Sarah Doherty

Sarah J. Doherty

  • Senior Research Scientist
  • Program Manager, MCB Project
  • Affiliate Associate Professor, Department of Atmospheric Sciences
  • Education:
    • BA in Physics from Colby College in Waterville, Maine
, 1988
    • MS in Atmospheric Sciences from the University of Washington, 1998
    • PhD in Atmospheric Sciences from the University of Washington, 2001
  • Email:
  • Phone:
    • 206-543-6674
  • Location:
    • UW Wallace Hall

Through her graduate and post-graduate studies Sarah has been very actively involved in research on atmospheric aerosols. Aerosols are small particles suspended in the atmosphere that interact with sunlight, thereby reducing the amount of sunlight that reaches the surface of the earth and, when the particles are dark (i.e. gray, brown or black), heating the atmosphere. These particles can also affect climate by interacting with clouds, changing their reflectivity, likelihood of precipitating, and how long the clouds last. Sarah’s research has mostly focused on field measurements of aerosols and associated instrument work. She holds a patent on a specialized instrument she developed to measure aerosol optical properties as part of her PhD work. In addition to direct research, she has a strong interest in science management. For seven years (2003-2010) Sarah was the Executive Officer of the International Global Atmospheric Chemistry Project where she combined her research efforts with organizing multi-national science initiatives, workshops and conferences.

As a graduate student and postdoctoral fellow Sarah participated in field campaigns (SEAS, LINC, INDOEX, ACE-Asia) measuring aerosol optical properties, with the goal of quantifying how light scattering and absorption by aerosols affect climate. Her work then focused in specifically on the effects of black carbon (soot) aerosols on climate. With colleagues at UW, she helped develop an instrument to quantify light-absorbing particles from snow samples, then the team did a survey of black carbon in snow that spanned the Arctic, northern China and central North America. The resulting data set is being used to test and improve climate model estimates of the impact of black carbon on climate.

Responding to a request from the policy community for a better estimate of black carbon effects on climate, Sarah co-lead a multi-national paper on “Bounding the role of black carbon in climate: A scientific assessment”, which has now been cited more than 2,000 times in the scientific literature. She was also a lead author on the 2017 U.S. Climate Science Special Report: Fourth National Climate Assessment, Volume I, and was the Assessment Coordinator for the 2018 Scientific Assessment of Ozone Depletion.

Sarah recently returned to her roots in field measurements of atmospheric aerosols, participating in the five-year NASA ORACLES project. The goal of ORACLES is to quantify how biomass burning aerosol from agricultural fires across south-central Africa affect climate, both through direct scattering and absorption and by affecting clouds over the southeast Atlantic Ocean.

Since 2018, Sarah has been the Program Manager for the Marine Cloud Brightening Project, which is is a consortium of teams from UW, Xero’s Palo Alto Research Center (PARC), DOE’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) and SilverLining. The goal of the MCB Project is to determine whether the addition of sea salt particles to low marine clouds could be used as an effective climate intervention mechanism to mitigate climate warming. The science questions involved with answering this are many of the same questions that need to be addressed in order to understand how inadvertent emissions of aerosols from human activities are already affecting climate. The team is simultaneously addressing the engineering, modeling and observational-design efforts needed to carry out this research.

Current Research Projects

  • Program Manager, Marine Cloud Brightening Project (with Prof. Robert Wood, UW Dept of Atmospheric Sciences; Prof. Tom Ackerman, Emeritus Faculty Dept. of Atmospheric Sciences & former JISAO Chairman)
  • Team member, NASA-ORACLES field project (with Prof. Robert Wood, UW Dept. of Atmospheric Sciences)

Selected publications

WMO (World Meteorological Organization), Scientific Assessment of Ozone Depletion: 2018, Global Ozone Research and Monitoring Project — Report No. 58, 588 pp., Geneva, Switzerland, 2018. {Editor: S. J. Doherty}

Fahey, D.W., S. Doherty, K.A. Hibbard, A. Romanou, and P.C. Taylor: Physical drivers of climate change. In: Climate Science Special Report: Fourth National Climate Assessment, Volume I [Wuebbles, D.J., D.W. Fahey, K.A. Hibbard, D.J. Dokken, B.C. Stewart, and T.K. Maycock (eds.)]. U.S. Global Change Research Program, Washington, DC, USA, pp. 73-113, doi:10.7930/J0513WCR, 2017.

Doherty, S. J., M. Steele, I. Rigor and S. G. Warren, Interannual variations of light-absorbing particles in snow on Arctic sea ice, J. Geophys.Res. Atmos., 120, doi:10.1002/2015JD024018, 2015.

Bond, T. C., S. J. Doherty, D. W. Fahey, P. M. Forster, et al., Bounding the Role of Black Carbon in Climate: A scientific assessment, J. Geophys. Res., 118 (11),5380-5552, doi:10.1002/jgrd.50171, 2013.

Doherty, S. J., S. G. Warren, T. C. Grenfell, A. D. Clarke, R. Brandt, Light-absorbing impurities in Arctic snow, Atmos. Chem. Phys., 10, 11647-11680, doi:10.5294/acp-10-11647-2010, 2010.

Doherty, S. J., S. Bojinski, A. Henderson-Sellers, K. Noone, D. Goodrich, N. L. Bindoff, J. A. Church, K. A. Hibbard, T. R. Karl, L. Kajfez-Bogataj, A. H. Lynch, D. E. Parker, I. C. Prentice, V. Ramaswamy, R. W. Saunders, A. J. Simmons, M. Stafford Smith, K. Steffen, T. F. Stocker, P. W. Thorne, K. E. Trenberth, M. M. Verstraete, F. W. Zwiers, Lessons learned from IPCC AR4: Future scientific developments needed to understand, predict and respond to climate change, Bull. Amer. Met. Soc., 90(4), 497–513, 2009.