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May 30, 2019
President Peter Goodwin has awarded the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science (UMCES)’s annual President’s Award for Excellence in Application of Science to Matthew Fitzpatrick, Associate Professor at UMCES’ Appalachian Laboratory, for his outstanding work helping the public understand the impact of climate change.
Fitzpatrick was recognized for being able to capture the attention of the public with his Future Urban Climates web application that helps users visualize how climate change will feel in 60 years. His work attracted interview requests from around the globe and reached more than half a billion people on every continent.
“Matt has done an outstanding job of finding a way to help the public visualize the impact of climate change with this study and subsequent outreach,” said University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science President Peter Goodwin. “It is a major challenge articulating the human dimensions of climate change. Using science to help communities better understand their environment is a core function of the UMCES mission, and Matt has achieved global impact with this innovative analysis.”
A spatial ecologist, Fitzpatrick studies global change and biodiversity, trying to understand what determines where species occur and how climate change may alter where species could live in the future. From ancient fossil pollen to baby spruce trees, he uses computer modeling to understand what determines where species occur and how climate change may alter where species could live in the future.
For his Future Urban Climates project, he analyzed 540 urban areas that encompassed approximately 250 million inhabitants in the U.S. and Canada using climate-analog mapping —a statistical technique that matches the expected future climate at one location with the current climate of another familiar location to provide a place-based understanding of climate change. Combining climate mapping with the interactive web application provides a powerful tool to communicate how climate change may impact the lives of a large portion of the population of the United States and Canada.
He found that by the end of the 21st century—in one generation—the climate experienced in many North American cities is projected to change to that of locations hundreds of miles away or to a new climate unlike any found in North America today. The climate of cities in the northeast will tend to feel more like the humid subtropical climates typical of parts of the Midwest or southeastern U.S. today—warmer and wetter in all seasons. For instance, unless we take action to mitigate emissions, Washington, D.C. will feel more like northern Mississippi.
The online tool captured the attention of the increasingly climate savvy public, and the clarity with which he communicated his science attracted interview requests from reporters around the world, from CNN, National Geographic, and New York Times to NPR’s Science Friday, The Atlantic, and Voice of America in Russian.
Fitzpatrick has published more than 30 papers in peer-reviewed journals. He earned his Ph.D. in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology from University of Tennessee, an M.S. in Environmental Science from the University of Montana and a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from The Pennsylvania State University.
The President’s Award for Excellence in Application of Science was established in 1999 to honor exemplary applications of science that have had a positive impact on environmental protection and management.