Geology & Geophysics AGU News

Asrar, Hsieh, Mandia, Overland, and Wysession Receive 2014 Ambassador Awards

Ghassem R. Asrar, Paul A. Hsieh, Scott Mandia, James E. Overland, and Michael E. Wysession were awarded the 2014 Ambassador Awards at the AGU Fall Meeting Honors Ceremony. The award is in recognition of “outstanding contributions to the following area(s): societal impact, service to the Earth and space community, scientific leadership, and promotion of talent/career pool.”


Citation for Ghassem R. Asrar

Ghassem R. Asrar
Ghassem R. Asrar

For more than 20 years, Ghassem Asrar has been a distinguished public servant to the Earth and space community of the highest degree. As chief scientist for the Earth Observing System (EOS) at NASA from 1992 to 1998, Ghassem developed a communication and outreach strategy promoting the EOS program to the public, U.S. Congress, and international scientific organizations that still exists today. From 1998 to 2004, he served as associate administrator for NASA’s Office of Earth Science. In this capacity he had overall scientific, technical, programmatic, and organization management responsibility for Earth science, with an annual budget greater than $1.5 billion. During this period, the program developed and successfully launched 15 Earth observing satellites and developed a comprehensive, multidisciplinary data and information system (­EOSDIS) that enabled the use of data from these satellites by more than two million users. Ghassem’s last tour of government service was as deputy administrator for the Agricultural Research Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture from 2006 to 2008, where he was responsible for management and oversight of a $250 million portfolio of environment and natural resources research projects located at numerous laboratories throughout the United States.

One of the hallmarks of Ghassem Asrar’s scientific leadership has been his commitment to interdisciplinary and international science. During his time as director of the World Climate Research Programme (WCRP), the number of nations participating in the program and their financial and in-kind contributions for WCRP activities increased. For example, for the first time in the ­30-year history of the WCRP, an Open Science Conference was held in October 2011 in Denver, Colorado, and attracted 2000 scientists from around the world, including 530 early career scientists, more than 300 of whom were from developing nations and regions. Another attribute of Ghassem’s impact on many fields has been his devotion to the next generation of Earth scientists. While at NASA, he established the NASA Earth System Science Graduate Student Fellowship program to attract students with strong math, physics, and basic sciences backgrounds to focus their Ph.D. research and training on the emerging interdisciplinary field of Earth system science. NASA has awarded a total of 150 fellowships each year, the legacy of which has been the successful graduation of several thousands of Ph.D. and postdoctoral students who are now serving as the advisors and mentors of future generations of applicants and recipients.

In summary, Ghassem Asrar’s leadership and service to the present and future generations of Earth scientists truly embody the spirit of the AGU Ambassador Award.

Antonio J. Busalacchi, University of Maryland, College Park


I am honored to be among the first recipients of [the] newly established AGU Ambassador Award.

I consider myself very fortunate to have had great opportunities to contribute to the field of Earth system science as a researcher, educator, science manager, and senior administrator. These opportunities allowed me to contribute in a variety of ways during the past 30 years. Reflecting on those years, I can confess that none of it had been planned the way they came along, not on my part! Even my first postdoctoral appointment in 1985 came about through a surprise invitation letter when I was completing and defending my Ph.D. dissertation. It was this opportunity that shaped my professional career during ensuing decade(s). One major common contributor was the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) that sponsored my postdoctoral appointment, hosted me as a visiting senior scientist through the California Institute of Technology/Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and ultimately accepted me as one of its own. Combined together, these posts shaped more than two decades of my career. As such, I will always have a soft spot for NASA and its mission in my heart.

I can think of many fond memories and proud moments, such as being a part of the international science teams promoting interdisciplinary and coordinated field experiments in [the] 1980s and 1990s, a member of the international team formulating the international Earth observing system program with NASA Earth Observing System as a major component, and a member of the U.S. national science teams for developing the U.S. Space Exploration and Energy Independence initiatives. The one role that I cherish most is my contribution to the NASA education programs such as Earth system science fellowship, New Investigators program, and National Earth System Science curriculum and education standards. They have enabled training and development of current and future generation(s) of Earth system scientists, globally. Without intellectual leaders sponsored by these programs, we could neither utilize effectively the current Earth observing system nor dream of the future generation of such systems.

