You Want to Leave a Legacy Where You Have Had an Impact

Donald Wuebbles

Professor, Atmospheric Science

Donald Wuebbles

Addressing a Societal Problem to Contribute to the Public Good

Wuebbles pushes the state of science. Overall, he has been interested in issues that impact the planet and the people on our planet. As a result, his research has prompted him to consider how to take science to the next level–to understand how his science relates to the human condition. Put simply, what does science mean to people and how can people make the right decisions?

As a graduate student, Wuebbles was interested in the ozone layer. In 1974, he worked with Nobel Prize in Chemistry winners Paul Crutzen, Mario Molina and F. Sherwood Rowland on the ozone. While working full-time and pursuing his doctoral degree, Wuebbles was invited to give a presentation to the Environmental Protection Agency. There, an attorney asked him to boil down the technical jargon into a simple number that most people can understand. On the plane ride home, Wuebbles worked out a model to result in one number that would reflect ozone depletion. This number has subsequently been used to inform policies including the Clean Air Act.

In 1989, Wuebbles was invited to chair the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Because of his work identifying a single number in relation to the ozone layer, he was asked to spearhead the assessment for the IPPC to create a single number to indicate global warming potentials. This number has been incorporated into the Paris Climate Agreement.

Mutually Beneficial Exchange of Knowledge and Resources

When working with others, Wuebbles says there is no hidden agenda. Rather, each individual identifies their own needs and concerns and tries to work collaboratively. This way, they get further in identifying solutions to tremendous problems in climate change. Through coordination with others, Wuebbles is able to achieve great things.

Collaboration with Communities or Organizations

Wuebbles works with several communities and organizations for his research. For example, with funding from a foundation, he is working on identifying nature-based solutions in Chicago neighborhoods, working with the water district in sharing data and understanding how that data can help inform their decisions. He is also working with the mayor’s office to share their findings. When working with varied stakeholders, Wuebbles avoids using technical language in order to ensure the science is accessible to everyone. By meeting and partnering with communities and organizations, Wuebbles advances his research to help people understand and get to solutions for climate change.


Wuebbles has had several global impacts on climate change that will impact the current generation and the generations to come. When asked about his favorite impact, Wuebbles answered, “relationships.” As a graduate student, he was told that he should educate the people who would eventually replace him. He is proud of helping develop the next generation of leaders in the field. To date, his past students include the head of Atmospheric Sciences at Peking University in China and a leader at National Aeronautics and Space Administration . His past students also include The Nature Conservancy’s chief scientist, Katharine Hayhoe.



Wuebbles has all of the traditional outputs relevant to the sciences. He has authored more than 500 peer-reviewed publications. He has presented his research at national and international peer-reviewed conferences. He has received funding from several federal agencies including the Department of Energy, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the Federal Aviation Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency as well as from companies and foundations.


Wuebbles has several non-traditional outputs. For example, he has conducted hundreds of presentations to non-scientists including companies and organizations. For example, he has given several presentations to the Great Lakes Joint Commission to help inform U.S.-Canadian Policy in relation to the Great Lakes. He also worked in the White House for two years during the Obama administration to help inform their climate change agenda. There, he established new committees (which are ongoing) as well as wrote daily memos about climate change for President Obama.

Additional Resources

To learn more about Wuebbles’ publicly engaged research, visit the links below.