Richard B. Alley

2007 Roger Revelle Medal Winner

Pennsylvania State University, University Park

Richard B. Alley was awarded the 2007 Roger Revelle Medal at the AGU Fall Meeting Honors Ceremony, which was held on 12 December 2007 in San Francisco, Calif. The medal is for “outstanding contributions in atmospheric sciences, atmosphere-ocean coupling, atmosphereland coupling, biogeochemical cycles, climate, or related aspects of the Earth system.”


I can’t think of anyone on the planet more deserving of the Roger Revelle Medal than Richard Alley. He’s not only a brilliant climate scientist but also a highly gifted communicator.

Let me first say a few worlds about Richard’s science. It centers on glaciers and branches out from there to many aspects of climate and paleoclimate. To me, Richard is the “answer man.” When I’m puzzled about something I read or hear, I call or e-mail Richard. Nine times out of 10 he gives me a well-reasoned, easily understood explanation, and if it’s not on the tip of his tongue, he’ll get back to me. Traditionally, his papers deal with the movement of glaciers over their substrates and how ice shelves influence this motion, but with the advent of the central Greenland ice core program, he has immersed himself in the read-ing of these records and what they have to tell us about the relationship between climate and ocean circulation.

Of all the people I know, Richard puts the greatest effort into doing something concrete about the ongoing increase in atmospheric CO2 content. As his expertise is in glaciology, he focuses his scientific atten-tion on the response of the Greenland and Antarctic ice caps to global warming. He considers the IPCC estimates of melting rates to be gross minima and points to a host of processes that are likely to speed the influx of meltwater into the sea. He is not content to limit his comments on this subject to fellow scientists and students. Rather, he eagerly donates his time to reporters and congressmen, and because of his contagious enthusiasm and articulate explanations, they flock to his doorstep.

One of Roger Revelle’s great strengths was his ability to get the attention of people with influence. We dearly miss Roger and need people who can do what he did. Unfortunately, there aren’t many. But in Richard, we have such a person. Hence, I know that Roger would be pleased to no end that Richard is receiving the medal bearing his name. Hail to Richard Alley!

For those of you who are not acquainted with Richard’s career, he did his Ph.D. research at the University of Wisconsin under the direction of Charles Bentley. After receiving his Ph.D. degree in 1987, he stayed on as a postdoc for 1 year. Then he took a teaching job at Penn State, where he remains today. As of the year 2000, he was appointed the Evan Pugh Professor. Along the way, he married Cindy and together they raised two daughters who are now in college. Despite many offers to move elsewhere, including several from Columbia, he and Cindy have chosen to remain in “Paterno” land.

—WALLACE S. BROECKER, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, Palisades, N. Y.


Thank you, thank you. To hear such wonderful words from the great environmental scientist Wally Broecker, in the name of the “grandfather of the greenhouse effect” Roger Revelle, is humbling indeed. We are all woven together in this wonderful enterprise. I never knew Roger Revelle, but he helped create the International Geophysical Year, in which Charlie Bentley (who overlapped with Wally at Columbia) was one of the heroes, and Charlie advised my Ph.D. and introduced my name to Wally. We members of the American Geophysical Union are never more than a step or two apart, so all of you share in this award.

Our science of the Earth has always been useful as well as fun, the venue where the vast sweep of time and space meets the bottom line of natural resources and hazards.

But more and more, we are engaged in something even bigger. What I do really does affect you, no matter who you are or where you live. The realization of our connectedness has grown over the millennia to become clear for all who will look, in all its frightening beauty. From air quality to fisheries to the ozone layer, we matter to each other, with high scientific confidence.

The most obvious manifestation of this interconnectedness may be the dominantly human cause of recent climate change. The most compelling challenge of this interconnectedness may be that our deci-sions will determine whether or not future human-caused changes are much larger than those of the past. The choices really are ours, and they really will be made by people informed by your discoveries, guided by your assessments, and inspired by your educational and outreach efforts. We have to get it right; the world is counting on us.

The North Atlantic is looking a little more stable than we once feared, but the reality of past abrupt climate changes there and elsewhere, and the possibility of such changes in the future, still drives many of us in this field that Wally founded. I believe that the IPCC was completely correct that we know too little about ice sheets to provide either “a best estimate or an upper bound for sea level rise.” The joy of the discoveries to be made in filling that knowledge gap is tempered by the embarrassment that we are so far behind in making those discoveries.

I thank my colleagues in ice core science, the flow of glaciers and ice sheets and their influence on landscapes and biogeochemical cycling, and the coupling of ice with ocean, air, and land. The communities investigating abrupt climate change and ice sheet collapse are percolating with the brilliance that is absolutely essential to predicting the almost unpredictable. Penn State has been a welcoming home for me, and I thank my friends there. To have Sridhar Anandakrishnan, Dave Pollard, Todd Sowers, and so many others just down the hall, and Byron Parizek and Dave Reusch in the same office suite, is a gift indeed, as are the present students and those who have generously remained in touch after graduating. I thank my dear wife, Cindy, and daughters, Janet and Karen, for love and kindness and cheerful acquiescence to the incessant demands of the science. And I thank you of the AGU for this honor, and Wally for his guidance and inspiration. The lovely tapestry of our science is a central part of the far vaster picture of the planet, and I’m eager to see what else we can learn.

—RICHARD B. ALLEY, Pennsylvania State University, University Park