Climate scientist Curtis Deutsch joins Geosciences, High Meadows Environmental Institute faculty

Morgan Kelly ・ High Meadows Environmental Institute

Climate scientist Curtis Deutsch, whose work focuses on understanding interactions between climate and ecosystems, has joined the Princeton faculty as a Professor of Geosciences and the High Meadows Environmental Institute (HMEI). His appointment expands the number of faculty who are jointly appointed in HMEI to 16.

Deutsch models the interactions between biogeochemical cycles and the climate system so that scientists can better understand past environmental changes and predict those in the future. Much of his research focuses on the oceanic nitrogen and carbon cycles, as well as the implications of climate change on terrestrial biodiversity, all of which are key focuses of HMEI and of increasing importance in understanding the interconnectedness and stability of natural systems.

Deutsch, who received his Ph.D. from Princeton’s Program in Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences in 2003, joins the University faculty from the University of Washington where he was an associate professor of oceanography.

“I am thrilled to have Curtis join the HMEI faculty,” said HMEI Director Gabriel Vecchi, professor of geosciences and the High Meadows Environmental Institute. “He is a global leader and I look forward to his future contributions to research and teaching on the ocean and its chemistry. The ocean is a key player in past, present and future global environmental changes, thus it is crucial to better understand it, its role in the earth system, and its connections to ecosystems and society.”

“Geosciences is delighted to welcome Curtis back to Princeton,” said department chair Bess Ward, the William J. Sinclair Professor of Geosciences and the High Meadows Environmental Institute. “We look forward to collaborating with him in his wide area of expertise spanning global climate change, ocean chemistry, and organismal physiology in relation to changing conditions in ocean ecosystems. Deutsch’s appointment and his research and teaching interests will contribute to, and continue, the strong, creative and productive cooperation between Geosciences and HMEI.”

Deutsch constructs numerical models of varying complexity, and on time scales ranging from human to geological, that are based on diverse biological and physical data, as well as guided by observational constraints. He uses these models to discover the ways in which climate produces spatial and temporal variability in ecosystems, and, thus, how it influences basic ecosystem functioning.

He has been active in efforts to understand the oceanic nitrogen cycle’s current and past influence on climate change through its role in containing carbon dioxide in the deep ocean. At the same time, he studies the carbon cycle in order to interpret changes in biogeochemical tracers that provide clues to how ocean circulation and carbon cycling have responded — and will respond — to climate change.

Deutsch also collaborated with terrestrial ecologists on research to construct simple models for gauging how climate change could affect the fitness and long-term survival of animal species across latitudes. By merging global patterns of climate variability and change with a body of work in empirical physiology, the researchers found that tropical species may in fact be most susceptible to climate warming, instead of those found at high-altitudes.

While at Princeton, Deutsch was in the first class of graduate students to receive an HMEI-STEP Graduate Fellowship (formally the PEI-STEP Graduate Fellowship) in order to explore the environmental policy dimensions of their doctoral research. Deutsch studied the feedback between oceanic iron fertilization and the production of the potent greenhouse gas nitrous oxide, and their effect on climate change. He worked under his HMEI-STEP adviser, the late David Bradford, a professor of economics and public affairs, and his thesis adviser Jorge Sarmiento, now Princeton’s George J. Magee Professor of Geoscience and Geological Engineering, Emeritus.

Deutsch graduated Oberlin College in 1996 with a bachelor’s degree in physics before earning his doctorate from Princeton. He completed a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Washington School of Oceanography, then served as an assistant — then associate — professor of atmospheric and oceanic science at UCLA.

Deutsch has received numerous honors, including a 2013 Investigator Award from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and being named a 2010 Kavli Frontiers of Science Fellow by the National Academy of Sciences.