Written by Andy McGlashen, Environmental Science and Policy Program
It seems logical that Lifeng Luo would become affiliated with ESPP, a program that stresses interdisciplinary research. His field of study - hydroclimatology - even sounds interdisciplinary.
The discipline borrows from hydrology, climatology, meteorology and other fields to explore how climate and the water cycle affect one another, which Lifeng says is crucial for better understanding our future climate and water resources, and to allow science-based decision making.
"People are worried that one day we might run out of oil, but if we don't do something, we might also face the challenges of a lack of clean water," said the assistant professor of geography, who also pointed out that drought puts a $6 billion to $8 billion dent in the U.S. economy in an average year.
Lifeng studied atmospheric science as an undergraduate at Peking University and while earning his master's and doctoral degrees from Rutgers. He then spent six years at Princeton - two as a post-doc and four as a research scientist - studying what is still his chief research interest: how to use knowledge of land-atmosphere interactions to make better predictions about hydrologic and climatic conditions.
Those interactions are extremely complex, he said, and uncertainties abound. "The question is, how can we make hydrologic predictions that are reliable, skillful and useful?"
His current research includes an assessment of how well climate models account for the coupling of land and atmosphere, and an effort to link vegetation and hydrologic models. The latter could help farmers predict crop yields, he says. "We hope the end users can get useful information out of the coupled prediction system, and a better decision can be made to reduce loss and improve productivity."
Lifeng leads the Hydroclimatology Research Group in the Department of Geography, one of a small handful of groups in the country dedicated to what he says is an emerging discipline. So far he's the group's only official member, but he says others in the department are doing research that could be labeled hydroclimatology.
"This department is very diverse, and it's the largest geography department in the country," he said. "I really like this place."