Department of Atmospheric Science welcomes climate scientist Maria Rugenstein

Maria Rugenstein and her husband, Jeremy, and daughter, Frida, recently went on their first hike since moving to the U.S. – in Wyoming, due to the wildfires in Colorado.
Maria Rugenstein and her husband, Jeremy, and daughter, Frida, recently went on their first hike since moving to the U.S. – in Wyoming, due to the wildfires in Colorado.

Don’t ask Maria Rugenstein about the weather. The new assistant professor in the Department of Atmospheric Science likely hasn’t checked the forecast, and she’s more concerned with how the climate will change in the coming decades to centuries.

“Whether or not it rains or snows today — so what, next week will be different,” Rugenstein said. “I care about decadal and basin-wide averages, even though I’m aware that nobody experiences this in their backyard.”

Rugenstein is interested in large-scale interactions of the atmosphere and ocean. How does the ocean influence the atmosphere, and how does it store and redistribute heat? Understanding these things will improve our ability to predict how the climate will change under certain conditions.

“The ocean can be a heat source or sink but also shapes sea surface temperatures, which modulate the atmospheric feedbacks,” Rugenstein said. “For example, how does the ocean influence clouds, and how do the clouds influence large-scale ocean circulation?”

In her climate dynamics research, Rugenstein primarily uses general circulation models, which simulate ocean and atmospheric flow. One important focus of her work is to understand the trustworthiness of these models and their limitations.

“It’s really just cool to think on large scales and amazing what we can know about this chaotic system,” she said.

Rugenstein was drawn to the diverse day-to-day work that goes along with being a scientist, as well as the community.

“I like the solitariness of analyzing the data and thinking about a problem by myself, but then also the community aspect of science, explaining the problems, convincing and disagreeing with people – just the flow of ideas,” Rugenstein said. “It is an absolute privilege to be working on the questions I choose together with people who also choose these questions solely based on their interest.”

Rugenstein joins CSU from the Max Planck Institute in Hamburg, Germany, where she was a postdoctoral fellow on a Humboldt Research Fellowship. Both her M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in atmospheric and climate science are from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) in Zürich, Switzerland.

Colorado has made a good impression on the native German, and she looks forward to exploring more of the state.

“People are very friendly! They constantly wave at me for no obvious reasons — I love it!” she said. “We just started exploring but are very excited for the next few years because there are so many opportunities.”

Colorado’s weather probably will win her over, too.

“I love listening to people geeking out about the weather, so I’m happy to be here at CSU and ATS!” she said. “My husband thinks it’s a question of time and that Colorado weather will convert me into a weather geek.”