Geology & Geophysics AGU News

Kopp, Lamb, Lavallée, Li, and Shaw Receive 2017 James B. Macelwane Medals

Robert E. Kopp, Michael P. Lamb, Yan Lavallée, Wen Li, and Tiffany A. Shaw were awarded the 2017 James B. Macelwane Medal at the American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting Honors Ceremony, held on 13 December 2017 in New Orleans, La. The medal is for “significant contributions to the geophysical sciences by an outstanding early career scientist.”


Citation for Robert E. Kopp

Robert E. Kopp, 2017 Macelwane medalist
Robert E. Kopp

Dr. Robert E. Kopp is an outstanding young scientist who has already achieved a remarkable record of sustained research excellence in geobiology, climate policy, and sea level change. The James B. Macelwane Medal is intended to honor scientists who display exceptional depth and breadth of research. In this respect, Bob’s research program is unprecedented. Bob is brilliant, quantitatively adept, extraordinarily collegial and collaborative, and focused on research, teaching, and public service.

Certainly, the impact and quality of Bob’s publication record alone qualify him for the James B. Macelwane Medal, including one article on paleo-sea level that is, perhaps, the best and most original in its field in many, many years. Bob is the key inventor and innovator of Bayesian Gaussian process modeling of sea level, an application that has revolutionized the field of sea level rise reconstruction and projection. Beyond the high quality and sheer number of his scholarly contributions, Bob exemplifies many additional qualities that speak to his promise for continued leadership, including his talent as an educator—both within academia and beyond—and as a leader in interdisciplinary science teams. Bob has built a highly successful research group at Rutgers, and he did so at an impressive speed. There is no doubt that Bob already has had a significant impact on training scientists of the future.

Bob’s continued engagement in policy and outreach—such as working with individual states on sea level risk analyses and coauthoring technical aspects of the excellent Risky Business reports to the National Academy of Sciences and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change—illustrates his ability to make contributions in diverse areas of climate science and communicate his scientific expertise into relevant policy advice. His service record would be exemplary for a senior scientist; for an early-career researcher, it is truly remarkable.

I would like to conclude by saying that Bob has emerged as one of the most energetic and productive scientists of his generation. His accomplishments as a scholar, educator, and citizen of AGU’s academic community make him more than deserving to receive the James B. Macelwane Medal. Please join me in congratulating Dr. Robert E. Kopp on his accomplishments.

—Benjamin P. Horton, Asian School of the Environment, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore


Thank you, Ben, for the nomination, and thanks to AGU for this great and humbling honor.

My career has depended intensely on the support of family, friends, mentors, and collaborators. My parents fostered a love of inquiry and provided boundless support. David Morrow, my longest-standing collaborator, has exchanged ideas with me since middle school. At the University of Chicago, Munir Humayun brought me into geosciences by way of astrobiology and let me work with a tiny piece of Mars. At the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), Joe Kirschvink brought me to his quirky Earth, taking me around the world to study the Precambrian rise of oxygen and the fossils of magnetotactic bacteria. At Princeton, Adam Maloof dove with me into the weird North American coastal waters of the Paleocene–Eocene Thermal Maximum, Frederik Simons helped me hone my statistical skills, and Michael Oppenheimer grounded me in the challenges that arise when humans start tinkering with the Earth system. During my first venture outside of academia, Rick Duke gave a policy-inexperienced young scientist the challenge of helping the U.S. government figure out how to value climate damages.

For the last 7 years, my colleagues at Rutgers have been great supporters and collaborators. From unearthing and interpreting paleo–sea level records to building coastal resilience in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, I’ve been in the right place and time to work with colleagues like Ben Horton and Ken Miller and outstanding students and postdocs on both the fundamentals and the applications of sea level science. I’ve come into the paleo–sea level community at a time when that community, through PALSEA, has been organized into one of the most welcoming and collegial small scientific associations I’ve ever encountered. I’ve been extremely fortunate to have worked over the last 4 years with outstanding economists like Solomon Hsiang to build the multi-institutional collaboration that is now the Climate Impact Lab. To top it off, most recently, I’ve been blessed to have met my wonderful, compassionate, supportive wife, Farrin Anello. And there are so many more family members, friends, and colleagues I’d like to thank but cannot name.

I’d like to express my appreciation to AGU for valuing the winding road I’ve taken. I’d like to accept this award on behalf of all the young scientists in our community who are trying to be both excellent researchers and active participants in addressing the societal challenges revealed by the geosciences.

—Robert E. Kopp, Institute of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences, Rutgers University–New Brunswick, N.J.