I thank AGU for bestowing on me the Ambassador Award for my modest contribution to the field of Earth system science. I share this recognition and my gratitude with those who helped shape my career. I could succeed because of their support for me, and it is my great pleasure to accept this prestigious award. Thank you.

Ghassem R. Asrar, Joint Global Change Research Institute/Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, College Park, Md.


Citation for Paul Hsieh

Paul Hsieh
Paul Hsieh

Paul’s success during the Macondo incident is no surprise. Rather, it is part of a career-long pattern of developing and applying fundamental scientific principles to resolve important societal issues.

Paul is a world leader in two complementary research areas: (1) the hydrology of fractured rocks and (2) the coupling between fluid flow, stress, and deformation. Perhaps more significant in the context of this award is how Paul has parlayed that expertise in terms of societal impact and service to the Earth science community.

The U.S. Geological Survey has a large program of cooperative studies in which state and local government entities help fund hydrologic investigations. Paul is part of the relatively small cadre of research scientists who assist this operational program on important and intractable problems. For instance, Paul led the successful completion of a sole-source aquifer model spanning the ­Washington-​­Idaho border. The responsible state agencies were initially wary of each other, but Paul quickly developed working relationships, and under his leadership the team produced timely and ­well-​­received results. This and many similar examples highlight Paul’s ability to formulate solutions to hydrologic problems and bring all parties to the table. To facilitate such efforts, Paul has created open-source software for visualization of model results—tools that have considerably advanced the degree to which modelers can gain insight from simulations and effectively communicate results.

Paul’s stature in the field of ­fractured-​rock hydrogeology led to service on three National Research Council committees, including the committee on Panel on Conceptual Models of Flow and Transport in the Fractured Vadose Zone. This committee, which Paul chaired, was particularly important. Water collected at Yucca Mountain showed that bomb blast isotopes had penetrated deep into the unsaturated zone. This unexpected observation required leading scientists to critique existing theory and explore alternatives. At the time the site was approved, the future of Yucca Mountain as a viable nuclear waste repository depended on understanding this phenomenon.

This background illustrates Paul A. Hsieh’s ­career-​long pattern of developing and applying fundamental science to resolve important societal issues. Paul is a zealous and unselfish collaborator, motivated entirely by the goal of achieving ­high-​­quality science, and an exemplary recipient for the inaugural Ambassador Award.

Steve Ingebritsen, U.S. Geological Survey, Menlo Park, Calif. 


Thank you, Steve, for nominating me, and thank you to my colleagues who wrote letters to support the nomination. I am deeply grateful to AGU for selecting me as one of the five recipients of the Ambassador Award. In today’s world in which human impacts are manifested on a global scale, it is highly fitting for AGU to emphasize the role of science in addressing societal issues, not only for today but also for future generations.

As an undergraduate at Princeton in the 1970s, I was drawn to hydrologic science through the classes taught by George Pinder and William Gray. Their pioneering work on computer modeling in hydrology instantly captured my fascination. Shortly thereafter, I had the good fortune of being hired by John Bredehoeft to work at U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). Under John’s guidance, I learned how to transform difficult questions into tractable problems—a process elegantly demonstrated in many of John’s papers. During graduate school at the University of Arizona, I learned from my advisor, Shlomo Neuman, the importance of understanding fundamental theory and not simply learning methods and procedures. It is through such fundamental understanding that one is able to expand beyond one’s own area of study to collaborate with others in related fields. To my mentors who invested time and energy on my education and growth, I am truly grateful.

I consider USGS my professional family. It is a joy to be among peers who are totally dedicated to their work. During my career, I have been allowed the opportunity to pursue different areas of work, from groundwater contamination to induced seismicity. Such diversity of work has greatly contributed to my career growth. I am thankful to be part of an organization that recognizes its employees as its most valuable assets.

