Investigating Climate Change One Mystery at a Time

Aug. 6, 2021

This profile is a part of our consortium profile series, highlighting the people that make up the SW CASC—what inspires them, makes them passionate about their research, and gives them hope for the future. For this profile, Bryson Mineart (SW CASC communications student assistant and undergraduate student in the University of Arizona Computer Science program) interviewed SW CASC co- principal investigator, Glen MacDonald, a professor at University of California, Los Angeles in the Department of Geography with a joint appointments in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, and the Institute of the Environment and Sustainability.

Glen MacDonald’s climate research stems from his love for solving mysteries and his joy of discovering the unknown. Glen finished his undergraduate degree in Geography at University of California, Berkley and went on to get his masters in the same field at the University of Calgary. Glen finished his education with a Ph.D. in Botany from the University of Toronto with a minor in Geology. Glen’s research focuses on issues of long-term climatic and environmental change and the impacts of such changes on ecosystems, fire, natural resources, and human societies.

Glen MacDonald headshot

Glen did not get in to the climate field immediately. During his undergraduate degree, Glen was interested in art and history, but he quickly found that he did not have the skill in graphical art that his fellow students had. Pursuing natural resource management, Glen ended up taking an elective course in geography that concentrated on the impact humans were having on the environment. This course, combined with his love for history and his enjoyment for nature resulted in him changing majors to geography, one that focused more on climate and environmental change research. During his Ph.D. degree, Glen combined his geography knowledge with botany, where he was able to use his love for history and investigate past natural climatic variations and their impacts. Now he looks at both natural and human-caused drivers of climate change in his research.

Throughout his career, Glen has worked with a variety of natural resource managers from different agencies and organizations. He has worked with USGS and the National Park Service, mostly in Southern California. Glen has also worked on various US Forest Service lands in California and Utah. Glen has also worked on US Navy lands. Some US Navy bases are in coastal wetlands which allows for the land to be protected and accessed for research. Bases such as at Seal Beach have wildlife research facilities staffed by US Fish and Wildlife personnel that allow staff members to conduct important conservation research.

Glen’s passion for solving puzzles is what drives his passion for his research. A part of his mind is always focused on filling in the blanks, whether he is working in his office or out in the field. Glen hopes that the work he and his colleagues are doing is really making a difference for the environment and humanity, which is also a driving factor for his research. Aside from his own personal work, Glen wants to motivate his students for successful futures in climate conservation, and to develop the teamwork needed for the betterment of the planet and the species that reside here.

When thinking about the future under climate change, Glen remains confident in the resiliency of nature, as well as the growth in knowledge by the public concerning climate change. Regardless of an education relating to the environment, more and more information is being made available for the public to see the real impacts that humans are having on the environment. Glen sees this increase in knowledge as a growing hope for the planet and as an increase in the likelihood for mutual action to take place. Additionally, Glen knows that nature has great potential to persist because of its resiliency--there may be change, but it will still live on.