predict future conditions.

Climatologists and paleoclimatologists use computer models to develop their forecasts. They use data that they have collected, or that other climatologists have collected.

Climatologists often work in teams. That's because the issues they study are complex and require input from people from various backgrounds and countries. For example, global warming affects the entire world. It must be addressed by governments, industry, environmental agencies and others.

Climatologist David Phillips explains that climatologists could take old weather documents and generate statistical information that is used by city planners, construction companies, farmers, governments and many others. People use the information to increase profits, to make life safer and more enjoyable and to prevent disasters.

Climatologists are sometimes asked to testify in court as expert witnesses in cases in which weather is a factor. They need good oral and written communication skills.

Climatologists must have excellent research skills. They need to be able to get information from databases, archives and other sources of information.

Climatologists translate complex scientific data into information that the public can understand.

Many climatologists provide interviews, articles or written reports to the media. They could be interviewed on television or radio. "When we had a major snowstorm, I gave 18 interviews in one day," says Dave Robinson. He is the state climatologist for New Jersey.

Phillips says that climatologists work in all sectors. They could work for government agencies, as he does. They could also work in universities or utility companies.

According to Phillips, many people do climatology as one aspect of their work, but it is fitted in with other responsibilities. For example, they could be doing city planning and climatology is worked into water balance work or environmental assessments.

E. J. Hopkins is a climatologist with the University of Wisconsin at Madison. He says that a person with disabilities could work as a climatologist under some circumstances. People using a wheelchair could do most aspects of the work provided the facility was wheelchair accessible. Visual impairment or loss of motor skills would be more problematic.

At a Glance

Study long-term weather

  • Climatologists use computer models to develop their forecasts
  • You'll need excellent research skills
  • Study geography or atmospheric science


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