Geology & Geophysics AGU News

Chappell, Jones, and McBean Receive 2015 Ambassador Award

Charles R. Chappell, Lucile Jones, and Gordon McBean were awarded the 2015 Ambassador Award at the American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting Honors Ceremony, held on 16 December 2015 in San Francisco, Calif. The award is in recognition for "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 Charles R. Chappell

Charles R. Chappell
Charles R. Chappell

Throughout his nearly half century research career in solar-terrestrial physics Rick Chappell has continuously focused his energies on communication, outreach, mentoring, and creating innovative programs that enhance the public understanding, appreciation, and support of space and Earth science. These activities were originally focused on his own discipline of space physics but have spread to include Earth science and to address the broader issue of communicating science through the media to the public.

Rick began his outreach activities first with a major museum exhibit and then a movie about magnetospheric physics. He continued his public communications through being a media spokesperson for multiple Spacelab/shuttle missions.

Chappell’s experience with the media led him to return to his alma mater, Vanderbilt University, in 1996 to conduct a study on the interaction between the science community and the media. This led to the book Worlds Apart and to the creation of a new undergraduate interdisciplinary major in the communication of science and technology. During this time he was a member of the American Geophysical Union (AGU) Committee on Public Outreach, being chairman for 1 year of his 3-year term.

Rick worked with colleagues to organize two cross-discipline collaborative AGU conferences, one in 1974 and one in 2014, which brought together scientists from different disciplines to understand the interaction between the ionosphere and magnetosphere.

Working with John Denver’s Windstar Foundation in the late 1980s, Rick joined with scientists in Earth and space sciences to create the Aspen Global Change Institute (AGCI). AGCI has now been in operation for 25 years and has involved hundreds of Earth, space, and social scientists, who have carried out the cross–discipline study of global change. AGCI has also created education outreach programs such as ground truth study activities for students at the Science Olympiad.

The NASA administrator asked Rick to work with Vice President Gore to create the Global Learning and Observations to Benefit the Environment (GLOBE) program in 1994–1995. GLOBE involves K–12 students around the world in measuring their local environment and in reporting the results online. The program now involves tens of thousands of schools in more than 100 countries.

Rick has given talks to thousands of students of all ages and continues to be a leader in communications and educational outreach. I cannot think of anybody more deserving of the AGU Ambassador Award.

—Andrew Nagy, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor


I am honored and deeply grateful for being selected as an AGU Ambassador. My career has been about space exploration and communicating the results and importance of that exploration to the public, especially to the teachers and students. To be recognized for these communication and outreach activities is most meaningful to me.

As scientists, we all start our exploration journey in a limited area of study. As we grow in our understanding, the interdisciplinary nature of science leads us to work with explorers in other fields. Whether it is the relationship between the Sun and the Earth or the changing global environment, it is critically important to cross disciplines and interact with other scientists to piece together the big picture.

In my career I have worked to facilitate cross-discipline exploration through both planning interdisciplinary Chapman conferences and creating organizations such as the Aspen Global Change Institute.  It is in this environment that sharing and learning take place and the broader research challenges are met through new partnerships.

For each of us explorers, taking time to communicate as individuals and as groups is critical, particularly in this time of the confusing politicization of science in areas such as global change. We owe a continued, understandable report to the public which funded our research, and we owe a period of giving back through teaching, interacting with teachers, and mentoring the young student explorers of the future. Programs such as GLOBE bring scientists, teachers, and K–12 students together to share knowledge while measuring their local environment. In this hands-on way, students become explorers who are sensitive to the changing environment around them. It was a great pleasure to work with Vice President Gore to help create this interagency program.

As scientists, we are given the great privilege of living the adventure of exploration and of doing and learning things that others have never done before.  We are able to “live in the what might be” where our ideas that are born, honed, and realized through teamwork can become reality and can then be shared with others.

Thanks so much to all of the incredible people who explore our world and to AGU for creating this award, which recognizes the importance of our research and the need both to communicate to those who have invested in us and to pass the torch to the next generation of explorers.

—Charles R. Chappell, Vanderbilt University, Destin, Fla.


Citation for Lucile Jones

Lucile Jones
Lucile Jones

Dr. Lucile “Lucy” Jones is an extraordinary public servant who has devoted her path-breaking career to reducing the threats of natural hazards in southern California, across the nation, and around the world. Since joining the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) in 1983, Lucy has made outstanding research contributions and provided significant scientific leadership to the nation. She rose rapidly through the scientific ranks in recognition of her research on earthquake occurrence probability, which to this day forms the basis for all earthquake advisories issued by the state of California.

Since then, Lucy has expanded the scope of her research into the realm of risk and vulnerability studies to improve knowledge transfer across multiple natural hazards. She has led the development of scenarios that have made catastrophic hazards real to the people of California and in doing so sparked a science-based approach to earthquake preparedness that now involves tens of millions of people worldwide. She has successfully built strong partnerships with engineers, social scientists, biologists, geographers, public health doctors, emergency managers, and public officials to design scenarios that are among the most visible and highly used products to come out of the USGS.

Most recently, Lucy led a USGS cooperative project with the city of Los Angeles in which she served as the science adviser for seismic safety to Mayor Eric Garcetti. The results of this collaboration include a consensus approach to improving building safety, a comprehensive program to strengthen the water infrastructure in the city, and convening stakeholders in the state’s utilities to address the vulnerabilities posed by utilities crossing the San Andreas Fault.

