Tom Burnet, PhD

2011_Durham Watershed Improvement Plans.jpg

Trained as a civil engineer and scientist, for 30 years Tom has been designing solutions that bridge the interface between the human and natural worlds. Combining the best scientific information and engineering principles, Tom offers environmental intelligence that uses the most accurate information and appropriate analysis while balancing the need for practical solutions.

In graduate school Tom studied complex systems theory by comparing field data to computer models of aeolian, fluvial and coastal geomorphological systems. A key characteristic of these systems is the self-organization of their physical and dynamic properties through internal feedbacks. This so-called emergent behavior is pervasive in the human and natural systems and is an important factor for designing appropriate and sustainable solutions for clients.

After graduate school Tom focused on small scale projects that directly impacted landowners via non-profits and governmental agencies. In Burkina Faso, West Africa he collected and analyzed field data that led to the revision in dam siting protocol for that agency. In Western North Carolina he directed the funding, management and technical oversight of a water quality project in a water supply watershed. In both locations sensitivity to local cultural context played an important role in selecting appropriate engineering solutions.

Later Tom increased the scale and scope of his work serving as a hydrologist of a weather company. His main role was as lead hydrologist for the Romanian DESWAT project that modernized the country’s flood forecasting system with 4 real-time flood models integrated with real-time weather inputs and a variety of mapping display outputs. Tom focused on many aspects of the project including data discovery, data integration, scientific liaison, model calibration, mapping integration, system testing and customer training.

Most recently Tom worked with climate scientists to revise existing and create new climate datasets used to assess climate change at the national and global scales. Tom created the code to create daily snapshots of the continental US temperature and precipitation for 1951 to present, He further parsed this dataset into regional areas such as counties and census tracts to that other analysts can readily use the data for their own needs. Tom used these datasets to observe how El Nino oscillations can produce distinct regional patterns in climate trends.