De-Zheng Sun, Senior Research Scientist, University of Colorado/Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences & NOAA/Earth System Research Laboratory
De-Zheng Sun, Ph.D.
Senior Research Scientist

Short Bio

Dr. De-Zheng Sun is a Senior Research Scientist at the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences ( CIRES), University of Colorado, a cooperative institute between the University and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration ( NOAA). His specialty is climate dynamics, a discipline in climate sciences that studies the changes in the state of the climate system from the first principles--the Newton's laws of motion and the laws of thermodynamics. The goal of his research is to understand the stability of the climate system under anthropogenic forcing, addressing questions such as whether we will have stronger and more frequent El Niño events1, or whether the whole planet may undergo a Venus-style, run-away instability in response to anthropogenic forcing2. Dr. Sun approaches these questions through the use of a hierarchy of mathematical models for the climate system.

Dr. Sun and his collaborators pioneered the study of the role of El Niño events in the long-term heat balance of the tropical Pacific, delineated the relationship between the magnitude of El Niño events and the meridional differential heating, quantified the rectification effect of El Niño events into the mean climate using a range of models, and advanced the understanding of the role of ocean-atmosphere coupling in general and El Niño events in particular in regulating the tropical maximum Sea Surface Temperature. He is currently developing a theory that can predict the response of El Niño events to the rise of CO2 and other man-made greeenghouse gases in the atmosphere. He is also developing a nonlinear theory for climate change on the decadal and longer time-scales based on the findings about the rectification of El Niño events.

Dr. Sun's work involves evaluating the fidelity of the state-of-the-art climate models to Nature and collaborating with modellers at the National Center for Atmospheric Research and NOAA's Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory to remove model deficiencies--those deficiencies in clouds, water vapor, and rainfall in particular. Dr. Sun is also engaged in an collaborative effort with climate forecasters at the National Center For Enviornemntal Predicitons (NCEP) to improve climate forecasts--the forecasts of El Niño in particular-- through the NCEP climate forecast system. (For a more complete description of the line of work by Dr. Sun and his collaborators, click here). Dr. Sun has published his work in Science, J. Climate, and other prominent journals.

Dr. Sun received his Ph.D. in Meteorology from MIT and had worked in the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory of Princeton University and the Global and Climate Dynamics Division of National Center for Atmospheric Research before joining CIRES. He has taught both undergraduate and graduate courses in climate change sciences in University of Colorado at Boulder. In collaborations with colleagues, he has produced a monograph "Climate Dynamics: Why Does Climate Vary?" published by American Geophysical Union, in order to underscore the role of dynamics and nonlinearity in climate change. Dr.Sun also concerns the public education about climate change and has talked to the media frequently on this subject. (For the 2010 interview with Collin Schults of AGU in which he warns of the potential danger of presenting to the public an overly simplified scenario for global warming--a monotonic increase in the global mean temperature in response to the rise of CO2, click here).


  • Ph.D., Meteorology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, September 1992.
  • M.S., Physical Oceanography, Academia Sinica, Beijing, China, July 1987.
  • B.S., Meteorology, Nanjing University, Nanjing, China, July 1985.

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