Christopher B. Field was awarded the 2014 Roger Revelle Medal at the AGU Fall Meeting Honors Ceremony, held on 17 December 2014 in San Francisco, Calif. The medal is for “outstanding contributions in atmospheric sciences, atmosphere-ocean coupling, atmosphere-land coupling, biogeochemical cycles, climate, or related aspects of the Earth system.”
Chris Field always seems a step ahead. Like a premier athlete, he uses talent and vision to make success look easy, and his 30+ years of insights into the climate system have helped improve both monitoring and prediction. These contributions, and his integrity, have earned him a reputation as scientist, mentor, and public liaison that is worthy of the great Roger Revelle.
It began with Chris’s Ph.D. thesis in 1981 showing how evolution shapes the physiology and ecology of terrestrial ecosystems. He then built on these concepts to develop global models of plant growth and carbon cycling. These models, combined with satellite data, spawned decades of insights into land carbon dynamics, many of which came from the Carnegie Institution’s Department of Global Ecology, of which he is the founding director.
Chris is also the faculty director of the Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve at Stanford, where experiments using combinations of carbon dioxide, temperature, moisture, and nitrogen have led to many important results on the ecological impacts of global change and grassland feedbacks to the climate system. His extensive use of both experimental and modeling approaches, spanning many spatial and temporal scales, is extremely rare.
On top of his scientific activities, Chris has been a remarkably, perhaps uniquely, effective and influential communicator of climate science to policy makers and the public. His current role as cochair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change exemplifies his long-standing commitment to and excellence in representing science in the policy arena.
In any one of these areas, Chris’ achievements would represent an impressive career. That he has managed all three at once is a testament to his tremendous intellectual and leadership abilities. And he continues to lead the way into new areas, such as understanding impacts of large-scale solar and bioenergy systems.
For all of these laurels, many are surprised upon meeting Chris to find such a humble person. He is generous with his time to all comers and listens more than he speaks. On a scatterplot of intellectual horsepower versus genuine humility, Chris is an outlier in the top right corner. At first I viewed this as a happy coincidence, but over the years I have come to recognize his humility as a source of his greatness. He never stops learning or thinking about the next opportunity to contribute to science and society. I am one of many colleagues who are inspired by the example he has set, who admire him as a scientist and person, and who are overjoyed to see him recognized by AGU with the Revelle Medal.
—David Lobell, Stanford University, Stanford, Calif.
I’m deeply grateful to David Lobell and AGU. It is both humbling and energizing to share recognition as a recipient of the Roger Revelle Medal with the distinguished past recipients. It is also inspiring to reflect on the ways Revelle thought about science and society.
In the sweep of history, there are a few points when trajectories change and the shape of the future is determined. The late 20th and early 21st centuries are surely a global inflection point, as increasingly numerous and capable humans and human societies confront intrinsic limits in the Earth and its ability to absorb the consequences of our activities. Roger Revelle played a key role in documenting and understanding the fundamental importance not only of the characteristics of the Earth system but also of the necessary responses.
Understanding the controls on Earth’s climate is one of the scientific triumphs of our era. The basics are well established, but the system is complex. The aspects that fascinate me are similar to those that fascinated Revelle, the processes that can amplify or suppress the initial changes. A system this complex demands a highly integrated approach—that is why I have invested so much in the discipline of global ecology, in careful scientific assessments, particularly those of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), and, like Revelle, in institutions as well as experiments.
Personally, I have had the great good fortune of working in a community that is wise, supportive, and generous. Colleagues at Carnegie, especially Joe Berry, Olle Björkman, and Winslow Briggs, always proved with their own lives that science should be fun as well as important. They and many Stanford colleagues, notably Hal Mooney, Paul Ehrlich, and Steve Schneider, inspired me to think about science as a human as well as a technical endeavor. Alexander von Humboldt wrote that the key to his success was tackling an overly broad set of scientific interests, capitalizing on a gift for identifying and nurturing new talent. Whether or not that was really the secret for Humboldt, it has definitely worked for me. I have been inspired by many students, postdocs, and young colleagues, as well as hundreds of collaborators in the IPCC. Their brilliance transforms half-baked ideas into important results. Most important, my family, especially my wife, Nona, has shared and shaped my entire scientific adventure. This Roger Revelle Medal should recognize them all.
—Christopher Field, Carnegie Institute of Science, Stanford, Calif.