CMI recognizes published postdoctoral and graduate research related to Net-Zero America, hurricane intensity

Morgan Kelly ・ High Meadows Environmental Institute

Erin Mayfield, a postdoctoral research associate in the High Meadows Environmental Institute (HMEI), and Justin Ng, who received his Ph.D. in atmospheric and oceanic sciences from Princeton in 2019, were recognized at the 20th Annual Meeting of the Carbon Mitigation Initiative (CMI) for their outstanding published research from the past year.

Mayfield received the Robert H. Socolow Best Paper Award for Postdoctoral Fellows and Ng was awarded the Robert H. Socolow Best Paper Award for Doctoral Students. CMI Director Stephen Pacala, the Frederick D. Petrie Professor in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, announced and recognized both awardees April 20 during the CMI welcome and meeting overview session.

Erin Mayfield (left) and Justin Ng

Since 2010, CMI has presented best paper awards to postdoctoral fellows working with CMI faculty members based upon their contributions to important CMI papers. CMI created the award for doctoral students in 2019. Both awards are named in honor of Robert Socolow, professor of mechanical and aeronautical engineering, emeritus, at Princeton and the codirector of CMI from 2000-2019. CMI is an independent academic research program based at Princeton and administered by HMEI that includes 13 principal faculty investigators and over 40 research staff.

Mayfield was recognized for her work on “Net-Zero America: Potential Pathways, Infrastructure and Impacts,” a landmark report by faculty and researchers affiliated with HMEI and the Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment that has been a focus of CMI for nearly two years and is ongoing.

Released in December, the initial study provides a highly detailed blueprint for achieving a carbon-neutral economy in the United States by 2050. Widely reported on in national media, the study was integral to a February report — chaired by Pacala — from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine that investigated the technology, policy and societal dimensions of accelerating the transition of the American economy to net-zero greenhouse gas emissions.

Mayfield led the employment and air pollution analysis in the study, which found that a net-zero transition supports roughly 3 million jobs, or $200 billion in wages, during the first decade with as many as 8 million jobs created by the 2040s. She also found that transitioning away from fossil fuel-powered transportation, as well as coal and natural gas electric power, could prevent up to 300,000 deaths from exposure to fine particulate matter between 2020-50.

Ng was awarded for his CMI-supported paper, “Large‐scale environmental controls on the seasonal statistics of rapidly intensifying North Atlantic tropical cyclones,” which was published in the journal Climate Dynamics in March with co-author Gabriel Vecchi, professor of geosciences and the High Meadows Environmental Institute and principal investigator in CMI.

In the paper, Ng developed an observational basis for understanding the connections between the large-scale environment and climate conditions and the seasonal occurrence of rapidly intensifying hurricanes. While statistical analyses have suggested that the probability from year to year of storms over the open ocean undergoing rapid intensification is influenced by seasonal large-scale atmospheric and oceanic variables, that is not the case for storms over the Gulf of Mexico and western Caribbean Sea.

Ng and Vecchi suggest the region’s differentiated response is due to its exhibiting a strong negative correlation between the seasonal anomalies of vertical wind shear and potential intensity. It is the interannual correlation of these two variables that may serve as indicator of seasonal predictability of hurricane activity — including rapid intensification — across the tropics.