Tom Beer

Safe System Solutions Pty Ltd.

2016 International Award Winner

Tom Beer received the 2016 International Award at the AGU Fall Meeting Honors Ceremony, held on 14 December 2016 in San Francisco, Calif. The award honors “an individual scientist, group, or a small team for making an outstanding contribution to furthering the Earth and space sciences and using science for the benefit of society in developing nations.”


Tom Beer has a long and distinguished international career culminating with his election in 2007 as president of the International Union of Geodesy and Geophysics (IUGG) for a ­4-year term. He has made major contributions to the development of international science and the societal impacts of natural hazards and climate change.

He studied in Australia, New Zealand, and Canada, then went to the University of Ghana to work on atmospheric waves. Later, as science adviser, he introduced risk assessment methods to the Australian Environment Protection Authority and helped produce the generic risk management standard that has become the international standard known as ISO 31000. Tom helped to organize the workshop at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences in Budapest that issued the “Budapest Manifesto on Risk Science and Sustainability.” This work led to the theoretical risk assessment and management underpinnings of two international research programs—the Natural Hazards Theme of the International Year of Planet Earth and the International Council for Science (ICSU) program Integrated Research on Disaster Risk—as well as the underpinnings of the IUGG Commission on Geophysical Risk and Sustainability, of which he was the founding chair.

In addition to his scientific degrees, he holds a diploma in Asian studies, undertaken to help when he was an adviser to the Mekong River Commission Secretariat. As a member of an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) expert group and as lead author for the IPCC Special Report on Technology Transfer, he shared in the recognition of IPCC for the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize. Tom also received the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) Chairman’s Medal in 2000 for his work on greenhouse gas emissions from alternative fuels and in 2013 was the Axford Lecturer for the Asia Oceania Geosciences Society. He is presently chair of the IUGG Commission on Climatic and Environmental Change and a member of the Committee for Scientific Planning and Review of ICSU and during 2016 has taken part in two international review committees.

Tom has been editor in chief of the journal Natural Hazards. He has authored or edited 28 books, of which Atmospheric Waves won the Adam Hilger Prize and Environmental Oceanography (now in its second edition) has been translated into Chinese. He has also published over 200 ­peer-­reviewed papers, book chapters, and technical reports.

Congratulations to Tom for his distinguished career and outstanding contributions to the development of international science and innovative ­cross-­disciplinary research on natural hazards, risks, and climate change.

—Jaime Urrutia Fucugauchi, Mexican Academy
of Sciences, Mexico City


I was recently asked to provide advice for my younger self; it was “Never forget that your parents were refugees, neither of whom had been inside a university. Remember to help those from less developed countries, and never forget that a university education is a privilege, not a right” (see http://­­alumni/­awards/­2016/­tom-­beer.shtml). I should extend this to say that scientific research is a privilege, not a right, as demonstrated by the actions of governments that are opposed to the idea of climate change, most recently in Australia (see­csiro-church and­article-­CSIRO).

I applaud AGU for its motto of “Unselfish cooperation in research,” and for emphasizing in 2007 that geophysics is truly international in character by establishing the International Award. I thank Jaime Urrutia Fucugauchi for his citation and thank international luminaries such as Gordon McBean, Le Huu Ti, Harsh Gupta, Keith Alverson, Ian Allison, Guoxiong Wu, Uri Shamir, Mike MacCracken, Alik ­Ismail-­Zadeh, and Ian Galbally for their support over the years.

Acknowledgment must also go to the research scientists in the 69 countries that make up the International Union of Geodesy and Geophysics (IUGG). AGU started as the U.S. National Committee of the IUGG, and as the United States is a member of IUGG it means that all AGU members are also members of IUGG. I encourage them to cooperate internationally and globally as well as nationally and locally.

Last year’s International Award response stated that “…without due deference to different social norms, international projects often wither in the ‘Valley of Death.’ We are still learning how to become more effective.” Indeed, we are. As natural hazards and disasters become an ever more important part of the societal background, the work of the International Council for Science (ICSU) and its program on Integrated Research on Disaster Risk (IRDR) becomes ever more important, as does the work of IUGG commissions such as the Commission on Climatic and Environmental Change.

Finally, let me acknowledge my family and my wife, Jane, who bears the brunt of my frequent international absences, and once again remember and honor my parents. They represent the quintessence of George Eliot’s quotation from Middlemarch, that “…the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life….”

—Tom Beer, Safe System Solutions Pty Ltd; Chair, IUGG Commission on Climatic and Environmental Change