Episode 13: Amy Clement

Essentially from the start of her career, Amy Clement has been interested in the big ideas in atmospheric dynamics. But she’s also continually raised questions and proposed her own sometimes controversial ideas.

Amy Clement
Credit: UM Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science

El Niño is fundamentally linked to atmosphere-ocean interactions? Maybe not. The Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation drives the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation? Again, maybe not.

The large scale atmosphere instead seems to set up these preferred “modes of variability”. It’s not entirely clear how this works, but part of making major conceptual advances is being willing to accept a large dose of remaining mystery.

In delving into these major questions, Amy collaborates with paleoclimatologists and seems to enjoy the sort of challenging interactions that always seem to arise when working across disciplines. Mostly, the paleo record interests Amy in the degree to which it can reveal something fundamentally important about the broader climate system.

We talk about other kinds of radically different approaches and ideas that can exist in academia. Hashing out issues over a beer might be the first thing that would occur to male advisors, but Amy argues that this might be the last thing that many female mentors would try.

Amy received all of her degrees from Columbia and went to the University of Paris for a post doc, where she was marooned in the early days of EU mass-project-mania. Then the government cut her project’s funding. All of which goes to show that even highly successful scientists can go through difficult periods, professionally.

In Amy’s case, the Paris postdoc was soon followed by an ongoing career at the Rosenstiel School in the University of Miami. Amy’s now a full professor and associate dean, which brings its own challenges. She was also press-ganged into becoming a surfer.

Over the long-term, Amy is working to understand how a hierarchy of climate models can reveal the physical processes controlling the climate system itself. Not a small goal!

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