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Andrea Frank
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Kerry A. Emanuel
Professor of Atmospheric Science

What are you working on?

Broadly speaking, my research is on atmospheres and climate. I’m interested in matters such as atmosphere water vapor, which is the most important greenhouse gas and is largely controlled by very detailed physical processes going on inside clouds. I’m also interested in all kinds of tropical weather systems that at present are poorly understood, such as oscillations of the equatorial region that occur on time scales of a few days to as much as sixty days, and in hurricanes.

My philosophy, and it’s the philosophy that runs through this department, is to use all available tools to understand a phenomenon. In other words, rather than beginning with a method and then looking for ways to apply it, I try instead to focus on understanding a particular process by using every tool at my disposal. In this fi eld, that means basic theory, laboratory experiments, computer modeling of systems, and it means occasionally going into the fi eld to collect data in real systems.

Can you tell us what you’ve found regarding hurricanes?

Hurricanes are controlled by fl uxes of heat from the ocean to the atmosphere and by the drag the atmosphere exerts on the hurricane. But there are many different things going on in these systems that are not very well understood. It’s a very diffi cult phenomenon to model because there are critical processes occurring on scales of a few hundred meters or less. At the same time, a domain size of perhaps one thousand kilometers is required to capture the phenomenon as a whole. So you’re talking about a computationally intensive problem. However, I prefer problem solving systems that favor cleverly designed
models, rather than the brute force approach of computer power.

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Andrea Frank