Restaurants redux

My post on restaurant picks for AGU 2016 was one of the more popular blog entries to date on Forecast, so I thought I’d add a quick podcast on the same topic. I got together with two of my colleagues from Nature Chemical Biology, Mirella Bucci and Grant Miura, to talk through some of my list, and a few new additions. We recorded in the loud, reverb-laden Nature office, so the audio quality is horrendous. And I did virtually none of my usual editing. Quick and dirty, just like a good Mission burrito. Happy eating!

AGU 2016 restaurant recommendations

Due to a flood of requests (ok, one, from Amy Clement) I’m providing an update of my restaurant recommendations for AGU. Last time I mentioned that prices are up. The big update for this year is that prices are up, again, in a big way. Options are terrific, but bring your piggy bank. It can also be extremely hard to get into the more interesting restaurants. So for me, the restaurant scene really epitomizes the Bay Area: yes, you can find great, cheap stuff … but a lot of the really excellent options are far too expensive and crowded.

New stuff in bold; personal favorites in ALL CAPS. Note: I’ve been to a *lot* of these places, but not all. In particular, I’ve not been to any of the ridiculously expensive places, so these recs are from reading other reviews and guides, and wishful thinking.

In general, the idea is to suggest places that are within walking distance of Moscone, or that could be reached fairly easily via public transport (i.e. the Mission). There are a couple of exceptions, and I added an East Bay section, but I haven’t covered much in the Marina, Richmond, Sunset, etc. If you’re headed to those areas, let me know (places like A16, Aziza, Outerlands, Spruce, Nopalito, Hong Kong Lounge II, Pizzetta 211, Marla Bakery, Le Marais Bakery come to mind).

First, some interesting new joints:

In Situ. A unique concept, by Cory Lee, in the vastly expanded, super-sweet, Snøhetta-designed SFMOMA: recreate the greatest dishes from some of the greatest restaurants. If you want to try something new, weird, delicious and a five-minute walk from Moscone, this is for you!

Liholiho Yacht Club. Sort of Hawaiian, sort of California.

The Morris. Replacement for beloved Slow Club. Not close to Moscone, but worth a trek. Attracts food industry and wine geeks.

Trestle. As close as you will come to a reasonably-priced fine dining experience in SF.

Mister Jiu’s. High end Chinese, in Chinatown.

Flatiron Wines. Sort of an odd pick, I know, but in a land of many great wine shops, Flatiron Wines is stunning. They have excellent, and cheap, wine tastings many nights during the week.


  • AKIKO’S. Sushi. A mere block from the Nature office! Tiny, super high quality.
  • City View. Dim sum; cheaper than Yank Sing; not as good; fine for groups.
  • M.Y. China. Ok, it’s in a mall, but it’s delicious and close to Moscone.
  • Yank Sing. Dim sum; expensive and worth it.
  • Z&Y. Szechuan; now with a Bib Gourmand.


  • B Patisserie. Bit of a trek; best kouign amann I’ve ever had.
  • Craftsman and Wolves. A modernist bakery.
  • Mr Holmes Bakeshop. Not too bad a walk if you’re in a Union Square/Tenderloin hotel. Hot with the Instagram crowd, but darn tasty.
  • NEIGHBOR BAKEHOUSE. My favorite bakery in SF. Oh how I love this bakery. I recommend you blow off an entire morning and gorge yourself as needed. Note that the fibers in the ginger pull-aparts are grated ginger, not human hairs. Should your fortitude wane prior to exhausting the available delights, meander to the nearby Museum of Craft and Design to digest for a while; then return. Maybe wash things down with a pint at Smokestack, or get a jolt at Piccino Coffee Bar. Should you pass out and wake up ravenous, top things off with some excellent ice cream at Mr and Mrs Miscellaneous. Yeah, if I lived in the city, it’d be here, in Dogpatch.
  • Tartine. Certainly the most famous bakery in SF, and for good reason. Almond croissants the size of small hedgehogs.
  • Tout Sweet. I’m not a huge fan, as I find their stuff too pretty and too sweet. But if you’d like a view of Union Square, this is a good option. Located inside Macy’s, upstairs.

