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Episode #5

October 2020

Hi, everybody. Thanks for being here and welcome to Ocean Solutions - a NOISE Lab podcast. I'm Dr. Morgan Reed Raven, a biogeochemist and professor at the university of California in Santa Barbara. In this podcast, we're talking with inspirational individuals who are working on some of the largest issues of our time at the intersection of climate, ocean conservation and human wellbeing.

This week's topic is impossible to ignore. Extreme weather is getting more extreme. As I record this hurricane Zeta is headed to new Orleans. And the two largest fires on record in Colorado are threatening to merge into a terrifying mega fire before the snows arrive. Our guest today, dr. Danielle Touma works to understand why these events are happening. And how will they will continue to evolve in the future. Buckle up.  

Hi, Danielle. Thanks so much for taking the time to meet with us this morning.

Danielle Touma: [00:01:32] Hi, I'm excited to be here. Thanks for having me.

Morgan: [00:01:36] So to get us started. Could you define the central issue or issues that motivates your work?

Danielle Touma: [00:01:43] Yeah. So in really simple terms, I'm really interested in understanding what's going on with all these fires, floods, droughts. we know we've been seeing more and more of them these days while it feels like that. So. I'm trying to understand, is it normal or is it part of the natural cycle to have so many of these kinds of events or are we as humans doing something to the environment to make them more severe or more frequent?

that's what I mainly look at. And I also look at in the future, if we're going to, change the environment a lot more as humans, like keep putting more stuff in the atmosphere and keep changing  the land surface. Is that something that's going to make these types of events, even larger or more frequent?

So that's. Mostly what I'm interested in doing, and hopefully I do. So. Yeah.

Morgan: [00:02:41] Well, I mean, this is certainly something that is near and dear to our hearts here in Santa Barbara, just locally. we're observing in Colorado right now, just enormous fires. The whole West coast has been dealing with these fires.

Danielle Touma: [00:02:54] Yeah. So,  I do think about fires a lot. So right now, as you said, we're experiencing some really large fires  and  in the observed record,  these are the largest fires and most severe fires that  we're seeing. in parts of California, Oregon, Washington, and Colorado.

but yeah,  at the same time, are there parts of the world are experiencing other extremes? So, so  in the Southeastern us, they're experiencing a record number of, tropical cyclones this year. We've actually had the most number of named storms this year than any other years.

So people may know that we usually use the English alphabet to name all the storms. But right now we've switched over to the Greek alphabet because we have already made use of all the English alphabet. So you can just imagine just how many storms there are out there. So 27 is the number actually,

Morgan: [00:03:48] is this the first time we've delved into the Greek alphabet?

Danielle Touma: [00:03:51] it's the first time since 2005. So there was only one other time and it was in 2005. And, but we've gone further than that, this year. Yeah. So it's pretty interesting. Yeah.

Morgan: [00:04:04] Wow.

Okay. So we're seeing a lot more of these large storms. What are some of the other observations about how hurricanes have been changing?

Danielle Touma: [00:04:12] So what I specifically work on, in terms of hurricanes is looking at the rise and fall associated with these hurricanes.  I looked at hurricanes and tropical psych phones in the past hundreds of years, and I found that, Major hurricanes can dump out the most rainfall out of all other categories of hurricanes.

And what's really interesting is that these major hurricanes usually dump out the most train. After they've made landfall and traveled inland. So even the coastal regions might see a lot of storm surges and high winds.

inland regions might not see those, but they do see a lot of rain and a lot of flooding. and we found that this rainfall is associated with these major hurricanes has actually increased in more recent years.  so we have been seeing an increase in kind of the impact  amounts of rain that falls during these hurricanes.

Morgan: [00:05:09] it seems like this would be one of the impacts that would cover potentially a really wide swath of area to  stretching pretty far inland.

Danielle Touma: [00:05:17] yeah, so inland areas can be really affected by rainfall actually. some reports have shown that, most of the damages you get from hurricanes are because of rainfall and flooding. Not only  thus flooding damage buildings, homes, businesses. They also,   damage a lot of the infrastructure, roads become unusable. and this kind of prevents, any emergency services, from. moving around and trying to get to people who need it.

it also causes, power outages. it causes issues with water supply, so, yes, there are some really dangerous impacts that come from these flooding and we saw a lot of this, during, hurricane Harvey in Texas a couple of years ago, and also hurricane Florence and all the other storms that we're seeing today, where flooding can be really damaging to different communities.

