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Richard C. J. Somerville

Climate Scientist

Richard Somerville is Distinguished Professor Emeritus and Research Professor at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California, San Diego. He is a theoretical meteorologist and an expert on computer simulations of the atmosphere. He received a B. S. in meteorology from Pennsylvania State University in 1961 and a Ph. D. in meteorology from New York University in 1966. He has been a professor at Scripps since 1979. He formally retired in 2007 but remains active in research, education and the communication of climate science. 

Somerville works with graduate students and with more senior colleagues. Their research is focused on critical physical processes in the climate system, especially the role of clouds and the important feedbacks that can occur as clouds change with a changing climate. This work has led to many innovations and important improvements in climate models. Somerville is an authority on the prospects for climate change in coming decades. He is an author, co-author or editor of more than 200 scientific publications.

He is a team member of the Center for Multi-scale Modeling of Atmospheric Processes (CMMAP), a Science and Technology Center sponsored by the U. S. National Science Foundation. CMMAP focuses on improving the representation of cloud processes in climate models. CMMAP is addressing this problem through a new approach called the multiscale modeling framework (MMF). Conventional climate model parameterizations (algorithms for representing the ensemble effects of small-scale processes in global models) are based on statistical theories involving uncertain assumptions. MMFs, by contrast, involve arrays of cloud-resolving models embedded within each global model grid element. These embedded models represent cloud processes on their natural short temporal and small spatial scales. Many physical and chemical processes are thus represented at the high-resolution in space and time that characterizes them in nature.

Somerville’s broader interests include all aspects of climate, including climate science outreach and the interface between science and public policy. He was an organizer and signer of the Bali Climate Declaration by Scientists, in which more than 200 climate scientists from more than 20 countries urged climate change negotiators to agree on large and rapid reductions in global greenhouse gas emissions. He is also a co-author of The Copenhagen Diagnosis, a report by 26 climate science experts from 8 countries, summarizing important new research results.

He comments frequently on climate and environmental issues for the media. He has also trained schoolteachers, testified before the United States Congress, briefed United Nations climate change negotiators, and advised government agencies on research, education and outreach. He is the Science Director of Climate Communication, a non-profit science and outreach project which publicizes climate research accessibly and helps both scientists and journalists in communicating climate science to the public.

Somerville has received awards from the American Meteorological Society for both his research and his popular book, The Forgiving Air: Understanding Environmental Change, a new edition of which was published in 2008. Among many honors, he is a Fellow of both the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the American Meteorological Society. Richard Somerville is a Coordinating Lead Author of the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The IPCC shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize equally with Al Gore.

More information is available at On this site, available downloads include lists of Richard Somerville’s publications, a curriculum vitae, contact information, sample writings, and ordering information for The Forgiving Air: Understanding Environmental Change. This web site also provides many links, including links to streaming video of recent lectures by Richard Somerville.