Looking at the planet from remote Montana

In September 2012 I started my Fulbright visiting researcher program at the Numerical Terradynamic Simulation Group (NTSG), University of Montana, which lasted until last March.

At NTSG I started working with global satellite datasets of the carbon uptake by land ecosystems and trying to understand how does climate variability affect the ability of vegetation to remove carbon from the atmosphere. My work there led to the submission of a paper to a top journal about the impact of the 2011 La-Niña on the extraordinary net primary productivity in that year and to poster and oral presentations in two conferences in the beginning of April. It was a very rewarding experience meeting and working with NTSG researchers, especially with my supervisor, Dr. Steve Running, so called “Al-Gore of Montana” because of his work on climate change in the framework of IPCC, which led to a Nobel Prize in 2007. Steve Running was a very bright person, always asking questions and thinking about the new issues that earth scientists will have to face in the future.

Apart from work, living in Montana was a totally different reality. Coming from busy Lisbon, arriving in the narrow Missoula valley, surrounded by mountains and wilderness as far as the eyes could see and being warned about grizzly bears, bobcats or wolfs was somewhat frightening in the beginning. Montanans are absolutely passionate about outdoors and they make the most out of their stunning landscapes whatever the time of the year. In Montana, be a Montanan, and therefore I learned how to ride horses, kayaked in their beautiful rivers, went on a cross-country ski 30-mile trip in Glacier National Park, slept in a wonderful miners’ cabin with no electricity or water in the middle of woods, dove in hot-springs with 0oF air temperature outside. I was also able to follow the elections’ debates at the university and met some of the political leaders of Montana, learning a little bit more about “my” State and the US. I already miss the good friends I made but, hopefully, I’ll meet or even work with them someday.

I must say that despite all the adrenalin, daily life during the long, dark and harsh Montana winter was a big trial for me. In the end, I think it was a great learning experience in the broadest sense possible, which will (already has) undoubtedly change the course of my life.

*Fulbright Research Student, AY 2012/2013