Morgan: [00:06:12] From what I've seen in the news, it also seems like a lot of these impacts you're talking about now on infrastructure or water quality really affect the ability of the community to recover. Even after the hurricane is long gone. Okay.

Danielle Touma: [00:06:24] yeah, these can linger for a lot longer. more long-term damages.

Morgan: [00:06:29] you've mentioned a bunch of catastrophic potential effects of these more frequent, more powerful hurricanes flooding storm surge rainfall direct wins. Assumably are on this list as well. Did I miss anything? And then why is this happening? Yeah.

Danielle Touma: [00:06:45] There are definitely some, impact too, to the natural environment as well. So you can imagine, a lot of, beach habitats  getting affected.   these kinds of habitats aren't used to these kinds of storms, their frequency, or the strengths of the storms. So they could also be affected in the long-term

 

 

Morgan: [00:07:06] okay. why what's happening.

 Danielle Touma: [00:07:09] So there's two things going on with the rainfall side of things,  one is that  because the atmosphere is warming,  the atmosphere is holding a lot more moisture than before.

And so a hurricane is able To dump out more. Rain. If it's already has a lot of moisture in it,  the second part of it is that we've also been seeing that hurricanes have been slowing down.

So as they travel in Miami or traveling slower than they did before, so  that way a tropical arm can just kind of hang out.  in a specific region and keep dumping out rain. and this can cause a specific location   have more of these detrimental flooding effects.

Morgan: [00:07:49] We understand this process fairly well then of why hurricanes are intensifying or are there really big open questions?

Danielle Touma: [00:07:58] There are definitely some big open questions.  so one big open question is, if storms are likely to become more frequent in the future, or if they're just getting stronger.  

 

Morgan: [00:08:09] Yeah.  Okay. So before we talk about your methods and I have so many questions about your methods, I also want to talk about fire because. That is so close to us out here out West.

Can you tell us a little bit about what are we actually observing? I was really seeing this intensification of fires.

Danielle Touma: [00:08:28] Yeah, we're actually seeing . priors today are a lot larger when they burn and more severe compared to, like 30 years ago.  there is a clear trend in the fire size and the severity of fires, especially in the Western us.  and this  increasing trends can be, due to, multiple reasons.

So.  there are three main things you need for a fire to ignite and burn and spread. The first really important factor is  you need a lot of vegetation and you need the vegetation to be dry, to get a large, severe fire.

So we as humans have been affecting vegetation by not allowing more natural fires to burn. And so this is causing vegetation to grow and increase,  another thing we're doing is we're changing, the atmosphere and the weather patterns. So we're getting a lot more drought and this is causing the vegetation to be dry.

So we're kind of creating these ripe conditions for, a fire to spread  the second main, thing you need for a fire is an ignition source. So this can be a natural source such as lightning or a human cost source, such as, fireworks or, a campfire or,

Morgan: [00:09:44] Or an exploding transformer.

Danielle Touma: [00:09:46] yes, or like down power lines or exploding  transformers.

Exactly. which are becoming more common these days. This is because our infrastructure is getting old and structures are failing a lot more frequently than before. And another thing that we're doing as humans is we're moving more into these more forested areas, what they call wild land, urban interfaces, and you can kind of see this in California.

You can see a lot of houses being built in the like forested Hills. A lot of people are moving into these kinds of areas. And just by having humans present there, there's a higher chance that you would get a human caused ignition. There's one open question is we're not really sure whether lightning has been changing in recent years, the frequency of lightning.

Morgan: [00:10:33] There were some absolutely terrifying lightning storms this year. I've never seen anything like it.

Danielle Touma: [00:10:39] Right.  because lighting is so hard to observe. only now are we starting to observe lightning? we're using satellites, but we really don't have a long-term record of lightning. And so. we really are not sure  whether we're seeing more of these storms, like, was this just one a one-off event or is this a more of a long-term trend where we have been seeing more of these storms?

