Led global efforts to advance near-term climate predictions
Lisa Goddard: led global efforts to advance near-term climate predictions
Decades of projects to help agriculture, public health, energy and emergency planning in developing countries
For more than 25 years, atmospheric and ocean scientist Lisa Goddard has been at the forefront of developing methods to predict regional climate trends from weeks to years. She has worked to understand the interaction of short-term natural variability with long-term climate change. For decades at Columbia University’s International Research Institute for Climate and Society (IRI), which she eventually led, she worked with governments and nonprofits in dozens of countries. in development to apply these increasingly sophisticated predictions to practical decisions in agriculture, public health, emergency planning and energy production. His work has extended to building the climate expertise of scientists in many countries and their ability to advise government authorities.
Goddard died Jan. 13 in Mt. Kisco, NY. The cause was metastatic breast cancer, her family said. She was 55 years old.
“His contributions to our understanding of climate have been significant, but his commitment to ensuring that climate information is accessible and meaningful to decision makers around the world has been a game-changer,” said Alex Halliday, dean of the Columbia Climate School, whose the IRI is separate.
Lisa Marie Goddard was born on September 23, 1966 in Sacramento, California, the oldest of two children. His father, Glenn Goddard, was director of the California State Department of Labor. His mother, the former Marie Strickland, was a schoolteacher.
The family moved around northern California several times, and Goddard ended up attending high school in the small town of Davis. Passionate about cooking, she considered going to cooking school. However, she was also an avid puzzle-solver, and that interest won out; she decided to pursue puzzles in physics, said her husband, David Cooperberg.
She was admitted to the University of California, Berkeley in 1984 and graduated with an undergraduate degree in 1988. Thinking about her next steps, she decided not to pursue abstract theoretical work. “At that time, in the late 1980s, we were just starting to make headlines about the hole in the ozone layer and global warming,” she later said. “I thought: this is an exciting way to apply my knowledge of physics. It’s something I want to learn more about and maybe help people.
She pursued doctoral studies under Princeton University climatologist George Philander, who at the time was leading studies to investigate the then-misunderstood weather pattern known as El Niño. Philander discovered he had an opposite state, which he dubbed La Niña. The combined phenomena are now known to be an irregular repeating 2 to 7 year oscillation that alternately warms and cools the surface of the tropical Pacific Ocean. This in turn powerfully affects rainfall patterns across much of Asia and the Americas, as well as crop yields and the risk of floods, droughts and heat waves. Goddard participated in the effort to unravel its workings. She wrote her thesis on the interrelated dynamics of ocean and air behind El Niño-La Niña cycles, and has become a widely recognized expert on the subject.
When Goddard started, women in the earth sciences were extremely rare; she was the only female in her year’s cohort at Princeton. She later said she had embraced the difference; being a rarity conferred an advantage, for as long as she was assertive, professors and others tended to remember her more than they did her average male colleagues.
In 1995, after earning her doctorate, she held a series of positions at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in California as part of the newly created IRI. Originally a collaboration between the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Columbia with an outpost at Scripps, it became the world’s first international institute to try to bridge the yawning gap between daily weather forecasting and long-term research. term on climate change. The objective was to create short and medium term climate forecasts applicable to social and economic issues.
At Scripps, Goddard and the handful of others she worked with were based in a small white cottage overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Having a keen sense of fun and a love of the outdoors, she had the advantage of spending occasional lunch breaks surfing.
In 2000, Goddard moved to IRI’s headquarters on the suburban campus of Columbia’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory in Palisades, NY. There, his colleagues Stephen Zebiak and Mark Cane had already developed a model successful work to predict the whereabouts of El Niño. and La Niña. Goddard worked to refine the model and develop models to project other regional weather patterns on the scale of weeks, months, or years. Lamont-Doherty’s own scientists primarily studied long-term climate change over centuries and millennia, and Goddard was able to cooperate with them to incorporate the larger picture into his work. In total, she is the author or co-author of approximately 100 published scientific articles.
The institute focused on providing information and training primarily to developing countries that had few meteorological and climate resources. Goddard has traveled extensively in Africa, Asia and South America to do research and help set up training and aid programs for scientists. The predictions were then applied to questions such as which crops to plant next season; whether relief organizations need to pre-position funds to deal with possible floods, droughts or heat waves; and the prospects that a proposed dam would get enough water supply to provide hydropower or irrigation.
In the early 2000s, Goddard helped design Columbia’s Masters in Climate and Society program. Now offered by Columbia Climate School, the interdisciplinary degree aims to produce graduates who can apply physical and social science training to real-world problems. For many years she taught the fundamental course on the dynamics of climate variability and change. Many of the program’s hundreds of graduates have gone on to influential positions in journalism, government, nonprofits, and private industry. In 2007, she founded the Postdocs Applying Climate Expertise (PACE) program, a national effort to connect early-career climate scientists with positions in policy-making institutions around the world. She has continued to chair the program in recent years.
In 2012, Goddard was appointed Director of IRI. She faced an immediate crisis: the institute’s sole financial backer, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, had withdrawn its funding to focus on other priorities. With the help of colleagues, Goddard quickly rallied staff, created an alternative plan, and saved the institute by building a diverse set of funders, including the World Bank, World Food Program, U.S. Development Agency international community and the governments of various countries, from Uruguay to India.
Under Goddard’s leadership, the IRI continued to collaborate with many global and regional institutions, including the World Health Organization and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. Its scientists have worked on a variety of issues, including ways for coffee growers to adapt to climatic variations; the increased risk of malaria in the Ethiopian highlands due to the prolonged rise in temperatures; rain forecasts aimed at judging the risk of mudslides following a volcanic eruption in Guatemala; and affordable ways to insure smallholder farmers’ crops using climate data instead of traditional individual claims.
In 2017, Goddard and his colleagues led the launch of a major effort with the new Columbia World Projects to boost food security in six populous countries that are particularly vulnerable to both natural climate variability and long-term climate change. term: Ethiopia, Senegal, Colombia, Guatemala, Bangladesh and Vietnam. Together, these nations are home to nearly 500 million people who face recurring climate-related threats to their food security and economy. The Adapting Agriculture Today, for Tomorrow program is still ongoing.
Goddard has served on a number of influential national and international advisory bodies. From 2009 to 2017, she was a member of the Council for Atmospheric and Climate Sciences of the United States National Academy of Sciences. From 2013 to 2015, she co-chaired the scientific steering group of the international organization Climate and Ocean Variability, Predictability and Change.
Given the technical nature of his climate modeling work, Goddard sought ways to communicate with the general public. One year, some members of his team came up with the idea of a “Climate Models” pictorial calendar, which instead of featuring scientific charts or maps, would depict individual climatologists modeling fashionable clothes and daring poses. Goddard readily agreed to be “Dr. May 2014,” wearing an elegant long dress in front of a photographed image of a drought-ravaged Chilean reservoir.
With the effects of human-influenced climate change becoming evident in recent years, Goddard has often spoken of the need to help affected communities adapt to increasingly extreme weather conditions. “We naturally have variability in the climate system. We’ve had it since the climate system has existed, and it will continue,” she said in a 2018 video. “But now we have man-made climate change, and so that’s changing some of the thresholds. “
Goddard resigned as Director of IRI at the end of 2020 to resume her role as Principal Investigator. She retired in September 2021.
She is survived by her mother; his sister, Kristina Zimmerman; her husband; and his sons Samuel and Matthew Cooperberg.
Read the family obituary for Lisa Goddard and comments from friends