Geology & Geophysics AGU News

Burney, Campbell, Gentine, and Lin Receive 2017 Global Environmental Change Early Career Award

Jennifer Burney, Elliott Campbell, Pierre Gentine, and Jintai Lin will receive the 2017 Global Environmental Change Early Career Award at the 2017 American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting, to be held 11–15 December in New Orleans, La. The award recognizes an early-career scientist “for outstanding contributions in research, educational, or societal impacts in the area of global environmental change, especially through interdisciplinary approach.”


Citation for Jennifer Burney

Jennifer Burney, recipient of the 2017 Global Environmental Change Early Career Award.
Jennifer Burney

Jennifer Burney is a master of effective interdisciplinary research. While formally trained in physics, she works on a wide range of issues that are pivotal to environmental health and human development.

Her best known work examines whether intensification of agriculture is good for the environment. While there has been fierce debate on all sides of this topic, Burney led a team that offered some of the first systematic analysis of the full cycle of activities (e.g., fertilizer production, farming, etc.) involved in producing food. Intensification is generally good for the environment, they found. They also figured out just how much intensification costs relative to other strategies aimed at lightening the environmental footprint of agriculture.

My favorite is Jen’s work on rural electrification. She has focused on the ways that renewable energy supplies—with local solar panels connected into miniature grids—might help low-income villages. Her contribution has been to run semirandom control trials in which different villages receive solar-powered drip irrigation and then to compute in detail the effects of these systems—on production of food, on incomes, and on public health.

In the past, researchers have focused on particular interventions—for example, an aid project to build a microgrid—but have not been able to pin down whether those interventions actually affected welfare, because donors and villages tended to select themselves for such projects.  Burney has cut through that bias with randomized trials, a standard method for the best research on development yet rare in studying energy interventions. Not only does she show that these solar grids have large local benefits, but also she has helped to demonstrate a viable technology that is now taking off on its own with private financing in parts of Africa. She is settling important scientific questions and helping humanity as well.

—David Victor, University of California, San Diego


Thank you, David, for your kind words. It’s a deeply touching honor to receive this award and to share it with three scientists whose work I admire very much. I’d like to thank AGU and the Global Environmental Change (GEC) focus group for all the work they do to support and encourage scientists throughout their careers. I first came to the AGU Fall Meeting during my inaugural quarter as a physics graduate student, and I can truthfully say that exposure to GEC sessions that week changed my life. I am perpetually inspired by all of the work showcased here and always come away from the meeting reenergized by both the cutting-edge science and the first-rate people doing it.

I am so grateful to the many people who have, at various times, taken a chance on me. My Ph.D. adviser, Blas Cabrera, took me on sight unseen when my intended adviser passed away; Blas was the kindest supporter imaginable of my intellectual exploration. Robert Freling, Jeff Lahl, and Walt Ratterman from the Solar Electric Light Fund risked a scientific collaboration to evaluate their work. Roz Naylor, Wally Falcon, and David Lobell at Stanford welcomed me to the new Earth System Science Department as a postdoc in an experiment that no one would have possibly foretold would go so well. Ram Ramanathan taught me countless hard and soft skills. Finally, David Victor and colleagues at the School of Global Policy and Strategy at UC San Diego made a totally unconventional choice to hire me. It still feels like I won the lottery because I have an incredible group of colleagues, postdocs, and students from whom I learn daily.

Finally, I’d like to thank my parents; my partner, Claire Adida; and our children, Gabi and Mina, for being the best possible companions on this journey.

—Jennifer Burney, University of California, San Diego


Citation for Elliott Campbell

Elliott Campbell, recipient of the 2017 Global Environmental Change Early Career Award.
Elliott Campbell

We are recognizing Dr. Elliott Campbell for his creative research in multiple areas of global environmental change. His contributions are more than just original research. Elliott’s creative use of the atmospheric trace gas carbonyl sulfide as a chemical analogue of carbon dioxide led him to make a major breakthrough in quantifying the “carbon–climate feedback” problem, which is one of the largest uncertainties in modeling the future trajectory of the greenhouse effect. Elliott did more than use carbonyl sulfide to measure photosynthesis. He also recognized that it could be used to falsify model calculations of the continental-scale carbon cycle.