Burgers, meaty stuff

  • Cockscomb. Recommendation from Kevin Anchukaitis; run by Chris Cosentino of the late, great Incanto.
  • MARLOWE. Spendy burgers; old-timey atmosphere. If you like this, check out Park Tavern in North Beach or The Cavalier close to Moscone, from the same group.
  • Super Duper. Chain; like a West Coast Shake Shack.

Burritos (cheap eats)


  • Delfina. Calital/pizza. Strong pastas.
  • Foreign Cinema. Suggestion from Amelia Shevenell; try for brunch.
  • Range. Calital. Closing at the end of December, so this is your last chance to try.
  • ZUNI. Chef Judy Rogers passed away, but it’s the same quality. For a party of four, I recommend you order a chicken as soon as you sit down, then order a few apps to fill the 45-minute wait.


We have a ridiculous wealth of great coffee. Look for Blue bottle, Ritual, Four Barrel, Coffee Cultures. A short walk from Moscone, though, is my favorite: SIGHTGLASS on 7th St. Interesting architecture, and they usually carry some stuff from the awesome Neighbor Bakehouse. They also have a shop in SFMOMA, and a new location in the Mission.


  • Darwin Cafe. You can call in your order. Good for salads.
  • DELI BOARD. Epic tastiness. Follow @deliboard on Twitter for horror stories on the neighborhood.
  • Sentinel. I’ve eaten here or at Dennis Leary’s other joints dozens of times. Not a bad sandwich yet. Too bad he closed Canteen!
  • Wise Sons. A Jewish Deli in the Contemporary Jewish Museum. Chocolate Babka. Wonderful entry hall even if, like me, you can’t stand Libeskind’s architecture.


  • City Beer Store. Mostly a bottle shop, but you can drink there.
  • Garaje. If you’re lucky they’ll have something from Fieldwork brewing, my local. Good for tacos and sandwiches too.
  • Hop Water Distribution. Wide tap selection.
  • Hops & Hominy. I like the beer, but have yet to like the food.
  • Mikkeller Bar Good food – loud and crowded.
  • Monk’s Kettle. High prices, great selection of Belgians.
  • Shotwell’s. Over in the Mission but worth a trip.
  • TROU NORMAND. Finest charcuterie in SF, maybe anywhere; excellent cocktails; ouch, the prices.

East Bay (where I live)

In general, the dining scene in the East Bay is less expensive and maybe not as adventurous as in SF. Some of my favorites, should you come over:

  • Ale Industries. What a fine brewery, and nice people. Excellent mix of sours, session beers, and weird stuff. Stock up at the El Novillo taco truck around the corner (carnitas esp).
  • Cheeseboard Pizza. Awesome worker-run cooperative. Also see the cheese shop next door.
  • Chez Panisse. Kind of like Zuni … seasonal, local, simple, etc. I like the upstairs cafe better.
  • Commis. Exotic and not-insultingly-expensive tasting menu.
  • FIELDWORK BREWING. What a great brewery.
  • Great China. Chinese, obviously. World-class Peking Duck.
  • Ippuku. Stellar Japanese izakaya; convenient to UC Berkeley.
  • La Mission. Nothing innovative in this Mexican eatery, but it’s a step above the usual, and the family running it is super-nice. I like the Chile Colorado and Posole.
  • LUSH GELATO. Surely the finest gelato the world has ever seen. Also a branch in SF, but far from from Moscone.
  • RAMEN SHOP. From Chez Panisse alums. Not traditional ramen. Currently my favorite restaurant in the area. Moorish cocktails.
  • Rare Barrel. Sour beer specialists.

French. Or quasi-French, also see the heavily French-y High End section. Almost Italian, in many cases. Or Californian. Whatever.

  • FRANCES. Stellar French-California, house wine is great. Also see sister restaurant Octavia.
  • Michael Minna. The flagship restaurant of Minna’s sprawling empire. The set lunch is *only* $55. I had a great time there, and so did Alicia Newton from Nature Geoscience.
  • Monsieur Benjamin. From the guy who runs Benu; spendy classics.
  • Petit Crenn. The spinoff from Atelier Crenn. Not as ruinously expensive.


High End (preposterously so)

Truly, ridiculously expensive. Dinner for two with wine at Benu or Saison could approach $1000. But it will also be, probably, the experience of a lifetime.

