Fox-Kemper Receives 2011 Ocean Sciences Early Career Award

Baylor Fox-Kemper and Josh K. Willis each received the 2011 Ocean Sciences Early Career Award at the 2011 AGU Fall Meeting, held 5–9 December in San Francisco, Calif. The award recognizes “significant contributions to and promise in the ocean sciences.”


fox-kemper_baylorI am pleased to introduce Baylor Fox-Kemper as a recipient of the Ocean Sciences Early Career Award, in recognition of his fundamental contributions to understanding oceanic general circulation, the dynamical nature of the eddy-filled oceanic mixed layer, and their connection to climate modeling.

It is always a pleasure to see a new star shine in the field of science, and it is a special pleasure when that emerging source of light is committed to fundamental research and its application to socially important issues and is articulate in communicating the work to others. Baylor is that new star in the field of oceanography and its intersection with the important problem of climate dynamics.

His research work is characterized by its broad scope and its depth and sophistication of approach and by the clarity of his thinking. His doctoral thesis was an investigation of the very fundamental problem of the mechanism that bounded the response of a weakly dissipative ocean circulation to persistent wind forcing, and it yielded a clear and innovative discussion of the basic nature of the wind-driven ocean circulation. He next moved, with colleagues at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), to unravel the complex character of the response of the oceanic mixed layer to eddy structures within the layer that lead to its re­stratification. Again, with colleagues, he has further developed models that describe the complex interactions between the dynamics on the gyre or planetary scales and the eddying dynamics near major ocean currents that are shaped by, and themselves strongly affect, the largest-scale motions.

He has been recognized as a star from the first, with awards for his presentation at the 2003 Conference on Atmospheric and Ocean Fluid Dynamics. On a personal note, I was deeply impressed by Baylor from the first when he asked me to be his Ph.D. advisor. It was, for me, a very stimulating and embarrassingly easy job. Baylor was one of those rare students for whom the advisor’s principal challenge is to gracefully get out of the way and not be trampled in the student’s rapid intellectual progress to the degree. It will be terrific fun to see what the future holds for Baylor and for our field as a consequence of his continuing contributions.

Joseph Pedlosky, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Woods Hole, Mass.


Thank you, Joe. Thanks also to my letter writers for their submissions and to AGU and the Ocean Sciences section for this honor. I am proud and overwhelmed to join the other recipients of this award.

Research is filled with fun—not the “fun” of debugging code—but the fun of sharing and finding new ideas with colleagues. I’ve been lucky to have had lots of fun with colleagues and with my students. Fun gets me up in the morning and keeps me up late debugging code.

I disagree that Joe advised me by getting “out of my way.” I remember many insightful discussions that improved our work together and the way I think now. Joe and my other frequent collaborators—Raf Ferrari, Gokhan Danabasoglu, Keith Julien, Bill Large, and Markus Jochum—deserve a large share of the credit for this award. Other scientists gave me tips at crucial moments: Jim Mc­Williams, Paola Rizzoli, Peter Molnar, Carl Wunsch, Walter Munk, and many others. The unfailing support of my family is the foundation upon which all of my work is built.

I have been trying to figure out what message the Ocean Sciences section is sending. Despite claims made in proposals, I am unsure what makes for a good research problem. We all like elegance, generality, clean setups, trusty code, and clear hypotheses with big implications. However, these vagaries don’t add up to an algorithm for generating good topics; they only recognize them. Improving parameterizations is a good, and often overlooked, problem by many of these criteria. A good parameterization is perhaps the most elegant and concise description of what we know about a process, and based on this award apparently others agree. I hope this award inspires others to join in the fun of developing parameterizations.

Baylor Fox-Kemper, Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, University of Colorado, Boulder