Harsh Encounters

Winter 2023

Scot Miller standing in the desert in Death ValleyAs an ultramarathoner and avid hiker in some of the planet’s most harsh environments, Scot Miller, has encountered a lot of hazards: a violent sandstorm, a charging moose, a kidney stone coming on in the middle of nowhere.

For Miller, an assistant professor in the Department of Environmental Health and Engineering, the toughest challenge was a 100-mile hike along the Wind River Range in Wyoming.

“It was incredibly difficult. Some days we’d be walking through an alpine meadow. Other days would be climbing over boulders the size of cars. Other days we’d run into a 2,000-foot cliff and have to figure out how to get around it,” says Miller. “It was difficult, but it was incredibly rewarding.”

Despite the grueling demands of trekking hundreds of miles across rough and often isolated terrain, the biggest challenge is the preparation, says Miller.

“The hardest part is figuring out what I’m going to need for two weeks in the wilderness, and how I’m going to pack it in such a way that I can put it all on my back and carry it every day,” he says. It helps that he dehydrates all his own food, a process that can take up to two weeks in advance of a trip.

Given Miller’s love of the outdoors, it’s no surprise that he became a climate scientist whose research focuses on understanding how greenhouse gases affect, and are affected by, the environment.

photograph of a man running down a road toward a setting sun

“Most of what I do is analyzing satellite data and doing modeling on supercomputers. But for me, it’s also important to see the places that I’m trying to understand in my research. It’s one thing to model ecosystems on a computer, where every tree or mountain is a pixel. It’s another thing to wake up in a tent in the morning and actually get a sense of how these systems and environments function,” he says.