Dr. Hugo Berbery
By Wynne Anderson
When choosing their careers, climate scientists have an advantage over those in many other professions: their work can be translated globally. Climate scientists all have the basic underlying connections of world climate patterns and phenomena, allowing them to travel, learn multiple languages and work closely with scientists from other countries.
For Dr. Hugo Berbery, these opportunities allowed him to travel from Argentina to the United States, where he’s spent his last 23 years. His passion for meteorology began long before this, though.
“Since I was a kid I was attracted by the natural sciences, so I decided to study meteorology and went straight into these studies without any doubts,” Berbery said. “At the time, meteorology was a really different science from what it is now.”
Research is moving towards modeling and analysis of climate from the viewpoint of modern methods, including climate models, satellite data sets and other things that did not exist when he was a kid, said Berbery.
Though his field has changed since he began his studies, Berbery has stayed in the same field since college in his native country of Argentina. After completing his undergraduate degree, he received his PhD in meteorology in Argentina as well.
From there, Berbery made the move from his home to the University of Utah in order to study teleconnections in the Southern Hemisphere.
“After doing my PhD in Argentina I wanted to see more state of the art activities that were being done, and at the time without any internet we were rather isolated over there,” said Berbery.
He was able to contact people in the United States and was offered a post doctoral position for one year in Utah. His one year extended to three, however, and after he was finished, he returned home to Argentina before he was offered another opportunity to come back to the United States.
For the next 20 years, Berbery worked as a research professor for the Department Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences (AOSC) at the University of Maryland, where he does research and advises PhD and masters students.
About two years ago, a position for associate director of the Cooperative Institute for Climate and Satellites at Maryland (CICS-MD) opened up, so Berbery applied and got the job. It required him to move to ESSIC, where the organization is hosted and administered, so he now works as a research professor from the M-Square building.
CICS-MD is a multi-institution partnership led by the University of Maryland and a part of the larger CICS Consortium, made up of 15 other institutions.
Though still in its early phases, CICS-MD performs collaborative research with NOAA that will enhance the use of satellite observations in order to monitor, understand, predict and communicate information on climate variability and change.
As a cooperative with NOAA, Berbery expects CICS-MD to go through numerous changes in the coming years.
“The new CICS is two years old. CICS is growing, and one of the things we need to work on is managed growth,” said Berbery. “It’s exciting to see that CICS can grow, but there are physical limits to what we have to maintain. The challenge will be how to make CICS expand.”
Because CICS-MD is a cooperative of NOAA, things can move rather fast, like when new groups have to be quickly incorporated, said Berbery. Many people want the opportunity to work for something like CICS-MD because it’s an opportunity to work with the university, at the M-Square building and perform activities within the organization while supporting NOAA at the same time.
“We do not do pure research but it is applications towards things that NOAA needs that we can do more efficiently through the university environment,” Berbery said.
Berbery and the team at CICS-MD work with satellites and develop algorithms, use satellite products for studies of precipitation and monitor droughts with the Climate Prediction Center, he said.
His specific role as associate director is more on the organizational side of things, like producing newsletters, monitoring website development, creating distribution lists, helping people write and submit their proposals and writing proposals himself.
The position of associate director isn’t full time, though, so Berbery still does his own, separate research and activities.
He is interested in two areas, the first of which involves land atmosphere interactions, including ecosystem interactions.
“Basically what we are doing is identifying regions of the earth that have common behavior in terms of energy and exchanges of energy,” Berbery said. “From this kind of information we can derive a number of biophysical properties that can be used to represent more realistically the land models.”
In many land models, changes in the ecosystem from year to year are not taken into account. For example, the vegetation types may remain the same over a period of multiple years despite any changes in the surface properties, anthropogenic or natural.
“What we are doing in these ecosystems is bringing in these changes and allowing them to be represented in the models,” Berbey said. “These are regional models we have been using for seasonal simulations and simulations of droughts, and what we get is improvements in the performance in the model.”
His second major interest involves climate variability in the Americas, looking at climate patterns and what they actually mean on a smaller scale.
“What we are trying to understand is how these large scale molds of climate variability modulate day to day precipitation,” said Berbery.
For example, on a large scale model, a final result could show a higher amount of precipitation for a specific amount of time. But on a smaller scale, this “amount” could be from one whole week with lots of rain or just one day with insanely heavy downpours. While the resulting “amount” is the same in the end, it actually means very different things for ecosystems and vegetation.
Berbery works with the NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center, where many users are highly interested in this type of information to study things like drought development.
“I look at different elements that lead a drought to develop and stay for long periods of time,” Berbery said. “For many years it was believed that El Nino was blamed for everything, it is a great impact all over the world but there are other things that also contribute to make things more intense or weaker.”
Beyond his work at ESSIC and CICS-MD, Berbery is also the co-chair of a panel called Visibility of the American Monsoon Systems (VAMOS), a part of the Climate Variability and Predictability (CLIVAR) division of the World Climate Research Program (WCRP).
The VAMOS panel represents climate research in the Americas, with scientists from North and South America. Scientists take measurements, model and use information to improve weather forecast and climate knowledge, Berbery said.
Entering his fifth and final year as co-chair, Berbery has helped the panel to coordinate, develop, and promote climate research and activities for the Americas, with meetings once a year and trips to places like Mexico and Central Ame
“We try to involve people from different places,” said Berbery.
Though Berbery has been in the United States for over 20 years, he still travels for conferences and to present his research and hasn’t lost his connection back to Argentina. He travels to his home country for collaboration with scientists there, mostly doing research on a large basin.
“We have a project called La Plata Basin Regional Hydroclimate Project, study the hydro climate of the basin,” Berbery said. He has also been co-chair of this group for the last five years.
It’s research like this that allows Berbery, like many of his colleagues, to have a global career with a wide variety of interests and involvements. Though Argentina may have been an isolated area when Berbery first left, today he is able to utilize his skills back home through travel and the modern marvels of internet communication.
“I’m still involved in activities in Argentina,” said Berbery. “And I’ll continue to collaborate with colleagues and advise students there.”
Dr. Hugo Berbery, pictured here in Australia, travels frequently.