In 1976, in the midst of a devastating drought, the Minnesota Legislature created a position for a Cooperative Extension climatologist. They hired Mark Seeley, a young meteorologist who’d done his PhD dissertation on the climatic influences on hybrid corn development. He’s been on the job ever since.
Among the best-known faculty at the University of Minnesota, Seeley carries a full load of teaching, research, and public outreach. He’s also a regular weather commentary on Minnesota Public Radio’s Morning Edition and writes a weekly weather newsletter. He has his own page on the Minnesota Climatology Working Group’s website.
“I’m a late-comer to atmospheric science,” he says. I was going to be a lawyer. In my mid-20s I became a volunteer observer for the National Weather Service, and lo and behold that triggered a whole new path for me.”
He also acknowledges coming late to the science of human-caused climate change, only after a lengthy analysis of the data of climate variability. “[E]ven in the context of our immense natural variation, we have some dramatic and rapid-paced changes in the western Great Lakes region that are unprecedented. They are tied to the human fingerprint; there’s no ifs, ands or buts about it.”
In the time-honored Cooperative Extension tradition, Seeley stresses the importance of setting educational programs into the cultural context of the people they serve:
“When we try to convey messages of science to the public in general, we have to be cognizant that our message resonates with their value system,” he told an interviewer. “You don’t just bring science to the table, but the manner in which you represent your discipline – you've got to be willing to engage in the value systems. How is it important, how does it relate, and in the case of climate change, for example, how should we be absorbing this message and come together as a community of citizens to address it?
In his spare time, Seeley loves to write. He’s written two books for adults, Minnesota Weather Almanac, and the award-winning Voyageur Skies: Weather and the Wilderness in Minnesota's National Park, as well as an 11-book science series for children.