Mika Tosca

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Mika Tosca
Scientist Mika Tosca standing with hands in pockets. Mika Tosca.jpg
💼 Occupation
Assistant professor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago
Climate Science, Biomass Burning, Aerosol-Cloud Interactions, Landscape Fire, Aerosol Effects
TitleAssociate professor
🏅 AwardsGraduate fellowship at NASA (2008)

Mika Tosca is a climate scientist and faculty member at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.[1] Her current research focuses on how artists can help communicate climate science more effectively to address climate change. Tosca also contributes to science communication, including through science-art initiatives, and she is an advocate for Trans people in STEM, academia, and the media.


In 2006, Tosca earned a BS in Mathematics-Statistics from the University of Connecticut.[1][2] In 2008, she received the NASA Earth and Space Graduate Fellowship (NESSF).[3][4] While completing the fellowship, Tosca earned an MS in Earth System Science from the University of California at Irvine (UCI).[1] She then completed a PhD in Earth System Science at UCI with Drs. Charlie Zender and James Randerson in 2012.[1] The fellowship funded the research that Tosca pursued during her MS and PhD programs. NASA also funded Tosca's postdoctoral research.[5]

Career and research[edit]

During her PhD program, Tosca researched how the climate system is interconnected to landscape wildfires, and studied aerosol emissions using Earth system models.[5] As a postdoctoral scholar, she continued this work at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory of NASA, working with David Diner.[5][6][7] At NASA, she researched how climate, the clouds, and wildfires interact, using satellite sensors.[5] Her research with NASA took her to Namibia, South Africa, in 2016, where she observed the relationship between wildfire smoke and cloud formation as part of the NASA ORACLES field campaign.[5]

In 2017, Tosca joined the faculty at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) as an assistant professor.[5][6] A 2019 PBS profile of Tosca describes how after six years at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, she left for the teaching position at SAIC, after becoming "convinced that artists could help scientists better communicate to the public the seriousness of the climate change threat the world is facing."[8] A 2019 Medill Reports report on Tosca describes her concern that scientists are often not creating knowledge for the general public, and her belief that artists and scientists can work together to improve science communication.[9] At SAIC, she researches the connection between art and science, working with artists and designers to investigate the effectiveness of science communication and contemporary climate science questions.[5]

Science communication and outreach[edit]

With her research, Tosca advocates for increased public awareness of climate change.[5] In 2017, she spoke with Inman News about the impact of climate change on the real estate industry and what individuals can do to help.[10] In 2019, she spoke with AGU TV (American Geophysical Union) about the environmental effects of wildfire emissions.[11] She has also written for EOS magazine[12] and speaks at different institutions on ways to combine art and science to effectively communicate climate science.[5][13]

Tosca has been invited to speak at many institutions regarding her work, including the University of California, Irvine, the University of California, Santa Barbara, Columbia College in Chicago, the Headlands Center for the Arts in California, the AGU Fall Meeting, Miami University in Ohio, and the University of Michigan.[13][14][15][16][17][18][19]

Tosca also investigates the intersection between contemporary queer, feminist, and environmental issues.[1] In addition, she advocates for how this intersection is related to advocacy about the climate crisis. A profile of Tosca in the University of Bristol's independent student newspaper Epigram describes Tosca identifying an "interesting parallel" when she writes, 'Fifty years ago ... queer folks began a revolution that demanded we be respected as equals – both in life and in law – and that revolution has resulted in enormous progress for LGBT+ people everywhere' and when Tosca then advocates that there is now 'another opportunity for us to be truly revolutionary.'[20] The Windy City Times quoted Tosca discussing "important parallels between the existential crisis facing the planet and the existential crisis that confronts many transgender folks as we begin to reckon with and acknowledge our own gender."[21]

Advocacy for trans people[edit]

When the issue arose in the science community as to how science journals would respond to researchers who had transitioned their gender and changed their name, Cell's editor in chief John Pham contacted Tosca for her opinion, even though she has not been impacted by the issue due to pre-transition publications only using her initials, which match her current initials; Tosca told The Scientist, "The biggest thing that [journals can] do with respect to trans people is to allow them to change their names without a cumbersome process."[22]

