Dr. Junye Chen

Dr. Junye Chen

By Lauren McLendon

Sharing one’s work with colleagues can be a reward in itself. But for Dr. Junye Chen, having his work published in well-known science publications for others to use “into the future” is one of his most rewarding achievements.

Though Chen has already had many rewarding achievements, with a paper published in Science Magazine and more published in the Journal of Climate, he said his two in-preparation papers – which are a result of an on-going project – will make a dataset more useful for long-term climate study.

Chen, an assistant research scientist with ESSIC, is a principal investigator of an on-going project which will homogenize the Modern Era Retrospective-analysis for Research and Applications (MERRA) dataset based on the Goddard Earth Observing System Atmospheric Data Assimilation System (GEOS-5).

The project aims to provide a deeper understanding about the long term trend-related changes in the water and energy cycles.

Chen’s goal of searching for a deeper understanding, interestingly, dates back to his younger years.

Originally from the Yunnan Province located in the Southwest of China, he said that, as a child, he was interested in science – particularly physical science.

“I always was the one to ask questions about everything, ‘why, why, why,’” Chen said. “I always wanted to figure out the mechanisms behind everything.”

This love for science carried on into his high school years, and, after taking an examination similar to the SAT, he enrolled at Peking University in Beijing, China, where he received his Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in atmospheric science.

After receiving his Master’s, Chen continued his scientific training across the globe, at Columbia University and NASA Goddard Institute of Space Study (GISS), where he received his Ph.D. in atmospheric science.

In 2005, he was hired by ESSIC and NASA Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC) as a postdoc research associate, and was later promoted as an assistant research scientist.

Chen said his office is currently located at the NASA GSFC, but he is moving to ESSIC next month to establish collaborations with a more broad research community.

“ESSIC is like a hub of scientific collaboration. It is closely connected to the departments of University of Maryland, as well as research centers of NOAA, NASA and other government agencies,” Chen said.

His paper, titled, “Evidence for Strengthening of the Tropical General Circulation in the 1990s”, was published in Science in 2002 while he was still a Ph.D. student at Columbia University.

This study demonstrates the tight relationship between the top of the atmosphere energy budget and the tropical large scale overturning circulation, namely, the Hadley and Walker Circulation, in the decadal time scale.

Chen said this paper stands out to him because it connected the two major global climate factors in an innovative way that was not shown in previous research.

After moving to Maryland from New York, he continued his research in long-term climate variation and in the NASA MERRA long-term reanalysis project.

He said reanalysis is a kind of dataset in which observation and model output are merged together to get an optimal description of the history of the climate system. Since “reanalyses” are constrained by observation and provide regular gridded parameter fields from the model, they are used numerously in research and other applications.

But one major setback of reanalysis datasets, he said, is that the historical changes of global observing systems, including observation changes from surface, in the air and from satellites, introduce artificial jumps and false trend in reanalysis data. This inhomogeneity issue obstacles the full application of reanalysis data in climate research, especially the long-term climate trend.

His current project is essentially aimed to fix this problem in the MERRA reanalysis dataset, as Chen said now, he is in the process of reprocessing the dataset, which will make it more homogenous, to then be used to reveal unsettled puzzles about long-term climate change trend.

Like most scientists featured in “Researcher Spotlight,” Chen said his free time is limited because of his workload, “forced by his passion in science.”

But before the birth of his young son, he said he enjoyed photography and traveling and playing tennis with his wife. Now, most of his time is spent with his son or his work.

“He’s so much fun, I love playing with him,” Chen said, smiling.

Although the merits of having his work exposed to others through science are easy to see, it appeared that number one on Chen’s list of rewarding experiences is his son.