My participation in the response to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill was a career highlight. It was a privilege to serve on the government science team, led by ­then-​­Secretary of Energy Steven Chu. In my opinion, it was Dr. Chu’s deep understanding of science and his wisdom in balancing risks and benefits that led us through the environmental crisis. It was a great example of the importance of science in decision making. Yet even the best scientists today must suffer the slings and arrows of a politicized society, a situation to which climate scientists, for example, are no strangers. And so we must continue to strive for rigor and openness in our work.

Paul A. Hsieh, U.S. Geological Survey, Menlo Park, Calif.


Citation for Scott Mandia

Scott Mandia
Scott Mandia

Scott Mandia is helping the Earth science community deal with problems we never expected.

In 2009, scientists at leading research institutions had their emails stolen, mischaracterized, and plastered across the global media. Scientists were shocked that misinformation about their research could spread so rapidly.

Scott Mandia, along with two other researchers, decided to help. They formed the Climate Science Rapid Response Team to proactively address misinformation about climate research and assist scientists in accurately communicating their research to the public and the media. Their volunteer effort now includes more than 200 climate researchers who regularly communicate with journalists and provide assistance to nongovernmental organizations that are active on climate issues.

Mandia’s work has helped many early and ­mid-​­career scientists take on more ambitious public outreach opportunities, and many members of the rapid response team have grown as communicators in the past several years.

Of course, attacks on climate scientists didn’t stop. In many ways, they got worse. In several cases, advocacy groups and politicians sued scientists in court and falsely accused them of faking their climate research. At the time, the Earth science community was not prepared to respond to these unprecedented legal assaults. Mandia stepped into the breach again and worked with documentary film maker Joshua Wolfe and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility to create a Climate Science Legal Defense Fund (CSLDF), which now provides regular legal assistance to researchers.

The group has been a saving grace to the many scientists who have faced invasive document requests and other burdensome legal attacks. At the same time, the group’s assistance has had a positive ripple effect in the scientific community. Other researchers can publicly communicate about their work secure in the knowledge that if they are attacked by advocacy groups or politicians, they can get the help they need.

Mandia’s drive and enthusiasm is infectious. He approaches his work with the Earth science community seriously and with good cheer. His willingness to step up and provide valuable, necessary services to Earth scientists makes him an excellent inaugural recipient of AGU’s Ambassador Award.

Michael E. Mann, Pennsylvania State University, University Park, Pa.


I am honored to have been chosen to receive one of American Geophysical Union’s inaugural Ambassador Awards. I accept on behalf of the many people who helped make this possible. Deepest thanks to Dr. Michael Mann for coordinating the nomination process and to the others who wrote supporting letters. Thank you to the AGU awards committee members for considering my nomination worthy of this award. Your time is greatly appreciated.

Thank you to Drs. John Abraham and Ray Weymann for founding the Climate Science Rapid Response Team with me in 2010 and to Drs. Michael Ashley and Jan Dash for helping to manage the team over the past few years. Thank you to the climate scientists who joined the team. Your willingness to be “on call” for journalists and policy makers has provided them with critical, rapid, and cutting edge science information. Deepest thanks to Aaron Huertas (Union of Concerned Scientists), and to Susan Joy Hassol and Dr. Richard Somerville (climatecommunication​.org) for providing science communication workshops for our team members. Because of the work of these two groups, many of our team members have become superb science communicators. The combination of our experts’ willingness to reach out coupled with their advanced communication skills has moved forward the public dial of understanding of climate science.

Unfortunately, some groups and individuals have found climate science research inconvenient to their worldview and have used Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) laws to harass our experts and thus stifle the scientific endeavor. In January 2012, I cofounded the Climate Science Legal Defense Fund along with Joshua Wolfe to respond to this unfortunate reality. Climate Science Legal Defense Fund serves to assist scientists when they face legal attacks as well as to educate them about their rights and best practices to avoid such attacks. I wish to thank Jeff Ruch and his staff at PEER for agreeing to become our fiscal sponsor and for always being there when scientists contacted our service in need of legal advice. Many thanks to Joshua Wolfe for being a huge part of the growth and success of Climate Science Legal Defense Fund, even though you prefer to remain behind the scenes.

