I include here a discussion of my current research. If you are interested in working on these topics, send me a note and we can consider the possibility.
My major area of interest in recent years has been the human dimensions of climate variability. More specifically, this area is the contributions of field-based social science (like anthropology, the discipline in which I received my training) to the study of El Niño and other patterns of climate fluctuation. This is a new and growing research area, drawing both on current work in the environmental sciences and on recent developments in social science. Within it, I carry out work in several areas. The first is "indigenous knowledge". How is it that Quechua and Aymara farmers in the Andean highlands of Peru and Bolivia, or Shona and Ndebele farmers in Zimbabwe, can anticipate drought far enough in advance to alter their cropping strategies? (I published a paper on this topic in Nature; a summary of it is available on-line.) How do aboriginal peoples in the Northern Territory of Australia vary their burning of grasslands and woodlands? Are there general patterns of indigenous knowledge about climate? The second is "comparative policy studies". Why have certain countries been able to make more effective use of the current generation of El Niño forecasts, while others have not? Which sorts of agencies can use these forecasts, and in what sectors? (I have a working paper out as well, which you can order.) What sorts of links between forecast-generators and users have developed, and how are these ties located within the world of international science? What has been the role of scientists in countries such as Brazil and Ethiopia in promoting forecast development and use? Can broad theories, such as current analyses of globalization, help explain perceptions of and responses to climate variability? Drawing on the first two is the third, the area of "applications research". This area consists concrete projects that link "end-users" (real people who have specific needs for forecasts) with scientists, managers, public agencies and private firms. In other words, there’s some hope that this work might bring some small meaure of improvement to the lives of everyday real human beings. I have recently finished one project on extending forecast use in maritime fisheries in Peru, and have begun another such project on forecast use in small-scale agriculture in Uganda.
Though I have research interests in other areas, this topic of El Niño interests me a great deal, and I look especially for graduate students whose interests might dovetail with mine. This area is broad in scope. My students work on such diverse topics as forest dynamics (including burning) in Central America and in Australia, small-scale agriculture in Zimbabwe, farmer decision-making about crop varieties in Thailand, and desertification in Namibia. Some of these projects lean more heavily towards biological ecology, others more towards applications, but they all include at least some human component and some climatic component.
At this point, I might add that climate change/global warming is a larger and more serious issue on a global scale than El Niño. But it is also more difficult to study, in many ways. The El Niño signal is very clear, since major events occur in specific years. These events are nobody's fault (unlike global warming, due to various human activities), so the solutions don't come at the expense of someone else who might object, or bring political pressure. And addressing El Niño issues is a good way to build awareness, expertise and institutions that can face the bigger issue of global warming. Moreover, global warming may increase the frequency and strength of El Niño events, so it can't hurt to get ready for them. So my focus has been primarily on El Niño, though I have begun to develop an interest in local perceptions of global warming. A student of mine is working on local perceptions of and responses to glacial retreat in Switzerland, where the alpine glaciers have been shrinking for over a century.
If you are still interested in working with me on climate-related research, please get back in touch.