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White House creates climate analysis job

Obama URI Scientist
Kate Moran, associate dean of the University of Rhode Island's Graduate School of Oceanography, will begin working Monday as a senior policy analyst for President Obama's Office of Science Technology and Policy.Charles Krupa / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

A scientist from the University of Rhode Island who headed research expeditions in the Arctic and the Indian Ocean will soon join the White House in a new position that targets the worldwide issue of climate change.

Kate Moran, associate dean of URI's Graduate School of Oceanography, begins work Monday as a senior policy analyst for President Barack Obama's Office of Science & Technology Policy. In her new role, Moran will provide advice on issues relating to oceans, the Arctic and global warming.

"Climate affects all aspects of our life, our food, our energy, our politics," Moran said in a telephone interview this week as she hurried to pack for her move to Washington. "It affects defense, security, and so it's crosscutting."

Trained as an engineer, Moran was the co-chair of an Arctic expedition in 2004 that sent scientists to the ice-clogged waters above the Lomonosov Ridge, about 155 miles from the North Pole. The expedition drilled first-of-their-kind core samples from the floor of the Arctic Ocean.

The samples showed that temperatures in the Arctic reached an average 74 degrees during a period of global warming about 55 million years ago, a surprise to scientists who previously believed the polar regions would have remained cooler.

Moran also helped lead the first research team to investigate the sea floor at the site of the 2004 earthquake that triggered a deadly tsunami in the Indian Ocean that killed 230,000 people in a dozen countries. The research team debunked the theory that underwater landslides strengthened the tsunami, showing that existing models used to predict and study tsunamis must be revised.

Closer to home, Moran has become known in the public debate over global warming. She testified last year before a U.S. Senate panel that climate change and its human causes are "unequivocal." She supports a proposal to build a massive wind farm miles off Rhode Island's coast, meant to provide 15 percent of the state's electricity needs and reduce the state's reliance on fossil-fuel power plants.

"I think scientists should be more active in speaking about their own science," she said.

Moran made similar statements about global warming last year during a public presentation on climate change held at URI's campus, eliciting hostile questions from audience members who did not believe global warming or doubted that humans contribute to it, said Peter August, a URI professor of natural resource science.

She didn't flinch during the exchanges, showing skills that August thinks could be helpful in Washington.

"She can hold her ground, she can speak with objective authority," August said. "She doesn't get upset, and she doesn't make people look stupid."