Finally, I wish to thank my wonderful wife, Kelly, who has steadfastly supported all of my climate ­science-​­related activities. You understand how important these activities are mean to me and to others, and for that, I am truly grateful.

Scott Mandia, Suffolk County Community College, Selden, N.Y.


Citation for James E. Overland

James E. Overland
James E. Overland

It is my great pleasure and honor to give the citation for the 2014 AGU Ambassador awardee, Dr. James E. Overland. Jim’s contributions to raising public awareness and fostering collaborative, interdisciplinary research on Arctic change and ecosystem responses are tremendous.

Jim’s tireless work includes publishing more than 200 peer-reviewed scientific papers, book chapters, and reports; giving presentations at scientific meetings and local community gatherings; convening meeting sessions; organizing workshops; and forming working groups to address important issues related to Arctic climate change and its impact on fisheries and components of ecosystems. He communicates the significance of scientific findings to policy makers, fisheries managers, environmental agencies, biologists, and the public. Jim is a leading force to push Arctic research to the forefront. He shows great foresight in Arctic research and supports young scientists by serving as a Ph.D. committee member around the world.

Jim has brought communities of scientists from different disciplines together to work as a cohesive unit. Because changes in the Arctic environment are multivariate and data sources are scattered, Jim envisioned a single interdisciplinary portal of information to contain key indicators of the Arctic environmental system. His goal was to make the information easily accessible to scientists, teachers, students, decision makers, and the general public. Jim founded the State of the Arctic Report in 2006, which later became the Arctic Report Card, a yearly assessment of the Arctic’s physical, chemical, and biological systems and how they are changing. He continues to serves as an editor of the Arctic Report Card, which in 2013 featured 18 essays authored by a team of 147 researchers from 14 countries.

In 2008, Jim organized scientists to create a Web-based forum/summary called the Sea Ice Outlook (SIO) with the purpose of providing the scientific community, stakeholders, and the public the best available information on the evolution of Arctic sea ice. In 2013, 23 groups of experts provided their predictions on the basis of model and/or empirical analyses.

Because of his profound knowledge of Arctic climate change and his insight into studies of climate ­change– ­related issues, Jim was chosen to represent the United States as a lead author of chapter 10 in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Fifth Assessment Report. Jim has responded to requests to provide climate projections for evaluating endangered species and has contributed to U.S. and international Arctic change assessments.

Jim is a true ambassador in the Arctic research community.

Muyin Wang, University of Washington, Seattle.


I am honored to be considered for the AGU Ambassador Award as a larger recognition of how the Arctic science community has cooperated and communicated the importance of ongoing rapid changes in the Arctic over the last decades. For me, it starts with the professional values promoted by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration leaders to provide credible scientific information backed by peer review publications. It has included working with other editors on the Arctic Report Card, a yearly update of multiple changes that now includes over 100 contributors, and Sea Ice Outlook, a website to discuss the causes of rapid summer sea ice loss that has matured to a larger activity in the last two years. A challenge was working with biological scientist colleagues on Endangered Species Act listings for polar bears and various ice seals; here one compared climate change projections with potential impacts based on different life histories. With Arctic temperatures rising 2–3 times faster than the global value, and many Arctic “surprises,” it has been necessary for the community to come together during symposia and workshops to understand the mechanisms for this “Arctic amplification” as an indicator of global change and local impacts. Such efforts are seen by the many ­Arctic-​­related sessions at the current AGU meeting. International support for integration activities are through the International Arctic Science Committee (IASC), Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Program (AMAP), and various World Meteorological Organization activities. Achieving synthesis and consensus is not always easy or possible, as with any rapidly evolving science activity. The Intergovernmental Panel Climate Change Report dealt with differences between data and models on future timing of sea ice loss, and the community is currently debating the extent of larger hemispheric impacts of Arctic change. I appreciate the many colleagues that I have had the pleasure to collaborate with over the years.

James E. Overland, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration/Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory, Seattle, Wash.


Citation for Michael Wysession

Michael Wysession
Michael Wysession

Michael Wysession is one of the world’s leading geoscience educators. Most notably, he chaired the writing of national standards requiring, for the first time, that high school and middle school students complete a year of modern, quantitative, ­data-​­based Earth and space science.

