Yale Geophysicist Wins Guggenheim

Mary Labowsky | mary.labowsky@gmail.com December 1, 2010

Yale Geophysicist Wins Guggenheim

Guggenheim Fellowships are awarded annually to artists and scientists whose accomplishments in their fields show great promise for the future. Among the 180 selected fellows this year, one of the twenty-one in the natural sciences was Yale’s A.M. Bateman Professor of Geophysics, Physics and Applied Mathematics, John Wettlaufer.

Among other things, Wettlaufer develops stochastic differential equations to study climate change, a phenomenon that has become more pressing in the wake of recent environmental concerns. Interested in the state of the Arctic ice cover, Wettlaufer has been studying the coupling of short-term “high frequency” effects like those related to daily weather and long-term “low frequency” trends like those related to climate. First inspired to enter this field as a graduate student conducting research in the Arctic, Wettlaufer recalls studying journal articles as he watched the sun “kiss” the horizon and then drop out of sight for the entire winter season.

His fellowship resources will be used to support his research at University of Oxford’s Mathematical Institute. His goal is to explore how the so-called Takens embedding theorem may help unravel what controls the seasonal changes of Arctic sea ice. This project would demonstrate the potential of applying such theoretical edifices to real environmental issues.

From living as a graduate student on a boat frozen into the Arctic ice to becoming a Guggenheim Fellow on the verge of new discovery, Wettlaufer shares this philosophy: “Too much planning is not always good. It’s all stochastic—random things will happen that will change your long term trajectory.”