My career path in physical oceanography and climate science

by Yavor Kostov

The end of the year is a time to reflect on the past and make long-term plans for our future. Some readers of this blog, especially our young audience, may be considering a career in oceanography or climate science. I will tell you my story: what motivated me to join this field and the factors that shaped my career path.

My first encounter with physical oceanography was 14 years ago, at an international summer school where I learned basic gravity wave dynamics. Fluid motion fascinated me and sparked a lasting interest in the field. The following year I was on my high school team for the International Young Physicists’ Tournament (IYPT). Within our team, I was responsible for problems related to fluid dynamics.

By the time I began my undergrad studies, I was already very interested in modeling the environment. I also realized that to do well in the natural sciences, I should expand my background in math. So I majored in Applied Mathematics, but I also took physics courses. As an undergrad, I did different research projects applying mathematical methods to study the environment. For example, my senior thesis was on modeling the El Niño / La Niña phenomenon.

Nine years ago, I decided to do a Ph.D. in climatology and oceanography. I became interested in the field because I wanted to do research in an area of science that is socially significant. Nature has direct impact on humankind.  At the same time, climate science and oceanography attracted me because many fundamental questions in our field remain unresolved.

My Ph.D. and postdoc research has explored the large-scale ocean circulation and its impact on global and regional climate. I have studied various parts of the World Ocean: the North Atlantic, the Arctic Ocean, and the Southern Ocean. My work involves coding algorithms and analyzing data from complex climate models and observations, but also developing simple conceptual models.

In my current OSNAP project, I examine how the ocean circulation in the subpolar North Atlantic responds to local and remote fluctuations in atmospheric conditions. I analyze the computer code of a global ocean model as if it were a system of math equations. One of the most interesting aspects of my work is trying to understand the ocean’s delayed response to past atmospheric changes that took place years ago.

I am now looking forward to another productive year of research on the ocean circulation. Happy holidays to all readers of this blog and best wishes for the New Year!

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