  • Acquerello. Not breaking any amazing new ground, but great.
  • Atelier Crenn. One of the few really high-end restaurants with a female head chef.
  • Benu. Ex-French Laundry chef; Asian influences; minimalist.
  • Coi. Hyper-naturalistic platings; new chef.
  • Lazy Bear. Supper-club style; communal dining; many courses.
  • Saison. Best ingredients anywhere.
  • Quince. Best pasta; probably the best value of the group, but that’s not saying much.

Indian/Pakistani (dives)

  • SHALIMAR. Rude service, smokey, confusing, seriously dodgy neighborhood. Awesome.
  • Pakwan. Biryani Jedis.

Italian (or quasi-Italian), but not ridiculous $$

  • Alta CA. One of several Daniel Patterson-backed joints.
  • Cotogna. From the folks who run wallet-emptying Quince next door.
  • PERBACCO. I really, really like Perbacco. Solid, consistent food. Reasonable wine markups. Barbacco, next door, is also good, from the same owners.
  • Rich Table. Italian, kind of.
  • Salt House. From the Town Hall people; somewhat less $$. Unusual orange wine selection.
  • Tosca. From April Bloomfield. Try it if you like Spotted Pig in NYC or St John in London.

Most challenging flavors

Bar Tartine. New chef; for once, pre-fixe prices went DOWN. Peter Thornton and I loved it; my wife could barely stomach it. Ex-chefs Nick Balla and Cortney Burns are now running Motze, an interesting sounding pop-up, leaning more Asian than Eastern European.

Only in San Francisco

  • State Bird Provisions. Show up at 5 pm, wait in line, get on list, hopefully get a table for later that night.
  • SWAN OYSTER DEPOT. Get there 20 minutes before opening or prepare to wait. The food is the opposite of fancy, but you will be hard pressed to have a better time at a restaurant in SF.
  • The Progress. From the SBP folks, slightly less impossible to get into.


  • GOLDEN BOY. Focaccia-style; punk rock; excellent even if not drunk.
  • Little Star. Deep dish. We go to their branch in the East Bay all the time.
  • Pizzeria Delfina. Neapolitan; various locations.
  • Tony’s Pizza Napoletano. Top tip: get a slice at Tony’s Slice House across the street and compare to Golden Boy, just a short walk away.
  • Zero Zero. Not amazing, but convenient to Moscone.


  • Farallon. Good for happy hour.
  • Hog Island. The best oysters, from their farm on Tomales Bay (also worth a visit).
  • Waterbar. $1 oysters for happy hour.


Thai (modern)

KIN KHAO. I ate at Kin Khao three times during AAG. Prices are higher after a Michelin star; still amazing (tangy! fermented! blazing hot!); great Riesling selection.

Laura Wilcox

Inequities exist throughout the scientific enterprise. Women continue to be progressively underrepresented at more senior career stages. Access to excellent research universities is unequally distributed. Representation by many minority groups is low. Nature Geoscience has an entire Focus issue on accessibility, or the lack thereof.

The barriers to entry obviously vary hugely among nations. Just have a look at the authors of papers in Nature … you’ll see a lot more from England than Eritrea. It’d be easy to think that within a country like the UK, it would therefore be pretty simple to get into science. But as I found out in my interview with Laura Wilcox from the University of Reading, it still isn’t so easy, even for the English.

Laura in the Lake District.
Laura in the Lake District.

Laura grew up in northern England in Stoke-on-Trent, at the center of the Liverpool-Birmingham-Sheffield triangle. It was, and is, a sparsely populated, gloomy, windy place [UPDATE: Laura let me know that Stoke itself if quite industrial … the pretty stuff is a ways out]. Think moors, 60 mph fog, pubs with roaring fires and rabbit pie (ok, I’m fantasizing about the last part).

All of which suited Laura fine, and from the start she loved nature and science (not the journals, at least not yet). Still, though, she’d not met anyone with a PhD and there were precisely zero scientific role models. Most of her childhood friends pursued careers in trades, and only a few ended up in Universities. The idea of becoming a scientist simply didn’t occur to Laura until

Quite late on … I realized that actually I could be a scientist too

All it took, as is so often the case, was encouragement from one person. In Laura’s case it was a professor, and the first person she’d met with a PhD. Science, then, seemed like a viable possibility.

