Random Profile

Tackling tough problems

Ben Sanderson (NESL/CGD)

In Random Profile, we interview a stochastically selected staff member about his or her life at the office—and outside of it.

A climate physicist by training, Ben is a postdoctoral researcher in CGD's Climate Change Research Section. He came to NCAR about two years ago from the University of Oxford, where he worked on climateprediction.net, a distributed computing project to predict Earth's future climate and test the accuracy of climate models. In CGD, he's looking at the range of responses to greenhouse gas forcing that result from perturbing model parameters. A typical day might find him writing code or drafting a paper while enjoying the view from his office at the very top of Tower A in the Mesa Lab.

Ben Sanderson

Staff Notes: What do you like best about your job?

Ben: I like working on problems that aren't very well defined. Lots of people have lots of different ideas about how to approach questions on uncertainty in future predictions of climate. It sometimes verges on the border between science and philosophy. There are a lot of questions that can't be answered in an absolute sense. You have to include some allowance for the fact that the climate model is not the real world when you're producing an estimate of the uncertainty in your simulations, and how you quantify that is often not a well-defined problem.

Staff Notes: What's most challenging about your job?

Ben: Sometimes I go through waves of being productive and then feeling like I'm hitting my head against a brick wall. Learning to deal with the fact that those waves happen to everybody is a challenge.

Staff Notes: What brought you to NCAR for your postdoc?

Ben Sanderson

Ben Sanderson

Ben: I visited here a couple times during my Ph.D. and worked with Reto Knutti [a former CGD scientist now at the Institute for Atmospheric and Climate Science in Switzerland]. I really liked the environment, and I liked Boulder and the mountains. I knew that this was where I wanted to be.

Staff Notes: Do you have any particularly interesting projects coming up?

Ben: I'm doing some work with Jeff Kiehl [CGD] on extreme high emissions scenarios that assume nobody does anything in terms of carbon mitigation, using a version of CCSM. It's something completely new for me. It seems like an obvious experiment to do, Ben Sandersonbut it really hasn't been explored much in the past. People have explored various scenarios on the extreme low emissions side, but it can be argued that those scenarios are relatively unlikely. We haven't explored the high end as much, as in over 1,000 parts per million of carbon dioxide by the end of the century.

Staff Notes: Where did you grow up?

Ben: Southport, near Liverpool. My family is all back in England. My father's retired and my mother is a teacher on the verge of retiring. My sister is currently getting a master's degree in psychology. I miss my family but I'm not clamoring to go back to Britain. This environment is just fantastic and I feel lucky to be here.

Staff Notes: What do you do for fun?

Ben: It depends on the season. In the summer, I do triathlons. In the winter, I ski and snowboard. In the past I've mainly done alpine skiing, but I'm trying to get into randonee [alpine touring] this year. In terms of ski resorts, I like Arapahoe Basin a lot.

Staff Notes: What's your favorite triathlon segment?

Ben: I was originally a swimmer, but I've gotten into biking a lot more since I came here. I did the Copper Triangle bike race this summer and that was really fun.

Staff Notes: What else do you do in your free time?

Ben: I've started to do a little climbing and bouldering, though I'm still a beginner. And I do photography-if I weren't a scientist, I'd want to be a photographer. I take mostly landscapes. I'm also trying to learn Spanish, since it seems like a lot of people around here speak Spanish. And I have a cat named Humphrey.

Staff Notes: Any exciting plans or trips on the horizon?

Ben: I've explored Colorado a reasonable amount, but I haven't explored the adjacent states. There are parts of Utah, New Mexico, and Wyoming that I really want to see.