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Rick Toracinta, Research Associate



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Rick Toracinta
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Rick Toracinta, Research Associate

Education

Ph.D., Atmospheric Science, Texas A&M , 2000.
M.S., Atmospheric Science, Texas A&M, 1995.
B.S., Atmospheric Science, University of Massachusetts, 1993.

Career Description

My name is Rick Toracinta, and I am a 'research associate' at the Byrd Polar Research Center. A research associate is someone who works with other scientists in a research group to conduct research in a specific area of interest. In my case, the area of interest is weather and climate.

I'm currently running and analyzing computer models of the climate that existed about 21,000 years ago. This period is known as the Last Glacial Maximum.  At that time, a large glacier covered much of North America and the climate was much colder than it is today.  Our climate model allows us to study the Last Glacial Maximum (21,000 years ago) climate in order to better understand how climate changes. This will hopefully allow us to better predict the future climate and how it will change.

Weather Radar

I went to college and got a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Meteorology from the University of Massachusetts at Lowell, and both a Master of Science degree and Ph.D. from Texas A&M University, at College Station. Math and science classes were a critical part my education.  I chose meteorology because I've been very interested in the atmosphere since I was young.  The best part of my work is being able to do something that I really enjoy and contributing to what we know about weather and climate.

The worst part is working with the limitations of the tools (computer models) that we have. The computer models are simplifications of the real atmosphere and we have to account for the fact that they aren't always accurate. It also means that we continuously work to improve the ability of the computer models to provide better representations, or forecasts, of weather and climate.

Some of the most exciting things about the work I do is being able to travel to meetings and talk to other scientists from around the world. It's always very interesting to learn what others are doing and to exchange ideas.

Rick taking surface measurements

I've also had the opportunity to do some field work, making atmospheric measurements in the rainforest in Brazil as part of an international project to study thunderstorms in the tropics. This project was important because tropical thunderstorms play a critical role in the circulation of the atmosphere all over the globe.

Weather balloon launch in Brazil

During the past ten years, we have greatly improved our understanding of climate and how it changes.  Also, computer technology has improved at a dizzying pace, which means that we can use more complex computer models of the earth's climate than we could a decade ago.  Those of us who work with the computer models are working more closely with scientists who make observations of the past climate from things like ice cores, pollen records and tree rings. I expect that this sharing of work and information will continue in the years to come and will lead to a clearer understanding of the earth's climate system.

Arizona Thunderstorm

Rick Toracinta passed away November 2005.

This page is in memory of Rick and the time and help he gave to anyone learning about weather.

He will be greatly missed.

For more on Rick, click here.