But entry into one of the world’s finest universities? Again, Laura didn’t even know she could apply to Oxford, and again it took just a slight bit of encouragement. Laura did apply to Oxford, and after four interviews with old white men, was admitted to Corpus Christi College at Oxford.

After a degree at Oxford, Laura moved to Reading, in many ways ground zero for meteorology and atmospheric sciences. For her PhD, Laura — after a sort of science speed-dating experience — worked with Keith Shine on the effects of aviation on tropospheric water vapor, along the way coming up with a new definition of the tropopause.

Since then, Laura has made a career out of studying aerosols, the endlessly vexing universe of tiny particles capable of altering … well, most anything you can think of in atmospheric sciences: cloud brightness, cloud lifetime, particle nucleation, local precipitation, monsoons, tropical cyclones, air quality, the position of jets. The problem, and challenge, is that

With aerosol, there’s uncertainty coming at you left right and center”

Laura made important progress on the role of aerosols in multidecadal climate variability, and she and her colleagues are in the thick of trying to trace down some of the sources of uncertainty in, for example, aerosol effects on cloud albedo. Emissions, transport, mixing, rain-out, particle formation. All are important, and most vary (strongly!) across models. It’s a huge, and important, task.

For many years now, Laura’s been carrying out this work through short term contracts at Reading, in essence a series of postdocs. This of course has its disadvantages, mitigated somewhat by having a husband with a permanent job as a barrister. A permanent scientific job would be nice, but the project work also gives Laura the sense that people at Reading value her work, and are keen to find ways for her to stay. And the project diversity is great, allowing Laura to work on topics like southern hemisphere dynamics, impacts of aerosols on regional climate, blocking and jets.

None of this is particularly easy, and taking a project from conception to publication can be years. Now, for example, Laura is trying to figure out if human emissions of aerosols are affecting atmospheric circulation in China and Europe, using a hierarchy of models (an approach discussed by Amy Clement in an earlier Forecast interview).

Making major progress on aerosols almost inevitably requires models and observations. Maybe especially for this field, it really seems like the division between observationalists and modelers is dissolving. They need each other to make serious progress, as each can only grapple with particular ends of a very slippery eel. It’s an encouraging development to see, and one that is occurring across many fields within climate science.

Clearly of most importance, though, Laura and I agree that bicycling to country pubs is a worthy pastime. Next time you are in Reading, I recommend The Pot Kiln, a mere 12-mile ride. The grouse is stunning. Maybe Laura will take you.


Jon Foley

Jonathan Foley is the Executive Director of the California Academy of Sciences, the previous director of the Institute on the Environment at the University of Minnesota and the founder of the Center for Sustainability and the Global Environment at the University of Wisconsin. In many ways, Jon is one of the foremost thinkers and actors about the science of sustainability.

Courtesy Jon Foley, from the blog post An Update on Cal Academy’s Fossil Fuel Divestment
Courtesy Jon Foley, from the blog post An Update on Cal Academy’s Fossil Fuel Divestment

But Jon has nothing even resembling the air of an operator or empire builder. He’s candid, provocative, and personable. After our interview at the Cal Academy, Jon invited me to visit the museum, and along the way was stopped by three elderly patrons trying to find the way to the roof. Jon said goodbye to me, and walked them to the elevator. It’s this kind of relatability and keenness for people that, in part, make Jon’s efforts to build connection and community so successful. Jon’s also a great photographer, as seen in the images he kindly shared with Forecast.

Courtesy Jon Foley, from the blog post The (White) Elephant in the Room
Courtesy Jon Foley, from the blog post The (White) Elephant in the Room

Jon grew up in Maine, loving the natural world and knowing that his passion lay in science.  But that’s not to say that his early years were idyllic. As described in a moving post on his blog, The Macroscope, Jon’s mother died from ALS when he was only 17, and his father descended into alcoholism. In some of her final words, Jon’s mother made him promise to do the best that he could, for the world.

