Paul Voosen

2013 David Perlman Award for Excellence in Science Journalism – News Winner

Paul Voosen, a former reporter for Greenwire, received the David Perlman Award for Excellence in Science Journalism–News at the AGU Fall Meeting Honors Ceremony, held on 11 December 2013 in San Francisco, Calif. Voosen was honored for the article “Glacial Ghosts Set Sea­Level Trap for East Coast,” published online 9 August 2012 by Greenwire. The story covers a wide variety of interwoven factors that affect sea level rise on the East Coast of the United States. Published not long after Hurricane Sandy’s landfall, the article provided useful and timely context for understanding the devastating coastal flooding from combined effects of the storm and sea level rise. The Perlman award is for work published with a deadline pressure of 1 week or less. Voosen is now a staff writer for The Chronicle of Higher Education.


It’s my pleasure to nominate Paul Voosen, the former science reporter for Greenwire, for the David Perlman award. Last November, as Superstorm Sandy pounded the East Coast of the United States, Paul found himself stranded for several days in Miami, mourning a recently deceased family member.

Returning to our office after several days of extended leave, Paul told me he had an idea for an explanatory story on regional sea level rise, pinned on the example of the East Coast. A year ago, he had discovered that sea levels in Alaska and the Baltic Sea were falling, thanks to something called “glacial isostatic adjustment.” He burrowed into the literature but, at the time, had no story beyond that interesting fact.

His enterprising research, however, meant that just a few days after Sandy struck, he was able to turn around a feature that examined all aspects influencing sea level on the East Coast: its sinking coastline, as the viscous mantle flows north; the mysteries of the Atlantic’s meridional overturning circulation; and even the gravitation pull of the ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica. He got it all in the story, and he did it with verve.

Paul is a tenacious reporter and a superb writer. His stories are accessible and almost always begin with a punchy, one-sentence lede that draws readers in. In this story, it is “The United States has a debt, etched in stone, to pay back to the sea.” And his stories always show us the big picture, a landscape sprawling beyond the news event of the moment.

Paul has since left Greenwire to join the Chronicle of Higher Education as their science reporter. We miss him, but we still enjoy from afar the work of one of the best science writers in the country.

—CYRIL T. ZANESKI, Greenwire, Washington, D. C.


It is an honor and privilege to accept the David Perlman Award. Though I have never met Dave, he is a legend, and I can only hope to have a reporting career half as distinguished and a third as long as his own.

I share similar sentiments for the past recipients of the Perlman—especially Richard Monastersky, whose old role I now fill at the Chronicle of Higher Education—and my fellow award winners this year: Geoffrey Haines-Stiles, Erna Akuginow, and Tim Folger. Without their rigorous, sustained work, we would all be the poorer.

And special thanks, as well, to my wife, Bess Dopkeen. Your support is indefatigable, incredible. I’ve been fortunate enough to travel the world for my work. I’ve been even more fortunate to have you, so often, right there beside me. Let’s never stop exploring.

This story, and all my geoscience coverage, would not have existed without my former editor, Cyril Zaneski, and his talented staff at Greenwire, where I worked for several years as the enterprise science reporter. Early into my time with him, Cy gave me the rarest of commodities in modern journalism: the time and resources to pursue science-based stories beyond the news cycle.

It was one such pursuit that set the stage for my coverage of Superstorm Sandy. Early in 2012, I had noticed an aside that land in Alaska, free of its glacial legacy, was rising. How could that be, I wondered, given melting ice and an expanding ocean? A merry chase into the world of glacial isostatic adjustment ensued but ultimately led to a dead end: without a trip to Alaska, the realities of regional sea level rise would lack punch. We shelved it.

Every failed lead, however, brings new terrain; for me, part of the map had been indelibly filled in. When Superstorm Sandy struck, while the surge was still retreating from New York City, I remembered the peripheral forebulge, the emergence curves ringing Hudson Bay. What else could influence the East Coast’s sea level? The chase was back on.

I can’t thank enough the Earth scientists who, on short notice, guided me through the thicket of regional sea level rise: Jerry Mitrovica, Josh Willis, Tom Cronin, Susan Lozier, and Tad Pfeffer, along with many others. Their work, and the work done by all Earth scientists, is vital. It is a privilege, more than any other part of my job, to join you out there, on the rocks, in uncharted terrain.

Keep extending that verge. I’ll be right behind.

—PAUL VOOSEN, Chronicles for Higher Education, Washington, D. C.