Spotlight - Joel Pedro

Postdoctoral Researcher

Joel PedroJoel is one of the newest faces at JISAO and also one of our longest-range recruits. He arrived to Seattle in May, relocating from his home in Australia's southern most state, Tasmania. He joins us as one of the three early career scientists who have been awarded JISAO Postdoctoral Research Fellowships in 2013.

Joel's field is paleoclimatology (study of past climate) and his main interest is ice. He studies the impurities of the ice by looking at isotopes and gasses that lie within the layers of the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets. The isotopic composition of the water in the ice layers is used to estimate past temperature, whilst the gas bubbles provide a direct record of changes in atmospheric carbon dioxide and methane. The chemistry of the ice even stores information about past changes in solar irradiance.

His project at JISAO concerns the processes involved in glacial termination: why did the last glacial period end in the way that it did? Why did climate in the high northern latitudes swing wildly between warm and icy states whereas climate in the southern hemisphere changed quite gradually? Were the changes in the southern hemisphere driven by changes in the north or was it the other way around? And just how fast can the atmosphere and ocean in one hemisphere respond to an abrupt change in climate in the opposite hemisphere? To tackle these questions Joel is working with Eric Steig of the Quaternary Research Center in the UW school of Earth and Space Sciences and Cecilia Bitz of the school of Atmospheric Sciences and Geophysics.

Joel says that there were several main factors which compelled him to apply for a JISAO fellowship including the presence of world class experts in atmospheric dynamics, oceanography and glaciology; access to the most detailed ice core records yet retrieved from Antarctica (the recently completed WAIS Divide ice core); and the opportunity to work more closely with paleoclimate models and modelers.

Australian ice campSo how does a lad from a country known for its sandy deserts end up studying ice?

Joel's upbringing on beef and dairy farms in the southwest end of Western Australia (about 500 km south of Perth) certainly didn't bring him into contact with anything in the way of glaciers. Instead, he was into Aussie rules football, riding motorbikes, fishing and diving - stuff he says most country boys from those parts are into. But right from the beginning he was also keen on science. "I wanted to be a scientist since I was five or six years old,” he said. The small town in which he grew up did not have a high school so he boarded away from home in order to follow his interest in science and math.

For University he moved to Perth where he studied Chemistry at the University of Western Australia. He says his ambition all along was to use science to understand the natural world, but he had no interest in being stuck in an office or a laboratory. “I started learning more about atmospheric chemistry and climate change, and that some of the key information about climate change comes from deep within the Antarctic ice cap,” he said. “Chemists are needed to interpret this information and people with some thirst for adventure are needed to go to Antarctica and get the ice. “So I decided that would be the job for me: an ice core paleoclimatologist".

Joel at the Australian ice core drilling campThe next step was to move to Tasmania where he embarked on a PhD titled "High Resolution Ice Core Records of Climate Variability and Forcing" with the University of Tasmania (UTas) and Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems Cooperative Research Centre (ACE CRC). His PhD, awarded in August 2012, investigated the use Be-10 in polar ice (a naturally occurring isotope of beryllium which is produced in the upper atmosphere by cosmic rays) to infer past changes in the activity of the sun (e.g. 1, 2). In addition he began working on the line of research that led him to his current project at JISAO: the precise timing of the climate variations and carbon cycle feedback processes which accompanied the last glacial termination.

Joel had some great opportunities from his PhD work. He has twice travelled to Antarctica, working in field camps on the ice sheet for months at a time while living out of a tent with five or six other people at temperatures of -20 to -30 °C. “I feel so fortunate to have had this Antarctic experience and it has come purely from pursuing my interest in science,” he said.

Communicating the science of climate change is something that Joel takes a strong interest in. Along with colleagues from the University of Tasmania and Australian Antarctic Division, he set up a forum called "The Climate Conversations". The group led conversations about climate change all around Tasmania and in parts of mainland Australia. The objective of these talks was to present the basic facts and measurements of climate change without hype or drama, and to allow people to directly question the scientists who are working on the frontline getting the information. He says that people appreciated hearing about the science from the "horses mouth”.

Joel skiing on Mt. BakerJoel is not wasting any time enjoying the marvels of the Pacific Northwest. On his first weekend here he hiked to Camp Muir on Mt Rainer, he has since knocked off Mt. Hood, Mt. Baker, and Mt. Eleanor in the Olympics (being able to climb and ski on glaciers within a few hours of the city is just too tempting for him on nice weekends!). He is also a keen mountain biker, trail runner, and cyclist and has been greatly enjoying the trails on Tiger Mountain. 

He was very pleased to find that his favorite team sport - Aussie Rules Football - is actually played in Seattle. Along with a bunch of other ex-pat Aussies and equally crazy Americans he plays for the Seattle Grizzlies and is looking upward to giving Portland a hiding in a few weeks time.

He reports being extremely happy with making the move to Seattle with the exception of not yet having found any vegemite. His search continues.