PEI Welcomes Four New Faculty Members

Joanna M. Foster ’08 for the Princeton Environmental Institute ・ High Meadows Environmental Institute

The Princeton Environmental Institute (PEI) is pleased to welcome Gabriel Vecchi, Luc Deike, Laure Resplandy, and Xinning Zhang to the Princeton University faculty.

Gabriel Vecchi

Gabriel VecchieGabriel Vecchi joins the faculty as a professor with a joint appointment in PEI and the Department of Geosciences.

Since 2012, Vecchi has been the head of the climate variation and predictability group at the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in Princeton, NJ. He holds a Ph.D. in physical oceanography from the University of Washington and has been a lecturer at both Princeton and Rutgers University.

Vecchi’s research interests focus on understanding the mechanisms and processes that control climate variations and change, with an emphasis on the effects of El Niño. He also is involved in improving the science of predicting regional climate impacts, concentrating on hurricanes and extreme rainfall events.

Studying climate change and variability may shed light on the when and where of future extreme weather events – including how El Niño can shift the location of hurricane genesis and alter storm tracks, and may also offer insights into fluctuations in the expected return period of intense tropical cyclones and extreme rainfall.

“Many questions present themselves in understanding the extent to which the risk of extreme events is correlated across space/time, and further research is needed to develop strategies to adapt to these events and prepare for downstream impacts,” said Vecchi.

Since information on extreme weather, such as hurricane activity, at a regional scale is of substantially greater societal value than is a focus on large-scale or basin-wide measures of activity, Vecchi is also working to refine models to better describe small-scale impacts and to capture the effects of flooding and storm surge.

“How do the combined changes to sea level, rainfall, tropical cyclone track, frequency, and intensity influence the regional risk for tropical cyclones in the seasons and decades to come? How have these risks changed in the past? These are just a few of the questions my research seeks to answer,” said Vecchi.

Luc Deike

Luc Deike Luc Deike joins the faculty as an assistant professor with a joint appointment with PEI and the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering.

Deike comes to Princeton from Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California at San Diego where he worked as a postdoctoral researcher in the air-sea interaction lab from 2013-2016. He received his Ph.D. in physics from the University Paris Diderot.

Deike’s research focuses on fundamental fluid dynamics with an emphasis on non-linear and multi-scale systems. Motivated by the environmental and industrial applications of this work, Deike concentrates on three main areas: the role of wave breaking in air-sea interactions, wave turbulence, and hydro-elastic waves.

“Surface wave breaking generates turbulence, entrains air bubbles into the ocean, and ejects sea spray into the atmosphere,” explained Deike. “These processes enhance air-sea exchanges of momentum, gases, heat, moisture, and marine aerosols. Quantifying these exchanges is key to improving our understanding of the ocean, atmosphere, and climate systems.”

Deike is also studying hydro-elastic waves generated from the interactions between thin ice sheets and the surrounding water, and wave turbulence, or the dynamical and statistical properties of an ensemble of waves. Fundamental research on wave turbulence improves climate system models and has important applications in the development of new energy technologies such as the harvesting of energy from ocean surface waves.

“My approach is to design and develop complementary laboratory and numerical experiments to propose simple physical models describing the processes at play in systems as diverse as the statistics of waves in the ocean, floating ice sheets, gas transfer by surface breaking waves in the ocean, and spray dynamics in the atmosphere,” said Deike.

Laure Resplandy

Laure Resplandy​Laure Resplandy joins the faculty as an assistant professor with a joint appointment in PEI and the Department of Geosciences.

Prior to coming to Princeton, Resplandy was a postdoctoral researcher at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California at San Diego. She earned her Ph.D. in oceanography at the University of Paris-Sorbonne.

Resplandy is a biogeochemical oceanographer with a strong background in physical oceanography and climate science. Her research centers around understanding how climate and ocean physics influence marine biogeochemistry and ecosystems and how these changes can impact the climate.

At Princeton, Resplandy will focus on the role of the ocean in regulating the climate system and global biogeochemical cycles. Ocean circulation is key in regulating the anthropogenic carbon sink and the natural global carbon cycle, and enables the propagation of climate signals such as acidification and loss of oxygen, into the deep ocean.

Resplandy’s research will examine three themes: how the variability from global scale down to small spatial scales influences environmental factors like CO2, O2, and pH in the ocean; how past, present, and future regional changes influence the global ocean and climate; and how these changes impact ecosystems.

“We have now reached a point where advances in ocean instrument technologies and progress in ocean modeling give us the opportunity to make major steps forward in the understanding of the coupling between physics, biogeochemistry, and ecosystems in the ocean and its role in regulating the global biogeochemical budgets and climate system,” said Resplandy.

Xinning Zhang

Xinning Zhang​Xinning Zhang joins the faculty as an assistant professor with a joint appointment in PEI and the Department of Geosciences.

She earned her Ph.D. in environmental science and engineering from California Institute of Technology and a B.S. in biological and environmental engineering from Cornell University.

As an environmental microbiologist, Zhang’s research interests lie in characterizing the organizing principles for microbial nutrient and energy transfer in the environment at scales ranging from molecules to ecosystems. Her ultimate goal is to obtain a mechanistic understanding of how microbial metabolism regulates biogeochemistry.

Microbial metalloproteins, proteins containing metal atoms or clusters, are a central theme of Zhang’s research as they are responsible for many key steps in the biogeochemical cycling of major elements (for example, photosynthesis, respiration, nitrogen fixation, denitrification). A major challenge in biogeochemistry is to understand the factors that control the forms and activities of these “biogeochemical engines” in nature.

Previous research indicates that the function and effect of metalloproteins is linked closely to the cycling of trace metals such as iron, cobalt, zinc, and copper. But other factors also exert strong control on metalloprotein activity due to the networked nature of metabolism, wherein metalloproteins often act as central hubs.

“Given the importance of microbial metalloproteins as conduits for matter and energy transfer in nature, it is imperative that we achieve a better understanding of which metalloproteins are used and why in the environment,” said Zhang.

Beyond illuminating the role of microbial metabolism in global elemental cycles, Zhang’s research has implications for nitrogen management strategies, carbon dioxide storage in terrestrial biomass, carbon balance in high-latitude ecosystems, and biohydrogen production.