Marilyn Raphael

Marilyn Raphael, professor of geography, is the new interim director of UCLA Institute of the Environment and Sustainability.

Raphael is an expert in climate change, sea ice variability and atmospheric dynamics around Antarctica — including the Amundsen Sea Low, a low pressure system named after the first explorer to reach the South Pole. The Amundsen Sea Low has a major influence on the weather, climate and sea ice of the region, Raphael said, affecting wildlife from microscopic algae to penguins, which use the ice as a jumping-off point in their search for food.

Raphael has authored more than 60 academic papers, many of them highly cited. She co-authored “The Encyclopedia of Weather and Climate Change: A Complete Visual Guide,” which received the Most Popular Book award from Atmospheric Science Librarians International.

Antarctica and Los Angeles, geographically and weather-wise, are a long way from where Raphael began her journey.

“I’ve always been interested in the weather and climate,” she said. “I grew up in the Caribbean, where the weather is really important and dictates your life.”

Raphael has been at UCLA since the 1990s and has been part of the Institute of the Environment and Sustainability since its formation more than 20 years ago. Raphael holds, and has held, leadership positions in global science and research organizations, including service as chair of the UCLA Department of Geography from 2010 through 2013. In 2017, she was named to the Royal Society’s Women in Science List of 90 Women and was one of the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research’s Women in Antarctic Science.

Raphael will fill the shoes of outgoing director Peter Kareiva, who led the institute through expansion — adding faculty, launching a Ph.D. in environment and sustainability, and partnering with outside organizations to take on issues ranging from high school environmental education to marine stewardship by island nations. Raphael hopes to build on past successes while fostering stronger connections throughout the institute, which includes faculty from various disciplines, including public policy, life and earth sciences, arts and humanities, and public health.

The spread of the coronavirus is one profound example of how interconnected the world is locally, nationally and internationally, Raphael said.

“The Institute of the Environment and Sustainability represents that interconnectedness and has the potential to help understand it and use it for the benefit of the environment,” she said.

Dean of the division of physical sciences, Miguel García-Garibay, who announced Raphael’s acceptance of the position, said she brings extensive experience to the job.

“Professor Raphael is a brilliant environmental scientist and an experienced faculty leader,” García-Garibay said. “She is ideally positioned to bring together the most diverse and talented community of faculty, students and staff to address and solve the most challenging environmental and social justice challenges of our times.”


Image by Ashley Kruythoff/UCLA.