Oceanographer speaks in Breckenridge about climate change Friday | SummitDaily.com

Oceanographer speaks in Breckenridge about climate change Friday

Alli Langley
Laura Landrum, an oceanographer with the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, will give two talks about climate change at the Colorado Mountain College campus in Breckenridge on Friday, March 6, 2015.
Courtesy Laura Landrum |


What: Oceanographer Laura Landrum, with the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, will speak about her research and climate change

When: Friday, March 6. Kid talk from 6:30 p.m. to 7:15 p.m., and community talk from 7:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.

Where: Colorado Mountain College’s Eileen and Paul Finkel Auditorium, 107 Denison Placer Road, Breckenridge, CO 80424

More info: Call Heidi Kunzek at 453-6757 ext. 2614 or visit the CMC Summit Speaker Series website at cmcspeaks.com.

When spring arrives in Summit County, snow melts faster and faster as more exposed dark-colored ground absorbs solar radiation and warms the remaining snow. Scientists call that effect albedo, and it’s one of the factors at play when oceanographer and ski instructor Laura Landrum studies polar sea ice.

Landrum works with the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in Boulder, and she will give two talks Friday, March 6, at Colorado Mountain College in Breckenridge about her research and climate change.

The free public event will be in the Eileen and Paul Finkel Auditorium, and a talk for school-aged children from 6:30 to 7:15 p.m. will be followed by a community talk from 7:30 to 8:30 p.m.

A Denver native, Landrum earned a bachelor’s degree from Dartmouth College in New Hampshire in physics.

She loved school and wanted to become a professor, so she started thinking about earning a doctorate in a scientific field where she could study something with broad environmental impacts.

In the process of interviewing scientists in the Boulder area in the mid-1980s, Landrum talked to an oceanographer with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and grew excited about a career doing similar research.

After a year studying German language culture and history in Germany, Landrum returned to the U.S. and studied ozone through the University of Colorado and the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences.

At a time when scientists were just beginning to study the ozone hole, she became one of the first people analyzing ozone data and verifying that instruments were operating correctly.

Once a week she flew a weather balloon out of Boulder, she said. “That was pretty exciting.”

She ended up earning her doctorate at the University of Washington in oceanography before moving to NCAR, one of the world’s most prestigious climate research organizations.



NCAR began in the 1960s with scientists researching the atmosphere with models, or mathematical formulas, that simulate the Earth’s physics.

The organization’s land and ocean studies came later as its models grew in complexity. That’s why Landrum studies oceanography in one of the country’s most landlocked states.

NCAR is one of few organizations contributing to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports, she said, and she is one of about 20 oceanographers at the center.

“We are, as a group, responsible for the ocean component of that climate model,” she said. “We tend to study things that you can’t study by going to the coast and taking samples.”

Landrum spends most of her time running computations and analyzing data, she said, while she also collaborates with colleagues to determine how best to frame questions for the models to answer and how their work can fit together.

One question they study, she said, is how an Arctic Ocean free of ice in the summer would impact the climate globally.

Current research predicts that ships will be able to travel across an ice-free Arctic within the next 30 to 60 years.

“That’s a huge, huge change,” she said. “This stuff is scary for me, too.”

The scientific community has a much better understanding of Arctic sea ice, as most researchers have come from Northern hemisphere countries, Landrum said. “In the Antarctic we’re behind.”

One of her major projects is studying the impact of ozone changes on sea ice in Antarctica, while another involves collaborating with researchers to model how climate change will likely affect penguin colonies.

“It’s fun because my colleagues and I, we sit at computers and it’s not really romantic,” she said, “but penguins are really romantic.”


Landrum has strong connections to the mountain lifestyle and skiing.

She raced at Loveland Ski Area in high school and continued racing in college. Later, after earning her Ph.D., she ran a ski school in Washington. She has taught backcountry Alpine and telemark skiing, and now, even though she lives in Fort Collins, she sometimes teaches skiing at Loveland.

Her love of winter sports makes her all the more passionate about her environmental research, and she expects to find like-minded folks in Summit.

“I’m guessing that there’s quite a few people up there that — like me — really, really care about whether we’ll be able to ski in the future,” she said.

In both her talks Friday, Landrum intends to do an experimental demonstration and speak mostly about global climate change with some examples from her oceanography research.

For the earlier talk aimed at elementary- and middle-school students, Landrum will talk about the differences between climate and weather, how Colorado’s climate has changed over time, and how energy and fossil fuel use impact the climate.

The adult talk will dive more into the evidence of human-caused climate change, including temperature data, polar ice changes and increased ocean acidity, and Landrum will ask the audience about their personal experiences.

“I’m going to talk a little bit about how that makes people feel when we look at this problem that I think is a defining crisis of human beings,” she said. “If we can talk about those emotions and deal with that, we can talk about what we’re going to do about it.”

She wants to spend at least half of the time during her appearance opening up a conservation with the audience, and she plans to end on an optimistic note, discussing solutions like increases to vehicle fuel economy, decreases in deforestation and changes in agricultural practices.

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