Lueker Installing a new air line on Mauna Kea, Hawaii to provide air for a backup analyzer when Mauna Loa erupted in December 2022.

Studying O2 and CO2 to the Ends of the Earth

Scripps alum Tim Lueker works to study and measure carbon dioxide and oxygen in the atmosphere

After graduating from Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego in 1998, alumnus Tim Lueker found a home at his alma mater. Lueker earned his PhD in oceanography, with research focused on carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and oceans. Since 1998, he has worked as a research specialist in the Scripps O2 and CO2 programs led by Scripps geochemist Ralph Keeling

Why did you choose to study at Scripps?

I was born in San Diego but grew up in Michigan. My favorite subject in high school was chemistry and I always wanted to study the oceans. I majored in chemical oceanography at Florida Tech. I felt, and still feel, that Scripps is the world’s leading oceanographic research institution and it was my dream to study and work here.

What was your most memorable experience during your time at Scripps?

A caricature of Lueker in New Yorker Magazine
A caricature of Lueker in The New Yorker magazine

There are so many! One highlight was attending the 4th CO2 International Conference held in Carqueiranne, France in Sept. 1993. I was in the early years of my PhD research with Dave Keeling and that was my first trip to Europe, along with Dave, Ralph Keeling, and a host of CO2 researchers from around the world. Another was presenting my research at the first international meeting on CO2 in the Oceans held in Mayaguez, Puerto Rico in 1996, where I made some lifelong friends.

What was your first job after graduating from Scripps?

I was hired by Ralph Keeling to establish a remote oxygen and carbon dioxide field station at Trinidad Head in Northern California to study the air and ocean interactions of gases.

What is your current role?

I am a research specialist in the Keeling group at Scripps, where I support research on climate change and the global carbon cycle in both the O2 and CO2 programs.

As a featured artist being interviewed while displaying mosaics at the Ocean Science Meeting in San Diego (2020)
Lueker was a featured artist at the 2020 Ocean Sciences Meeting in San Diego

What is your favorite thing about your current role/career?

I have two favorites, actually. First, to travel to Mauna Loa or other remote sites to install, service, or troubleshoot the instruments that provide data on the rising concentrations of CO2 and other heat-trapping gases. Second, to give talks and lead outreach projects to help inform and educate the public on our research into climate change and what it means for the future of life on earth. When possible, I use mosaic art projects to get people involved to appreciate the natural world and the effects we have on it.

What was most helpful in transitioning to your career after graduation?

The most helpful aspect was the contacts and relationships I developed with the faculty, researchers, and other students at Scripps, which led to many future research projects and opportunities.

What advice do you have for current students?

Sometimes the time and effort required to do the rigorous research that meets the demanding requirements at Scripps can seem overwhelming, like it will never end. From my perspective looking back almost 40 years since I first came to work here, the time spent on my PhD research was a brief, intense effort that became part of a meaningful life as a researcher with rewards that continued long after.  So just hang in there and focus on your goals and before you know it you will get your degree and the relentless march of time will take you into your future!

What do you like to do for fun?

I love going out on date nights with my wife, riding my mountain bike, taking a hike in the woods, cooking dinner with my kids and friends, seeing nature in the wild, and working in my garden.


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

At the University of California San Diego, we embrace a culture of exploration and experimentation. Established in 1960, UC San Diego has been shaped by exceptional scholars who aren’t afraid to look deeper, challenge expectations and redefine conventional wisdom. As one of the top 15 research universities in the world, we are driving innovation and change to advance society, propel economic growth and make our world a better place. Learn more at

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