Associate Editor Samuel Oltmans tells us about his experiences in the Atmospheric Science field


“The atmosphere is the place where many of us probably see most dramatically a number of the impacts of human activity in, for example, climate change and degraded air quality.”

 Please tell us a little bit about your position and your areas of research.

I currently have a research position with the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES), which is a joint enterprise between NOAA and the University of Colorado. Many of my colleagues while I worked at NOAA were affiliated with CIRES. Much of my current research is an extension of research I was associated with when I was at NOAA. Broadly, my research has focused on atmospheric composition and how changes in this composition have changed both due to human activity and natural atmospheric cycles. Long term measurements of atmospheric constituents, especially ozone, and the interpretation of those measurements have been the focus of my career. My largest contribution has probably been in the understanding of tropospheric ozone particularly, in the “background” atmosphere, with an emphasis on longer-term changes. Stratospheric ozone and water vapor measurements also were topics of significant interest. I began my career measuring stratospheric ozone before depletion of ozone was even considered as a possibility. I have had the opportunity to actively participate in the understanding of this human-caused environmental impact on the atmosphere and to see steps taken to overcome the unforeseen consequences of uncontrolled use of the atmosphere as a dumping ground. Currently my focus has been on the impacts of oil and gas extraction on air quality, again with a focus on ozone formation from ozone precursor emitted during exploration and extraction activity.


Your record of scientific achievements is very impressive, having published more than 200 peer-reviewed journal articles over more than 40 years.  Why did you decide to follow this invitation to become an Associate Editor for Elementa’s Atmospheric Science domain at this stage of your career?

An important factor was the encouragement of the Atmospheric Science domain Editor-in-Chief, Detlev Helmig. We have worked together on a number of research projects and I wanted to support him in his role as an Elementa editor. Also with open access publishing becoming an important avenue for sharing the results of scientific research, I wanted to be associated with a publication that was focused broadly on environmental change, but also one that captured individual areas of research so that researchers in the area of atmospheric science would see this as a place to go both to read and publish important new research results.


Why do you believe research surrounding human impacts on the atmosphere within the epoch of the Anthropocene to be of significance?

The atmosphere is the place where many of us probably see most dramatically a number of the impacts of human activity in, for example, climate change and degraded air quality. In a study I am currently working on in the Uintah Basin of Utah, ozone levels and methane concentrations have been measured that are not seen even in some of the most polluted urban areas. Understanding the causes and solutions to problems like these are of great societal importance.


Throughout your career you probably have seen a number of models and transitions in scientific publication.  How did this shape your feeling about open access publishing?

Both in terms of how manuscripts were prepared and the way they were published have changed dramatically. The change to open access publishing has been the most recent change and adapting to it like other changes requires a shift in the way I have become used to doing things. This will be right up there with the shift from a paper-based publication process to the current primarily digital process of both manuscript submission and publication. Adapting to the open access format is part of staying relevant and expanding opportunities for making ones research available to as wide an audience as possible.


You have been working as a US government, (i.e. publicly funded) researcher for most of your life.  Have you seen differences in how government, university, or private industry scientists pursue the publishing of their work?

Up to this point my perception has been that in the atmospheric science field there has not been as strong a push or requirement to publish in an open access format. There has been a much stronger emphasis and even requirement in the biological/medical related research areas toward open access. Because of the cost of journal subscriptions and the pressure this puts on research and academic institution libraries there will definitely be encouragement to use open access publishing. Government funded research publication will be more broadly pushed in this direction both to control costs and to keep from giving the perception that government funded research is enhancing the coffers of a for profit business.


Do you think it is important that Elementa is a nonprofit publication and how do you foresee that this publication model will affect your colleagues from these different sectors?

I think most researchers want to see their work have as broad an impact as possible. This has traditionally meant that for profit publishers like Nature have been venues that carry a particular status. Publications of professional societies like the American Geophysical Union or the American Meteorological Society where I have published are seen as less profit motivated. My hope is that as a nonprofit Elementa will have a particular place among open access journals that will achieve recognition since much of the proliferation of open access publication appears to be associated with for profit publishers.


Why do you think researchers should consider publishing in Elementa?

It is exciting to be part of a new enterprise and help shape its direction. A focus on providing strong credibility for the quality of the research that is published with respected editors and a commitment to quality peer-review will help build the reputation of Elementa. Also as I mentioned earlier, having both a broad environmental perspective and focused discipline domains is attractive for publication of papers with a range of audience interests.