Charles S. Falkenberg

2002 Charles S. Falkenberg Award Winner

The Charles S. Falkenberg Award was presented posthumously to Charles S. Falkenberg and was accepted by his mother, Mrs. William S. Falkenberg.


Charles Falkenberg was raised in the west, educated in the east, an American by birth, and a good citizen of the planet. Charles Falkenberg dedicated his career to the Earth and environmental sciences. Trained as a computer scientist, Charles focused on enabling practical applications of Earth science through visualization and information technology. He advanced methodologies and open approaches that have allowed the scientific community to exploit ever more successfully the vast array of satellite and field data that now characterize the study of our planet.

Charles began his professional career in software in the early 1980s, and by the end of that decade he had developed a driving interest in software engineering for scientific and environmental applications. His range of concern was extraordinary; in the mid-90s, he demonstrated the innovative features in the Distributed Ocean Data System to the astrophysical community! For the last decade, Charles applied his interest and technical expertise to a host of problems: from the Exxon Valdez oil spill data collection, through environmental impact study visualization tools, to data systems development for the Web-based System for Terrestrial Environmental Research as one of the Federation of Earth Science Information Partners. This Partnership has been committed to the principle that society’s quality of life, economic opportunities, and stewardship of the planet are enhanced by regular use of scientifically sound Earth science information provided in a timely manner by a federation of partners collaborating to improve their collective services.

Charles enjoyed a wonderful sense of self and an ability to see what was needed to get the job, whatever the job may be, done. His insights during software development had a unique quality. They were always particularly clear, compelling, and relevant. They clarified the central issues; they were not tangential, but rather on target. They were often particularly timely and unusually foresighted. He had the ability to focus the technological or scientific issue on key items and then an ability to articulate those items well.”

Charles had an exceptional ability to collaborate and work effectively in a multidisciplinary research team environment. He was a wonderful team member as well as team leader. He listened carefully, spoke thoughtfully, and sought with infectious enthusiasm always to bring out the best in everyone. His touchstone for choice of action was ‘What is the right thing to do?”

Charles met every challenge with balanced judgment, with advanced technical expertise, with attention to all programmatic dimensions, and with a caring recognition that all scientific efforts are, in the end, human efforts.

Charles Falkenberg was committed to the clear expression to the public of scientific findings about the environment of the Earth and about the process that achieved those findings. His commitment both renews and reminds us of the extraordinary importance of our own acceptance of this, our public responsibility. We shall be forever grateful for his creative force in our joint endeavor to understand our planet, our Sun, and our universe, and to communicate this understanding to our fellow citizens of the planet.

Charles Falkenberg, his wife Leslie, and their daughters Zoe and Dana died in the tragic events of September 11th, 2001.”

—BERRIEN MOORE III, University of New Hampshire, Durham