Sharon E. Nicholson is a meteorology professor at Florida State University (FSU) in the Department of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Science. Nicholson has been teaching about and researching climates of Africa. Nicholson has earned the Humboldt Award, the Fulbright Global Scholar award, a National Science Foundation Award.
Paired with Compton Tucker, a NASA Goddard Space Flight Center scientist, Nicholson disproved a worldwide claim about recent Sahara desert spreading. They studied nearly two decades of Sahel satellite observations to confirm that the desert ebbs and flows, but does not enlarge. Nicholson also established that the Sahara’s behavior depends on climate cycles (year-to-year rainfalls and droughts). Their study was published in the journal Ambio.
Nicholson also teamed up with Dorcas N. Leposo, a research meteorologist from the Botswana Meteorological Services, to establish that El Niño was the primary cause of drought and famine in Botswana. They reviewed 40 years of Southern Africa climate data to explore El Niño’s impact on the region and estimate the impact of future climate change there. The Botswana government used their research to mitigate the possible effects of El Niño’s onset.
As an FSU professor and expert on the African climate, Nicholson visited Africa to closely study rainfall and fog. She also took part in climate change research with the National Center for Atmospheric Research, and was co-author of a study published in the journal Science.
In 2010, working with the Gobabeb Training and Research Centre, Nicholson was the first to identify a low-level weather jet stream over Namibia. Working with specialists from France and Germany, Nicholson researched the jet stream’s possible influence on climate in equatorial and southern Africa and its effect on rainfall in West Africa.
Nicholson’s research has influenced areas beyond meteorology, such as hydrology, physical geography, remote sensing, arid land studies and paleoclimatology. One of Nicholson’s colleagues opined that thanks to Nicholson’s contributions, FSU became recognized as the leading academic institution in the U.S. for research on the climate of Africa. Nicholson also inspired more students to get involved in the study of meteorology.