Elevation Zero
6:00 am
Thu November 7, 2013

Meet The Miami Man Spearheading Climate-Change Research

The man and his maps. University of Miami professor Brian Soden studies the atmosphere and its affect on climate change.
The man and his maps. University of Miami professor Brian Soden studies the atmosphere and its affect on climate change.
Credit -Brian Soden

Growing up in landlocked Iowa may be precisely the reason that the lure of the ocean was so strong for Brian Soden.

It pulled him from the cornfields to the waters around the University of Miami with designs on perhaps being the next Jacques Cousteau.

Except for one pesky problem. He didn't care all that much for biology. No fish fetish here.

What did emerge was a curiosity about how the oceans got to be the way they are, how the atmosphere factors into that and how water vapor, clouds and rainfall play a role in the planetary picture.

Soden then shifted from ocean explorer to earth archeologist. What secrets to the past do the ocean floors hold within their sedimentary shifts?

Spurred on by renowned paleo climatologist Cesare Emiliani - Soden did his graduate work at the same place as his inspiration -- the University of Chicago.

Then it was back to South Florida. As a professor at the UM Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, Soden specializes in interpreting meteorology and the implications of all those satellite images.

One day, the phone rang -- Soden thinks it was in 2003. He was asked to participate in the 4th Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, coordinated by the United Nations. It was four long years of work before the findings were released in 2007.

"It was pretty flattering. You have to be recommended and selected," he said.

It’s more than just flattery. Soden was tapped once again for the most recent climate study -- the 5th -- and those findings should be released near the end of 2013.

He's one of 100 lead authors from around the globe, who gather in places like Morocco and China and Tanzania to compare notes about the health of Climate Earth.

"They make sure it's not a place where it's fun so that you focus on the work. Wherever you go is always at least a two-flight connection to get where you need to be," said Soden.

It's a lot of intense effort shepherding where your planet may end up, Soden said. Four years to produce each report every six years.

Soden admits this IPCC study may be his last -- or at least for awhile.

"It's exhausting, so I'm ready for a break."

But he never considers taking a break in his quest to find out who we are and where we are going.

That work continues in Miami. At a place considered to be one of the more vulnerable: South Florida. Or "Elevation Zero."