So that's a big open question too, in terms of, ignition sources. the third main thing you need for a fire is a really suitable weather conditions. So  that's mostly what I study . so you need warm, dry. When do you conditions for a fire to be able to ignite and spread?

  we're getting a lot more days where these conditions are, suitable for fires.

than they used to be.

 

Morgan: [00:11:26] Yeah. So  is this the part of the research that you are working on particularly is trying to figure out how many of these days we have now and how many we might expect in future years?

Danielle Touma: [00:11:36] Yeah. So that's exactly what I do. I  try to understand  what specific activities we're doing. to change the frequency of these types of days. we know that, warmer temperatures, higher winds and lower precipitation levels can lead to these fire days.

I, I don't understand how, As we emit more greenhouse gas emissions or aerosols, or as we change the land surface, how these kinds of, why their patterns can change  to lead to these kinds of extreme fire weather conditions.

Morgan: [00:12:10] What do you mean by aerosol?

Danielle Touma: [00:12:12] Yeah.  So we know that greenhouse gases  are well-mixed over globe. So, they're their main effect is warming the climate.

Aerosols on the other hand can have a lot more localized effects. So they did not as mixed and they can also have a range of effects.

So depending on what type of aerosols you have, whether you have the small white specs, or you have more like black carbon and what their sources are,  they can either cause a cooling effect or they can  also cause the warming effect and effect.

if you're aerosol, those are light and light colored as well. And they're kind of at the top of atmosphere, they can reflect and dissipate a lot of the sunlight, up there. And so this would happen the cooling effect, and that would cause your extreme fire weather conditions are these red flag based to become less frequent.

if you have more of these darker aerosols and heavier, they're likely to be lower down in the atmosphere. so they can absorb more of the sunlight and cause warmer temperatures, and they can also kind of start messing with cloud formation.   to form a cloud, you need, particles for kind of moisture to, group in on, and a form of cloud. but if you have too many of these,  you can have less cloud formation if you, if you have too many of these condensation nuclei, so this can decrease your rainfall over certain regions, so it can cause dryer, conditions.

 

Morgan: [00:13:48] So to back up for a second, when we're talking about aerosols, we're talking about teeny tiny little particles that are so little that they don't sink because of gravity in the atmosphere. Right? Where are they coming from?

Danielle Touma: [00:14:02] So they can come from a bunch of different places  they can be industrial. So, just from power plants or  cars or factories or, they can also come from burning. So, when you do have a, like example of fire, you release a lot of aerosols, which you might have seen, here in Santa Barbara, when we had the poor air quality days, this is because we had a bunch of aerosols in the atmosphere that are bad for our health.

Morgan: [00:14:29] I think I tasted them actually.

Danielle Touma: [00:14:31] Yeah,   so the, when you burn organic matter, you're more likely to have these kind of darker, particles that are a little heavier. So they do tend to sink a little bit. And they are darker. So they tend to absorb light versus them versus scattering it.

Morgan: [00:14:49] This actually sounds like a potentially dangerous feedback where fires produce lots of black carbon aerosols that then suppress cloud formation. So it doesn't rain and put out the fire. Am I getting that right? Cause that sounds really unfortunate.

Danielle Touma: [00:15:06] Yeah,  it has been studied quite a bit, but more like, for very specific fires or very specific locations,  yeah. This could have , potential, feedback where you, are suppressing rainfall. And so your fire can spread even more .

Morgan: [00:15:21] Yikes.

Danielle Touma: [00:15:22] yeah.

 

 

Morgan: [00:15:23] so what is the main takeaway or message of your work on this topic? what have you guys found?

Danielle Touma: [00:15:31] Yeah. So we found that, so in the past, like 50 years or so, even the greenhouse gases, we're warming the atmosphere and  we were experiencing a higher risk of these kind of, red flag or extreme fire weather days. we were also emitting a lot of aerosols thanks to hairspray or, Cars without any smog regulation. and there was kind of this competing impact between greenhouse gases and aerosols, where aerosols were cooling and reducing,  the frequency of these extreme fire weather days while greenhouse gases were

we're trying to increase the frequency of these extreme fire weather days. So they were kind of competing with each other. Especially over like industrialized regions,  but, today and going into the future, we've actually been reducing the aerosol. That we've been emitting into the atmosphere and this is because, it's bad for our health.