Tosca has appeared in the media as an advocate for trans issues. In 2018, after more than 1,600 scientists signed an open letter[23] opposing Trump administration plans for a legal definition of gender,[24] Tosca spoke with Buzzfeed News, stating, "As a trans woman and as a scientist, it’s inherently an attack on my humanity, my ability to exist in the world, and to safely navigate certain spaces," and "It was really important that we gather as many scientists as we could to say that so scientists ourselves were not complicit in promoting this wholly flawed nonscientific effort."[25] In 2019, she spoke with The Chicago Tribune about a United States Supreme Court decision narrowly upholding a Trump administration policy on transgender people in the military, and stated that "it’s important that trans folks be able to participate as full citizens."[26]

Notable publications[edit]

According to Google Scholar her works have been cited over 450 times.[27] Below are some of her most cited works:

  • Global impact of smoke aerosols from landscape fires on climate and the Hadley circulation. Tosca's team used remote sensing observations to characterize the climate response to smoke aerosols. Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics, 2013.[28]
  • Dynamics of fire plumes and smoke clouds associated with peat and deforestation fires in Indonesia. Tosca estimated the height of smoke over Borneo and Sumatra, and characteristic sensitivity to El Niño and regional drought. AGU, 2011.[29]
  • Do biomass burning aerosols intensify drought in equatorial Asia during El Niño? Tosca measured the sensitivity of smoke clouds to regional drought during El Niño years, and overarching effects on the climate. Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics, 2010.[30]
  • Human-caused fires limit convection in tropical Africa: First temporal observations and attribution. With her team, Tosca used temporally-offset satellite observations from 2006 to 2010 in northern Africa to measure the effect of fire aerosols on convective cloud dynamics. AGU, 2015.[31]
  • A Global Analysis of Wildfire Smoke Injection Heights Derived from Space-Based Multi-Angle Imaging. Tosca analyzed globally distributed wildfire smoke plume injection heights to provide a resource to better model smoke dispersion for climate and air quality applications. MDPI, 2018.[32]

In 2017, Tosca's work with the Multi-angle Imaging SpectroRadiometer (MISR) was featured by the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory.[33]

Personal life[edit]

