Dr. Paul Shepson

Dean of Stony Brook University School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences (SoMAS) & Cofounder of ArcticStories.net

Paul Shepson was born and raised in Elmira, N.Y., a child of the Finger Lakes.  He is an atmospheric chemist, and SUNY Distinguished Professor and Dean of the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences (SoMAS), at Stony Brook University.  From 2014 – 2018 he served as Director of the Division of Atmospheric and Geospace Sciences at the National Science Foundation, as a “rotator”, on leave from Purdue University, where he was a member of the faculty from 1994 – 2018.  He obtained a B.S. in Chemistry from State University of New York College at Cortland, and a Ph.D. in analytical/atmospheric chemistry from Penn State.  He worked for Mobil Oil Corp. (Paulsboro refinery) in 1982, before moving to a research position in the Atmospheric Sciences Research Laboratory at the U.S. EPA in Research Triangle Park, N.C., from 1983-1987.  From 1987 – 1994 he was a Professor in the Chemistry Department at York University in Toronto, where he was also Director of the York Centre for Atmospheric Chemistry.  Most recently at Purdue he held an appointment as Distinguished Professor of Chemistry, and Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences.  From 2008 – 2013 he was Head of the Department of Chemistry, and was also the founding Director of the Purdue Climate Change Research Center (PCCRC) in 2004. He is an avid pilot with instrument, commercial, and multi-engine ratings, and has done experiments with his airplane flying over 49 of the 50 states.  Professor Shepson is keenly interested in understanding and communicating about the impacts of anthropogenic activities on the composition of the atmosphere, and how that relates to climate change and ecological impacts.  With Peter Lourie, he is co-creator of the website arcticstories.net.  He is a Fellow of the American Geophysical Union, and has ~250 peer-reviewed publications on various issues related to atmospheric and analytical chemistry, and climate change impacts and mitigation.

Interviews

2009

Dr. Paul Shepson discusses the “Ozone Buoy,” an instrument deployed in the Arctic to study atmospheric chemistry and the ocean’s carbon dioxide absorption. The buoy collects data on halogen chemistry, pollutants, and the impact of climate change. It operates on solar power and transmits data back to California via satellite. The buoy’s successful performance will inform the deployment of additional buoys across the Arctic Ocean.

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Dr. Paul Shepson along with his colleague Dr. Jan Bottenheim express concern about the impact of engineering solutions on the environment. They emphasize the importance of addressing the root causes of problems rather than relying solely on technological fixes. The risks and unintended consequences of large-scale engineering interventions are highlighted, using examples such as sulfur injection into the stratosphere. Dr. Shepson advocates for responsible resource allocation and prioritizing investments in sustainable practices, such as clean energy and food production.

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2022

Dr. Paul Shepson, “Shep,” talks about his fascination with the remoteness of the Arctic. His first Arctic adventure in 1990 sparked a love for the untouched beauty of the region. And as a chemist, (he admits “it was my pathway, my excuse, to get to a place that was very exotic”), he delved into the Arctic’s chemical world, uncovering the impact of human activities on its atmosphere, including Arctic Haze. He discovered pollutants like sulfur dioxide and coal emissions and their effects on ozone depletion and mercury transformation. Dr. Shepson’s passion extends to meeting and learning from indigenous peoples of the region who are “much more in touch with the natural world.” Shep hopes his work has contributed to protecting the Arctic and inspiring the next generation to make a positive impact. Despite concerns for the future, he remains optimistic about humanity’s ability to implement sustainable practices and restore the Earth’s balance.

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In spring 2022, Dr. Paul Shepson and his team will conduct a field campaign on Alaska’s North Slope called “Cha-Cha.” They will study the chemical reactions in the Arctic snowpack when exposed to sunlight, which releases halogens into the atmosphere. These halogens have harmful effects on the ozone layer and impact the Arctic ecosystem. Using advanced instruments on two airplanes, the team will quantify the halogen species in the atmosphere and investigate the composition of particles and cloud water. This research aims to understand the role of sea salt particles from open ocean leads in atmospheric composition and the changing Arctic climate.

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Paul Shepson reflects on his love for the Arctic and his fascination with its untouched beauty. As a chemist, he shares his journey of studying the Arctic’s atmosphere and the impact of human activities on this pristine region. His research focuses on understanding the chemistry involved, particularly the role of sea salt particles and pollutants from burning fossil fuels, which can affect ozone levels and lead to Mercury deposition. Despite the challenges, he finds fulfillment in exploring this exotic and remote environment while pursuing important scientific questions that can benefit humanity.

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Paul Shepson reflects on his profound fascination with the Arctic, which he considers an exotic and incredibly beautiful place. As an atmospheric chemist studying the human impacts of climate change, he acknowledges the enriching experience of meeting indigenous Arctic citizens who have a deep connection with the natural world. These individuals view themselves as part of nature and have the ingenuity to thrive in a challenging environment, such as during whaling expeditions where safety is a paramount concern. For Paul, interacting with people from vastly different backgrounds and witnessing the unspoiled beauty of the Arctic has been an incredible gift and opportunity. He embraces life’s preciousness and the importance of having fun while making a positive impact on humanity.

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Paul Shepson discusses the rewarding aspect of inspiring the next generation to be excited about the Arctic. As a teacher, he takes pride in seeing his former PhD students pass on their knowledge and enthusiasm to their own students. However, he also acknowledges the sobering reality that the Arctic, due to human activities, is undergoing irreversible changes, possibly losing its summer sea ice in his students’ lifetimes. This has serious consequences for the non-human creatures that call the Arctic home. He expresses a sense of ethical responsibility, believing that humans shouldn’t have the right to make decisions that harm other living beings and their habitats.

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Paul Shepson finds optimism in two contrasting time horizons when considering the dramatic changes in the Arctic. In the long run, he believes life’s resilience and adaptability will lead to solutions for climate change, allowing the Earth to recover. However, in the next 200 to 300 years, he is concerned about the challenges posed by the world’s commitments to unsustainable practices, which might impact the quality of life for future generations. Despite this, he remains hopeful that humanity will learn and evolve to overcome these obstacles.

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