Remembering Minn. climatologist Donald Baker

Dr. Donald Baker explaining how to make a daily weather observation to Governor Arne Carlson at the University of Minnesota Climate Observatory on Earth Day, 1992. Courtesy Mark Seeley
  1. Listen Cathy Wurzer speaks with Mark Seeley about Donald Baker

    Mar 14, 2014

Donald Baker, a climatologist at the University of Minnesota, passed away earlier this week at age 90.

Baker brought me to Minnesota in the 1970s and mentored me early in my career at the University of Minnesota. He was a dear friend and colleague who many looked up to. A 2005 MPR News story portrayed him as one with few equals:

Very few other people in the world — and no one else in Minnesota — was measuring soil temperatures dozens of feet below the ground when Don Baker began recording them in 1960.

“In the particular line of research he has undertaken, he’s a real pioneer,” says University of Michigan geophysics professor Henry Pollack, a world-renowned climate change scientist. He has cited Baker’s soil temperature readings as evidence for global warming.

During his 37-year career at the University of Minnesota, Baker completed the most comprehensive and ongoing cataloging of Minnesota’s weather. His series of 16 publications on the climate of Minnesota are the most cited climate publications in the state.

In addition, he established the Climatology Observatory on the St. Paul Campus in 1960. It continues to provide comprehensive data and has been particularly valuable for the interpretation of climate trends and climate change in our region.

Baker’s climate studies and assessments have been used widely in a number of state and national programs. His 1984 study of wind energy potential helped set policy and guide wind energy development in the state. Former Gov. Rudy Perpich was awarded him a Governor’s Certificate of Recognition for the work. Minnesota is among the nation’s leaders in wind energy production, along with Texas and California.

Baker had an illustrious professional career and was widely known and respected. He was a role model to many, not just for his science and teaching, but also for his courtesy and dignified manner, which the Star-Tribune captured in its obituary:

Baker’s grandparents owned farmland in Iowa, and he developed his interest in soils on visits to the farm in his youth. He continued to visit often and make decisions on farm operations in recent years, William Baker said.

William Baker also confirmed that his father wore a tie around the house on Saturdays, and at least once mowed the lawn wearing one.

“He was the most dignified and graceful man I ever met,” said state climatologist Greg Spoden. “He was everything you’d expect from a professor.”

He was a fellow of the American Society of Agronomy, the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

In 2005, the University of Minnesota honored him with its Outstanding Lifetime Achievement Award.

I will miss him.