Tosca lives in Chicago with her partner and their dog. She enjoys running and is a self-proclaimed "weather weenie."[5] Tosca told the Chicago Reader in 2018 that the movie Ferngully influenced her decision to become a climate/environmental scientist, stating, "The protagonist is a female fairy and even though I was assigned male at birth, I always imagined myself as her—fighting corporations and being a badass chick."[34]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 Tosca, Mika. "SAIC Faculty Profile". School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Retrieved 21 December 2020.
  2. University of Connecticut. "Commencement Programs: 2006 May 6-7". UConn Library. Unknown parameter |url-status= ignored (help)
  3. NASA (2008). "NASA Earth and Space Science Fellowship (NESSF) Program - 2008" (PDF). NESSF. Retrieved 17 December 2020. Unknown parameter |url-status= ignored (help)
  4. MSFC, Heather Deiss. "NASA - Graduate Student Fellowships in Earth Systems Science". www.nasa.gov. Retrieved 2020-12-18.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 5.5 5.6 5.7 5.8 5.9 EOS (2020). "Science Adviser Profile". Science News by AGU. Retrieved 17 December 2020. Unknown parameter |url-status= ignored (help)
  6. 6.0 6.1 Chicago Tonight | Climate Scientist Swaps NASA for School of the Art Institute | Season 2019, retrieved 2020-12-18
  7. "Can Poor Air Quality Mask Global Warming's Effects?". NASA/JPL. Retrieved 2020-12-18.
  8. Caine, Paul (July 9, 2019). "Climate Scientist Swaps NASA for School of the Art Institute". WTTW PBS. Retrieved 21 December 2020.
  9. Snabes, Anne (December 21, 2019). "Art can be part of the scientific process, a climate scientist says". Medill Reports. Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism. Retrieved 21 December 2020.
  10. Franzen, Carl (October 19, 2017). "Climate change will plunge the real estate industry into chaos". Inman News. Retrieved 24 December 2020.
  11. AGU TV 2019 (2019). "Interview with Mika Tosca". AGU TV. Retrieved 24 December 2020.
  12. Tosca, Mika (July 2, 2019). "Transcending Science: Can Artists Help Scientists Save the World?". EOS (100). doi:10.1029/2019EO127493. Retrieved 22 December 2020.
  13. 13.0 13.1 "Reimagining Futures: Collaborations Between Artists, Designers, and Scientists as a Roadmap to Solving the Climate Crisis". UCSB Bren School of Environmental Science & Management. Retrieved 2020-12-18.
  14. "Michigan Institute for Research in Astrophysics Presents: "Conversations on Inclusion and Equity" | Happening @ Michigan". events.umich.edu. Retrieved 2020-12-18.
  15. "UC Irvine Department of Earth System Science (ESS)". www.facebook.com. Retrieved 2020-12-18.
  16. "Columbia College Chicago : Third Coast Disrupted: Artists + Scientists on Climate". students.colum.edu. Retrieved 2020-12-18.
  17. "Third Coast Disrupted: Artists + Scientists on Climate - Announcements - Art & Education". www.artandeducation.net. Retrieved 2020-12-18.
  18. "Thematic Residency on Climate Equity". Headlands Center for the Arts. Retrieved 2020-12-18.
  19. MISR (December 10, 2019). "MISR Data User Workshop at the AGU 2019 Fall Meeting". misr.jpl.nasa.gov. Retrieved December 17, 2020. Unknown parameter |url-status= ignored (help)
  20. Wong, Carissa (February 17, 2020). "Climate science meets art". Epigram. Retrieved 22 December 2020.
  21. Maxwell, Carrie (February 23, 2020). "Trans scientist kicks off TGNC-affirming symposium". Windy City Times. Retrieved 24 December 2020.
  22. Yasinski, Emma (July 14, 2020). "Publishers Develop Inclusive Name-Change Policies". The Scientist. Retrieved 21 December 2020.
  23. "Transgender, intersex, and gender non-conforming people #WontBeErased by pseudoscience". Not-Binary.org. October 26, 2018. Retrieved 21 December 2020.
  24. Green, Erica L.; Benner, Katie; Pear, Robert (October 21, 2018). "'Transgender' Could Be Defined Out of Existence Under Trump Administration". The New York Times. Retrieved 21 December 2020.
  25. Ghorayshi, Azeen (November 1, 2018). "1,600 Scientists Just Signed A Letter Opposing A Legal Definition Of A Gender Binary". Buzzfeed News. Retrieved 21 December 2020.
  26. Hawbaker, K. T. "Members of Chicago's trans community have 'complicated' reactions to Supreme Court's revival of military ban". chicagotribune.com. Retrieved 2020-12-18.
  27. "Mika Tosca". scholar.google.com. Retrieved 2020-12-19.
  28. Tosca, M. G.; Randerson, J. T.; Zender, C. S. (2013-05-24). "Global impact of smoke aerosols from landscape fires on climate and the Hadley circulation". Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics. 13 (10): 5227–5241. Bibcode:2013ACP....13.5227T. doi:10.5194/acp-13-5227-2013. ISSN 1680-7324.
  29. Tosca, M. G.; Randerson, J. T.; Zender, C. S.; Nelson, D. L.; Diner, D. J.; Logan, J. A. (2011). "Dynamics of fire plumes and smoke clouds associated with peat and deforestation fires in Indonesia". Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres. 116 (D8): D08207. Bibcode:2011JGRD..116.8207T. doi:10.1029/2010JD015148. ISSN 2156-2202.
  30. Tosca, M. G.; Randerson, J. T.; Zender, C. S.; Flanner, M. G.; Rasch, P. J. (2010-04-16). "Do biomass burning aerosols intensify drought in equatorial Asia during El Niño?". Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics. 10 (8): 3515–3528. Bibcode:2010ACP....10.3515T. doi:10.5194/acp-10-3515-2010. ISSN 1680-7324.
  31. Tosca, M. G.; Diner, D. J.; Garay, M. J.; Kalashnikova, O. V. (2015). "Human-caused fires limit convection in tropical Africa: First temporal observations and attribution". Geophysical Research Letters. 42 (15): 6492–6501. Bibcode:2015GeoRL..42.6492T. doi:10.1002/2015GL065063. ISSN 1944-8007.
  32. Val Martin, Maria; Kahn, Ralph A.; Tosca, Mika G. (October 10, 2018). "A Global Analysis of Wildfire Smoke Injection Heights Derived from Space-Based Multi-Angle Imaging". Remote Sensing. 10 (10): 1609. Bibcode:2018RemS...10.1609V. doi:10.3390/rs10101609.
  33. "MISR Watches Motion of the Moon's Shadow During Total Solar Eclipse". NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory. NASA. September 19, 2017. Retrieved 24 December 2020.
  34. Hawbaker, KT (June 15, 2018). "What were you watching, reading, or listening to when you first came out?". Chicago Reader. Retrieved 24 December 2020.

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