Kristopher B. Karnauskas, recipient of the 2017 AGU Ocean Sciences Early Career Award.
Kristopher B. Karnauskas

AGU has recognized Prof. Kristopher B. Karnauskas with the 2017 Ocean Sciences Early Career Award “for important contributions to better understanding the tropical oceans and atmosphere.” Kris is a member of the Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences, the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, and the School of Public Health at the University of Colorado. Kris also serves as editor of the Journal of Geophysical Research: Oceans and is on the Scientific Steering Committee of the U.S. CLIVAR Program.

Kris’s interdisciplinary research bridges oceanography and atmospheric science as well as marine ecosystems and human health. His most significant work is on the equatorial Pacific Ocean, which has influenced physical oceanography, climate modeling, and conservation policy. Building on ideas going back to his Ph.D. thesis, Kris and his colleagues recently shed new light on the unique and complex relationship between equatorial dynamics, island ecosystems, and the broader coupled climate system. This work shows that climatic changes over the past 35 years have expanded the upwelling near the Galápagos, helping endangered penguins double their population, and that the geologic development of a key part of the Galápagos archipelago about 1.6 million years ago profoundly altered the equatorial circulation, yielding nutrients prompting the famous biodiversity of the islands.

Looking upward, Kris found that 73% of small island nations, supporting a population of 18 million people, are likely to experience significant drying as the climate warms. Kris and a former postdoc devised a new tool for predicting seasonal hurricane activity with remarkable hindcast performance and a successful first real-time forecast in 2016.

Kris loves teaching undergraduates and leading his research group. He mentors postdoctoral and graduate students, as well as undergraduate and even local high school students. His lab frequently hosts underrepresented students through National Center for Atmospheric Research and University of Colorado summer programs.

—Brian Toon, University of Colorado Boulder


Thank you, Brian, for the generous citation. I am humbled to receive the Ocean Sciences Early Career Award. I have far too many mentors and colleagues to thank. Tony Busalacchi, Raghu Murtugudde, Sumant Nigam, Richard Seager, Alexey Kaplan, Mark Cane, Yochanan Kushnir, Jon Martin, Steve Ackerman, Tim Schmit, Jeff Donnelly, Anne Cohen, Peter Brewer, and Cora Randall have all helped me immeasurably during my early career. In addition, the studies mentioned above would not have been possible without contributions by Chris Brown, Stephanie Jenouvrier, Eric Mittelstaedt, Kevin Anchukaitis, and Laifang Li.

We Earth scientists are working in a different political and social climate today than any I have known professionally. Resting somewhere between the incoming generation of climate scientists and the established, not to mention standing in front of crowds of undergraduates who dream boldly, I see concern on people’s faces every day. So let me offer some levity.

Attending a recent Fall Meeting, exhausted and bleary-eyed from endless poster discussions, I was headed toward the exit. Over my shoulder, I caught a familiar face. Easily one of the most famous oceanographers alive—past AGU president, chief architect of the TAO array, fellow and chair of just about everything at some point—Mike McPhaden was not checking his email or rubbing elbows with other people in sport coats. Sitting at a table amid the chaos, he was just taking a moment to himself to enjoy the beguilement of a colorful plot of real, live data from out in the ocean. I thought to myself, now that’s what I want when I’m, ahem, not early career anymore. I dream to still get just as excited and puzzled by the ocean and its role in climate as today. Let us always remember why we decided to become Earth scientists. It’s really fun.

—Kristopher B. Karnauskas, University of Colorado Boulder


(2017), Karnauskas receives 2017 Ocean Sciences Early Career Award, Eos, 98, Published on 01 November 2017.

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