Willis 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.”


willis_joshAs a young scientist, Josh Willis has shown exceptional ability to recognize problems that are within the reach of expanding observational capabilities and then to fully exploit these opportunities. He has made major contributions to understanding sea surface height variability in relation to its subsurface causes and thereby to addressing important issues in ocean circulation and climate. Josh’s early career spans revolutionary transitions in global ocean observations from the era of expendable bathythermographs (XBTs) to that of Argo floats, and his work eloquently articulates the value and potential of today’s integrated satellite and in situ ocean observing system.

As a community leader, Josh is now charting the future of satellite altimetric missions, ensuring that the high-quality time series of sea surface height will be sustained for many more years. He has assumed the large and serious responsibility of continuity in a data set that is internationally acclaimed as a major resource in oceanography for the past 20 years.

The excellence of Josh Willis’s scientific achievements together with his demonstrated leadership make him highly deserving of the AGU Ocean Sciences Early Career Award.

Dean Roemmich, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, La Jolla, Calif.


What an exciting time to be an oceanographer. As humankind conducts an uncontrolled experiment with the Earth’s climate, the oceans are at the epicenter of unprecedented change. How will they react? How will those changes affect us? Although the answers are sometimes alarming, I think we have an obligation to pioneer this new frontier of discovery—to pry open the mysteries of our changing ocean and tell its stories to the world. Indeed, I think the world is waiting to hear them.

I owe a great deal to my many mentors along the way. My Ph.D. thesis advisor, Dean Roemmich, has always been an inspiration to me. Dean has always been masterful at posing intriguing questions and providing insightful guidance as I have run wild in the wilderness of the global ocean observing systems and their revolutionary transitions. He has also encouraged me when I’ve needed it, which is at least as important as all the rest. Since moving to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, I’ve had the pleasure of working with Lee Fu, Ichiro Fukumori, and Bill Patzert, who have also been instrumental to my career, all in very different ways. To all of these and many others, I say thanks. Were it not for you, life would definitely not be this exciting.

Josh K. Willis, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.