Dr. Jorge Gonzalez-Cruz is a Professor of Empire Innovation at the University at Albany’s Atmospheric Sciences Research Center (ASRC). At UAlbany, he teaches and conducts research – funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) – in urban weather and climate, energy sustainability, remote sensing, and regional climate modeling and analysis.

The nature of Dr. Gonzalez-Cruz’s work is interdisciplinary and ever-evolving. Climate-related risk management encompasses everything from fundamental science to applications, and engineering to social impact. The evolving research field around it has been supported by federal agency funding – without which, would make it difficult for cities and local entities to support sustained research.

Dr. Gonzalez-Cruz began his path in science studying mechanical engineering, earning his Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees from the University of Puerto Rico-Mayagüez and his Doctorate from the Georgia Institute of Technology. During his studies, Dr. Gonzalez-Cruz’s research focused on clouds and aerosols. He wanted to apply that knowledge in a practical aspect. The intersection between engineering and environmental sciences came naturally, spanning from atmospheric sciences to energy.

The fundamental work that Dr. Gonzalez-Cruz has done in the atmospheric sciences has wide-reaching implications. Cities’ evolution has had an increasing impact on the environment as urbanization and land use changes affect regional atmospheric conditions. He holds several patents in solar energy equipment, aerosol detection, and energy forecasting for buildings, and was recognized as a prominent young researcher by the NSF with a prestigious CAREER Award. His research has attracted more than $40 million in external funding, and he has co-authored more than 100 peer-reviewed papers.

As Dr. Gonzalez-Cruz’s career has evolved, so has the landscape for federal funding: the climate has changed, physically and politically. Some administrations have been more open to more explorative research, while others are more pragmatic, focusing on more immediate issues impacting society today. When it comes to deciding how resources are used, there’s a fine line to walk between adjusting to the needs and priorities of stakeholders without compromising the ultimate agenda. Accordingly, Dr. Gonzalez-Cruz – and researchers across the country – have needed to modify their approach.

Recently, Dr. Gonzalez-Cruz has been asking more questions about the interactions of changing landscape and changing climate. He likes to share an agenda of challenges with his students and colleagues to start conversations, asking, “What are we missing here? How can we improve our approach to be more impactful?”

When extreme climate events occur, the most affected are often vulnerable, low-income communities, who have a limited ability to bounce back after disaster. It’s critical to have voices from these very communities in STEM fields to gain a better understanding of problem at hand, how to better target solutions, and tailor them to local needs. Dr. Gonzalez-Cruz believes that new researchers will enter the field of environmental and atmospheric sciences to help their communities – and the more scientists and teachers to help train them, the more students from younger generations will follow.

Science is not only an abstract field – its applications and impacts take place at the community and personal level. Looking ahead, Dr. Gonzalez-Cruz hopes that we have enough scientists and research to be able to anticipate risk with enough time so we can take action to prevent harm. It’s critical to plan ahead – not only to avoid tipping points, but also to create opportunities to keep people safe and prevent economic harm.

Dr. Gonzalez-Cruz is researching the impacts of Hurricane Maria on Puerto Rico’s energy grid. As he continues to investigate how our activities influence our environment, and our environment affects us in turn, he says, “I’m always thinking about the next problem,” to build communities’ resilience to extreme weather.