Doran specializes in polar regions, especially Antarctic climate and ecosystems. Doran was the lead author of a research paper about Antarctic temperatures that was published in the journal Nature in January 2002. Because he and his colleagues found that some parts of Antarctica had cooled between 1964 and 2000, his paper has been frequently cited by opponents of the global warming theory, such as Ann Coulter and Michael Crichton. In an opinion piece in the July 27, 2006 New York Times, Doran characterized this as a "misinterpretation" and stated, "I have never thought such a thing ... I would like to remove my name from the list of scientists who dispute global warming."  (The temporary phenomenon is related to the "hole" in the ozone. As the "hole heals" the Antarctic will dramatically warm quickly. )
Doran and his grad student Maggie Kendall Zimmerman also published a paper in the Jan 27, 2009 issue of EOS showing that active climate researchers almost unanimously agree that humans have had a significant impact on the Earth's climate.
Doran also applies his expertise in extreme polar environments to planetary science and has lead and been a member of several NASA-funded projects using polar regions as analogs for Mars and icy/ocean worlds. He was nominated by former Apollo astronaut Harrison Schmidt to be a member of the Planetary Protection Subcommittee of the NASA Advisory Council in 2008 and served until 2017. He is a member of a Committee on Space Research (COSPAR) group that regularly meets to discuss planetary protection on human missions to Mars, and in 2018 was appointed to represent the U.S. as a member of the COSPAR Panel on Planetary Protection
Both an Antarctic stream and glacier were named for Doran by the U.S. Geological Survey to commemorate his many significant research contributions conducted on the continent.
- Scientists Cry Foul! interview of Doran on On the Media, a National Public Radio program, February 16, 2002
- Antarctic cooling, global warming? RealClimate, December 3, 2004
- Antarctic climate cooling and terrestrial ecosystem response Doran, et al. in the journal Nature January 31, 2002
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