That’s a big load to take on, and John’s pathway to carrying it took him through an early career in pure physics. But that seemed, in the end, too abstract. One discussion with particle physicists highlights the problem:

I kept on asking ‘why are we doing this’ … and 20 really smart people with PhDs … none of them can answer that question

Jon moved on, but the immediate pathway still wasn’t clear:

I wanted to be an astronomer, a marine biologist and an ecologist all at the same time

Eventually, John found inspiration in the work of Bob Dickinson, even though he was working with paleoclimatologist John Kutzbach in grad school. He went on to make some major advances in adding the biosphere to climate models, for example in the development of the IBIS model. Yet …

I was kind of a misfit in grad school  … hanging out with all these ecologists

Courtesy Jon Foley, from the blog post Sometimes, a Whale Dies
Courtesy Jon Foley, from the blog post Sometimes, a Whale Dies

Maybe a result of being a misfit, or perhaps because he has “a little bit of academic ADD”, Jon moved on to trying to understand the emerging issues surrounding sustainability, politics, economics, and physical sciences. Rapidly, he began to realize that science wasn’t the whole story, and that our political and economic systems in fact tend to go out of their way to ignore physics and, more importantly, ethics.

Courtesy Jon Foley, from the blog post Local Food is Great, But Can It Go Too Far?
Courtesy Jon Foley, from the blog post Local Food is Great, But Can It Go Too Far?

Jon’s major academic question before coming to the Cal Academy was something on the order of “how can we feed humanity without destroying the planet”. Agriculture, to degrees that are still not broadly appreciated, is a huge strain on the planet:

From a biodiversity, water, land, and future climate change perspective [agriculture] is the number one planetary emergency

After years of making major scientific advances but frustratingly limited broader impact, it was time for a change. The position at the Cal Academy arose — and with some prodding from his family — Jon ultimately accepted the rather huge leap.

Now, Jon is taking the Academy forward in some amazing ways, guided by their awesome mission statement: “To explore, explain and sustain life on Earth”. Some of the projects:

  • Explore the mesophotic coral ecosystem
  • Develop innovative coral restoration approaches
  • Make the Cal Academy open to every child in the Bay area, with no barriers from cost or transportation
  • Expand the audience by a factor of 100
  • Make a photo-realistic coral experience for the Academy’s planetarium, and share it with every school in the nation
  • Become a partner with media organizations around the world
  • Inspire a renewed sense of wonder in world, with the online magazine Biographic

Not bad for the first two years in the job!

Especially now, science museums — comparatively removed from politics, often supported by private not government funding, and still trusted by the public — are a crucial leg supporting our understanding of humanity’s place in the world. As Jon says

The hard part is telling great stories … but the megaphone is cheap

Let’s do what we can to support the great stories coming out of places like the Cal Academy!

Courtesy Jon Foley, from the blog post Science Communication as a Moral Imperative
Courtesy Jon Foley, from the blog post Science Communication as a Moral Imperative



Bronwyn Wake chief editor of Nature Climate Change

How, exactly, does one get to be an editor of a Nature-branded journal? What do we do? How do we decide what to publish? And what’s up with all our journals? In this episode of Forecast, I hash out these issues with Bronwyn Wake, the chief editor of Nature Climate Change. But don’t worry … if you’re thinking about becoming an editor, working in a bar is not a prerequisite.

I’m 46 and bald, but when people meet me, they frequently say that they were expecting someone even older, and, I suspect, sporting an extravagant beard and wearing a thin-elbowed tweed jacket. The reality is that the editors across our journals span a range of ages from freshly-minted PhDs to editors who have been in the job for decades. And, unusually for a scientific career, there is excellent gender balance!

Editing can also allow you to have — really! — a reasonable work-life balance in a challenging and intellectually stimulating career. So, if you’re nodding your head in agreement at Nature’s blood-curdling feature on the brutal challenges of starting a scientific career, editing is something to think about.

Most of our editors have broad interests and a preference for a non-academic lifestyle. Bron’s voyage to editing took her through undergraduate degrees in Japanese and chemistry, working in a bar, almost teaching English overseas, chance encounters with science opportunities (in Antarctica), interesting work as a postdoc but no clear avenue to a permanent position. As is the case for a lot of us, Bron “…really enjoyed the research and the field work…” but the rest of the academic pathway wasn’t too compelling.