So, so there's, there are a lot of regulations and a lot of countries for aerosols, and we've been seeing a decline in aerosol, which is really good for the environment and for our health. but because we don't have those air assaults anymore and we are still increasing greenhouse gases, we're continuing to warm the atmosphere.

And the aerosols are no longer cooling the atmosphere as much as they used to. And so you no longer have this competing effect and you're actually having greenhouse gases kind of takeover   and increases kind of, Extreme fire weather days. So really interesting.

So even though ours, it's so great that we don't have  as many aerosols in the atmosphere anymore.

unfortunately, because we're still in many greenhouse gases  we're going to be seeing more of these extreme fire weather days.

Morgan: [00:17:19] Um, well that's a little bit discouraging, but.

 Danielle Touma: [00:17:22] But the exciting thing is that we are becoming better at understanding these interactions. And so we will become better at kind of managing fires,  so it's exciting that we do know more. it is, it's scary future, but I think we're humans. So we can take knowledge and try to make our world a little better, with this new knowledge.

So,

 

Morgan: [00:17:46] and that's where you come in. Right? You're trying to understand these processes and predict them in the future. Tell us a little bit about how you do your work. What tools do you use? What approaches.

Danielle Touma: [00:17:58] Yeah.  So I use a lot of data. Very computational. I don't go out in the field. The field work looks really exciting, but I like my little cozy office. and so I use a lot of data that other people have collected or are being collected by satellites or, ships or stations. so the types of data, I look out our temperature rainfall winds.

And I also use data from climate models. So climate models are these really fun tools  that you can basically use to kind of experiment on the earth without actually experimenting on the earth.

So,

Morgan: [00:18:38] we also do, but,

Danielle Touma: [00:18:39] I wish we also do, but, so some of them are really scary. So,

Morgan: [00:18:45] It's hard to have a control group on the planet. That's our problem, right?

Danielle Touma: [00:18:49] Exactly. So we can use our model to have a control kind of experiments where we don't do anything to the planet, or we can have a model where  We are doing different things to the planet and we can understand what the outcomes are that impacting

our actual peanuts. So yeah, so these climate models are great. They represent a lot of the atmospheric ocean and land physics that we know about. And,  these models are basically a bunch of equations that are run. continuously through time and for each location, across the globe.

And we can, I use these models to estimate rainfall, temperature winds, ocean temperatures, kind of whatever you want. Whatever's represented in the model. So they're really great tools and they can provide a lot of data for me to dig into. So that's the second thing I do. I really dig into this data.

I use a lot of statistical methods. different coding languages and, visualization tools to kinda understand, what the data is trying to tell me. So kind of with the fire stuff. trying to understand whether we have more of these extreme fire weather days or less, and the different, model simulations.

 

 

Morgan: [00:20:06] these climate models sound just like incredibly powerful tools to run experiments with. what are they good at and what are they less good at?

Danielle Touma: [00:20:14] Hmm. Yeah. So climate models are great. we can run experiments on our earth without messing up our earth even more.  they're really good at, like large-scale weather patterns, simulating things like temperature or rainfall, wins on a large scale. So because we run these climate models for the whole globe, we can't run them at a super high resolution. So we kind of have to average over a lot of areas so that they, they can run in a reasonable amount of time with a reasonable amount of computational power.

So even though they can get kind of these large scale temperature patterns or precipitation patterns  very well. they tend to, fail when we're trying to understand more small-scale things like hurricanes or thunderstorms or. hailstorms or, you know, like tornadoes.

 these kinds of more small-scale events are very well stimulated and, climate models.

 another issue we have with climate models is, 

they , don't do a great job representing some of the land surface dynamics that, can be really important for these different, weather patterns. so for example,  kind of models, don't usually get soil moisture, right?  and this is because we actually have, not, not very good, understanding of usher rusher on a global scale. So, and this is because we don't have a lot of observations.

Of soil moisture.

 

Morgan: [00:21:41] And so why is soil moisture important?

