David B. Lobell

2010 James B. Macelwane Medal Winner

David B. Lobell, Rosalind E. Rickaby, and Jasper A. Vrugt were awarded the 2010 James B. Macelwane Medal at the AGU Fall Meeting Honors Ceremony, held on 15 December 2010 in San Francisco, Calif. The medal is for “significant contributions to the geophysical sciences by an outstanding young scientist.”


At 32 years old, David Lobell is a young scientist whose accomplishments might be compared to those of many distinguished senior scientists. David combines remote sensing, statistics, and climate modeling to explore ­continental—scale ­human—environment interactions. His contributions span climate change impacts, food and energy security, and agricultural informatics. Exhibiting extraordinary scholarship, David has been both prolific and profound. He is a powerful quantitative researcher with superior disciplinary skills and a proven ability to cross disciplinary boundaries.

When David Lobell speaks, people listen. He has provided expert advice on matters of global significance. David was a featured speaker in Washington, D. C., at a U.S. State Department meeting on adaptation to climate change; in Nairobi, Kenya, on climate change and adaptation in African agriculture; on genetic preservation strategies at the anniversary meeting of the new (“Doomsday”) seed bank in Svalbard, Norway; on climate and crops in Mexico; and on climate change and California agriculture in Sacramento. He is regularly consulted by the Global Crop Diversity Trust (Rome), whose executive director has indicated that David’s work has significantly influenced and redirected global germ plasm collection, preservation, and distribution. David served on the National Academy of Sciences Committee on Stabilization Targets for Atmospheric Greenhouse Gas Concentrations, and he was recently selected as lead author for the chapter on food security in the upcoming Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change assessment report.

David’s primary research focuses on understanding likely impacts of climate change on crop production. He has systematically quantified climate impacts and uncertainties on food production across the developing world, building probability distributions of climate change effects on food-insecure regions. For the first time, decision makers have critical information about how to adapt agricultural development to various environmental outcomes. David has also worked on the flip side of the ­climate—food security problem by investigating how agricultural practices can affect regional climate change through the unrecognized influence of irrigation on regional cooling.

David’s second research focus is using remote sensing to understand and improve agricultural practices. This work develops ­cutting—edge scientific tools to decipher how environmental factors (e.g., temperature, rainfall, and solar intensity) and field inputs (fertilizers and water) affect crop yields. David is pioneering the emerging field of crop informatics by creating novel algorithms for handling large, complex data sets that could revolutionize our understanding of factors controlling crop yields. David has already provided a means not only to improve agricultural productivity but also to do so while minimizing degradation of environmental quality.

Using a suite of quantitative tools, David addresses critical problems at the interface between Earth science and society. His expertise in conceptual and quantitative modeling, clarity of thought, and solid analytical tool kit are extremely likely to lead to further breakthroughs that will not only advance scientific endeavors but also have a tremendous impact on humanity. In closing, this citation would not be complete without noting that David was honored as “Professor of the Game” at the Stanford Women’s NCAA basketball game in February 2010. I hazard to predict that neither this nor the AGU Macelwane Medal will be the final recognition received by David Lobell.

—STEVEN M. GORELICK, Stanford University, Stanford, Calif.


It is a great honor for me to accept this medal. First and foremost, I want to thank Steve for his nomination and citation. Steve embodies the best of Stanford University in many ways: a brilliant scientist who is as committed to service and mentorship as he is to research.

I also want to thank the medal committee for the time they devoted to this process. I’ve always been struck with the energy AGU puts into encouraging young scientists. Thinking back to a student paper award I received 11 years ago, at my first AGU meeting, I realize how much even the smallest of gestures can mean to a young scientist. Today I am grateful that the committee selected me, out of many worthy candidates, to receive this award. And I’m very proud to be a member of an organization that does so much to support its scientists, both young and old.

I know I would not be here tonight without some exceptional people who have helped me along the way. Jack Mustard got me started in research as an undergraduate at Brown University; Greg Asner and Pam Matson guided me through graduate school; Phil Duffy mentored me as a postdoc; and Roz Naylor, Wally Falcon, and Steve continue to mentor me at Stanford. And throughout I’ve had an extraordinary collaborator and mentor in Chris Field. All of these people have challenged me, encouraged me, and believed in me. Even more than their words of advice, it has been the examples they set that have made a difference in my career. It’s hard to go wrong when people like them lead the way.

It is a real privilege and joy to go to work each day at Stanford, where so many colleagues and students have enriched my career. So many, in fact, that I don’t have room to mention them here. Beyond Stanford, I’d like to make special mention of Ivan ­Ortiz-Monasterio at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (­CIMMYT) in Mexico. Without his insights into global agricultural issues, and our many trips into the field, I would not be nearly the scientist I am today.

One thing I’ve learned from this cast of characters is that great science requires a genuine balance of personal confidence and ­humility—confidence to ask bold questions, pursue new ideas, and communicate them effectively; and humility to keep an open mind, work carefully, admit to mistakes, and be one’s own toughest critic. Any success I’ve had in striking this balance is because of the three people here with me tonight: my wife, my mother, and my father. For that, and the million other ways they’ve helped me, I share this award with them.

So thank you again to the committee for their efforts, and I look forward to doing my part as a Fellow of this great Union.

—DAVID B. LOBELL, Stanford University, Stanford, Calif.