NCDC Insider: Meet Climate Scientist, Mike Palecki

Image of Climate Scientist, Mike Palecki

Climate Scientist, Mike Palecki

You may have heard of NCDC’s renowned U.S. Climate Reference Network (USCRN), but have you ever wondered who monitors that network? NCDC’s Mike Palecki is the Science Project Manager for the USCRN, a set of advanced climate observation stations distributed throughout the country for developing a high-quality record of climate change as it is happening. Mike monitors the USCRN and its observations to ensure its quality meets the highest scientific standards, and leads a research team conducting climate studies using the network’s data.

When Mike was around 10 years old, he was both fascinated by and afraid of storms, leading him to learn as much as possible about the weather from his elementary school library. He even began collecting daily maximum and minimum temperature and precipitation measurements in his backyard. Although Mike’s interest in weather faded as he entered high school, a college course in climatology at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst reignited it. He even spent the summer between his junior and senior undergraduate years helping collect climate observations on a small ice cap in the Canadian Arctic at 82°N. After his first wilderness camping trip to the Canadian Arctic that lasted two months, he was hooked on climate science and received his Bachelor of Science in Physics. He then went on to obtain both a Master’s and Doctorate degree in Geography emphasizing Climatology.

Today, Mike and his team are increasing the profile of the USCRN by publishing papers that illustrate basic properties of the temperature and soil moisture observations of the network. They are also close to completing a lengthy project to improve the quality of the USCRN precipitation observations, and they plan to publish those findings as well. The USCRN uses redundant high-quality measurements to increase the likelihood of obtaining continuous and accurate climate records over time, but this approach also makes data processing much more complex. “I feel privileged to be working on the USCRN team here at NCDC, and I am really looking forward to performing new research as the years go by and our observation time series get longer and richer,” says Mike. He was especially proud when he and his team demonstrated that their high-quality but short time series of U.S. temperatures matched exceedingly well with the most recent years of the existing long-term U.S. temperature record.

Outside his career, Mike leads a quiet life. He enjoys traveling and taking photographs of the places he visits, including Hawaii and California most recently. Fortunately for NCDC, Mike returns to his work here, but his love of public service almost took him down a different career path. He was the youngest elected school board member in Massachusetts. Mike ran for office at age 19, won, and was instrumental in making some substantial changes to school system management in his hometown with a population of 15,000. Luckily for NCDC, Mike’s passion for climate science was rekindled, and he continues to do important climate monitoring and research today.

Stay tuned for the next edition of NCDC Insider to meet more of the Center’s dedicated staff.