Wysession is an excellent researcher, who has made and continues to make important contributions using seismology to study deep Earth structure. He has done even more as an educator, showing that it is not “those who can’t, teach” but “those who understand, teach.” Rather than avoid or dumb down complicated concepts, he thoughtfully and clearly explains them.

His interest was already apparent in grad school. While doing a fine thesis, he asked to coauthor the seismology text I was writing. I declined, feeling that he should focus on research until getting tenure. After he had gained tenure, we agreed that the book was largely completed, so he should get 10% of the royalties. Because many figures in texts are schematic, a key goal was to ensure that ray paths and travel times were computed to be correct. Michael produced superb figures explaining the complicated paths and travel times for core phases and clearly discussed their use. He also produced the beautiful cover comparing ray paths and wave fronts in the Earth, which explains their relation, which baffles most students. Michael put much of the book online (a new concept in 2002!) via a widely used website. When all was done, we agreed that Michael deserved 30% of the royalties since he did three times more than expected!

Wysession made an equal contribution by developing sophisticated animations showing how seismic waves propagate; which give enormously more insight than the ray paths alone. When he presented these at an AGU Fall Meeting as a video, the poster session was crowded with students and senior scientists, who watched the animations repeatedly, gaining new insights into topics such as core-diffracted waves. Michael enthusiastically disseminated the animations on video and on the Web. They are now such a fixture of classes ranging from introductory to advanced worldwide that I cannot imagine teaching seismology without them.

He went on to become a leader in geoscience education, coauthoring more than 20 textbooks at elementary, middle school, and high school levels and authoring video courses on How the Earth Works (35,000 copies sold) and The World’s Greatest Geologic Wonders (15,000 copies sold). He has also taken leading roles in the Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology and other community activities.

Seth Stein, Northwestern University, Evanston, Ill.


I am honored to be one of the first recipients of the AGU Ambassador Award. Science education, literacy, and outreach are extremely important, and I am very pleased that AGU has decided to recognize these kinds of efforts with a new award. I was also greatly honored to be primarily responsible for the construction of the Earth and space science component of the new national K–12 Next Generation Science Standards, both at the National Academy (for the writing of Framework for K–12 Science Education) and at Achieve (for the writing of the actual standards). We are at a momentous point in the history of American education. Geoscience finally broke through the 120-year-old barrier and joined biology, chemistry, and physics as a science worthy of every student’s high school education. The university presidents who wrote the influential 1893 Committee of Ten report [where (1) three years of high school science were codified as being biology, chemistry, and physics; (2) “physical geography” was delegated to middle school; and (3) space science was omitted from secondary education altogether] could scarcely have foreseen the catastrophic impacts of their document in creating an American public ignorant of the critical ­geoscience-​­related issues of energy and mineral resources, water availability, natural hazards, climate change and its consequences, and the increasing environmental impacts of human activities. No more. The 2013 Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), already adopted by more than a dozen states and countless other school districts (with many more in process), recommend that high school science education consist of a year of life science, a year of physical science (a semester each of chemistry and physics), and a year of geoscience. The same would hold for middle school. NGSS are revolutionary in other ways as well: teaching science and assessing student understanding from a ­practice-​­based approach, and seamlessly incorporating engineering and technology into the science curriculum. But it is the presentation to American K–12 students of geoscience as a set of modern, complex, fascinating, systems-oriented, transdisciplinary, quantitative, data-oriented, and (most importantly) extremely human-relevant sciences that will prove to be the greatest impact of NGSS. National K–12 science textbooks and curricula are frantically being rewritten to respond to these changes. We at AGU, as a community, need to respond and do whatever we can to help this transition to an eventual ­geoscience-​­literate public. Our future funding and work force will depend upon it.

Michael E. Wysession, Washington University, Saint Louis, Mo.


Citation: AGU (2015), Asrar, Hsieh, Mandia, Overland, and Wysession Receive 2014 Ambassador Awards, Eos, 96, doi:10.1029/2015EO022871.

© 2015. The authors. CC BY-NC 3.0