Atmospheric scientist Jeff Stehr is one of two program managers at the Atmospheric System Research (ASR) program, which resides in the Office of Biological and Environmental Research (BER) at the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).
He and ASR colleague Shaima Nasiri manage a portfolio of university and national laboratory research projects. The focus is on investigations of the interacting atmospheric processes that steer global weather and climate: aerosols, clouds, precipitation, radiation, process dynamics, and thermodynamics.
ASR’s mission is to help researchers leverage observational studies and novel data analyses to reduce uncertainties in models.
Stehr joined ASR as a program manager in November 2019. The prospect of the job, he says, put him “over the moon” because it meant having a role in the kind of atmospheric science that drives climate models and policy.
As part of his ASR role, Stehr helped lead DOE’s Artificial Intelligence for Earth System Predictability (AI4ESP) initiative. That included a 10-session series of workshops on using AI in climate models, data analysis, and experimental design. He also brought DOE’s Wind Energy Program together with wildfire and water researchers at NASA and DOE national laboratories. In addition, Stehr co-manages a topic in Atmospheric Measurement Technology for DOE’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program.
Starting in 2022, Stehr led a networking effort to recruit grant reviewers from historically black colleges and universities (HBCU) and other institutions that serve minorities. In a related effort, he is overseeing a 2023 BER funding opportunity announcement (FOA) for Climate Resilience Centers. The centers are designed to connect DOE climate resources with HBCUs, minority-serving institutions, and emerging research institutions interested in investigating and improving regional climate resilience.
Just before taking the DOE position, Stehr spent six years as a senior lead scientist at a Virginia-based consulting company, Booz Allen Hamilton. He was tasked to support NASA headquarters in Washington, D.C., where he worked in multiple roles across the Earth Science Division, especially in the Applied Sciences Program. As part of this work, he built NASA’s first Satellite Needs Assessment Team. That’s where he met ASR program manager Shaima Nasiri, who was representing DOE.
He also helped support NASA’s Heliophysics Division by providing communications, technical and administrative support. The division studies the sun’s extended environment, including magnetic storms, space weather, and solar eclipses.
From 1996 to 2013, Stehr had a series of academic roles at the University of Maryland, College Park. Among other things, he recruited and advised the first 50 atmospheric science undergraduate majors, helped launch the atmospheric science major, modeled local air pollution, and led and upgraded the university’s airborne atmospheric research program. He also served as an expert witness, advocated for science on Capitol Hill, and worked as a science communicator―including for three National Geographic Channel television specials.
Along the way, Stehr acquired expertise in many experimental techniques. Those include infrared and visible laser systems, detectors for atmospheric chemistry, mass spectrometers, particle detectors, and scintillation counters, which record ionizing radiation. He also wrote the science documentation for the State of Maryland’s ozone and fine particle implementation plans, which for the first time, brought the state into compliance with the Clean Air Act.
Stehr studied physics at the University of Michigan (B.S. 1989), where he wrote his undergraduate thesis on distilling sodium-22 as a positron source. But at the University of Minnesota (PhD 1995), he set aside work on fundamental particles to study atmospheric science, something he calls “more socially and Earth-preservation relevant.”
Outside ASR, Stehr teaches weather and climate classes to master naturalists in Maryland and Virginia. He also occasionally performs improv and stand-up comedy.
“Improv gives you fearlessness,” says Stehr, and complements the creativity science demands. “It gives you listening ability. It teaches you the art of really good questions.”