I am an assistant professor in the Atmospheric, Oceanic and Earth Sciences Department at George Mason University. My research focuses on improving our understanding of the key processes determining Earth's climate and climate variability on a variety of timescales ranging from seasonal to decadal to much longer geological scales. In particular, I am interested in the climatic role of ocean general circulation, ocean-atmosphere interactions, and cloud dynamics.

Before joining George Mason University, I was a postdoctoral associate in the department of Geology and Geophysics at Yale University. My research at Yale centered around the role of the ocean and clouds within Earth's past, present and future climate variability.

I completed my PhD in the Department of Oceanography at the University of Cape Town. My thesis examined, from an energetics perspective, the part played by the ocean within the generation and evolution of coupled ocean-atmosphere variability in the tropical Atlantic Ocean. Part of this research was carried out during two research visits hosted by IRD, in collaboration with the Laboratoire de Physique des Oceans (LPO), at Ifremer in Plouzane, France. The results highlight the impact of small basin size on the behavior and predictability of inter-annual, tropical Atlantic climate variability.

I enjoy engaging in climate education and outreach activities. There are educational opportunities in climate change - for example, see this article (Pg 41-43) that I wrote for the Philander Symposium. During my time at the University of Cape Town and the University of Pretoria, I was heavily involved in the ACCESS Habitable Planet Workshops, and still continue to support this initiative.


Postdoctoral Associates
Ehsan Erfani

Graduate Students
Keri Kodama
Abdullah Al Fahad


Brierley, C., N. Burls, C., Ravelo and A. Fedorov, 2015: Pliocene warmth and gradients, Nature Geoscience, 8 (6), 419-420, doi:10.1038/ngeo2444.


Burls, N. J., & Fedorov, A. V. 2017: Wetter subtropics in a warmer world: contrasting past and future hydrological cycles, PNAS, Under Revision.

Burls, N.J., Fedorov, A.V., Sigman, D.M., Jaccard, S.L., Tiedemann, R. and Haug, G.H., 2016: Deep water formation in the North Pacific during the warm Pliocene, Sicence Advances, Under Revision.

Burls N.J., Muir L., Vincent E.M., and Fedorov A.V., 2016: Extra-tropical origin of equatorial Pacific cold bias in climate models with links to cloud albedo, Climate Dynamics, doi:10.1007/s00382-016-3435-6.

Fedorov, A.V., Burls N.J., Lawrence K.T., and Peterson L.C., 2015: Tightly linked ocean zonal and meridional temperature gradients over the past 5 million years, Nature Geoscience, 8, 975–980, doi:10.1038/ngeo2577.

Burls, N. J., and A. V. Fedorov, 2014b: Simulating Pliocene warmth and a permanent El Niño-like state: the role of cloud albedo, Paleoceanography, 29(10), 893-910, doi:10.1002/2014PA002644.

Luebbecke, J.F., N.J. Burls, C.J.C. Reason, M.J. McPhaden, 2014: Variability in the South Atlantic Anticyclone and the Atlantic Nino mode, Journal of Climate, 27, 8135-8150. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1175/JCLID-14-00202.1.

Burls, N. J., and A. V. Fedorov, 2014a: What controls the mean east-west sea surface temperature gradient in the equatorial Pacific: the role of cloud albedo, Journal of Climate, 27 (7), 2757-2778, http://dx.doi.org/10.1175/JCLI-D-13-00255.1.

Burls, N. J., C. J. C. Reason, P. Penven, and S. G. Philander, 2012: Energetics of the Tropical Atlantic Zonal Mode. Journal of Climate, 25, 7442-7466, doi:10.1175/JCLI-D-11-00602.1.

Burls, N. J., C. J. C. Reason, P. Penven, and S. G. Philander, 2011: Similarities between the tropical Atlantic seasonal cycle and ENSO: an energetics perspective. Journal of Geophysical Research, 116, C11010, doi:10.1029/2011JC007164.

Burls, N. J. and C. J. C. Reason, 2008: Modelling the Sensitivity of Coastal Winds over the Southern Benguela Upwelling System to Different SST Forcing. Journal of Marine Systems, 74, 561584, doi:10.1016/j.jmarsys.2008.04.009.

Burls, N. J. and C. J. C. Reason, 2006: Sea surface temperature fronts in the midlatitude South Atlantic revealed by using microwave satellite data. Journal of Geophysical Research, 111, C08001, doi:10.1029/2005JC003133.

Ansorge, I., et al., 2004: An interdisciplinary cruise dedicated to understanding ocean eddies upstream of the Prince Edward Islands. South African Journal of Science, 100 (7 and 8), 319322.

PhD Thesis

Burls, N. J. 2010: The role of ocean dynamics within tropical Atlantic climate variability, University of Cape Town.