Danielle Touma: [00:21:45] Sure. Is it important because it can tell us a lot about droughts. soil moisture is actually, a really great, way to understand the moisture balance on the surface because, it accumulates all the effects of rainfall as well as evaporation. And as well as, how much clients are you using

  so I'm pretty sure it's a really good way to define drought for agricultural purposes. 

  however, there are other types of drought, that are important for other people. like how. A dam operator wouldn't really care about some of my sure.

But they would really care about how much water is in the river. So, you can have a really different, assessment of drought, depending on whether you look at soil moisture or, river flows.

And that's something I think about a lot is how are we defining these kinds of events? We want to make sure that we're defining them in a way that people care about, you know,

Morgan: [00:22:44] that seems like a fascinating layer to put on top of these model outputs too. Is. Once you have a map of rainfall, then you have to ask who is where and who cares about what, where, you know, what, what are the human communities that live in that grid cell and what do they care about?

Danielle Touma: [00:23:01] Exactly.

Morgan: [00:23:02] What are we looking at here in California for the next few decades in terms of drought and rainfall?

Danielle Touma: [00:23:08] Yeah. California is actually a really interesting place. even though it's warming so we can expect more drying.  the changes in rainfall patterns are more uncertain.

if you look at projections or rainfall, using really any climate model  we see California kind of in this area where, it's very uncertain our outcomes in terms of rainfall, but we do know that it's going to be warming and actually this past drought that we had, In between 2012 and 2017, was mostly due to  a warmer climate.

so another really interesting thing for California is that, while we are getting these really dry years and dryer years, when we do get our wet years, they're a lot better than they used to be. So after that 2012 to 2017 drought, we had an exceptional year for rainfall during the rainy season.

I remember there were multiple landslides. the Pacific coast highway was closed for a while, because of all the landslides, and we're seeing that, these kind of, big, dry to very wet, transitions are going to become a lot more frequent.

we're still going to get rainy events and dry events, but they're going to be much rainier and much drier.

Morgan: [00:24:26] So our extreme weather is kind of going in both directions at the same

time.

Cool. Cool.

So we've talked a little bit here about the limitations of these models and their grid, cell size and things like that. But clearly these are really the best tools we have to think about medium term earth future. So how do we make these models better? how do we get better data out of the tools we have?

Danielle Touma: [00:24:51] Yeah. th the first way, and the way I think that was really important, is to, have more observations of the earth system. So we know what's going on  and the real earth system, and try to put that in the model. The problem is that. Rely a lot on past data and we can't really go back in the past and measure. what's happened.  the more of that data we have, the better our models will become, because we can then tell the model exactly what to do.

Morgan: [00:25:19] Well, and you could go if you get it right. Presumably also.

Danielle Touma: [00:25:22] yeah. And you can do a better job of kind of validating your model. You can you can figure out better if you're getting it right or not. Another thing we can do is really try to improve the land surface models. So one little piece I'm.  I'm really interested in is, looking at the effects of fire on a landscape.

so if we burn all the vegetation in a certain place, then that means that the vegetation has to regrow, before we get the next fire. but the climate models do a kind of a bad job of I'm representing the vegetation after a fire.  

 

Morgan: [00:26:00] How do you choose which model you use?

Or do you use just one or are there a whole bunch.

Danielle Touma: [00:26:06] whole bunch.  there are many climate models, out there. if you're familiar with the IPCC report,  it's basically the big climate report that a lot of countries, collaborate on.  to create that report. scientists do use a bunch of models that different countries have created.

So in the last IPCC report, I would say about there were about 40 models participating, a lot of them are freely available, so you can download them and run them. And a lot of them already have data out there that's been stimulated by these models, so you have kind of your choice of models. for me,  I tend to use a lot of these models together because  they all get something. Right. So, it's important to, understand the, kind of the range of outcomes that you can, depending on the different models, because not there's no one model that's perfect.

the same models that might get rainfall over California really well might not do, might not do such a great job over the Amazon, for example. so especially when I'm looking at more of these global, features of the climate, I really try to use multiple models.

at the same time to try to understand, kind of the range of predictions.

M

organ: [00:27:17] Sure. So if you get the same answer with. 20 different models, then you can feel pretty good that it's a robust outcome.

Danielle Touma: [00:27:24] Yeah. So that's what I was talking about with the California precipitation. it's hard to feel confident in these projections of just rainfall over California, but when you look at the temperature projections, they all look the same.

