Robert E. Kopp

Institute of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences, Rutgers University – New Brunswick

2017 James B. Macelwane Medal Winner

Robert E. Kopp, Michael P. Lamb, Yan Lavallée, Wen Li, and Tiffany A. Shaw were awarded the 2017 James B. Macelwane Medal at the AGU Fall Meeting Honors Ceremony, held on 13 December 2017 in New Orleans, La. The medal is for “significant contributions to the geophysical sciences by an outstanding early career scientist.”


Dr. Robert E. Kopp is an outstanding young scientist who has already achieved a remarkable record of sustained research excellence in geobiology, climate policy, and sea level change. The James B. Macelwane Medal is intended to honor scientists who display exceptional depth and breadth of research. In this respect, Bob’s research program is unprecedented. Bob is brilliant, quantitatively adept, extraordinarily collegial and collaborative, and focused on research, teaching, and public service.

Certainly, the impact and quality of Bob’s publication record alone qualify him for the James B. Macelwane Medal, including one article on ­paleo–​­sea level that is, perhaps, the best and most original in its field in many, many years. Bob is the key inventor and innovator of Bayesian Gaussian process modeling of sea level, an application that has revolutionized the field of sea level rise reconstruction and projection. Beyond the high quality and sheer number of his scholarly contributions, Bob exemplifies many additional qualities that speak to his promise for continued leadership, including his talent as an educator—both within academia and beyond—and as a leader in interdisciplinary science teams. Bob has built a highly successful research group at Rutgers, and he did so at an impressive speed. There is no doubt that Bob already has had a significant impact on training scientists of the future.

Bob’s continued engagement in policy and ­outreach—such as working with individual states on sea level risk analyses and coauthoring technical aspects of the excellent Risky Business reports to the National Academy of Sciences and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change—illustrates his ability to make contributions in diverse areas of climate science and communicate his scientific expertise into relevant policy advice. His service record would be exemplary for a senior scientist; for an ­early-​­career researcher, it is truly remarkable.

I would like to conclude by saying that Bob has emerged as one of the most energetic and productive scientists of his generation. His accomplishments as a scholar, educator, and citizen of AGU’s academic community make him more than deserving to receive the James B. Macelwane Medal. Please join me in congratulating Dr. Robert E. Kopp on his accomplishments.

—Benjamin P. Horton, Asian School of the Environment, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore


Thank you, Ben, for the nomination, and thanks to AGU for this great and humbling honor.

My career has depended intensely on the support of family, friends, mentors, and collaborators. My parents fostered a love of inquiry and provided boundless support. David Morrow, my ­longest-​­standing collaborator, has exchanged ideas with me since middle school. At the University of Chicago, Munir Humayun brought me into geosciences by way of astrobiology and let me work with a tiny piece of Mars. At the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), Joe Kirschvink brought me to his quirky Earth, taking me around the world to study the Precambrian rise of oxygen and the fossils of magnetotactic bacteria. At Prince­ton, Adam Maloof dove with me into the weird North American coastal waters of the ­Paleocene–​­Eocene Thermal Maximum, Frederik Simons helped me hone my statistical skills, and Michael Oppenheimer grounded me in the challenges that arise when humans start tinkering with the Earth system. During my first venture outside of academia, Rick Duke gave a ­policy-​­inexperienced young scientist the challenge of helping the U.S. government figure out how to value climate damages.

For the last 7 years, my colleagues at Rutgers have been great supporters and collaborators. From unearthing and interpreting ­paleo–​­sea level records to building coastal resilience in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, I’ve been in the right place and time to work with colleagues like Ben Horton and Ken Miller and outstanding students and postdocs on both the fundamentals and the applications of sea level science. I’ve come into the ­paleo–​­sea level community at a time when that community, through PALSEA, has been organized into one of the most welcoming and collegial small scientific associations I’ve ever encountered. I’ve been extremely fortunate to have worked over the last 4 years with outstanding economists like Solomon Hsiang to build the ­multi-​­institutional collaboration that is now the Climate Impact Lab. To top it off, most recently, I’ve been blessed to have met my wonderful, compassionate, supportive wife, Farrin Anello. And there are so many more family members, friends, and colleagues I’d like to thank but cannot name.

I’d like to express my appreciation to AGU for valuing the winding road I’ve taken. I’d like to accept this award on behalf of all the young scientists in our community who are trying to be both excellent researchers and active participants in addressing the societal challenges revealed by the geosciences.

—Robert E. Kopp, Institute of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences, Rutgers ­University–​­New Brunswick, N.J.