Tracy Twine Research on Climate Change

Researcher Spotlight: Tracy E. Twine

April 1, 2015

Tracy Twine is an Associate Professor in the Department of Soil, Water and Climate. Since she started at the University in 2008, her research has focused on understanding and predicting how our use of land surface affects the cycling of energy, water and carbon between the land and atmosphere.

Tracy Twine.How does your research potentially impact the state of Minnesota and beyond?

For the past three years I have been collecting air temperature measurements every 15 minutes at nearly 75 locations around the Twin Cities Metro Area in order to characterize the Twin Cities urban heat island (a bubble of warm air that surrounds cities). This research impacts the state of Minnesota because urban areas everywhere, including in Minnesota, are growing in size and with more people comes more susceptibility to acute stressors such as heat waves, and more chronic stressors involving access to healthy air and water. Because no other city that I am aware of is currently collecting data with this dense of a network, this study is an example of how we might pinpoint hot spots along an urban-rural transect and use this information to ask why these areas are hotter than others, and how we can we cool them.

What do you hope to accomplish next?

I've been developing models that can predict how vegetation responds to increases in greenhouse gases and changes in climate. I'm working on taking what I've learned from these models to modify weather models in order to learn not only how our management of the land surface can affect the exchanges of energy, water and carbon between the land and atmosphere but also to understand how these land use changes might affect weather. For example, whether we pave over land to create cities, or whether we grow crops for food or bioenergy impacts how water moves and how hot or cool the land surface is. In turn, this can affect where and how much rain falls. As natural resources become threatened, understanding how the land surface affects the movement of these resources can help drive policies on sustaining them.

When did you know you were interested in your field of study?

I think I have always known I would be a scientist. My parents can tell you about the items I broke as a child while trying to figure out how they worked. Eventually I gravitated towards meteorology as I became fascinated with weather and nature. I earned a B.S. in meteorology from Penn State, a school known for excellence in weather forecasting, but discovered I was not a forecaster! Fortunately I became interested in climate change and micrometeorology (the study of small-scale weather effects and interactions with the land surface). I gained some experience with this field while working at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center on a project focusing on the functioning of the boreal forest and from there I went to graduate school and then on to a career in academia.

What made you choose the University of Minnesota?

University of Minnesota is the fourth Big Ten Conference school and land grant institution at which I have either earned a degree or a paycheck. Like the other schools, they have a mission for excellence in teaching, research, and public engagement. I feel honored to work at an institution of higher education that is pushing the envelope of discovery in fields from medicine to the environment. I enjoy meeting colleagues in other science departments and also in humanities, social science and policy, and engineering. I got into this job because I love learning new things and I really enjoy learning about what others at the U are discovering. In the classroom, I thrive on teaching the fundamentals of weather and climate to students across all fields of study at the U. 

What is most rewarding about your job? 

The privilege of working with students is the most rewarding part of my job. I wouldn't trade the environment here at the University of Minnesota for anything. I've been able to advise excellent graduate students--mostly by giving them a problem or idea and watching them go. I've learned a lot with them about how corn responds to increasing atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations and how climate change might affect the growth of forests. And it's been great seeing them land jobs in industry and advance within their organizations. I've also been able to work with outstanding undergraduate students who have helped set up and maintain, and analyze data from a dense air temperature sensor network that I help lead. I feel rewarded when students share with me their ambitions for pursuing further study in atmospheric sciences. 

What is your favorite place on campus?

My favorite place on campus is the Raptor Center. Raptors are amazing birds and I can't believe how many the Center is able to house and rehabilitate. I take all of my out of town guests there for a tour.

What is your motto or personal mantra?

I got into science because I wanted to discover facts and truths. But one of my graduate advisors always said that it is more important to be kind than to be right. So I try to be as kind and accepting as possible in my pursuit of knowledge. But as a woman in science, I may not always be polite!

Tracy Twine in cornfields.

Tracy Twine's climate change research has included work at the Rosemount Research and Outreach Center. At Rosemount she explored the interaction of crops (corn and soybeans), water cycling and atmosphere.