They're all like it's warming, you know, it's, there's no question about it.

Morgan: [00:27:42] Can we talk a little bit about your day-to-day life?  It sounds like you're spending most of your time on your computer working with data.  what does a regular day in your life like?

Danielle Touma: [00:27:52] So I'm usually working on around two to three projects simultaneously. and that doesn't mean I work on , those three projects every day. It just means that, I might work on one for like a few days. I'm working on the next one for another few days. And I'm also depends on .  a project, can be in a design phase for me, or an analysis phase or a writing stage. if I'm in a design phase, I'm usually reading a lot of papers I'm talking to my collaborators , to try to understand what the best way is to kind of answer the questions that we're interested in.

And, and then I can be in an, an analysis phase. So once we have the research question done, then I start to pull up, or downloads. the data that I think would be the most useful, and start to think about what kind of analysis I'm gonna do, and then I'm kind of in a code writing stage, writing a lot of coach or reading this data, process it to analyze it, visualize it.

So to create like awesome figures that can really. Tell you the story of the data.  And then lastly, I can be in a writing stage of a paper where I'm writing.  So that's kinda my day to day on my specific projects.

Morgan: [00:29:02] So many of your results are relevant to people living in places that are worried about extreme weather. How do you try to connect all of this work that you've done and your academic writing? To the decision makers and communities that would be interested in your results.

Danielle Touma: [00:29:20] Also  one of the projects that I'm on is I'm actually meeting with, what we call stakeholders. So, city planners or insurance companies, or emergency management. groups  we're meeting with them to try to better kind of shape our questions, our research questions and our methods and our analyses.

So that's one way we try to connect with, people who might care about this work is not only by presenting our findings to them, but working with them to establish what questions they're actually really interested in, because there's no point in doing the science that I'm doing. If. It's not gonna be useful for anybody.

 

 

Morgan: [00:30:00] How did you get into this field? What was your professional path that landed you on climate modeling?

Danielle Touma: [00:30:07] Yeah. So, my professional path started, at NC state,  I did my undergrad and. I'm at NC state and civil engineering and our civil engineering program was pretty broad. So you could take classes anywhere from structural engineering to transportation engineering,

but what I became most interested in is, kind of water resources and environmental engineering. and  I also joined engineers without borders, which is a nonprofit organization that, designs and implements projects, for different communities around the world.

And the project  that I became part of was a water collection and sanitation project for a small school in the Andes and Bolivia. And so, yeah, so it was really cool. So. we did everything from researching, communicating with the community and also, designing and implementing a little water collection system for the school that we were working with. And, it was really awesome. I got to travel over there and it was a really great trip. Yeah. so I did that during my bachelor's  and by that time I was really more interested in hydrology and, the impact of, climate on hydrology. So that was my main master's project. And while I was doing that master's project, I became really, really interested in research and I thought it was really cool that you could, kind of come up with a question that you're interested in and just find out the answer. Right. And for me, I really liked the part where you, you know, have all these data and you're like, you find this one thing that nobody knows yet, but you know, and so it's like, right. This kind of feeling right before the paper is written and right after you've had your lapses and you're like, woo.

Morgan: [00:32:00] You have secret knowledge?

Danielle Touma: [00:32:02] Exactly. And it could be something really, really small, but it is really exciting. So in my, I kind of had that feeling in my master's. I did apply to both, both engineering and, and research positions after my master's. but the one job I did get, I only got one job. One interview, was in a research position and it just kind of felt perfect.

 so in that position, I was a research assistant for two years for an Oak Ridge national lab. And my main research project was looking at drought over the globe and these, all these different climate models.  That's where I really learnt how to code. I don't, my coding was quite poor before that .  So, yeah,

I finished my PhD two years ago and I've been a postdoc since then.

Morgan: [00:32:50] Great

Danielle Touma: [00:32:51] Yeah.

 

 

Morgan: [00:32:51] even further back.  Where did you grow up? What's your backstory? How did you end up at NC state?

Danielle Touma: [00:32:59] yeah, that's a good question. I asked myself that every day. I'm just kidding. But, so I grew up, kind of all over the middle East. I'm originally thought benign by actually that I live in Lebanon. I lived, during high school, I lived in Cyprus. Which is a tiny little Island in the Mediterranean sea.

beautiful Island kind of reminds me a lot of Santa Barbara, actually. very similar kind of beachy feel. we have a class that's called geography. which is a mix of both physical geography.

