John Cassano

NSIDC Lead Scientist, Teaching Faculty

About John

John Cassano is the lead scientist at NSIDC, a fellow of the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES), and a professor in the Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences at the University of Colorado. His research group studies how the polar atmosphere interacts with the other components of the polar climate system—sea ice, ocean, ice sheets and land. The Cassano research group develops and uses weather and climate models to study how atmospheric processes shape polar climate. They conduct field campaigns to observe the polar atmosphere, using autonomous observing systems such as unmanned aircraft (drones), to make measurements under difficult environmental conditions. They also use model and satellite datasets for their research. Cassano has a passion for sharing science, stories and photographs from the polar regions with diverse audiences including K-12 students, college and university students, and the broader public.


Polar weather and climate, atmosphere - ice - ocean - land interaction, weather and climate modeling, atmospheric boundary layer, autonomous observing systems (atmosphere), artificial neural networks (self-organizing maps)

Current Research

Understanding the Role of Arctic Cyclones - A System Approach: Cyclones (storms) in the Arctic play a critical role in the Arctic climate system. They transport heat and moisture from lower latitudes, impact cloud cover and precipitation and alter sea ice and ocean state. This project is creating a climatology of Arctic cyclones and assessing the impact that these cyclones have on the Arctic atmosphere, sea ice and ocean. Analysis of Arctic cyclones and sea ice from the past 40 years shows links between changes in sea ice cover and storm intensity. On-going work is using the fully coupled regional Arctic system model (RASM) to investigate the impact of cyclones on Arctic sea ice. Work also includes analyzing projections of Arctic cyclones, from an ensemble of CMIP6 models, to determine how Arctic cyclones will change over the 21st century in response to global climate change. Source of support: NSF

Observing the Atmospheric Boundary Layer over the West Antarctic Ice Sheet: The West Antarctic Ice Sheet is experiencing the greatest rate of warming on the Antarctic Ice Sheet. This project will deploy automatic weather stations (AWS) and unmanned aircraft (drones) to study energy exchange between the atmosphere and West Antarctic Ice Sheet. Analysis of data collected during the Department of Energy Atmospheric Radiation Measurement West Antarctic Radiation Experiment (DOE AWARE) campaign has identified different atmospheric boundary layer regimes observed in the Antarctic and related these to changes in cloud cover, radiative fluxes and near surface meteorological conditions. Source of support: NSF

HiLAT-RASM: A Renewal Proposal for the High-Latitude Application and Testing of Earth System Models (HiLAT) Science Focus Area, in Collaboration with the Regional Arctic System Model: The Cassano research group is working with partners at the Naval Postgraduate School, University of Washington and Department of Energy Pacific Northwest National Lab (PNNL) and Los Alamos National Lab (LANL) to develop and apply the next generation of polar climate models. The Cassano research group is leading the development of the atmospheric component of the Regional Arctic System Model (RASM). The group uses observational data from Arctic field campaigns to evaluate and improve the representation of polar atmospheric processes in RASM. The group uses RASM forecasts to study how polar cyclones alter Arctic sea ice and uses RASM to make seasonal forecasts and decadal projections of Arctic sea ice. The group also analyzes CMIP6 and the Department of Energy  Energy Exascale Earth System Model (DOE E3SM) model data to assess projected changes in Arctic weather over the 21st century. Source of support: Department of Energy

Analysis to Evaluate and Improve Model Performance in the Central Arctic: Unique Perspectives from Autonomous Platforms During MOSAiC: The Multi-disciplinary Drifting Observatory for the Study of Arctic Change (MOSAiC) was a year-long (October 2019 to September 2020) international research expedition to study the Arctic climate system. The Cassano research group’s role in MOSAiC was to deploy unmanned aircraft (drones) to take measurements of the atmospheric boundary layer to study heat, moisture, and momentum exchange with the sea ice and ocean, and how the atmospheric boundary layer varies as clouds, radiative fluxes, and large-scale weather changes. The group also took measurements of radiative fluxes to assess how the albedo and radiation budget varies over different sea ice surfaces during the Arctic summer. Source of support: NSF

An improved understanding of mesoscale wind and precipitation variability in the Ross Island region based on radar observations: This NSF RAPID project is using unique radar observations from the Ross Island region of Antarctica to study local (mesoscale) variability in winds and precipitation. These radar observations, from a year long field campaign, and from a summer season deployment of an operational weather radar, provide high time- and space-resolution observations of the atmosphere that offer unique perspectives on atmospheric features not available from the limited in-situ weather observation network in Antarctica. The Ross Island region is the hub for most United States activities in Antarctica and is also subject to intense mesoscale weather events such as damaging wind storms that impact US Antarctic operations. This project seeks to leverage radar observations to evaluate real-time weather forecasting models, and provide improved guidance on local variability in hazardous weather around McMurdo Station. Source of support: NSF

NASA Center for Advanced Measurements in Extreme Environments (CAMEE): The NASA MIRO Center for Advanced Measurements in Extreme Environments (CAMEE) is based at the University of Texas - San Antonio. Its vision is to build a sustainable source of diverse, highly trained researchers to enter the nation’s workforce in NASA fields of Earth system sciences, remote sensing technologies, computational fluid dynamics, and experimental fluid mechanics. CAMEE’s mission is to recruit, educate, and mentor a diverse group of undergraduate and graduate interdisciplinary students to become leaders in Earth system sciences, remote sensing technologies, computational fluid dynamics, and experimental fluid mechanics. The Cassano research group works with CAMEE partners that are studying the polar regions with the goal of improving our understanding of extreme atmospheric and oceanic processes with data-driven models using improved measurement techniques. Source of support: NASA


Ph.D., Atmospheric Science, University of Wyoming
M.S., Atmospheric and Oceanic Science, Univer
B.S., Earth Science, Montana State University