Citation for Michael P. Lamb

Michael P. Lamb, 2017 Macelwane medalist
Michael P. Lamb

Michael Lamb’s research activities and his influence on other geoscientists are together transforming studies of land-forming mechanisms and their sedimentary record in terrestrial, submarine, and extraterrestrial landscapes. With his students and postdocs he has opened up new avenues of research by tackling head-on long-standing, unresolved questions through theory, field observation, experimentation, and numerical simulation. The results are striking advances in the understanding and modeling of landscape-shaping mechanisms in mountainous terrain and on alluvial plains and deltas, the seafloor, and extraterrestrial bodies.

Remarkably, Mike has already made fundamental contributions in multiple fields: geomorphology, sedimentology, and planetary science. His work has deepened our understanding of river incision in mountainous landscapes, including the roles of sediment transport, megafloods, and waterfall genesis, with implications for interpretation of landforms on Earth and Mars. He has fundamentally changed our understanding of the transport of large clasts by rivers, demonstrating and explaining the nonintuitive finding that higher fluid shear stresses are required for clast transport on steeper slopes. On continental margins, Mike has significantly advanced understanding of coastal alluvial rivers and their linkage to sedimentation in the nearshore environment and their role in the development of seafloor stratigraphy and bed forms. He has extended his work on sedimentary bed forms to include extreme environmental conditions experienced during Snowball Earth or on Mars; his work augments the capacity to interpret environmental conditions recorded by landforms, sediments, and bed forms throughout the solar system.

The powerful guiding approach in all these advances is the integration of physical insight, critical field observations, innovative experimentation, and numerical simulation with the development of parsimonious theories of the behavior of flows, granular disturbance transport processes, geotechnical material properties, and their geomorphic or sedimentary products. Mike had the foresight and fortitude to build an extraordinary experimental flume—one with the capacity to enable the extreme experiments required to test and elaborate his early theoretical ideas on river incision by suspended particles, erosion by waterfalls, and initiation of motion of large clasts in steep rivers. The risk has paid off handsomely.

Mike is an avid and effective collaborator, generous with his time and in granting credit to others. His creativity is widely felt, is generously shared, and has already begun to generate a stream of inspired and well-trained students and postdocs who have embarked on their own productive research careers. Mike is destined to have a singular impact on the study of landscape evolution on Earth and other planetary bodies.

—Kelin X. Whipple, Arizona State University, Tempe


Thank you, Kelin, for those overly kind words and thanks to Tom Dunne, John Grotzinger, and Alan Howard for your nomination. I am honored to be recognized by AGU and to be part of the generous community of Earth surface processes. It is sharing ideas with students, mentors, and colleagues that renews my curiosity and drive. And it certainly helps to work in a discipline that is realizing major discoveries about Earth’s dynamic surface. There are many people to thank.

It is my good fortune, being Minnesotan, that my local university hired a captivating and well-bearded instructor, Chris Paola. Chris inspired me to switch majors from engineering to geology and pursue graduate school. He also introduced me to Gary Parker, and I am grateful to Gary for leading me through my first scientific investigation and his continuing mentorship and intellectual generosity. I am indebted to Bill Dietrich, my Ph.D. adviser, for teaching me how to interrogate the Earth with new eyes and giving me the tools to be a scientist. As I was leaving Berkeley, Bill told me, while eating nuts, to be curious, question everything, and take notes, and, Bill, I try my best to do the first two. Alan Howard is my example of a modern-day explorer, and Jeff Parsons helped me navigate turbulence. I am continually inspired by Paul Myrow, who taught me, among other things, that fieldwork is always fun regardless of itchy skin. And I always find myself trying to mimic David Mohrig, not in wardrobe but in time travel between modern and ancient environments. Acknowledging others requires cheating the word limit: PerronVendittiNittrouerFischerTsaiMcElroyEwing-DiBiaseGantietal.

I enjoy my job, and I feel very fortunate to be able to say that. At the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), it has been a great pleasure to have worked with many brilliant students, postdocs, and colleagues in an extremely engaging, challenging, and fun environment. This award reflects our collaborative work. Brian Fuller brought flume experiments back to Caltech, and John Grotzinger has broadened my thinking and taught me to shoot with both eyes open. I look forward to years to come.

Although my parents still think I am an engineer, I thank them for always encouraging me. And most important, I simply would not have survived the trials of tenure without the love and friendship of my wife, Anna, and hugs from our amazing girls, Evelyn and Rhea.

—Michael P. Lamb, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena


Citation for Yan Lavallée

Yan Lavallée, 2017 Macelwane medalist
Yan Lavallée

Professor Yan Lavallée is recognized for his innovative high-temperature experimentation in the solid Earth sciences. His laboratory is devoted to experiments performed at the extreme conditions relevant in volcanic systems. The experiments are designed to advance understanding of volcanic, geothermal, and other dynamic geological processes. His research program leads the world in elucidating linkages between magma properties and rheology and the behavior (explosive versus effusive) of volcanic systems.

