Scripps Student Spotlight: Daniela Faggiani Dias

A PhD student hailing from Brazil seeks new ways to understand the mechanisms that enable scientists to make accurate climate predictions

Daniela Faggiani Dias is a PhD Student studying oceanography at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego. Her research focuses on climatology and she is currently being advised by researcher Art Miller. Before Scripps, she studied oceanography in Santos, Brazil.

explorations now: Why did you choose to attend Scripps?

Daniela Faggiani Dias: Scripps was on my radar since I started studying oceanography in Brazil at Monte Serrat University for undergrad and the National Institute for Space Research for my masters. For many generations, Brazil has been pushing the development of oceanography and climate sciences which established a strong reputation of training leaders in those fields. When I decided to go back to graduate school after finishing my master’s and spending a few years working as a research assistant, Scripps was my first choice. Besides its respected reputation, Scripps offers a unique opportunity to interact, collaborate, and learn from highly respected researchers with a wide range of expertise.

en: What are you researching at Scripps? 

DF: An overarching theme in my current research is understanding the subsurface ocean processes that influence the surface ocean and in turn can drive changes in the atmosphere in order to determine near-term predictable scales in the climate system. If those mechanisms can be better understood, the uncertainties associated with making climate predictions on seasonal to decade-long time scales can be assessed more accurately. 

Ultimately, I want to identify what practical methods are available to make operational forecasts for the regional impacts on the atmosphere and over the continental land masses. There is indisputable evidence of global warming and any scenario shows that surface temperatures will continue to rise over the next many decades. However, the climate fluctuations over the next seasons and few years are directly influenced by the natural variability of the climate system and this variability changes the weather and climate patterns. The methods are related to the extent to which those regional weather and climate variations are influenced by natural and/or forced variability.


en: How did you become interested in this field?

DF: My interest in this field developed because of the importance it has for society. Anticipating climate fluctuations, and possibly associating them with weather extremes, at one or more seasons in advance would have measurable benefits for decision-making related to many sectors, such as hydrology, agriculture, health, and energy – which are very vulnerable to weather and climate. 


en: What’s life like as a Scripps student? Describe a typical day.

DF: The PhD program at Scripps is very time-demanding, so I try to find a healthy balance between work and free time. While in San Diego, my typical work day consists of analyzing data, running model simulations, reading papers, writing, and/or discussing science with my advisors and my colleagues. I often take lunch breaks to eat outside while looking at the ocean. Eating well is one of the most important things we all should do! Because of that, cooking is part of my routine too. 

In my free time, I like to surf (being at Scripps makes this easily accessible), rock climb (I like going outdoors as often as possible), learn new languages (currently, I am trying French and Italian), and read books that encompass subjects that are different from my everyday work (such as romances and economics).

I also travel a lot to attend conferences, workshops, training courses, and research cruises. My advisor Art Miller values these experiences and I agree that they are an important part of your training as a graduate student. I am very lucky to have had these opportunities that opened many doors to collaborations. They determined the type of research I’m currently doing and broadened my view about the importance of scientific research for societal applications.  


en: Does your research ever take you out in the field? 

DF: My thesis project does not take me to the field, but at Scripps there are lots of opportunities that students can volunteer to participate in research cruises – and I’ve taken advantage of that! The data that I use for my project usually comes in the format of a final product: data from many years, collected in many ways: compiled, processed, and interpolated. Numbers on the screen of my computer. However, being at sea and helping to collect data for many projects has helped me immensely to understand the complexity involved in generating such datasets. As my grandmother says, “It is good to know where your food comes from!”


en: What’s the most exciting thing about your work? 

DF: The continuous process of learning and the possibility of discovery. It is extremely rewarding to have a job in which I can pursue my curiosities and, by doing so, perhaps find potential solutions for some of the biggest challenges we face as a society.

en: Are there any role models or mentors who have helped you along the way?

DF: I’ve been very lucky to have met good mentors and good friends along this journey, without whom I probably would not be where I am now. My master thesis advisor Luciano Ponzi Pezzi was extremely helpful in teaching me how to think critically about scientific problems, to sharpen my skills in the field, and to believe and to encourage me on countless occasions, but especially when I was thinking about applying for a PhD program at Scripps. My PhD advisor, Art Miller, is a person who I really admire because he is a role model for being a good scientist who thinks deeply about the scientific problems and is very curiosity-driven, and a good human being who genuinely cares about the well-being of his students. Finally, I have a strong admiration for my parents who have sacrificed so much to support me and my siblings and, despite their low level of education, they understood and taught me that education is a powerful way of transformation. This has been my main driver.


en: What are some of the challenges you face as a student?

DF: I am a first-generation college student with parents who didn’t have the choice to even finish high school. I grew up in a place where attending college was something that most people could not afford and graduate school was something that I didn't know existed until I started my undergrad. Therefore, navigating through academia is very challenging, especially in a country that is not yours. Sometimes, it is hard to feel that you belong and this feeling is enhanced by the structural racism that unfortunately is rooted in the society, not being different in graduate school. These issues have been addressed at Scripps with the hiring of the first diversity initiative coordinator, Keiara Auzenne. She is very competent and she has been incredible in promoting several programs to help overcome these issues. However, there are still steps to take and I think it is important to acknowledge that this is a challenge that many students of color and Latinxs face along the way.

en: What are your future plans?

DF: I am very fortunate to have already been accepted to a post-doc program at Colorado State University (CSU) and at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), in which I will be working with two great mentors, Jim Hurrel and Clara Deser

I hope to continue researching climate variability and predictability to better understand the roles of the natural and the anthropogenic-forced variabilities in the predictability of the climate system. Fundamentally, I want to identify practical predictive skills and, by doing so, help in the process of decision-making in diverse arenas that are vulnerable to climate and weather variations. The most important application that I could hope to achieve with my research is the ability to anticipate climate fluctuations for the next seasons or the next years. This information is extremely valuable for many sectors. For example, if we can accurately predict that the next winter is going to be much colder than the average, the energy sector can expect higher energy consumption than the average, given that more houses will use more energy to keep it warm.


You can find Daniela on Twitter @dfdias1.

About Scripps Oceanography

Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego is one of the world’s most important centers for global earth science research and education. In its second century of discovery, Scripps scientists work to understand and protect the planet, and investigate our oceans, Earth, and atmosphere to find solutions to our greatest environmental challenges. Scripps offers unparalleled education and training for the next generation of scientific and environmental leaders through its undergraduate, master’s and doctoral programs. The institution also operates a fleet of four oceanographic research vessels, and is home to Birch Aquarium at Scripps, the public exploration center that welcomes 500,000 visitors each year.

About UC San Diego

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