Lucy is widely recognized as an authoritative voice on natural hazards and disaster risk reduction. When earthquakes strike, the world’s major media outlets turn to her for answers, and time and again, she has seized the teachable moment to the benefit of all. Lucy’s skill in communicating with reporters and connecting with the public—including the many thousands who follow her on Twitter—has made her one of the most trusted scientists in America. Lucy Jones is truly an ambassador for science in service to society and a worthy recipient of this award.

—David Applegate, U.S. Geological Survey, Reston, Va.


I am honored to receive the Ambassador Award and am grateful to David Applegate and other colleagues at the USGS for nominating me. One cannot be an ambassador without a home country to represent and I am proud the USGS has been my intellectual home for 32 years and of its commitment to science in the public service.

I began work in seismology while a graduate student at MIT, using my undergraduate degree in Chinese Language and Literature to study the Haicheng earthquake. I came to realize that the Chinese need for prediction to save lives was so large and the cost of a false alarm in an agrarian economy was so small that they could use the probability gain of an earthquake swarm to act at a much lower level of certainty than would be possible in the United States. In other words, the decision to act required economic and social information as well as seismologic information. This led to a career in earthquake statistics, to try to bring seismology to the people with the information to understand the impact of the predictions.

However, as we progressed in our ability to deliver probabilities, we discovered how few people actually understand them. I am grateful to the USGS for the opportunity to explore other approaches to explaining risk, including the ShakeOut, ARkStorm and SAFRR Tsunami Scenarios. That this path would eventually lead to a full year in Los Angeles City Hall is as astonishing to me as to anyone. Along the way, I have discovered that the scientist’s boredom with solved problems and our need to express, quantify, and generally live in uncertainty often leads us to tell our potential partners what we don’t know, rather than fulfill their need to understand what we do know. I also found that the stories of the scenarios and an understanding of the individual impacts of collective decisions helped bring our community together to finally address the risk.

Most support for our research comes from government, from the public purse, because people want the results.  Especially as Earth scientists, much of our research could lead to a safer, more prosperous future, but only if it is used. I believe we have an obligation to ensure that the results of our research are not just heard, but understood by those who entrusted with the decisions that can protect our society and our environment.

—Lucy Jones, U.S. Geological Survey, Pasadena, Calif.


Citation for Gordon McBean

Gordon McBean
Gordon McBean

Gordon’s leadership roles in the community were propelled with his appointment in 1984 as a member of the Joint Scientific Committee (JSC) for the World Climate Research Programme (WCRP), mandated to plan and implement the major global climate research programs. He subsequently became the chair of JSC (1988–1994), and under his leadership WCRP implemented four major research programs in the areas of water/energy, variability/prediction, stratosphere, and Arctic/cryosphere.

While chairing WCRP and recognizing that there was little participation from the developing world in these major science programs, he helped in the creation of the Inter-American Institute for Global Change Research (IAI) and the System for Analysis Research and Training (START) for Africa and Asia. The success of both IAI and START programs in scientific capacity building in Latin America, Africa, and Asia is a testament to Gordon’s vision and leadership.

Gordon also served as Canada’s assistant deputy minister in Environment Canada, responsible for climate, weather, and air quality sciences and services and ministers’ adviser on climate change science and policy, including at the Kyoto Protocol negotiations in 1997.

Gordon has also made significant contributions to the field of disaster risk reduction. After the Indian Ocean tsunami tragedy, he chaired the scoping and planning committee that led to the establishment of the Integrated Research on Disaster Risk program.

Gordon is the current president of the International Council for Science, the leading nongovernmental science organization in the world speaking on the issues of the freedom and responsibility of scientists around the globe.

Gordon’s outstanding scientific contributions and his selfless efforts as a scientific ambassador to serve the profession and society make him an excellent recipient of this award.

—Soroosh Sorooshian, University of California, Irvine


I am very pleased and honored to have been selected for an AGU Ambassador Award for 2015. Throughout my career I have been inspired and motivated by mentors and colleagues to work together with scientists from around the world to understand and take action on the global geophysical issues of climate change, disaster risk reduction, and enhancement of research capacity around the globe. The development and implementation of these global programs, WCRP, IRDR, START, IAI, and others, were really the result of global team efforts and commitments, with all of us being motivated by our scientific interests to understand these complex issues and also to provide societies with the scientific information upon which actions can and should be made.

It has been very inspiring for me to work with many colleagues, including Professor Soroosh Sorooshian, who have contributed in many different ways to me being selected for this award. By working together, we have been able to make a much more substantial contribution to these issues—but we still have a long way to go with, for example, climate change. It is a continuing challenge for scientists to better communicate, clarify and, as appropriate, motivate our governments and societies to take action.

When writing this response, I knew that the global community will meet at the climate change Conference of the Parties 21 in Paris that is scheduled to end just before this AGU conference; but I could not really predict the outcome. As now president of the International Council for Science (ICSU), I think that it is important that we, collectively as a scientific community, speak out on these issues. We also need to address the issue of the freedom for all scientists to do science and have the support to enable their doing excellent science and connecting it to societal needs. We also need to, as a scientific community, emphasize our individual and collective responsibility of scientists.

I would like to thank AGU for this very important award and thank all my colleagues for their collective contributions to me being the recipient.

—Gordon McBean, University of Western Ontario, Ontario, Canada

Citation: AGU (2015), Chappell, Jones, and McBean receive 2015 Ambassador Award, Eos, 96,doi:10.1029/2015EO042457. Published on 30 December 2015.

© 2015. The authors. CC BY-NC 3.0