New state climatologist position at UMass proposed by Governor Deval Patrick

By Marie MacCune

Lynn Tran/Daily Collegian File Photo
Lynn Tran/Daily Collegian File Photo

Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick proposed the creation of a new climatologist position at the University of Massachusetts earlier this month that is part of his $50 million initiative aimed at climate change preparedness.

Based out of the Northeast Climate Science Center (NECSC) located in the Morrill Science Center, the position would be jointly funded at $100,000 per year by the University and the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, according to a UMass press release.

The proposed language for legislation to establish the position outlines four key responsibilities of the job, according to University Director of the NECSC Dr. Richard Palmer.

The responsibilities include gathering and archiving data on climate conditions around Massachusetts, conducting and fostering research concerning the climate in coordination with the NECSC, educating and informing citizens about climate change and advising all other branches of state and local government on matters concerning the climate and its implications in both economic and scientific matters.

“The NECSC is extremely happy for the position to be based here at UMass,” Palmer said. “Extreme weather conditions, especially in recent years, point to the necessity of such a position and a big thanks to the governor and state legislature for recognizing this and supporting the University. It is exciting to have more funds and support for our students doing research in climate science.”

The proposition is a result of collaboration between Steve Goodwin, dean of the College of Natural Sciences, Michael Malone, vice chancellor for Research and Engagement and Richard Sullivan Jr., secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs, according to the UMass press release.

According to Goodwin, the idea of a state climatologist position has been in the works for years. Forty-seven states in the U.S. have state climatologists and many of them are based at the state’s flagship university.

“It was only natural that we follow suit, especially with UMass having the NECSC on campus, which works with the U.S. Department of the Interior and conducts tons of climate research,” Goodwin said.

He also mentioned that the state geologist already works out of the University.

In terms of student research, Goodwin hopes there will be as much interaction as possible with undergraduate and graduate students alike.

Goodwin referred to the new position as being part of the “ever increasing research being done to protect our planet” and mentioned the role it would play in bringing more prestige, world class faculty and students and research funds to the University.

Malone expanded on this, saying part of the climatologist’s job is to look into opportunities for research in order to better understand climate change.

He also pointed out that the climatologist would “translate” the science coming out of the NECSC and other geoscience programs here at UMass into direct results for Massachusetts.

“For example,” he said, “the climatologist could advise municipalities in becoming more energy efficient, drafting safer building and zoning codes, and the like.”

Malone said UMass is a prime location for the position, citing the University’s resources, faculty, technology and history in the field of climate science.

“UMass Amherst is known for its research on the climate and the environment,” he said.

However, this proposal has not come without opposition.

The Boston Herald published an article following the governor’s announcement expressing concerns about state spending and the expanding reach of state government.

That same day the Herald also published an editorial by columnist Howie Carr questioning the necessity of the Commonwealth studying climate change in general.

“The state is going to hire itself a $100,000-a-year weatherman,” Carr said.

He argued “… Deval’s newfound interest in global warming, I mean climate change, is just so yesterday. Niagara Falls has frozen over, the global-warming nuts’ boat is stuck in the Antarctica ice, and Deval is trying to morph into Al Gore.”

When asked about the University’s position on climate change, Malone said, “It is the job of the faculty to take a position best supported by the most extensive research and up-to-date science and the University’s job is to support its faculty. The best science today tells us climate change is real and needs addressing.”

Marie MacCune can be reached at [email protected]