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Climate change and the weather

UofSC-trained scientists study impact of changing weather patterns

The debate is over. Ninety-seven percent of climate scientists agree that Earth’s rising temperatures and related phenomena — more frequent and severe drought, flooding and wildfires — are a result of human-caused climate change. But humans can also be part of the solution, and there is a veritable army of researchers working to better understand, mitigate or adapt to the effects of climate change.

Scientists who earned their Ph.D.s from South Carolina are looking at how changing weather patterns can help predict alternative energy production and how wildfires spawned by these climate changes are affecting plant ecosystems.

Nick Sokol

Power systems forecaster specialist, California Independent System Operator

Degree: Ph.D., geography and climatology, 2020

Nick Sokol

Focus: Weather modeling to predict next-day energy use and production in the western U.S.

Why it matters: Solar and wind farms are reducing America’s carbon footprint, but climate change-induced variables affect the grid. 

Knowing tomorrow’s weather is of casual importance to most of us but is vitally important to Nick Sokol, who uses forecast models to determine how much electricity will be needed in California and how much electricity will be produced by solar and wind sources across the western region. A thick lingering plume of wildfire smoke, for example, reduces the efficiency of solar panels while a heat wave drives demand for air conditioning.

“Those are some of the variables we incorporate in our forecasts. The power grid has to provide enough electricity,” Sokol says. Climate change-induced heat waves in California have amped up the frequency, size and potency of wildfires. Those two phenomena are among the largest impacts on California’s energy.


Jenn Fill


Jennifer Fill

Post-doctoral research associate, University of Florida

Degree: Ph.D., biological sciences, 2015

Focus: How fire affects plant populations, particularly in pine savannas

Why it matters: Climate change is spawning more frequent and intense regional droughts, which create potential for large wildfires and ecosystem alteration.

As if the world wasn’t already getting hotter, climate change has spawned a higher risk for wildfire. Witness the catastrophic blazes in California and southern Europe this summer. Jennifer Fill wants to understand the intricacies of fire ecology — particularly how wildfires and prescribed burns affect plant growth in the pine savannas of Florida and Belize.

“If temperatures get higher and the climate gets drier in some places, people are going to be wary of doing prescribed burns,” Fill says. “Less controlled fire often means more fuel for wildfires, which typically burn with greater intensity.”

Fill on the future: “Altering climate change is a lofty goal, but there are lots of smaller things we can do right now, like using prescribed fire to mitigate wildfires, figuring out better ways to protect homes and people from wildfire — basically finding ways to safely coexist with it.”