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Praveena Krishnan: ‘Love what you do, do what you love’

As a child, Praveena Krishnan, Ph.D., loved reading, and she carried home stacks of books from nearby libraries.

“I was very curious about the world and everything around me. I realized that my biggest interests were discoveries in science, especially physics. As a school girl, I aspired to be a scientist, even though I didn’t know about research processes at that time,” said Krishnan.

Praveena Krishnan: ‘Love what you do, do what you love’

As a child, Praveena Krishnan, Ph.D., loved reading, carried home stacks of books from nearby libraries, and aspired to be a scientist. Those aspirations came true as today she is an atmospheric scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Air Resources Laboratory’s Atmospheric Turbulence and Diffusion Division.

She is an atmospheric scientist specialized in atmospheric boundary layer dynamics. She currently works at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Air Resources Laboratory’s Atmospheric Turbulence and Diffusion Division (NOAA/ARL/ATDD) in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. She studies land surface-atmospheric interactions in the boundary layer, the lowest layer of the atmosphere—“the space where we live and breathe.”

Her research leads to a better understanding of the atmospheric exchange processes, and this in turn, leads to improving weather and climate models and predictions.

“Currently, I am involved with the analysis and synthesis of surface energy, water and carbon dioxide fluxes over different ecosystems that are part of NOAA/ARL’s Surface Energy Budget Network (SEBN),” said Krishnan. Recently, the research team’s study focused on land surface temperature measurement, a key variable in the determination of land surface energy exchange processes from local to global scales.

“We have conducted aerial flight campaigns to assess the spatial variability and representativeness of the ground-based land surface temperature measurements made at U.S. Climate Reference Network sites (USCRN). We have worked to improve the accuracy of satellite land surface temperature measurements,” she said. “Also, my work involves the analysis of aerial hyperspectral, LiDAR and thermal imaging from recent field campaigns, including the Land Atmosphere Feedback Experiment,” said Krishnan.

“Now, I am looking forward to a National Science Foundation-funded project, which is a collaborative research project on bridging the gap between local and regional methane and carbon dioxide fluxes in the Arctic using flux measurements in the boundary layer from multiple platforms,” she said.

“We know the northern latitudes are warming at almost twice the rate of the rest of the planet, leading to thinning and loss of Arctic sea ice and thawing of permafrost. These factors potentially lead to large increases in methane and carbon dioxide emissions, and they add to the atmospheric burden of greenhouse gases,” she explained.

“A better understanding of the biological and physical processes that control the emissions of carbon dioxide and methane at the local, landscape and regional scales today, and how they respond to rapidly changing climate conditions is needed to more accurately anticipate future climate-carbon feedback in the Earth system,” said Krishnan. The data products from this study can be used to develop forecasts necessary for local populations to comprehend and predict changes to their environment.

“I enjoy the intellectual freedom, multitasking dimension of the research,” said Krishnan. Her job also involves conducting experiments, collaborating, publishing and problem solving. “An experiment never runs 100 percent perfect, so we have to plan what to do in those instances and learn from these experiences,” she said.

A passion for science

Krishnan hails from Chavara South in the Kollam district of Kerala State in India. Her parents were school teachers, who encouraged her to pursue her interest in science and discovery. She studied physics and earned bachelor, master and doctoral degrees; and, as an honor graduate, she was awarded a research fellowship with the Indian Space Research Organization.

Next, Krishnan made the giant leap from her small village to a country on the other side of the world. She accepted a postdoctoral fellowship with the Biometeorology and Soil Physics Group, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada.

“This relocation was not easy for my parents, but their moral support was a source of encouragement and boosted my confidence,” said Krishnan. She followed up her fellowship with an appointment as a National Research Council-National Academy of Sciences research associate at NOAA/ARL/ATDD in Oak Ridge. She joined ORAU as a NOAA research participant in 2010, and then transitioned to atmospheric scientist two years later.

Learning every day

Krishnan and her husband, a chemist, share their love for learning with their two young children. Just like her parents supported her, Krishnan encourages the children’s reading, questioning and exploring of new ideas.

“The most important lesson is that the journey is more important and rewarding than the destination. ‘Love what you do, do what you love.’ This leads to pursuing a career with passion, focus, integrity, hard work, determination and dedication,” she said.

“I’m still a student. I enjoy learning every day.”