Richard Monastersky


2017 Robert C. Cowen Award for Sustained Achievement in Science Journalism Winner

Richard Monastersky received the 2017 Cowen Award for Sustained Achievement in Science Journalism at the AGU Fall Meeting Honors Ceremony, held on 13 December 2017 in New Orleans, La. The award honors “a journalist or team of journalists who have made significant, lasting, and consistent contributions to accurate reporting on the Earth and space sciences for the general public.”


Over the past 3 decades, Rich Monastersky has reported Earth science stories from all seven continents—including from the South Pole and the top of the Greenland ice cap. His résumé includes more than 1,000 articles in outlets including Science News, where he worked as Earth sciences editor, and the Chronicle of Higher Education, where he was a general science reporter. Since 2008, he has been an editor at Nature, where among other things he conceptualizes, commissions, and edits Earth science features.

Rich has covered the emergence of climate change as a major scientific and political issue, both nationally and internationally. He reported on the Loma Prieta and Northridge earthquakes, which exposed vulnerabilities to earthquake hazards in the United States. And he covered a string of other major geoscience stories, from the launch of the -Pluto-​-bound New Horizons spacecraft to the devastating Fukushima tsunami.

Rich is consistently ahead of the pack in identifying and writing important articles. A 1991 piece on earthquake early warning systems in California put him at least 2 decades ahead of most other reporters. A 1991 feature, reported from Greenland, hints at the crucial climate insights to come from these paleoenvironmental studies. A 1995 article on iron fertilization is among the earliest reporting on geoengineering ideas. A 2006 piece definitively chronicles the political battles over the “hockey stick” graph of rising carbon dioxide levels. And a 2015 feature is a graphic novel, conceived and written with a comic artist as a way to explore climate science and international negotiations in advance of the Paris climate talks as a way to reach new audiences.

Through his mentoring of young reporters, Rich has also been instrumental in shaping the next generation of science journalists to tackle pressing Earth science topics. Many features he has edited have garnered major awards, including “The Rock That Fell to Earth,” by Roberta Kwok, winner of AGU’s 2010 Walter Sullivan Award for feature writing.

Rich himself is no stranger to honors, having acquired AGU’s David Perlman news writing award in 2002 and the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s journalism award twice (in 2001 and 2005). The Cowen Award cements this richly deserved legacy.

—Alexandra Witze, Nature, Boulder, Colo.


I am profoundly honored to receive this award and want to thank AGU for its commitment to promoting science journalism. I also thank Alex for nominating me and for writing such a wonderful citation.

It is especially rewarding to be recognized by AGU because I have spent much of my journalism career covering Earth and planetary sciences. I got hooked in 1986 while reporting one of my first stories for Science News magazine about experiments that strung an electrical wire between mountain peaks to investigate electricity inside clouds. Soon after that, I joined researchers rafting through the Grand Canyon, and my path in science journalism has been an amazing adventure ever since. I have been privileged to tag along with researchers as they fly over rivers of lava, drill through the Greenland ice sheet, pilot rovers across the surface of Mars, and land a spacecraft on a distant asteroid. I thank these scientists and countless others for answering all of my questions and for sharing their contagious curiosity about the universe.

I would never have reached this point without the support and guidance of many editors and colleagues along the way. There are too many to name them all, but special thanks go to Joel Greenberg, who gave me my first job in journalism; Patrick Young and Julie Ann Miller during my years at Science News; Jennifer Ruark and Richard Byrne at the Chronicle of Higher Education; and Oliver Morton and Helen Pearson at Nature.

As an editor now, I have the good fortune to work with many immensely talented writers. I would like to thank them for their creativity and dedication, which give me hope that science journalism will grow stronger even as it goes through a period of tremendous change.

It doesn’t seem that long ago that I was just getting started in this business. In those early days, I was lucky enough to meet some of the giants of science journalism such as Walter Sullivan, David Perlman, and Bob Cowen, who were welcoming with young reporters. They set a high bar, and I hope to live up to their example.

Bob recently wrote to me that he didn’t consider his decades in the business as “work.” Rather, he said, “it was a lifetime adventure.” I couldn’t agree more.

—Richard Monastersky, Nature, Washington, D. C.