Bron attended a Nature career fair in London and felt that editing might fit the bill. After an hour-long chat with my boss at Nature, Karl Ziemelis, Bron interviewed at Nature Climate Change and was soon hired. As is often the case, there was a chance for promotion, and Bron now runs the journal.

Running a journal, though, is no picnic. Nature Climate Change was our first journal working in the social sciences, and attracting the best work from these communities took a huge effort, and remains challenging. The range of content is correspondingly vast, spanning climate impacts

Figure 2 from "Rising temperatures reduce global wheat production" doi:10.1038/nclimate2470
Figure 2 from “Rising temperatures reduce global wheat production” doi:10.1038/nclimate2470

to battery packs:

Figure 1 from "Rapidly falling costs of battery packs for electric vehicles" doi:10.1038/nclimate2564
Figure 1 from “Rapidly falling costs of battery packs for electric vehicles” doi:10.1038/nclimate2564

Managing brings new challenges. Staff moved on to launch other projects within the company, and recruiting can seem endless. Bron juggles manuscripts with writing editorials and Research Highlights, editing News & Views, coordinating with the art and production teams, and commissioning content. Still, for Bron, the job is not all-consuming: unlike in academia, you can usually shut off your work brain when the day is done.

If all this sounds appealing, and you’re interested in learning some more about a career as an editor, let me know via or and I’d be happy to chat.


Music: Anemic Alloy! by SubRosa CC BY-NC-SA 3.0. Available on Soundcloud.

Daniel Aldana Cohen on urban climate mitigation

Climate scientists are used to the idea of climate mitigation. But few are involved in the nitty-gritty of what climate mitigation might look like at the local or even neighborhood level. Daniel Aldana Cohen from the Department of Sociology at the University of Pennsylvania is digging into the politics and sociology of urban carbon emissions. A dizzying array of forces are at work.

Family debates on urbanism

Daniel’s interest in the science and sociology of urban emissions arose from the same sort of incredibly implausible events and circumstances that seem to orbit nearly every guest on Forecast. This time: father was a writer and back-to-the-lander who hated cities; mother loved cities and was a children’s book publisher; family compromised by living in rural France every fourth year or so, with the rest of the time in Toronto; both parents rebelled against science; childhood faith that somebody would solve the climate change problem crushed by reality; early exposure to social justice travesties; interest in magazine writing diverted to research focus by Elizabeth Kolbert‘s brilliant work in the New Yorker on climate change.

The surprisingly simpatico interests of urban elites and urban justice

Possibly arising from his own family’s rejection of and affection for urbanism, Daniel chose to revisit the long-standing ideals of urbanism. Can we have fantastic, equitable and decarbonized cities? In a Bloomsburg-esq fantasy world, yes: government policies create a luxury economy bubbling with a glittery green stew of financial services, young professionals, walkable streets and bike paths. Think Seattle in the Amazon age. Eventually, trickle-down greening occurs, and there’s a net reduction of emissions.

Only, no, on many levels. The policies that spawned modern Manhattan also led to mass gentrification and displacement. And as Daniel shows in his contribution to Rebecca Solnit‘s blisteringly great series of atlases, a full-cost accounting for Manhattan reveals that the core of the green city is also the most rapacious consumer of carbon:

Daniel’s map for “Carboniferous” in “Nonstop Metropolis: A New York Atlas”, R Solnit and J Jelly-Schapiro, 2016. Cartography: Molly Roy; artwork: Bette Burgoyne. Underlying data from Kevin Ummel, adapted from research he did for the Center for Global Development. Courtesy of University of California Press.

Is there a way forward, to create both the cities and climate mitigation we’d like to see? Ironically, as Daniel has heard from modern urban planners, we might get the desired outcome by not talking about climate in the first place: “Social justice and climate justice actually went really well together … it’s just better not to talk about climate change at all”.   Focusing on housing, and not talking about the environment, can actually lead to the exact environmental changes that would otherwise be desired by an explicitly mitigation-focused effort. In the end, social justice and the fantasy low carbon city seem to have the same goals.