Lavallée obtained his B.Sc. honors degree from McGill University in Canada, and his early research involved analogue modeling of caldera subsidence. He continued his research on calderas with a study of a Peruvian volcano to earn his M.Sc. in space studies at the University of North Dakota in the United States. His passion for high-temperature experimentation, however, derives from his Ph.D. studies at Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich, Germany.

His Ph.D. studies focused on lava dome–producing volcanoes; these eruptions are unpredictable and can rapidly switch from quiescent effusive behavior to catastrophic explosive activity. Understanding the switching mechanisms has been a topical line of research for 20+ years. Lavallée has provided a quantitative understanding of how the porosity, permeability, and crystallinity of dome magmas affect rheology and, together with effusion rates, dictate volcanic consequences. His experimental data on crystal-rich dome lavas demonstrated the non-Newtonian strain rate dependence of magma viscosity and showed the commonly employed Einstein–Roscoe equation to be totally inappropriate for crystal-rich magmas. This result launched an industry of studies into the effects of crystals and bubbles on magma rheology. His work also made connections between field observations on lava domes, experimental deformation of natural dome magmas, and geophysical signals expressed in nature and captured in the lab. His insightful analysis of these data sets produced a means of forecasting lava dome collapse events based on seismic signals.

Lavallée is now a professor of volcanology in the Department of Earth, Ocean and Ecological Sciences, where he has established a vibrant, well-equipped (approximately US$2.5 million) laboratory for experimentation on volcanic materials. Recent high-impact studies have explored the interplay of frictional heating and vesiculation, suggesting that thermal heating may play a larger role in explosive eruptions than previously recognized. His experiments also explored the capacity of “tuffisite networks” (veins of pyroclastic particles) within lava domes to control permeability and thus explosivity. His experiments showed how the timescale of “healing” of the tuffisite veins provides a means of transitioning to, and cycling between, effusive to explosive eruption by gas repressurization. Lavallée has made, and will continue to make, high-impact, important contributions to our understanding of volcanic processes through thoughtful experimentation.

—Kelly Russell, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada


It is with great gratitude that I receive the James B. Macelwane Medal; I extend my thanks to Kelly and my nominators, who certainly expressed generous words in favor of my contributions to geophysical sciences! I am most delighted to accept this prestigious honor and humbly stand alongside the illustrious scholars who have received it before me.

I was 5 years of age when, one summer afternoon in the province of Quebec, I asked my mother, “Maman, qu’est ce qu’on est?” Gobsmacked, she knew very well that the question I (and I imagine many of you) was troubled with could not be answered, at least, not simply. She looked at me, shrugged her shoulders, and replied that she didn’t know. That initiated my search for answers—answers I sought in geosciences. It’s been nearly 20 years since I began to study the Earth, and I count myself lucky to have faced very few problems that have cast a shadow large enough to darken a week at work. We’re privileged in that we get to see the world through our work, and we all agree, it’s a wonderful place, well worth knowing.

In my career to date, I have had the rewarding opportunity to work with well over 100 collaborators—in laboratories, at observatories, in factories, and everyone I met in the field—so I may not be able to thank all of you here, but please see these words as a kind reminder of the superb times we have spent together and of the findings we have achieved together. You have contributed in a million ways, and I share this honor with you.

My undergraduate years at McGill University taught me that everything can be achieved with dedication, hard work, and, of course, fun! Thanks to John Stix, Ben Kennedy, Alain Garand, and Don Francis for teaching me that important bit of wisdom, mixed with a great deal of geology! During my master’s degree in space studies at the University of North Dakota, I was lucky enough to work alongside great mentors, Shanaka de Silva, Bob Andres, Mike Gaffey, Stephen Johnson, and Jeff Byrnes, who taught me as much about being a versatile and balanced scientist as about volcanoes, space, and history.

During my doctoral studies at the Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich, Germany, the field of geosciences exploded before my eyes. The technological revolution we are now witnessing has opened up countless possibilities, and I feel fortunate to have met a body of scientists to undertake work on the new challenges of modern volcanology. First, thanks to Don Dingwell for providing the best supervision and mentoring I needed: I owe the vast majority of my knowledge about life as an academic to you, a true friend and a great inspiration! Thanks also to the many I met in my time in Munich: Ulli Kueppers, Kai-Uwe Hess, Betty Scheu, Basti Müller, Jon Castro, Hugh Tuffen, Alex Nichols, Oliver Spieler, Jeremie Vasseur, Fabian Wadsworth, and many more.

