Dr. Karen Aline McKinnon, Advanced Study Program Post-doctoral fellow

At my empty desk before my PhD graduation. My work is entirely computational, so no lab coat necessary!

left: Karen at her empty desk before her PhD graduation. Karen’s work is entirely computational, so no lab coat necessary!

 

Education & Experience

2015-  Advanced Study Program Post-doctoral fellow at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, CO

2015  PhD in Earth and Planetary Sciences from Harvard University, Cambridge, MA

2011  MSc in Geophysics (Glaciology) from Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand

2010  BA in Earth and Planetary Sciences from Harvard University, Cambridge, MA

My interests

My research focuses on understanding and predicting temperature and precipitation variability across various spatial and temporal scales. I am currently focused on using data to better quantify the characteristics of temperature and precipitation distributions across space, with applications to an improved understanding about the probability of extreme events. Outside of research, I keep myself busy with books, the outdoors, and a well-stocked kitchen.

How I became a scientist

Growing up as the daughter of two scientists, I actually assumed I would be a scientist from a very young age. Although neither of my parents are earth scientists, I happened to learn about both global warming and the ice ages at some point in elementary school, seeding my interest in climate variability. While I wandered away from science at various points — dabbling in law, politics, and business — I always find myself drawn back to earth science. I am still early in my career, though, so we’ll see what’s next.

How my work benefits society

Temperature and precipitation variability affect human health, crop productivity, and even the stability of our infrastructure. Increasing our knowledge of the range of variability we can expect — including what may change with climate change — can help governments better prepare for extreme events. I also work on developing methods for long-lead predictability of extremes, which will also increase societal resilience.