Claire L. Parkinson

NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

Primary Section: 64, Human Environmental Sciences
Membership Type: Member (elected 2016)


Claire Parkinson was born in 1948 in southern New York, moved to central Vermont while in seventh grade, and graduated from Wellesley College with a B.A. in mathematics in 1970. As a child, she loved theoretical math but was also active in social causes, especially in supporting the Civil Rights Movement. She was drawn to polar research because of the Antarctic Treaty, and while a graduate student she became one of the earliest women to conduct field work in Antarctica. She received a PhD from Ohio State in 1977 and since July 1978 has been a climate scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, where her research emphasis has been on polar sea ice and its connections to the rest of the climate system and to climate change. Since May 1993 she has also been Project Scientist for the Earth-observing Aqua satellite. Claire has written books on satellite Earth observations, climate change and geoengineering, and the history of science, and has co-written and co-edited books on sea ice, climate modeling, climate change, and satellite data. She has done considerable outreach, including leading an effort that produced a book on "Women of Goddard: Careers in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics".

Research Interests

Claire Parkinson’s research is centered on polar sea ice and its connections to the rest of the climate system and to climate change, especially as revealed through satellite observations. With her colleagues, she has generated sea ice data sets from a sequence of satellite passive-microwave instruments, has intercalibrated the overlapping data sets to merge them into long-term climate data records, and has used these records to examine the regional and interannual variabilities of the polar sea ice covers and to determine and quantify long-term trends, including decreases in Arctic sea-ice coverage and increases in Antarctic sea-ice coverage since the 1970s. Parkinson has additionally calculated and analyzed the length of the sea ice season and its trends on a pixel-by-pixel basis and has developed a computer model of sea ice and used it in various studies, including to examine the unusual open-water feature named the Weddell Polynya. She has written books on satellite Earth observations, climate change, and the history of science and has co-written/co-edited books on sea ice, climate modeling, satellite data, and the careers of women at Goddard Space Flight Center. In a 2010 book, she reviews the long history of climate change and raises concerns regarding potentially dangerous geoengineering proposals.

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