Inez Fung

2004 Roger Revelle Medal Winner

University of California, Berkeley

Inez Fung received the Revelle Medal at the 2004 Fall Meeting Honors Ceremony on 15 December, in San Francisco, California. The medal is given for outstanding contributions in atmospheric sciences, atmosphere-ocean coupling, atmosphere-land coupling, biogeochemical cycles, climate, or related aspects of the Earth system.


It is our great pleasure and honor to present Professor Inez Fung, the 2004 AGU Roger Revelle Medalist. Inez is a scientific pioneer in the true sense of the words: She has made and continues to make fundamental discoveries on topics before most have even recognized them as important areas of pursuit. Along the way, she has laid the ground work for the now emerging area of biogeoscience, developed many of the key modeling and numerical analysis techniques in use today, and mentored a generation of successful young scientists.

A hallmark of Inez’s work is her ability to combine theory and data to produce “observational constraints” on complex processes. She has tremendous skill at bringing together remote sensing and surface observations, environmental data, rigorous mathematics, and atmospheric/ocean physics to form a coherent picture of the underlying dynamics. She also has an extraordinary talent for asking the key questions, and many of her great successes stem from her ability to bridge across the boundaries of traditionally separate Earth science subdisciplines (e.g., meteorology, terrestrial ecology, atmospheric chemistry, oceanography) to see the interconnections missed by her peers.

Professor Fung is one of the scientific leaders shaping our current view of the global carbon cycle. She is personally responsible for several of the critical advances in this area since the early work of Roger Revelle’s generation. A decade or more ahead of other research groups, she developed a very credible global simulation of the terrestrial biosphere and atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2). From this, she demonstrated that the space/time information in atmospheric CO2 variability could be used quantitatively to constrain the sources and sinks of carbon to the atmosphere. Hers was the pivotal discovery that the Northern Hemisphere continents are now significant sinks for atmospheric carbon. More than a decade later, this finding continues to shape the national and international research agenda as well as the ongoing societal and political debate regarding fossil fuel burning, carbon sequestration, and climate change.

Inez has left her scientific mark on a wide range of fields from carbon isotopes, methane clathrates, and nitrous oxide to atmospheric dust and the remote sensing of terrestrial vegetation, and from the global water cycle to ocean iron fertilization. Recently, Inez’s scientific curiosity has expanded to encompass the broader-scale questions of how the Earth’s biogeochemical cycles (carbon, nitrogen, iron, water) interact with the physical climate and society and how these intertwined, complex systems may evolve in the future due to human perturbations. She is the lead architect of a new community-based, coupled climate-carbon cycle numerical simulation that is reinventing the way we examine the planet much like her mentor, Jules Charney, did for meteorology many decades ago.

Inez’s career uniquely embodies the spirit of Roger Revelle and the Revelle Medal in terms of the excellence of her individual research contributions, her broad impacts across the atmospheric, oceanic, and terrestrial disciplines, and her strong scientific leadership. We think Roger would be proud to acknowledge her accomplishments with an award in his honor.

—ELISABETH A. HOLLAND and SCOTT C. DONEY, National Center for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, Colo. and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Mass.


Roger Revelle was a giant and a visionary. He called himself “the grandfather of the greenhouse effect.” In 1957, Roger coined the phrase “large scale geophysical experiment” and wrote about “the peculiar buffer mechanism of sea water,” now called the Revelle factor. In the same paper, he also discussed the competition among CO2 fertilization, nutrient limitation and land use m

During the Kennedy administration, Roger Revelle went to Pakistan to work on desalination of the agricultural fields. I once asked Roger why he did that, and he said “Well I was the director of Scripps, and they figured that I know salt water.” Recently, I read the memoirs of Jerome Wiesner, the science advisor to President Kennedy, and later president of MIT. Wiesner wrote that the desalination project was to deflect a possible request for weapons. Roger assembled a team, created mathematical models of aquifers and figured out the spacing and sizes of wells necessary to pump the water. They also worked out an implementation scheme that could be executed systematically by illiterate farmers in the field. While in Pakistan to work on the water problem, Roger was confronted with the food problem, and envisioned a bigger scheme not just for irrigation, but also for providing fertilizers and pesticides, building roads for moving products to market, and educating the population. The scheme was too broad and difficult for immediate implementation. Abdus Salam, Wiesner’s counter-part in Pakistan, told Wiesner some 20 years later that, with the insight from Roger, Pakistan transformed itself from a grain importing economy to one with surpluses for export. Roger’s work was interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary and end-to-end, long before these words became part of our working vocabulary.

During my post-doc, the late Jule Charney, my thesis advisor, told me to stop commuting, go home, and learn carbon. My colleagues, students and post-docs have been marvelous teachers. Jim Hansen was the perfect boss, who filtered out bureaucratic demands and allowed time for learning. Jasmin John fearlessly translated vague notions into computer code. The cohort from my student days at MIT, and the NASA EOS Interdisciplinary Science team led by Piers Sellers have provided intellectual companionship and laughter as we explored the unknown. Jim Bishop not only is my steadfast ballast and safe harbor, but also makes me appreciate every observation and observer.

I am incredibly humbled by the Revelle Medal. I think Roger would be pleased that we have made some progress along the path he mapped out. There is still a long way to go. I thank the American Geophysical Union for the honor, Beth Holland and Scott Doney for the citation, and Piers Sellers, for leaving his astronaut duties to be the citationist at this ceremony. The Revelle Medal will inspire me and remind me: Geosciences for peace, and Geosciences for the people.

—INEZ FUNG, University of California, Berkeley