PAOC Spotlights

Cold and Windy with Lots of Ice

Thu February 24th, 2011
Helen Hill

Cold and Windy with Lots of Ice

Holly Dail is a 5th year graduate student doing paleoclimate research with Carl Wunsch and Patrick Heimbach in PAOC.  As a member of the MIT-WHOI Joint Program, she also collaborates with scientists at WHOI. In a recent interview she explained what she does.


Dail’s doctoral work focuses on circulation of the North Atlantic Ocean at the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM) - a period around 20,000 years ago when global conditions were substantially colder than today, large ice-sheets covered Northern North America and Europe, and global sea-level was significantly lower (~120m). Quite a different world from the one we are familiar with, and one Holly is using as a tool to study the role of ocean circulation in glacial / inter-glacial climate cycles.

Historically scientists have approached questions such as “What did the ocean circulation look like at the LGM?” either by traditional numerical forward modeling (integrating the equations governing ocean behavior within a box, according to a set of prescribed boundary conditions) or by making inferences from sediment and ice core data. Holly’s work seeks to synthesize these two worlds using ocean state-estimation techniques developed in PAOC - the same tools used in ECCO, the Estimating the Climate and Circulation of the Oceans project.

Holly relishes the inter-disciplinary nature of her work because she must blend a deep understanding of physical oceanography with numerical modeling skill while developing a keen appreciation and familiarity with the available data, a great mix of physics and oceanography. She also values the connection membership of PAOC provides with other nearby institutions: “PAOC has a fantastic group for the modeling and the right people for the state estimation [the data-assimilation approach], down at the cape there’s WHOI with an incredible group of people dedicated to collecting and analyzing paleo data, and up the road at Harvard are experts in statistical approaches to paleo data."

Holly grew up on Bainbridge Island in Puget Sound, Seattle, WA. She became interested in physics and oceanography and combining the two because, as she put it “it allowed her to combine her great interest in the natural world with an innate desire to understand how things work”. In 2006, after some time working in the field of of Computer Science, Holly moved to Cambridge, MA for graduate school in PAOC.