Meet Dr. Patzert: The Surfing El Niño Geek

Bill Patzert may be a JPL super-scientist and El Niño geek, but he really is a fun guy, says Heal the Bay vp Sarah Sikich. Come hear him speak next week at our Aquarium.

I’m very excited to announce that Dr. Bill Patzert, a leading climatologist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, will be joining us for El Niño week at the Santa Monica Pier Aquarium on Oct. 13 for a feature presentation, “Whiplash: From Super Drought to El Niño.”  Dr. Patzert’s forecasting prowess has earned him the nickname “Prophet of California Climate.” His work involves improving our understanding of Earth’s climate and important environmental problems ranging from El Niño, La Niña and longer-term climate forecasts. I’ve enjoyed talking with and learning from Dr. Patzert at meetings and science forums over the past several years. With a quick wit and fresh sciencey style, he makes forecasting and environmental science fun. He also loves to surf! He joined me for a little appetizer Q&A to get you ready for the special event:

What piqued your interested in science, and compelled you to pursue it as a career?

My dad was a sea captain and taught me celestial navigation, shooting the stars and the sun with a sextant. At night he would point out the North Star and the many constellations and tell me about the mythology of each. This was heady stuff and fascinating for a budding geek. Many men and women have inspired me. My parents were supportive and stimulating. They loved ideas, education and the natural world. Many of my mentors and professors were superb. And, reading Rachel Carson’s “The Sea Around Us” opened new worlds to me. I also had the good fortune to spend a week with the late Arthur C. Clark at his home in Sri Lanka. Wow, what a great guy! He encouraged me to be fearless and let my imagination soar.

You received your Ph.D. in Hawaii?! You must have taken some study breaks to enjoy the beach. Do you have a favorite beach or snorkel spot on the islands?

Honestly, I chose Hawaii for graduate school so I could surf (which I did and still do), check out the ladies at Waikiki and blast my eardrums with the great music of the 60’s – The Beach Boys, Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, etc. I surfed and dove every Hawaiian Island and much of the South Pacific. It was sweet!

El Niño vs. The Blob: who wins?

El Niño trumps The Blob. Come to my talk to find out why.

With the recent discovery of water on Mars, have you considered taking your oceanography skills to space?

There is no space more important than Earth space. I’ve got my hands full here at home. I follow and admire the research of my Martian buddies here at JPL, but fending off man-made climate change keeps me Earth bound.

What are your hobbies when you need a break from climatology?

I’m a reader, a mystery junkie. Mysteries are addictive! Good historical novels are a treat, too. I collect art of all types… my tastes are eclectic. I have Mexican folk art, Japanese prints, Persian rugs and, my prize collection – Hawaiian surf shirts. For exercise, I do some biking, romantic walks on the beach, some swimming and surfing, and have good intentions of being fitter. And, I raise cacti and succulents.  I love HBO.

You can read more about Patzert’s take on the coming El Niño, which he describes as “too big to fail,” in this week’s interview with the Los Angeles Times.