Anja Schmidt

2022 United Kingdom Award Finalist — Faculty

Anja Schmidt

Current Position:

University of Cambridge

Physical Sciences & Engineering

Recognized for:  Developing and applying state-of-the-art climate models that revolutionized our understanding of the role of volcanic eruptions in climate and air quality. Her findings have informed the world’s most authoritative and comprehensive assessment reports by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and generated significant impact on policy in hazard mitigation and health.

Anja Schmidt

Areas of Research Interest and Expertise: Climate Modelling, Volcanology, Aerosol Chemistry, Geohazard Mitigation and Health

Previous Positions: 

Diplom, University of Leipzig, Germany
PhD and Post-doctoral Researcher, University of Leeds
Academic Research Fellow, University of Leeds

Research Summary:

Anja Schmidt, PhD, has transformed our understanding of the role of volcanic eruptions in climate and air quality, and as a geo-hazard. Her work has made a significant impact on hazard mitigation and health policies. Volcanic eruptions emit sulfur dioxide (SO2) gas. In the atmosphere, SO2 is oxidized to form tiny, aerosolized particles of sulfate. They are very effective at scattering incoming solar radiation back into space, cooling Earth’s surface.

Schmidt has developed state-of-the-art climate models that yield a holistic view of surface cooling by volcanic emissions. Before her work, climate models often relied on simple assumptions about the properties of aerosol particles. Schmidt eliminated those assumptions in her models and replaced them with new scientific knowledge and observational data from volcanology, atmospheric science, and aerosol chemistry. This improvement has yielded many important discoveries. For example, she found that previous models overestimated the surface cooling from large volcanic eruptions, leading to inaccurate assessment on climate variability. Her models not only rectified this decade-long issue, but also demonstrated the significant climatic impacts of aerosol particles from small but frequent volcanic eruptions. Their contribution to surface cooling was often neglected by previous research, but has now become common sense in climate science thanks to Schmidt’s effort. Her results have informed the world’s most authoritative and comprehensive assessments of the risks to climate change, such as the 5th and 6th Assessment Reports by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. 

Schmidt has also made substantial contributions in evaluating the health effects of volcanic aerosol pollution. In 2011, she was the first to show that a large volcanic eruption in Iceland could results in a massive number of premature deaths in Europe. Since 2012, she has been a member of the UK Government Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, influencing governmental policies on monitoring and preventing volcanic risks.

“Climate models play a key role in understanding climate change. I am grateful that my work at the interface between atmospheric science and volcanology is being recognised with this award, which will help further our understanding of the impacts of volcanic eruptions on climate and society.”

Key Publications:

  1. S. Solomon, D.J. Ivy, D. Kinnison, M.J. Mills, R.R. Neely, and A. Schmidt. Emergence of Healing in the Antarctic Ozone Layer. Science, 2016.
  2. M.J. Mills, A. Schmidt, R. Easter, S. Solomon, D.E. Kinnison, S.J. Ghan, R.R. Neely, D.R. Marsh, A. Conley, C.G. Bardeen, A. Gettelman. Global Volcanic Aerosol Properties Derived from Emissions, 1990–2014, Using CESM1(WACCM). Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres, 2016.
  3. Schmidt, et al. Volcanic Radiative Forcing from 1979 to 2015. Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres, 2018.
  4. H.K. Carlsen, E. Ilyinskaya, P.J. Baxter, A. Schmidt, et al. Increased Respiratory Morbidity Associated with Exposure to A Mature Volcanic Plume from A Large Icelandic Fissure Eruption. Nature Communications, 2021.

Other Honors:

2021James B. Macelwane Medal, American Geophysical Union
2019Outstanding Publication Award, University Corporation for Atmospheric Research
2018Arne Richter Award for Outstanding Early Career Scientists, European Geosciences Union
2016William Smith Fund, The Geological Society of London
2016Women of Achievement, University of Leeds
2015George Walker Award, International Association of Volcanology and Chemistry of the Earth’s Interior


In the Media: 

Yahoo NewsLa Palma Eruption: Are Volcanoes Good or Bad for Climate Change?

ForbesStudy Shows How Humanity Survived The Toba Supervolcano Eruption

CosmosHow will Climate Change Influence Volcanoes?

Iceland ReviewNew Study Gives Insight into Effects of 1783 Laki Eruption

The Independent Dinosaurs Were almost Certainly Not Wiped out by Volcanoes, Scientists Say, Leaving Meteor as Most Likely Killer

WiredFuture Iceland Eruptions Could Be Deadly for Europe

BBC NewsVolcanic Climate Change? Not Likely, Say Experts