Our People - Danica Lombardozzi

Ozone gardens and Balinese music

Many people know Danica Lombardozzi for her passion for ecological science and for co-founding the ozone gardens at NCAR's Mesa Lab and the University of Colorado. These gardens illustrate how plants are damaged by ground-level ozone.

But few know that the project scientist in the Climate and Global Dynamics Laboratory (CGD) used to balance her emerging interest in science with music, playing a xylophone-like instrument called a metallaphone in a Balinese gamelan ensemble at Colorado College, where she also played the flute.

In 2006, Lombardozzi traveled to Bali, Indonesia, to play in a gamelan. Picture her dressed in a sarong, playing at a tooth-filing ceremony (yes, tooth-filing) and taking dance classes with local village girls. Pretty exotic for a scientist who grew up in Pennsylvania and spent summers on her grandparents' ranch in Montana.

Danica Lombardozzi playing in a gamelan in Bali.
Danica Lombardozzi playing in a gamelan in Bali. She played the metallaphone and, in this case, a ketuk (type of gong) in gamelan ensembles in college and during a trip to Indonesia. (Photo courtesy Danica Lombardozzi.)

In another undergraduate adventure, Lombardozzi went to Tanzania to examine deforestation issues near Lake Tanganyika, the largest tropical lake in the world.

Lombardozzi went on to receive her PhD. at Cornell University in ecology and evolutionary biology. Her dissertation focused on how air pollution, ground-level ozone in particular, affects plants and climate. At Cornell, she used NCAR's Community Land Model to understand how ozone damage to plants changes carbon stored in our ecosystems. Lombardozzi spent three years working as a postdoc at NCAR before starting her current position as project scientist.

She spoke with us about how a lover of music and culture also became a lover of science.

What drew you to your field?
I've always been interested in how humans are changing the environment. I worked for Clean Water Action in college. I think I have a lot of compassion for other people and living organisms; I was interested in environmental injustices.

You also had an interest in environmental law?
I took an environmental policy class at Colorado College, but I couldn't wade through the legal documents. It seemed like a telephone book to me. It cured me of my desire to go into environmental law.

So what tipped the scales for you?
Science really allows you to explore and learn new things. It's kind of a big puzzle and I like putting the pieces together. In high school, my most advanced classes were in history and English. But in college, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed science.

One of my professors took me to Hawaii to do some summer research on carbon–nitrogen cycling in soils. When she introduced me to others, she would say, "Danica is an amazing undergrad." It made me feel I could do it.

I was first brought to NCAR for a tour as a college student. I thought, This is such a beautiful place. I thought it was neat that an entire institution was devoted to studying atmospheric processes.

How did your summers in Montana influence you?
They let me run around outside and explore and understand the dynamics of environmental conservation and living off the land. My cousins took me fishing, exploring, biking and hiking.

How did you get interested in ozone gardens?
I heard about them for the first time in grad school at Cornell. Kateryna (Lapina, her ozone garden collaborator from the University of Colorado's mechanical engineering department) heard about one in St. Louis. Ours was the first one west of the Mississippi.

The most exciting thing for me is that we've developed data collection worksheets on when ozone damage occurs and the extent of that damage. I would love to have a network of ozone gardens.

Danica Lombardozzi examines Mesa Lab ozone garden
Danica Lombardozzi (right) examines the ozone garden at NCAR's Mesa Lab. (©UCAR. Photo by Becca Hatheway. This image is freely available for media & nonprofit use.) 

What do you hope to achieve with the gardens?
I hope we gain a better understanding of how ecosystems are responding to the changes we are causing and how we can manage in the future to produce the resources we need, but in a sustainable way. At this point, I don't think it will be possible to have a pristine environment.

Tell us something cool about your research.
One cool thing is to be able to use the Community Earth System Model. It's an incredible tool. I get to use this model to look at the big picture questions.

What have you been discovering?
For my Ph.D., I found the carbon and water exchange was affected differently by ozone, which changed my approach on how to model this. Now I'm doing research that shows ozone may dominate (as a pollutant affecting) crop yields in the short term but, in the future when carbon dioxide becomes (even more) elevated in the atmosphere, the carbon will be much more dominant. What this means to me is that we're not going to get the crop yields we need to feed the world without technological advancements.

What do you like to do when you're not working?
Bike, run, rock climb. I'm taking guitar lessons. And I like to cook and bake.


Jeff Smith, Science Writer and Public Information Officer