Andrew Weaver Oceanography

Lead author of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change developing climate models to study Earth atmosphere and ocean circulation.

"The enduring debate – such as it is, particularly in Alberta – over the role humans play in global warming is so divorced from scientific literature as to be a discourse from a distant age or orbit."

The Story

If you were on a research ship in the chill waters of the Arctic Ocean, each day the sky overhead would be as important to you as the ice breaking around your small ship. Is a wind going to pick up, bringing sun-warmed air from the south for a powerful storm? Or perhaps, as the ship moves on, the ice will become thick enough to stop your progress. Who can predict what difference the weather will make over days and years, as ocean waters slowly circulate from the Arctic to the tropics, and back? There are many causes of that slow movement of water around the world, from the deep abysses to the surface. In the distant past, that circulation stopped, with profound effects upon the world’s climate, and started again. 

Andrew Weaver is investigating how and why the deep cold water circulates, and how the circulation of the atmosphere and oceans affect each other. There’s no one reason that the oceans slowly circulate. His research makes it possible to understand how and why the world’s climate changed in the past, millions of years ago. He also is learning how the world’s climate is changing now, and what we can expect in the future.

Weaver, a climate specialist at the University of Victoria in British Columbia, investigates the role of the oceans in climate. He doesn’t look at only the Arctic Ocean. He focuses upon large-scale ocean circulation. Weaver’s special emphasis is on three-dimensional numerical modeling: making computer programs that generate charts and graphs, which make it easier to understand the data he is gathering.

An important factor in his research is thermohaline circulation – he’s studying how the deep cold ocean water circulates in the Arctic Ocean because of small differences in temperature and salinity. Recently, he’s been studying the stability and variability of the global thermohaline circulation. His research shows that there is feedback within the climate system that couples air and sea-ice: changes in either one influence the other. There are possible implications for both past and future climates. 

Dr. Weaver collaborates with his research associates and graduate students. “I like to think of my lab as a team effort,” he said. “We’re a large group of people working together.” His team is working on a hierarchy of numerical models. The most basic models are simple conceptual models. As well, Weaver and his associates apply finite element and semi-Lagrangian techniques to ocean models. The researchers also have fully coupled climate models with simple atmospheres. It’s hard to model a system as complex as the Earth’s entire atmosphere. 

Weaver was an active participant in creating and establishing the Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions. He was also a founder of the School Based Weather Station Network, which since 2005 has placed solar-powered weather stations at 100 school rooftops across southern Vancouver Island in British Columbia, so that children can learn about weather and climate.

Recently, Dr. Weaver has become interested in examining paleoclimate (the Earth’s climate from millions and hundreds of millions of years ago) using coupled atmosphere and ocean models. He’s learning why the oceans stopped circulating in the distant past, and whether the circulation could ever stop again in the future. One of his other recent projects is an analysis of the role of flux adjustments in coupled models. He is also investigating the dynamics of the thermohaline circulation, particularly the role of the boundary layer versus interior mixing. 

Weaver is the author of over 170 scholarly articles and several chapters in academic books. From 2005 through 2009, he was the editor of the Journal of Climate, the prestigious journal of the American Meteorological Society. In 2008, Viking Canada published Weaver’s popular science book on climate change called Keeping Our Cool: Canada in a Warming World. Weaver’s newest book is Generation Us: The Challenge of Global Warming. “I’m really excited about this book,” he said. “It’s only fifteen thousand words, so I had to keep it to the point.” In clear and accessible language, this slim book explains the phenomenon of global warming, outlines the threat it presents to future generations, and offers a path toward solutions to the problem.

Biography by: Paula Johanson

Career Advice

 Some possible careers for a climatologist:

  • Climate Modeller
  • University professor
  • Laboratory scientist
  • Author of popular science books

The Person

Birthdate
November 30, 1960
Birthplace
Victoria, BC
Residence
Victoria, BC
Family Members
  • Spouse: Helen, and two children
Personality
Warm, relaxed.
Other Interests
While a student in Oak Bay High School, Weaver played for both the rugby team and the chess team. For years, his major recreational activity has been sports such as soccer, rugby, and ball hockey. As a father, Weaver has enjoyed coaching his son’s soccer team for several years.
Title
Professor and Canada Research Chair in Climate Modelling and Analysis
Office
Climate Modelling Laboratory, School of Earth and Ocean Sciences, University of Victoria
Status
Working
Degrees
  • B.Sc. University of Victoria, 1983
  • CASM Cambridge, 1984
  • Ph.D. University of British Columbia, 1987
Awards
  • Order of British Columbia, 2008
  • Guggenheim Fellow, 2008
  • American Meteorological Society Fellow, 2008
  • Canadian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society Fellow, 2007
  • Nobel Peace Prize, as lead author of Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2007
  • Royal Society of Canada Fellow, 2001
Mentor
The support of his family has been and continues to be more of an influence for Weaver than any one mentor. His PhD advisor Lawrence Mysak created an inspirational atmosphere in which to do science. He was always excited about new discovery and his enthusiasm was infectious.” Also, supervisors Jason Middleton and Ed Sarachik, the latter being instrumental in getting Weaver into the field of climate science.
Last Updated
February 22, 2011
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