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NASA atmospheric scientist 2015 AGU Roger Revelle Medal winner

December 14, 2015

Anne Thompson, chief scientist for atmospheric chemistry at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, has received the 2015 Roger Revelle Medal for her pioneering research in the understanding of ozone and other trace gases in the troposphere and stratosphere. The medal was presented at the Fall American Geophysical Union annual meeting in San Francisco, California.

Established in 1991, the award honors Roger Revelle's substantial influence in broadening global change awareness. Thompson is cited "for outstanding contributions in atmospheric sciences, atmosphere-ocean coupling, atmosphere-land coupling, biogeochemical cycles, climate, or related aspects of the Earth system."

"Anne's colleagues are thrilled to hear that she has won the 2015 Revelle Medal. Her profound scientific discoveries are matched only by her generous and collegial spirit," said Russell Dickerson, professor of atmospheric and oceanic science, University of Maryland (UMD), College Park, Maryland. "The remote tropics, for example, should be as close to pristine as is possible on this planet, but Anne's work demonstrated that man-made pollution is common in some seasons and is changing the atmosphere's ability to cleanse itself. These findings were made possible by her leadership and scrappy support of a broad international coalition of scientists coordinating efforts over many years."

Thompson considers herself fortunate to have been working with NASA during the 1980s when the Antarctic ozone hole was discovered. "We used models to figure out how perturbed ultraviolet waves would affect surface ozone. Greenhouse gases like methane were increasing at that time, a phenomenon that not only had climate impact but feedbacks on carbon monoxide, tropospheric ozone and other indicators of air quality," stated Thompson. Along with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, we looked at different scenarios for limiting methane, a topic that is relevant again with global methane increases due to non-traditional natural gas extraction like fracking."

This work, conducted in the 1980s and early 1990s, was among the first to link chemical changes, climate forcings and the earth's oxidizing capacity. It established Thompson's research theme, studying natural cycles and human influences -- aviation emissions, fires and urban pollution - on atmospheric trace gases.

A veteran of dozens of field experiments, including oceanographic cruises and NASA aircraft campaigns, Thompson characterized the Atlantic "ozone paradox" with Total Ozone Mapping Spectrometer data and used early ocean color data to estimate sea-to-air fluxes of biological sulfur, a key process in chemistry-climate feedbacks. Recently, Thompson has been part of a Goddard team using high-resolution Ozone Monitoring Instrument nitrogen dioxide data to pinpoint cities where air quality has improved over the past decade and where it has deteriorated. Thompson's latest fieldwork has been with the Deriving Information on Surface conditions from Column and Vertically Resolved Observations Relevant to Air Quality (DISCOVER-AQ) Earth Venture project.

"DISCOVER-AQ taught us three things," Thompson stated. "First, balloons, satellites and aircraft show recurrent impacts of stratospheric intrusions in near-surface ozone in summer, something unexpected. At high-elevation locations, that means a natural process can cause an air quality alert. Second, our 2014 work in the oil and gas fields near Denver showed unhealthy levels of toxics like benzene. Third, you can work for a month without getting the weather patterns that cause pollution."

Thompson's best known work is the Southern Hemisphere Additional Ozonesondes (SHADOZ), a partnership with a dozen tropical nations begun in 1998, that has provided the scientific community with thousands of ozone profiles. Researchers all over the world use SHADOZ data to validate satellites. The team has found surprising trends at some SHADOZ sites as well as signals of the El Niño cycle.

Prior to joining Goddard's Atmospheric Chemistry and Dynamics branch in 1986, Thompson was a postdoctoral researcher at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, Colorado, the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Woods Hole, Massachusetts, and at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, La Jolla, California. Working with Oliver Zafiriou and Revelle medalist Ralph Cicerone, Thompson left a mark in marine atmospheric studies of the cycling of formaldehyde.

"Formaldehyde has a reputation as a major pollutant but over the oceans, it is naturally created by methane oxidation," Thompson said. "We showed that oceanic bacteria metabolize formaldehyde. Twenty-five years later, thanks to satellites like Aura's OMI, we know that the biggest satellite 'hot spots' of formaldehyde are over forests in tropical Africa, South America and the southeast U.S."

Thompson's groundbreaking contributions have inspired researchers and scientists in developing areas of the world. She remains thankful for the advice she received when she first came to NASA, "do good science, try new ideas and the rest will follow."

"Anne drives scientific discovery with her enthusiasm, insights, and experience. Her impact on atmospheric science comes from her outstanding research and her science leadership, but it also comes from the many collaborations that she forges within atmospheric science and with other disciplines," stated William Brune, distinguished professor of meteorology at Pennsylvania State University, State College.

As a professor of meteorology at Penn State, Thompson challenged students to consider atmospheric issues, encouraging them to expand their roles as the caretakers of our fragile environment through public service. Although she returned to Goddard in June 2013, she is still an adjunct faculty member at Penn State and also in the Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences department at UMD.

Thompson has received numerous prestigious awards and most recently was elected a corresponding member in science of the Academy of Athens in November 2015.
For more information about Anne Thompson, visit:

For more information about the American Geophysical Union, visit:

NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

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