James O'Donnell

CIRCA Executive Director, Professor

Connecticut Institute for Resilience and Climate Adaptation | Department of Marine Sciences

Expertise: Physical Oceanography, Numerical Modeling, Fluid Dynamics, Coastal Ocean Observations, Surge and Sea Level Rise

Jim O’Donnell is a physical oceanographer. He earned a BSc. (Hons) in Applied Physics from Strathclyde University in Scotland, and a M.S. and Ph.D. in Oceanography from the University of Delaware where he worked with Professor R. W. Garvine. After serving as Postdoctoral Research Associate with Prof. P. Linden in the Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics at Cambridge University, England, he joined the faculty of the University of Connecticut in 1987. In 1999 he was promoted to the rank of Professor and served as interim Head of the Department of Marine Sciences and Director of the Marine Science and Technology Center from 2002 to 2005. He was elected to the Connecticut Academy of Science and Engineering in 2009 and recently appointed to be Executive Director of the Connecticut Institute for Resilience and Climate Adaptation (CIRCA). Professor O’Donnell’s research focuses on understanding the physical processes that determine the circulation and transport of materials in the coastal ocean. With students and research associates, he is currently involved in both the construction and testing of models and the development of technology to make observations. He is also interested in fundamental geophysical and environmental fluid dynamics and the application of mathematical and statistical methods to the development of models of biogeochemical processes.

In the last decade Prof. O’Donnell has been involved in the development of a permanent ocean observing system in Long Island Sound and the adjacent shelf. This multi-use infrastructure informs environmental managers and, the general public, as well as providing new scientific insights. The availability of this type of data has provoked new applications and Prof. O’Donnell has collaborated with the U.S. Coast Guard to develop an improved drift prediction system for the search and rescue applications. He has served as a Director of both the North East Regional Association of Coastal Ocean Observing Systems and the Middle Atlantic Coastal Ocean Observing Regional Association. He has been appointed as one of Connecticut’s representatives to the Bi-State Commission on Long Island Sound and a Governor’s appointee to the Council on Environmental Quality.

As Executive Director of CIRCA, he is responsible for bringing together the world class research and outreach capabilities of the University of Connecticut and the extensive practical experience of the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection to create and disseminate practical and sustainable strategies to enhance the resilience of the built environment while protecting natural ecosystems in Connecticut and the northeast.

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