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Celebrate Women’s History Month with six inspiring women in atmospheric sciences

This International Women’s Day, we are inspired by these six scientists making a difference in Earth sciences and meteorology

From left: Susan Solomon, Michelle Hawkins and Ada Monzón. (From left: Justin Knight Photography; NOAA; Courtesy Ada Monzón)
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March 8 marks International Women’s Day, a time to honor, encourage and celebrate the vital role of women, their specific achievements and contributions now and through history. The day has been celebrated for more than a century, starting with campaigns for women’s rights to work, vote, hold public office and end discrimination.

Now, people celebrate the entire month of March as Women’s History Month, in addition to International Women’s Day on March 8. Of course, one day or one month really isn’t enough to share all of the accomplishments and achievements of women today, let alone those who have forged the path and broken glass ceilings through history in a variety of fields, and advanced the cultural, social, economic and political equality for women around the world.

The forgotten woman behind International Women’s Day

Nevertheless, we want to take this opportunity to celebrate leading women in atmospheric and climate sciences, who have forged the path to better our knowledge of the weather and world around us. Women only make up about one-third of the STEM workforce, with past studies suggesting atmospheric sciences may have the fewest women of all Earth sciences. But their contributions are major and serve as an inspiration for other burgeoning scientists.

Previously, we honored the influence and significant contributions of Joanne Simpson, Eunice Foot, June Bacon-Bercey, Suzanne Van Cooten, Fadji Zaouna Maina, and Mika Tosca. Here are six more women to add to this outstanding list.

On International Women’s Day, these atmospheric scientists inspire us

Bernice Ackerman

Bernice Ackerman was a pioneer in the early history of women in atmospheric sciences, with nearly four decades of contributions.

According to a 1995 issue of the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, Ackerman’s personality and toughness enabled her to succeed in “a man’s world” of the rapidly developing postwar era of meteorology. She started her career as a weather observer and flight briefer for the Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service (WAVES). After the war, she earned a bachelor’s degree in meteorology at the University of Chicago in 1948, and would go on to get both a masters and a doctorate by 1965.

She worked for the U.S. Weather Bureau (the early name for the U.S. National Weather Service), before contributing extensive research on extended-range tornado forecasting, cloud physics, weather modification, urban climate and radar meteorology, among other foundational topics in atmospheric sciences. She continued contributions as a professor at various U.S. universities. Ackerman was a fellow of the American Meteorological Society and American Association for the Advancement of Science. Ackerman died in 1995.

Women and minorities in weather and climate fields confront harassment, lack of inclusion

Eugenia Kalnay

Early in the 21st century, almost any sort of research about the atmosphere would ultimately lead a meteorologist to the NCEP/NCAR Reanalysis data set. This global data set would show you a snapshot of the atmosphere and weather on any given day, back to 1957 (in subsequent years, it would date back to 1948). If you used this data set, you would have referenced Eugenia Kalnay’s paper, which has now been cited nearly 32,000 times.

Born in Argentina, Kalnay received her undergraduate degree at the University of Buenos Aires and then became the first woman to earn a PhD in Meteorology at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1971. She is a distinguished professor at the University of Maryland and has earned numerous awards and honors in the field, including having an American Meteorological Society symposium named after her.

Ada Monzón

Ada Monzón is the first female meteorologist from Puerto Rico. She is currently the chief meteorologist at WAPA-TV, Univision radio (WKAQ 580 AM), and NotiCel’s digital platform, covering all of Puerto Rico. After earning her master’s degree in meteorology at Florida State University, Monzón joined the U.S. National Weather Service forecast office in San Juan, where she became a forecaster and the warning and preparedness meteorologist, before moving to a career as a broadcast meteorologist in 2003. She provided critical and lifesaving information for the commonwealth through the most devastating weather disaster in Puerto Rico’s history, Hurricane Maria in 2017.

Monzón has a decorated history and holds membership in numerous professional weather, climate, and science organizations. As a committed science educator, she is also the founder and president of EcoExploratorio: Science Museum of Puerto Rico, producing STEM and disaster mitigation educational content. In March 2022, she was awarded an honorary doctorate in science from the University of Puerto Rico. Monzón is the first female American Meteorological Society fellow and certified broadcast meteorologist in Puerto Rico, and is the first to have both designations in Latin America.

In weather emergencies, a lack of Spanish-language information endangers the public

Michelle Hawkins

As extreme weather and climate change increasingly take a toll on society, scientists and policymakers must work together to better assess and communicate risks. At the National Weather Service, atmospheric scientist Michelle Hawkins oversaw the development of policies and procedures for forecast and warning services to protect property and life from some of the nation’s most dangerous hazards. In her role as the chief of the severe, fire, public and winter weather services branch, Hawkins was one of few women to hold a prominent position within the Weather Service and said it was “difficult to navigate through an organization when you don’t have many other women to learn from.”

At the Weather Service, she co-led initiatives to develop strategies and recommendations for improving diversity through recruitment, retention and advancement in the agency. She also lead initiatives across the federal government, collaborating with health partners such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, to better understand, communicate and minimize the health effects of extreme heat. Such initiatives helped introduce tools such as the Wet Bulb Globe Temperature and the HeatRisk product used in the western region of the country.

Growing up in Chicago, Hawkins was fascinated by the severe storms and winter weather that passed through the city. She earned her undergraduate chemistry degree and PhD in atmospheric sciences at Howard University. She was recognized as a Modern Day Technology Leader in 2019 at the Black Engineer of the Year Awards. She is currently a White House Leadership Development Program fellow on the Council on Environmental Quality.

African American men and women made notable advances in technology

Claire Parkinson

Claire Parkinson is a world-renowned climate scientist, best known for her work on sea ice, satellite observation, and climate change in the polar regions. Early in the 1970s, Parkinson became one of the earliest women to conduct field work in Antarctica, where as a graduate student at Ohio State University she participated on an otherwise all-male expedition measuring ice flow into a recently erupted volcanic crater.

Afterward, for her PhD dissertation, she developed the first computer model of Arctic and Antarctic sea ice incorporating both sea ice dynamics and thermodynamics. She then joined NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, where she continues to pioneer research on the relationship of polar sea ice and its connections to the rest of the climate system and climate change, while also serving as project scientist for the Earth-observing Aqua satellite.

Susan Solomon

Susan Solomon is internationally recognized as a leader in atmospheric sciences for her work in explaining the cause of the “hole in the ozone” over Antarctica. Through her field work in Antarctica, Solomon discovered harmful levels of chlorine dioxide, and the chemical reactions involving chlorofluorocarbons, also known as CFCs.

Alongside her colleagues, she has made important contributions to understanding the link between chemistry and climate, including leading research on the irreversible warming of the planet linked to anthropogenic (human-caused) carbon dioxide emissions, and on the influence of the ozone hole on the climate of the Southern Hemisphere. Solomon is a professor at MIT.

We hope you, too, are inspired by these incredible women, current and past, who have shaped the field of atmospheric and climate sciences.

We know there are so many more; whom would you add to this ongoing list? Let us know in the comments, or share your thoughts on social media.

Learn more about Women’s History Month, and International Women’s Day (March 8).

Kerrin Jeromin is an American Meteorological Society-certified broadcast meteorologist with more than 12 years of forecasting experience and has covered everything from winter storms to hurricanes to natural disasters and major climate events.

Becky Bolinger is the assistant state climatologist for Colorado and a research scientist at Colorado State University.