Atmospheric physicist, Paul Kushner, awarded Patterson Medal for distinguished service to meteorology in Canada

March 15, 2021 by Chris Sasaki - A&S News

Paul Kushner, a professor of atmospheric physics in the Faculty of Arts & Science’s Department of Physics, has been awarded the 2019 Patterson Medal Award for Distinguished Service to Meteorology in Canada. 

“Receiving this award means a lot to me,” says Kushner. “I’m honoured to be in the company of past recipients — all of whom have been true leaders within the Canadian atmospheric community. I’m also honoured because of the award’s focus on one’s history of service to that community.” 

The award has been given annually since 1961 by the Meteorological Service of Canada (MSC) in honour of John Patterson, MSC director from 1929 to 1946. It recognizes distinguished service to meteorology in Canada. 

According to Kim Strong, chair of the Department of Physics, “Paul is internationally recognized as an outstanding atmospheric scientist who has made distinguished contributions to meteorology through his multi-faceted research, his exemplary leadership, his generous service to the community and his dedicated training of the next generation of atmospheric scientists.  

“He has demonstrated leadership in multiple research initiatives,” says Strong, “and has made significant contributions to the scientific community through his generous involvement in administration and service, both in Canada and internationally.” 

Peter Taylor, a longtime colleague of Kushner’s and a professor of atmospheric physics at York University, says, “Paul has been one of Canada's top atmospheric scientists for the past decade and is an important pillar of the atmospheric community. 

“He has used his deep understanding of the underlying physics to make significant contributions to important areas of atmospheric dynamics and climate change science.”   

Kushner’s research focuses on the circulation of the atmosphere and how it moves mass and energy from the tropics to the Arctic and Antarctic. 

“The atmosphere is very strongly linked to the rest of what we call the earth system,” he says, “which includes the oceans, land, sea ice and seasonal snow cover.” 

Kushner studies these systems using computer models of climate that are also used to forecast weather and make long-range projections about climate change.  

“I'm very interested in how climate change will impact future weather patterns and atmospheric circulation,” he says. “Much of my recent work has been focused on better understanding how well our models represent the roles played by snow cover and sea ice in climate change and how they will be affected by climate change.” 

The award is an acknowledgment of Kushner’s contributions through various roles within key national organizations. 

From 2013-2019, Kushner was the principal investigator for the Canadian Sea Ice and Snow Evolution Network (CanSISE). The network included researchers who study snow, sea ice and related climate processes in the Arctic and the Western Cordillera region of Canada. They came from eight Canadian universities, the federal agency Environment Climate Change Canada and the non-governmental organization Pacific Climate Impacts Consortium (PCIC).  

“We carried out a lot of original research and also trained many students and postdoctoral fellows to work in the area,” says Kushner. “We put a lot of effort into improving our observational capacity, our models and our ability to exploit all the available data.  

“We also played an important role in creating strong partnerships between Canadian universities and the federal government, with considerable international visibility.” 

In addition, Kushner served as vice-president and president of the Canadian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society (CMOS) — a national organization with a mandate to advance atmospheric and oceanic sciences in Canada. Its individual members include students, meteorologists, climatologists, oceanographers, limnologists, hydrologists and cryospheric scientists; other members include corporations and research institutions.  

Kushner is also chair of the CMOS special interest group on Atmosphere-Related Research in Canadian Universities (ARRCU). 

“For all Paul has accomplished,” says Taylor, “to me, he is most deserving of the Patterson Medal for his leadership in the ARRCU group and for his willingness to use his time and talents to help all of us engaged in these activities.” 

ARRCU’s members include Canadian university faculty engaged in research in weather, climate and air quality. The group has developed strategic plans in atmosphere-related research that identify research priorities and provide a framework for partnerships between scientists, government and industry. 

“The atmosphere and the oceans don’t care about national, provincial or state boundaries,” says Kushner. “You need observations from space and from local stations and coordinating all those observations and bringing them into our models requires a very significant international effort. 

“Climate science and atmospheric science have become ‘Big Science’,” he says. “They’ve become an international effort with partnerships that cross many institutional domains and international boundaries.  

“My efforts have been to enhance that sense of partnership and coordination,” says Kushner. “Of course there's still lots of room for discovery by individual scientists but that has to happen inside an ecosystem of cooperation for it to work. Our science is so interconnected.” 

The announcement of the 2019 award was delayed from the spring of 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.