Our Guest: Jonathan L. Baker

Jonathan L. Baker


Fulbright Visiting Professor at the University of Innsbruck
May - August 2022

Home university / Country
Xi’an Jiaotong University / China

Postdoctoral Research Fellow and Fulbright Scholar grantee in paleoclimatology and isotope geochemistry

Research areas
Chronology, climate dynamics, climate variability, proxy development

Guest of 
Christoph Spötl

Department of Geology

 "I am fascinated by and incredibly grateful for the way that scientific work has connected me to so many people and places around the world."


I am visiting the University of Innsbruck because… / At the University of Innsbruck I will...

In 2020, I received a Fulbright Scholar grant to research the climatic history of continental Eurasia. After nearly two years, I was finally approved to join my colleagues here at the Innsbruck Quaternary Research Group. The laboratory facilities at UIBK are specially suited to recover intricate details about atmospheric processes and surface conditions from chemical signals within cave formations, such as stalagmites, which was the focus of my doctoral studies in Las Vegas, Nevada (USA). I am specifically interested in how previous perturbations to the Atlantic and Arctic oceans influenced climate deep within continental Eurasia. For this, I have collected cave samples from the Black Sea coasts to central Siberia. Although we have no direct analogs for modern climate change, a thorough understanding of the dynamics and interconnectedness of Earth systems is integral to robust forecasting.


Innsbruck for me is...

My first immersion into life in Europe, and I could not have chosen a more beautiful place. Even my daily walks to/from the bus station are full of stunning views, peaceful landscapes, and friendly neighbours – something I could never say in the US. Whenever I have breaks from my research, I have done my best to explore the city and surrounding nature, as well as to connect with the local community. From museums, to hikes, to casual visits to a new cafe, I consider my visit an opportunity to expand my perspective of the world. As a geologist who studies glacial cycles, I am further taken by the endless peaks and valleys of Tirol. My new backyard is the greatest classroom, and I am thrilled to attend.


What surprised me about Innsbruck was...

I am happy to say that most of my positive expectations for Innsbruck (and Austria in general) were met, from its sporty atmosphere to the historic architecture and well-designed transport infrastructure to the conveniences of daily life. For me, the most difficult and surprising adjustment has been that most shops and restaurants close by 7 PM, on Sundays, or even from 3-5 in the afternoon. Of course I anticipated a large contrast from the truly "24/7" lifestyle of cities where I had recently lived (Las Vegas, St. Petersburg, and Xi’an), and I sincerely appreciate the work-life balance offered in Austria, but I was admittedly caught off guard several times: “What do you mean I can’t buy groceries after midnight?”. Thusly, Innsbruck has taught me how to relax and enjoy life.


What fascinates me about scientific work is...

The endless stream of questions generated by every answer. When you begin to feel like ‘the more I learn, the less I know’, then you’re finally making progress! I am also fascinated by and incredibly grateful for the way that scientific work has connected me to so many people and places around the world. More than a decade ago, I drafted a proposal to study one cave in the Ural Mountains of Russia. This work generated a dozen more hypotheses and investigations of 20+ sites across Eurasia—in other words, more than I could personally keep up with. Fortunately for me, there is a global community of researchers who share the same eagerness to recover our climatic past to prepare better for an otherwise dangerously uncertain future.

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