I am a climate scientist who uses climate modeling, remote sensing, and ground observations to investigate the interactions among land cover, land use, climate, and society.  My research seeks to understand how changes our the landscape influence surface climate, and I’m interested in how we might leverage land surface properties to maximize climate regulating ecosystem services.

Mid-1800s Deforestation in New England
In my dissertation, I investigated the winter climate impacts of mid-1800s deforestation in New England, when our ancestors took down nearly half of the trees.  A snow-covered field reflects a good deal of the sun’s energy, leading to cooling compared to relatively dark forest canopies, which absorb solar energy and warm up. Using a regional climate model (Weather Research and Forecasting model; WRF), I found that winters were cooler in 1850 compared today primarily due to an increase albedo, or reflectivity.  This work has been published at the Journal of Climate (Burakowski et al. 2016).

Clearing land in Reynoldston for farming.

Clearing land for farming in Reynoldston, NY (image:

Remote Sensing of Albedo
Albedo is important for surface climate because regulates the amount of shortwave radiation reflected or absorbed and subsequently reradiated by a surface.  Surfaces with high albedo (like snow) tend to be cooler than surfaces with low albedo (like the forest canopy pictured below).  Over heterogeneous landscapes, like the patchwork of farms and forests and residential areas in New Hampshire, albedo can range from 0.25 over a snow-covered forest to 0.85 over a snow-covered field.  I compared ground, tower, airborne, and satellite measurements of albedo to see how well the spatial heterogeneity is captured by different instruments.  It turns out that the 500 m footprint of a satellite compares quite well to the 5 m resolution of an airborne hyperspectral instrument, which in turn compares well to tower and ground measurements (Burakowski et al. 2015).  This finding is important because it means I can use albedo measurements across these spatial scales to evaluate how well climate models simulate albedo.  NBCLearn put together a really nice video of my work to include in 4th grade geography lessons.


Measuring broadband and spectral albedo above a forest canopy in New Hampshire for comparison with MODIS albedo. Photo by Nick Shonka.

Impacts of Land Cover and Land Use on Surface Energy Fluxes and Temperature
I’m currently using clusters of eddy covariance towers (aka: flux towers) to investigate the impacts of land cover on surface climate.  The tower clusters measure fluxes of energy and water over forests, fields, and crops.  My study focuses on comparing two sites located in Durham, NH (University of New Hampshire) and Durham, NC (Duke University) with the Community Land Model (CLM4.5) and the newly developed Variable Resolution Community Earth System Model (VR-CESM).  I presented preliminary results from this study in a talk (pdf) at the Fall Meeting of the American Geophysical Union in December 2015.  My findings suggest that differences in surface roughness may be more important than albedo or evapotranspiration in explaining surface temperature differences between forests and open lands.  Papers documenting this work have been submitted to Journal of Hydrometeorology and Agricultural and Forest Meteorology. 


The Durham, NH (UNH) eddy covariance tower cluster.

Citizen Science: Putting the capital ‘A’ in CoCoRAHS
I love it when I meet folks who love snow and science just as much as I do.  The Community Collaborative Rain, Hail, and Snow (CoCoRaHS) Network is a great place to find a plethora of self-proclaimed weather geeks (see also Wx Geeks on The Weather Channel).  In 2011, we put the capital ‘A’ in CoCoRAHS with the inclusion of albedo measurements in the CoCoRAHS snow collection protocol.  Together, my volunteers and I have collected thousands of snow samples of snow depth, density, and albedo.  The data have been used to generate lesson plans the meet Next Generation Science Standards (Hanson and Burakowski, 2015).  Due to its high spatial coverage, I also use the data to compare with climate model output (Burakowski et al., revisions submitted).


CoCoRAHS Albedo kits on the Greenland Ice Sheet. Photo by Mary Albert.

Winter Climate and The Ski Industry
The winter tourism economy generates over $12 billion in economic activity and supports over 200,000 jobs in the United States.  Warmer winters, reduced snow cover, and more winter precipitation falling as rain instead of snow are projected in our changing climate.  In order to protect winter— and the hundreds of thousands whose livelihoods depend upon a snow-filled season—we must act now to support policies that protect our climate, and in turn, our slopes.  You can read more on my thoughts about climate change and the ski industry here.


Brown slopes on Christmas Day at Sunday River, Maine. 2006. Photo by Cameron Wake.