Neelin Receives 2017 Bert Bolin Global Environmental Change Award

David Neelin has been selected as the 2017 Bert Bolin awardee and lecturer of the American Geophysical Union’s Global Environmental Change focus group. He will receive the award and present this lecture at the 2017 AGU Fall Meeting, to be held 11–15 December in New Orleans, La. The award recognizes an Earth scientist for “groundbreaking research or/and leadership in global environmental change through cross-disciplinary, interdisciplinary, and transdisciplinary research in the past 10 years.”


Dr. Neelin’s research spans a number of subfields on climate processes that are germane to global environmental change. He has made groundbreaking contributions to understanding tropical climate dynamics and the impact of anthropogenic forcing on precipitation, drying, circulation, and extremes. It is noteworthy that he has developed concepts to effectively explain his results to the general public. His work has produced key contributions to understanding how small-scale moist convection interacts with large-scale motions to produce dramatically different moist dynamics. With originality and deep insights, his work on tropical atmospheric dynamics and tropical climate interactions has advanced our understanding of dynamics and predictability of the El Niño–Southern Oscillation phenomenon and tropical intraseasonal variability as well as a better understanding of the moist dynamical feedback and the vegetation–climate feedback that affect the response of precipitation to global warming. Recently, he and his colleagues have undertaken a combination of observational work, melding tools from statistical physics and moist thermodynamics with recent large satellite and in situ data sets, along with theoretical approaches to understand the relationships among fast timescale fluctuations. Together these address the critical need to better constrain parameterizations used in climate models in a manner that includes variations that yield extreme events. Dr. Neelin’s groundbreaking research in global environmental change stems from his mixture of cross-disciplinary, interdisciplinary, and transdisciplinary approaches to addressing complex and critical issues.

—Fei-Fei Jin, University of Hawaii, Manoa


I am grateful to the AGU Global Environmental Change focus group for selecting me as the second recipient of the Bert Bolin Award. In a field where many have contributed, I view this choice as a recognition of the close connections among the diverse aspects of studying the global climate system. Our understanding of natural climate variability such as El Niño–Southern Oscillation, of fundamentals of mechanisms connecting cloud-scale processes to global climate, and of how the interwoven parts of the climate system change under anthropogenic influence all form part of an inseparable continuum. It has been a delight to have the opportunity to work with many across these areas, and to see methods that we had initiated for one purpose picked up and used by the next generation for unanticipated applications. Thanks are due numerous colleagues but particularly Isaac Held, George Philander, Mark Cane, and Kerry Emanuel for early and ongoing mentorship; Michael Ghil, Jim McWilliams, and all my wonderful colleagues at UCLA; and Fei-Fei Jin for nominating me. I hope that I have passed on some of the joy of piecing together the fascinating workings of our Earth system to my own grad students and postdocs. I have also greatly enjoyed interactions with hundreds of undergraduates across multiple science disciplines that I’ve had the opportunity to introduce to climate science. I hope I have communicated to them an appreciation of the full breadth of this field, from the natural workings of the system to the anthropogenic changes that we are part of. With understanding of these quantitative science tools, I’ve been encouraged by the levelheaded sense of urgency students come to in carrying them into societal application.

—J. David Neelin, University of California, Los Angeles