Scripps global climate change pioneer to receive the National Medal of Science

May 09, 2002

President George W. Bush has selected Charles David Keeling, a professor of oceanography at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego, to receive the National Medal of Science, the nation's highest award for lifetime achievement in scientific research.

Keeling, a world leader in research on the carbon cycle and the increase of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere, known to influence the greenhouse effect, has been affiliated with Scripps since 1956. He will receive the medal at a White House ceremony in late May.

"Global climate change is one of the most important scientific, economic, and social challenges facing society today and in the decades ahead. Charles Keeling's research contributions were at the forefront of this field, specifically in detailing increasing accumulations of atmospheric carbon dioxide," said Charles Kennel, director of Scripps Institution of Oceanography. "In the entire complex debate about global climate change, Keeling's 45-year curve of the global accumulation of carbon dioxide has stood the test of time. His research results are pertinent to every human being on the globe."

Keeling was the first to confirm the accumulation of atmospheric carbon dioxide by very precise measurements that produced a data set now known widely as the "Keeling curve." Prior to his investigations, it was unknown whether the oceans and vegetated areas on land would absorb any significant excess carbon dioxide from the atmosphere produced by the burning of fossil fuels and other industrial activities. He became the first to determine definitively the fraction of carbon dioxide from combustion that is accumulating in the atmosphere.

In its awards announcement, the National Science Foundation (NSF), which administers the National Medals of Science for the White House, noted that Keeling "pioneered studies on the impact of the carbon cycle to changes in climate, collecting some of the most important data in the study of global climate change."

Congress established the National Medals of Science in 1959. Fifteen new recipients in 2002 bring to 401 the total number of science medals awarded since their inception.

Rita Colwell, NSF director, said of the new recipients: "Their contributions to the world around us are enormous. Their ideas have led to major breakthroughs in human health and the tools evolving from their research have put the U.S. in the forefront of many new industries. We are proud of these extraordinary people--and grateful for their unceasing inquisitiveness, creativity, and dedication to obtain new knowledge for the good of all humankind."

Keeling's major areas of interest include the geochemistry of carbon and oxygen and other aspects of atmospheric chemistry, with an emphasis on the carbon cycle in nature. He has been a world leader in these studies, changes through the combustion of fossil fuels and changes in land use, and the complex relationships between the carbon cycle and changes in climate. The Keeling record of the increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide measured at Mauna Loa, Hawaii, and at other "pristine air" locations, represents what many believe to be the most important time series data set for the study of global change.

Keeling also has studied the role of oceans in modulating the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide by carrying out extremely accurate measurements of carbon dissolved in seawater.

Keeling and his colleagues also have undertaken major efforts in global carbon cycle modeling. In 1996, Keeling, with his colleagues at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, showed that the amplitude of the Northern Hemispheric seasonal cycles in atmospheric carbon dioxide has been increasing, providing independent support for the conclusion that the growing season is beginning earlier, perhaps in response to global warming.

Born in Scranton, Pennsylvania, on April 20, 1928, Keeling received a B.A. degree in chemistry from the University of Illinois in 1948 and a Ph.D. in chemistry from Northwestern University in 1954. Prior to joining Scripps Institution in 1956, Keeling was a postdoctoral fellow in geochemistry at the California Institute of Technology. In 1968, he was appointed professor of oceanography.

While at Scripps, Keeling has been a Guggenheim Fellow at the Meteorological Institute, University of Stockholm, Sweden (1961-62), and a guest professor at both the Second Physical Institute of the University of Heidelberg, Germany (1969-70), and the Physical Institute of the University of Bern, Switzerland (1979-80).

In 1980, Keeling received the Second Half Century Award of the American Meteorology Society "for his fundamental and far-reaching work on the measurement of atmospheric carbon dioxide which has been the only long-term record of the systematic increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere."

In 1991, he received the Maurice Ewing Medal of the American Geophysical Union, and in 1993, received the Blue Planet Prize from the Science Council of Japan and the Asahi Foundation.

He is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Geophysical Union, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and a member of the National Academy of Sciences.

Keeling has been the co-convenor of two international conferences on oceanic and atmospheric carbon dioxide and a speaker at numerous similar meetings. He is the author of nearly 100 research articles.

For two decades he was a member of the Commission on Atmospheric Chemistry and Global Pollution of the International Association of Meteorology and Atmospheric Physics, and the scientific director of the Central CO2 Calibration Laboratory of the World Meteorological Organization.

Keeling and his wife reside in Del Mar, Calif.
Scripps Institution of Oceanography on the web:
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Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego, is one of the oldest, largest, and most important centers for global science research and graduate training in the world. The scientific scope of the institution has grown since its founding in 1903. A century of Scripps science has had an invaluable impact on oceanography, on understanding of the earth, and on society. More than 300 research programs are under way today in a wide range of scientific areas. Scripps operates one of the largest U.S. academic fleets with four oceanographic research ships and one research platform for worldwide exploration. Now plunging boldly into the 21st century, Scripps will celebrate its centennial in 2003.

University of California - San Diego

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