So earth science, you type stuff, and human geography, which is more of the political science than economics, of, the world.  I ha we had an awesome teacher, who would take us out on these field trips, like overnight field trips, where  we would go measure rivers, measure their speed, measure their width, you know, wade in the river, which was really fun.

 So, yeah,  even though I went and did civil engineering with no real idea of doing earth science later on in life, I think that always stuck with me.

And I always had like a, an internal, who want to know more about, the earth system.

Morgan: [00:34:12] Well, I also see a theme of hydrology here as well. Were there other desert places that you lived, seismic

Danielle Touma: [00:34:19] Yeah. So before, before Cyprus, I lived in Dubai and so, or the United Arab Emirates as a country, but you might know it better as Dubai. and that's, that's a complete desert like that. It's kind of like Vegas. It's like bolt in a desert with no. No, other than the ocean. So I really interesting thing is that a lot of the water and Dubai is actually from desalination.

So they do have a lot of dissemination plans and that's where, the country gets a lot of its water from. And so just living kind of in that dry environment and just being fascinated that like we have water coming out of our taps. Pretty amazing. so that's, I think something that was like internalized in me as well. and are there things that, so in Cyprus, we would also get droughts just like we do in California. We have dry seasons in the summer. but there, when you get a drought, your water, actually, the tap doesn't work anymore. Like your tap water. Does not come out of the 10 anymore. You're like, Oh, now we have a drought.

So you'd go out and buy like bottles of water from the grocery store to like survive for a few days before the water comes back.

Morgan: [00:35:34] Well, you can't

miss that,

Danielle Touma: [00:35:36] yeah. So that's something that's just like, even though it was kind of like part of life and it wasn't really that scary then, because luckily we did have the resources to go get water and by water, it was still like, when you moved to the U S and there's a drought that doesn't happen.

So it was just like, really interesting that these different, even though different countries can, feel the same level of drought, in terms of the climate or the weather, there are impacts going to be a lot different depending on where you live, how the infrastructure is set up. So that's something I always think about in my research too. 

Morgan: [00:36:11] Absolutely.

Okay. So if someone is listening to this and they are super inspired and they would love to follow in your professional footsteps and work on climate modeling and honestly addressing some of these uncertainties that are some of the biggest and most immediate. Implications of climate change that affect people really fast today last year.

Do you have any advice for them? How would you get involved in a field like this?

Danielle Touma: [00:36:37] Yeah. So I think, a really great time to get involved is, in undergrad.  to do research and be, to be able to lead research projects and to be able to kind of create your own research questions. I think it's really important to have a PhD,  because,

that, time really teaches you how to create those kinds of research questions. And, but you can also start early in your undergrad to really see if you do like research. and one way to do that is to, there are a lot of summer research programs that a lot of universities offer to undergrads that are either paid.

sometimes I buy, would say, go for the, of it'll make your life a lot nicer. And, or you could, just ask around if there's a professor who like whose class you really liked,  they might have a cool research project that you could help out on.

 

I think one thing. To remember is, so I said that I code a lot and I know how to use these big climate models, but I didn't know that all this stuff, when I went and did my research assistantship, like that was all new to me. And I think, as long as you have a good mentor, you can just, you can learn that stuff.

it's not something you need to know before you get into the field. So don't let that deter you. 

Morgan: [00:37:53] All right, Danielle, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me today. I have really enjoyed this. I've learned a lot about things I care about very much.

Danielle Touma: [00:38:01] I really enjoyed this too. I hope it's useful for, people listening and, yeah, I had a great time. Thanks for having me.

Morgan: [00:38:09] You bet. Have a great day.

 

 

Thanks so much for being here today and thanks as always to Eleanor Durand and to Dust on the Radio for our theme song, One Way Trip to Mars. Next week's guest is Heather Dennis, advanced planner with the County of Marin. We're going to learn about how local governments in California are working to protect coastal communities and make them more resilient to sea level rise.

I'll see you there. 

University of California

Santa Barbara, USA

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