ESRL Quarterly Newsletter - Spring 2010

Science Pipeline

Paper examines diversity in atmospheric science

Soon after Leslie Hartten (Physical Sciences Division) began her career at NOAA and CIRES, the research meteorologist made a surprising realization. Just a few years past her Ph.D., she was the third eldest woman in her research group.

"I thought that was bizarre," Hartten said. "I wasn't that old or experienced. How could that be?"

ESRL's Leslie Hartten and student Melissa Burt in 2006.

ESRL's Leslie Hartten and student Melissa Burt in 2006.

Now, Hartten and colleague Peggy LeMone (National Center for Atmospheric Research, NCAR, and new President of the American Meteorological Society, AMS) have conducted a "cohort analysis" on several sets of diversity data collected over the years.

They conclude that although both gender and ethnic diversity have increased in the atmospheric sciences, those seeking to increase diversity in the field need to pay attention to the details. Among them:

  • The importance of community colleges: 11 percent of students pursuing bachelor's degrees in atmospheric sciences held associates or similar degrees.
  • Reasons for trends: In younger cohorts, the proportion of women in the field is higher, but primarily because the number of men in the field has dropped.
  • A single program can make a difference: SOARS, a research and mentoring program run by the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (with sponsorship from NOAA and CIRES) had supported 84 non-white students by 2004. That's a high number relative to the total number (412) of non-white atmospheric scientists who responded to an AMS survey in 2005.

Hartten said she and LeMone have both had a longstanding interest not only in science, "but in how it gets done. Part of that is who scientists are," Hartten said.

For her, the most compelling reason to foster diversity in the field of atmospheric sciences is to improve the enterprise of science itself: "You get the most creative approaches when you draw from the largest pool. That's where I come from."

Hartten has served as chair of the American Meteorological Society's Board on Women and Minorities, and has been a mentor for undergraduates in SOARS for nine years.

The cohort analysis paper will be published by the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society.