A second area where Elliott has made brilliant contributions to understanding global environmental change is in life-cycle assessment, a discipline that evaluates the sustainability of policies and products. Most notable was his finding that land use constraints on bioenergy production create critical advantages for bioelectricity over ethanol. He found biomass electricity to be superior for both climate change mitigation and energy security goals, in comparison to the use of land and crops for ethanol production. His papers have become widely cited by science and policy communities, as well as the national and international press, in part because they focus on potential solutions to the land use impacts that are prominent in public discussions. His findings go well beyond solid contributions. They represent fresh insight from someone who digs deeper to link brilliant research with public policy.

The quality of Dr. Campbell’s research and the impact on his field, and on the nation and the global debate, over a sustainable future are exceptional. At a time when developing climate solutions is paramount, it is fitting that we recognize a leader whose pioneering work informs both research and workable policy.

—Roger Bales, University of California, Merced


Thank you, Roger, for your nomination and generous citation. Your remarkable contributions to science, sustainability, and service at UC Merced and beyond are a constant source of inspiration.

I am grateful for the work of the letter writers and the Global Environmental Change award committee for carrying out this honors program. Their selfless efforts help to encourage our scientists and invigorate our community to focus on the most important environmental problems of our time.

My deepest gratitude goes to the advisers who have led me to this point. Jeff Koseff hooked me on research as an undergraduate at Stanford. Jerry Schnoor, Charlie Stanier, and Greg Carmichael were exceptional graduate mentors at the University of Iowa. Chris Field not only offered extraordinary postdoc mentoring at Carnegie Institution but also provided proper refreshments from a bicycle blender.

I would not be here today without the many scientists I have had the great pleasure to work with and learn from. While there are too many to list, I want to make special mention of Joe Berry for sharing his warm spirit and brilliant vision and to the postdocs and students who are advancing science while striving to make AGU a more diverse and welcoming community.

One of the common traits that I’ve noticed in these inspiring scientists is confidence. Their confidence helps them to propose new hypotheses, to commit to a program of research in the face of criticism, to admit mistakes, and to share the credit of discoveries. My attempts to emulate this trait are possible only because of the love and support from my partner, Liz; my children, Hazel and Beatrice; and my parents, Toni and Scott.

Thank you again to AGU for this honor.

—Elliott Campbell, University of California, Santa Cruz


Citation for Pierre Gentine

Pierre Gentine, recipient of the 2017 Global Environmental Change Early Career Award.
Pierre Gentine

Pierre Gentine is one of the most thoughtful and intellectually stimulating scientists to start a career in the Earth sciences. His training in applied mathematics and physics allows him to bring new perspectives to challenging theoretical and practical problems at the interface between hydrology, meteorology, and ecology that define the dynamics of the global hydrological cycle. It is remarkable that in a very short time he has been able to conjure up new insights on long-standing problems, such as the nature of vegetation adaptation that leads to the empirical observations that support the Budyko curve, and has also developed a formal theoretical framework for convection, linking cloud dynamics, evaporation, and other surface and boundary layer processes. Together these lines of inquiry, blending physics and appropriate statistical methods, address major sources of uncertainty in the future of Earth’s climate. Though young, he is a leader and a role model in this area, demonstrating the best of the scientific method: Take a complex problem, understand the key aspects of the observational evidence in a theoretical framework, and then develop an appropriate, simple, and elegant theoretical representation of the processes that provides insight into the phenomenon at a fundamental level. He is very worthy of recognition through the Global Environmental Change Award, the first of many that I am sure he will garner.

—Upmanu Lall, Columbia University, New York


Dear Manu,

Thank you for the kind word. I am truly humbled and honored to receive such an award.

I started my academic career as a hydrologist. I had the luck and fortune to be exposed to other fields during my academic journey.

During my Ph.D., I was hosted by the Laboratoire de Météorologie Dynamique. They introduced me to the magic and complexity of moist convection and clouds. It opened a Pandora’s box and an excitement that have never stopped since then. In parallel, I was puzzled by the role of vegetation in regulating the continental water cycle and decided to try and understand how vegetation was functioning.

While learning (and trying to publish some papers!), I was lucky to meet some giants who would be willing to listen to young people: Dara, Manu, Alan Betts, and Joe Berry. I will always remember Alan taking the time to have lunch with me 1 year out of grad school after I had mentioned I had an idea for a new convective parameterization. The stories of Joe from the molecular scale to superparameterization in the Amazon evenings were simply an enchantment.