Building a new research community

This is not to say that this is an easy goal to achieve. The community working on the micro-scale processes that determine global urban emissions is tiny; academic institutions are not actively encouraging young scholars to pursue the necessary interdisciplinary work; and there is almost no literature on realistically attributing emissions to specific cities and neighborhoods (the map above represents one such effort).

Daniel is working to reach across the dauntingly-wide chasm between sociology and physical science, and runs his own podcast, Hot and Bothered at Dissent magazine. Daniel also co-authored a Nature Comment on urban sustainability, arising partly as a result of discussions I had at the 2016 American Association of Geographers annual meeting. As an aside, the AAG meetings are a great place to crash into the urban sustainability community.

Music: Sips On The High Seas (Happy Chiptune Accordion Cover) by The_Sea_Four CC BY 3.0; “Asturias” composed by Isaac Albéniz and recorded by Frank Hiemenz (“FHgitarre-classicalGUITAR” on Soundcloud) CC BY 3.0.

Amelia Shevenell, big ideas and big risks

Amelia Shevenell from the University of South Florida specializes in big ideas about paleoceanography and the Antarctic Ice Sheet. She’s also keen to push the methodological envelope, which can be risky if things go pear shaped. For Amelia, though, the work resulted in papers in Science (Mg/Ca) and Nature (TEX86).

The method, while of course important, is not the main motivation. Instead, it’s the huge, gaping holes in our knowledge of Southern Hemisphere climate variability that seem to motivate Amelia. The questioning and search for challenges was there from the start. In high school, Amelia’s uncle unleashed her on climate variability over the past century in the Durham NH area. Coring away, when I was scooping ice cream.

Amelia had plenty of inspiration from her family, including Great Aunt Mary Sears. The family spirit of exploration and possibility was infectious, and Amelia double majored in geology and studio art. She still does pottery (example above) and, unbeknownst to her, worked for years with actor Jeff Bridges (full story at the end of the podcast).

Throughout, Amelia’s been interested in how Antarctic functions within the climate system. And it’s weird, sometimes. During the Miocene Climate Optimum, “It’s almost like we’re having ice growth during a period of warming … and nobody’s really said that out loud”. Now, Amelia is working with her colleagues to link together the deep sea records with shelf- and land-based evidence to try and understand the shockingly large ice sheet variability that seems to have happened at millennial time scales.

Getting all this done, while raising a family and going for tenure at USF, isn’t for the faint of heart. Although she was tenured at UCL, Amelia chose to return to the US for family and financial reasons (living in London on a geoscientist’s salary is, in British understatement, a bit difficult). Now, Amelia’s mom is next door and helping with child care, and her husband sounds epic. But it’s all-consuming, nonetheless.

Still, as you’ll hear in the interview, the practical realities of family and career haven’t done anything to diminish Amelia’s enthusiasm for her science!

Music: Running Waters by Jason Shaw CC BY 3.0 US; Siesta by Jahhzar CC BY-SA 3.0.

Copyright: This episode of Forecast is under a CC BY-SA 3.0 license.

Scott St. George on tree rings

Scott St. George
Scott St. George

Tree rings are one of the key tools in paleoclimate research, and might seem like nothing more than big, woody thermometers. But tree-ring science is ever evolving, constantly debated, and — while it has answered some major questions — still grapples with making the connection to broader climate questions.

Continue reading →

An update on the 1.5 °C warming threshold

Over the past few months I’ve discussed with a variety of guests the emerging idea of trying to keep global warming below 1.5 °C, and our family of journals has certainly been active on the topic, particularly with regard to feasibility and mitigation pathways.

From Paris Agreement climate proposals need a boost to keep warming well below 2 °C, Nature doi:10.1038/nature18307.
An example of the emissions required to get close to 1.5 (blue), versus unregulated emissions (red). There’s a lot of space in between! From Paris Agreement climate proposals need a boost to keep warming well below 2 °C, Rogelj et al., Nature doi:10.1038/nature18307.

Continue reading →

Rob DeConto and Antarctica in the climate system

I think I first learned of Rob DeConto when I saw his paper entitled Thresholds for Cenozoic bipolar glaciation, published soon after my arrival at Nature.  Specific and testable thresholds for the initiation of large scale glaciation in Antarctica and the Northern Hemisphere? Interesting! Continue reading →