Shafer Smith and other scientists at NYU Abu Dhabi's Center for Prototype Climate Modeling are developing sophisticated computer models to help improve climate prediction and bring more certainty to what the Earth's weather will look like in the future. Smith, associate professor of mathematics, focuses on variables in our oceans and the significant role that oceans play in global climate change.
You study the ocean. But what is it about the ocean that you study?
My current work is focused on eddies and vortices in the ocean. These are a lot like storms in the atmosphere. A storm in the atmosphere may be 1000 kilometers across, while a vortex in the ocean may be 100 kilometers across. So they're about 10 times smaller.
Vortices that can be seen from space are one part of a wide spectrum of turbulent structures that make the ocean a much more dynamic, exotic place than the common conception of the ocean as a dark, still abyss.
What do these vortices in the ocean do?
Vortices play a key role in communicating between the atmosphere and the ocean and in transporting properties like nutrients and oxygen throughout the ocean.
I've also started working on something similar to vortices called filaments, which are finer scale. Like vortices, filaments transport heat, salt, and plankton. A recent paper in Science makes an analogy between filaments in the ocean and the alveoli in your lungs, which transport oxygen from inhaled air to your blood.
In terms of location, I'm interested in the transport of oxygen in the Arabian Sea. The Arabian Sea is a fascinating environment for this because it's the site of the ocean's largest oxygen minimum zone.
There is a region between 400 meters depth and 1200 meters depth where the level of oxygen is so low that it can't support life.