An award is never a single-person effort, and I sincerely thank all the fantastic people with whom I have collaborated: Adam, Fabio, Kirsten, Ben, Bert, Sonia, Guido, Maria…and my wonderful postdocs and students.

I would like to thank my wife and three children for their constant support. Their smiles always place things in perspective. Looking at my children motivates me to try and understand what our future climate will look like.

Finally, I would like to dedicate this to the memory of my dad, who died during the 2013 AGU Fall Meeting. He was a doctor, a scientist, and a cheerful, honest, and humble individual. I hope I transmit some of his values to my group and colleagues.

—Pierre Gentine, Columbia University, New York


Citation for Jintai Lin

Jintai Lin, recipient of the 2017 Global Environmental Change Early Career Award.
Jintai Lin

Prof. Jintai Lin of the Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences, Peking University, has been a leader in the strategic pursuit of innovative research addressing the intersection of human health, impacts on climate forcing, economic impacts, international negotiations, and the veracity of climate forecast models. His keen sense of how these factors are coupled and how that linkage must be recognized has established an international standard for these critical studies.

He has also made seminal contributions to the mapping of sulfate, black carbon, ozone, and CO satellite retrievals for both China and globally. While many of his published works have had a fundamental influence on the field, perhaps most notable was his Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) paper that won the prestigious Cozzarelli Prize, as one of the six out of 3,500 PNAS papers published in 2014. This was the first time a paper led by Chinese institutions in any field has ever won the award. That work not only set the gold standard for coupled pollution transport mechanisms using advanced photochemistry and transport processes, but also established Jintai’s leadership analyzing the international impact of nitrate, sulfate, ozone, and carbon emissions. The PNAS paper has been downloaded more than 160,000 times from the PNAS website, and it has been cited 153 times by papers in various research disciplines, including but not limited to atmospheric sciences, environmental sciences, epidemiology, ecological sciences, economics, and management.

It is particularly important that a strong and trusted relationship between scientists in the United States and China become a top priority, because cooperation in science must precede joint public policy progress. Prof. Jintai Lin is a young scientist of such exceptional quality that this opportunity to explicitly strengthen these ties by awarding him the AGU Global Environmental Change Early Career Award will serve both science and society for decades.

—James G. Anderson, Harvard University, Mass.


Thank you, Jim, for your generous nomination and citation. It is my great honor to receive such a prestigious award. This would not be possible without the continuous kind help and support from my mentors, colleagues, and friends. Indeed, learning from my advisers Donald Wuebbles and Michael McElroy and other colleagues like Jim has given me the opportunity to put together perspectives, ideas, and tools from multiple disciplines to address the grand challenge of our times: air pollution.

My research focuses on understanding global air pollution, its impacts on public health and climate, and its interactions with socioeconomic development. My Ph.D. studies with Don took a modeling approach to evaluating ozone pollution and transboundary transport. My postdoc years with Mike further incorporated satellite measurements to quantify China’s fast changing environment and emissions. My work at Peking University has been integrating economic and emissions statistics with modeling and satellite measurements to understand how economic production and consumption are associated with global air pollution and various environmental and climate consequences.

I owe greatly to my colleagues from around the world whose important contributions have made such multidisciplinary studies possible, including Don, Mike, the Harvard modeling team, the Tsinghua emissions team, the CEADs team, Steven Davis, Randall Martin, Folkert Boersma, and many others. Interactions with leading scientists like Jim are inspiring. I have had continuous support from Yongyun Hu, other colleagues at Peking University, and my dear friends. I am grateful to all my students who have effectively turned abstract thoughts into concrete research. In particular, Da Pan’s exceptional work has led to our first study linking global air pollution to consumption and trade, which was published in PNAS.

Last, I would like to thank my wife, my son, and my parents, who have always been my strongest believers and supporters.

—Jintai Lin, Peking University, Beijing, China

Citation: AGU (2017), Burney, Campbell, Gentine, and Lin receive 2017 Global Environmental Change Early Career Award, Eos, 98, Published on 26 October 2017.
© 2017. The authors. CC BY-NC-ND 3.0