Meet Dr. Gavin Schmidt, NASA’s Replacement For James Hansen


On Monday, NASA named Dr. Gavin Schmidt Director of its Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS).

How important is this position to climate science and the national climate conversation? Consider that it was previously held by the great James Hansen, “the climate scientist who issued the clearest warning of the 20th century about the dangers of global warming.”

Who is Gavin Schmidt? You can read the dry NASA release here, where you’ll learn he was GISS deputy director, has a doctorate in applied mathematics, is “an expert in climate modeling” and has “more than 100 published, peer-reviewed articles”:

Much better is this amusing short video about him from “The Secret Life of Scientists and Engineers.”

I got to know Schmidt over the years because he’s one of the world’s best climate bloggers, the “driving force” behind RealClimate, one of the sites that inspired me to blog. Schmidt is a tireless champion of climate science. In recognition of that fact, he was awarded in 2011 the first-ever $25,000 Climate Communications Prize from the American Geophysical Union, the largest organization of earth and space scientists.

Dr. Michael Mann — leading climatologist and fellow RealClimate bogger — praised the choice:

I have known Gavin Schmidt for nearly two decades, as both a scientific colleague and a friend. He is not only a consummate scientist, but a very wise and thoughtful individual who has displayed leadership in the scientific community and who has engaged actively and constructively in the public arena with regard to the issue of human-caused climate change. Gavin is an ideal successor to James Hansen, one of the few individuals I know who can rightfully fill those shoes. NASA can be confident that in Gavin they have found a director who can lead the Goddard Institute for Space Sciences forward in the years and decades ahead as we continue to grapple with the scientific and societal issue of human-caused climate change.

I have excerpted and reposted Schmidt’s insightful and incisive writing here many times. Schmidt does not suffer confusionists and deniers gladly. Who can forget his evisceration of Judith Curry?

Gavin was particularly amazing during the Climategate nonsense. And he is expert at delivering straightforward yet powerful scientific answers, such as this response to a commenter who asked, “Gavin, In your opinion, what percentage of global warming is due to human causes vs. natural causes?”:

Over the last 40 or so years, natural drivers would have caused cooling, and so the warming there has been (and some) is caused by a combination of human drivers and some degree of internal variability. I would judge the maximum amplitude of the internal variability to be roughly 0.1 deg C over that time period, and so given the warming of ~0.5 deg C, I’d say somewhere between 80 to 120% of the warming. Slightly larger range if you want a large range for the internal stuff. — gavin

In short, virtually all of the warming in recent decades is from human causes — a central point that the world’s leading scientists and governments reaffirmed just last year. Sorry deniers.

In a 2009 interview, Schmidt said, “I don’t advocate for political solutions. If I do advocate for something … my advocacy is much more towards having more intelligent discussions.” At the December 2013 annual AGU meeting, Schmidt gave a long talk on this subject (online here): “What should a climate scientist advocate for? The Intersection of Expertise and Values in a Politicized World.”

In his TED talk, Schmidt does the almost impossible — he explains climate models to a general audience:

Finally, climate hawks may want to buy the gorgeous 2009 book he co-authored, “Climate Change: Picturing the Science,” a collaboration between climate scientists and photographers.

Kudos to Schmidt for his well-deserved promotion. And kudos to NASA for recognizing that communications is a very important skill for a scientist and for a GISS director.