Claudia Tebaldi, PhD
Claudia Tebaldi, PhD
Armed with a doctorate and deep background in statistics, Claudia Tebaldi knew she could never be an office-bound academic proving theorems. She wanted her work to connect to problems affecting people. So, she chose one of the most impactful problems of our generation.
Tebaldi is a global expert in climate change projections, earning peer recognition for her application of statistical analysis. She has served in prominent roles with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the leading international body for the assessment of climate change. She has also served as a board member or in other leadership roles with national and international climate-change-focused organizations.
“Early in my career, I started focusing on extremes,” said Tebaldi. “At the time, people had mostly been concerned with changes in average temperature and precipitation. With a senior colleague of mine, we decided to look at what climate models simulated in terms of intense heat or intense precipitation.”
While she has authored or co-authored many published climate change studies over the past two decades, a 2004 paper published in Science, “More intense, more frequent and longer lasting heat waves in the 21st century,” remains one of her most cited papers and led to her testimony before a Senate panel concerned with climate change impacts.
“That was a good recognition of the importance of our work,” Tebaldi recalled.
She was among the first researchers to model the impact of sea level rise during storm surges along U.S. coasts, publishing a 2012 paper that was selected by the editors of Environmental Research Letters for inclusion in the “Highlights of 2012” collection.
In 2021, she led a study warning that extreme sea levels would become more common worldwide as the Earth warms, becoming a hundred times more frequent in many coastal locations, even for low warming levels.
Tebaldi is a scientist at the Joint Global Change Research Institute, a partnership between Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and the University of Maryland where researchers explore the interactions between human systems and the Earth system, focusing on the dynamics affecting our use of energy, water, land, and the feedbacks of our choices on the environment. She joined the institute in 2019 and says the choice was due to a deliberate change in the direction of her research.
“The Institute’s work is interdisciplinary,” she said. “We try to look at impacts, to see how climate change actually affects society and the economy, and vice-versa. We study not only how climate change translates into different—often worse—hazards but also how human development affects the outcome, the actual impacts. The latter is an important aspect of this issue that perhaps doesn’t get talked about enough.”