Spotlight: Adriana Raudzens Bailey

Postdoctoral Research Scientist

AdrianaMore intense storms, earlier snowmelt, rising seas — many of us will experience climate change through the water cycle. That’s why Adriana Bailey, a new postdoc at JISAO, investigates the processes that control moisture transport in the atmosphere. But how do you track an invisible gas like water vapor? One way is to fingerprint it isotopically.

While all water is made up of hydrogen and oxygen atoms, some of these atoms contain extra neutrons, making them a little bit heavier. Freeze enough of this heavy water, and you’ll be able to sink an ice cube — a neat party trick (just don’t drink it!). The difference in mass is one of the characteristics that makes water isotopes such good tracers of the water cycle: each time water vapor forms cloud or rain, it’s the heavier molecules that preferentially condense and precipitate.

By measuring the ratios of heavy-to-light isotopes in the atmosphere, Adriana detects the condensation and precipitation history of air masses and studies the processes that control humidity and cloudiness. So far, she’s measured water isotope ratios while driving a truck up and down Mauna Kea, Hawaii, while flying on a C-130 over the Virgin Islands, and at remote locations like the 3,000-meter Storm Peak Laboratory in Colorado, which is accessed by ski lift in winter. She’s currently using remotely-sensed isotope ratios from satellite-borne instruments to characterize the precipitation efficiency of cloudy regions important for climate.

Contrary to expectation, it wasn’t through research but through writing that Adriana first learned about the potential of isotopic tracers for climate studies. Before commencing her PhD, she served as the principal media officer for the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES) — a joint institute of NOAA and the University of Colorado. There, she worked with major newspapers and broadcasters to showcase the latest scientific discoveries in glaciology, seismology, atmospheric chemistry, ecology, and climate, and to highlight novel research initiatives (like a water isotopic measurement campaign at Mauna Loa Observatory!). In fact, it was through Adriana and Steve hikinginterviewing scientists for press releases that Adriana realized how much she wanted to ask her own questions about how the earth system works.

Although she’s since put aside her reporter’s notepad, her interest in science communication hasn’t waned. In 2014 Adriana authored a peer-reviewed article and a book chapter analyzing the language newspapers use to describe climate change uncertainty. She hopes eventually to conduct a follow-up study analyzing media discourse around the IPCC’s 5th Assessment Report.

Hailing from a tiny seaside town north of Boston, Adriana has nevertheless been spoiled by 12 years of Rocky Mountain sunshine. As a result, she occasionally misses biking to work in dry weather. In contrast, her husband Steve, also a New Englander, couldn’t be happier with the persistent overcast conditions. They’re both enjoying exploring their new home with their two rascally dogs Baxter and Espresso.