Stefan R. Falke

2010 Charles S. Falkenberg Award Winner

Stefan R. Falke received the Charles S. Falkenberg Award at the 2010 AGU Fall Meeting Honors Ceremony, held on 15 December 2010 in San Francisco, Calif. The award honors “scientist under 45 years of age who has contributed to the quality of life, economic opportunities, and stewardship of the planet through the use of Earth science information and to the public awareness of the importance of understanding our planet.”


Stefan Falke is an exemplar for the AGU Charles S. Falkenberg Award through his significant and sustained contributions to the stewardship of the planet. Falke has led the way to building a community-driven air quality information system that bridges the gap between research and operations. His insights are novel and demonstrate his knowledge of the science issues at hand and the role of community collaboration in addressing these complex technology and science issues.

Falke’s teaching, research, and professional activities span and connect the fields of environmental engineering and information science and technology. As a professor of energy, environmental, and chemical engineering at Washington University, in St. Louis, Mo., Falke has initiated research relating to the use of satellite sensors to monitor air quality and public health. He has studied eastern United States forest fires and their emissions impact and has been a leader in data fusion to support air quality monitoring. The result of this work has been a richer data system that air quality decision makers can use to monitor and predict air quality events in their regions. He brought these data integration tools and methods to the classroom, teaching spatial analysis and environmental data analysis courses at the undergraduate and graduate levels.

Falke’s broad knowledge in both the atmospheric science and data systems domains has made him a key contributor to exciting developments and breakthroughs in the development of interoperable information systems for Earth science applications. He provides clear and cogent analysis of data system–related issues confronting the atmospheric science community. Falke has communicated this state-of-the-art knowledge to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and NASA decision makers in a very effective way, and his contributions have had a strong influence on the development of monitoring and data management programs at those agencies.

In addition to his college-level teaching, research, and development, Falke has guided the development of the successful Federation of Earth Science Information Partners (ESIP) Air Quality Working Group. During his term as working group chairman, Falke recruited a broad cross section of our nation’s top air scientists to participate (on a voluntary basis) in the Air Quality Working Group, and through fostering open collaboration, the group has begun to realize a community-­driven air quality information system that supports research, education, and operational decision support stakeholders. Under Falke’s leadership the Air Quality Working Group has made important technical contributions to the Group on Earth Observations (GEO) Architecture Implementation Pilot program.

Falke has exemplified the emerging trend toward interdisciplinary science and collaboration across seemingly insurmountable barriers. He has demonstrated great diplomacy and tenacity in working across these many communities. The result of his work has been a growing community with a shared vision to transform air quality science into information usable by state and local decision makers. Falke represents the outgoing science professional that makes him an excellent choice to honor Charles S. Falkenberg’s work in the Earth science community.

—CHARLES F. HUTCHINSON, School of Natural Resources and the Environment, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, University of Arizona, Tucson; CAROL B. MEYER, Foundation for Earth Science, Raleigh, N. C.; RUDOLF HUSAR, Washington University in St. Louis, St. Louis, Mo.; and FRANCIS LINDSAY, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.


It is a true honor to be the 2010 recipient of the Charles S. Falkenberg Award. I did not know Charles, but learning about his commitment to Earth science and to his family has amplified the significance of being associated with his award. Like Charles, I have a young family, and time with them is precious. However, the family-work balance is difficult, and I would not be here today if it were not for the tremendous love, support, and understanding of my wife, Kristin.

I am grateful to Chuck Hutchison, Carol Meyer, Rudy Husar, and Frank Lindsay for nominating me for this honor. I was nominated in part for my involvement in efforts that span academia, government, and industry to better share and use air quality–related data from ground-based measurement networks, satellites, and models. These are truly collaborative efforts made possible by the contributions of many, so it is humbling to be singled out.

For me, it all started with conversations with my graduate advisor, Rudy Husar, about systems thinking, the Web, and the “3 Cs”: collaboration, coordination, communication as applied to air quality data analysis and decision making. While I was an American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Science and Technology Policy Fellow at EPA, discussions with another Fellow, Brooke Hemming, and a former Fellow, Terry Keating, stimulated ideas for a framework of networked and interoperable air quality information systems. While at EPA, I was introduced to the Open Geospatial Consortium and its standards, which have become foundational for advancing interoperability.

A few years ago, NASA stipulated that grantees participate in collaborative Earth science information groups and, as a result, launched the ESIP Air Quality Cluster, a core community forum for fostering interoperability. Multiple agencies are pursuing international collaborations across atmospheric composition and science that are among the exciting efforts aimed toward a Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS).

Many others are contributing as well. No single project, program, organization, country, or individual is the leader. Progress is driven by the willingness to jointly find and make connections among our systems. It is about the intersections.

We need to continue to pursue interfaces among our organizations and disciplines at multiple levels. In air quality we talk about integrating models, observations, and emissions data. More broadly, academia, government, and business need to better intersect. But where do systems intersect? And how do these intersections flourish? In answering these questions, we need not make everything completely open or transparent. We should figure out what we consider unique to us and what we share. These shared areas define how our systems can intersect. And the goal is to share not just for the sake of being a good Earth science community citizen—­it’s for our own good as well. We enhance our individual objectives by using what others have shared.

We are progressing toward our vision of networked Earth science information systems in air quality and other fields, but challenges remain. It takes time to establish the trust needed to operate as shared and connected information systems. This award provides motivation to continue working together toward our common goals.

—STEFAN R. FALKE, Northrop Grumman and Washington University in St. Louis, St. Louis, Mo.