In 2012, I moved to the University of Liverpool and established the Experimental Volcanology and Geothermal Research Laboratory to discover that even “Eight Days a Week” (as put forth by the Beatles) were not enough to maximize the scientific opportunities that were yet again growing in number. I thank Felix von Aulock, Silvio de Angelis, and more colleagues in the Faculty of Science and Engineering than I can begin to mention.

I would also like to take the opportunity to thank all those who push larger-than-life initiatives in geosciences, in particular, the Krafla Magma Testbed; I’m proud to be among such company as we aim to establish the first magma observatory. It is a reminder that “the wall between reality and fantasy is sometimes so small and not so tall” when we collectively join efforts for the advancement of our field (as pondered by Raphael Gualazzi in “Reality and Fantasy”).

Finally, a very sincere thanks to my partner, Jackie Kendrick, whom I’m fortunate enough to work alongside. And thanks to all of my friends and family, scattered around this beautiful Earth.

In closing, many thanks to the AGU community for this heart-warming honor. In return, I promise to keep you entertained by publishing science as provocative as it is insightful and inspirational for many years to come.

—Yan Lavallée, University of Liverpool, Liverpool, U.K.


Citation for Wen Li

Wen Li, 2017 Macelwane medalist
Wen Li

Wen Li has published several outstanding research papers showing how wave–particle interactions play a key role in controlling the dynamic evolution of the Earth’s Van Allen radiation belts. She has pioneered the use of low-altitude satellite data as a proxy for the global distribution of plasma waves at much higher altitudes.

Wen Li started her work on the Earth’s radiation belts as a Ph.D. student at the University of California, Los Angeles. One of her greatest achievements is to show that a particular class of plasma waves, known as electromagnetic ion cyclotron waves, can cause rapid loss of relativistic electrons that are otherwise trapped inside the external magnetic field of the Earth, a region known as the Van Allen radiation belts. She showed that most of the losses occur during the main part of a geomagnetic storm and that later on, as conditions recover from the storm, there is another class of plasma waves that can accelerate electrons to relativistic energies. Thus, she was able to show how wave–particle interactions play a key role in controlling the dynamic variability of the belts.

In order to quantify acceleration and loss on a global scale, one needs to know the global distribution of plasma waves. However, the properties of these waves vary considerably in space and time, making this a challenging problem. Wen Li developed a novel technique of using particle data from satellites in low-Earth orbit to calculate the properties of plasma waves along the geomagnetic field near the equatorial region. Because there are several satellites in low-Earth orbit, Wen was able to develop a global distribution of plasma waves with much higher spatial and temporal resolution than ever before. This technique has been adopted by other research groups and incorporated into global radiation belt models, which have shown a vast improvement. Wen’s work has had a major impact and illustrates her creativity and lateral thinking.

Wen Li has published 120 papers, including 2 in Nature and 1 in Science. This is astonishing for an early-career scientist with only 7 years since her Ph.D. She is a member of the NASA Time History of Events and Macroscale Interactions during Substorms (-THEMIS), Van Allen Probes, and now Juno mission science teams, and collaborates widely.

Wen Li has recently taken up a new position as assistant professor at Boston University. She is a shining example of excellent research, international collaboration, and leadership for the next generation.

—Richard Horne, British Antarctic Survey, Cambridge, U.K.


I would like to thank Richard Horne for his generous citation and nomination. I am deeply grateful to Vassilis Angelopoulos, Mary Hudson, and Craig Kletzing for their strong support in this nomination process. I also really thank the Macelwane Medal Committee and AGU for this distinct honor.

My career has significantly benefited from support and encouragement from many of my dear colleagues, to whom I can never express my gratitude sufficiently. As a student, I was very fortunate to work under the guidance of professors who are passionate and dedicated to research and teaching: my Ph.D. adviser, Richard Thorne, at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), and my undergraduate adviser, Youqiu Hu, at the University of Science and Technology of China. They taught me how to have fun in the wonderful world of space physics with their keen scientific insight, enthusiasm for science, and great sense of humor in life.

My Ph.D. research at UCLA started when the new NASA THEMIS mission led by Vassilis Angelopoulos was launched. The THEMIS mission opened the door for me to learn how to find and solve interesting scientific problems from the satellite data. Over this period, I also received generous help from the theoreticians and modelers, particularly Richard Thorne, Richard Horne, Jacob Bornik, and Yuri Shprits. During my postdoctoral research, I was truly fortunate to work on the Van Allen Probes data with many excellent team members, particularly Mary Hudson and Craig Kletzing, who have been warmly supporting my career development. My early career at UCLA greatly benefited from an extremely productive research atmosphere by working with my outstanding colleagues and friends, particularly Jacob Bortnik, Qianli Ma, Lunjin Chen, Zin Tao, and Binbin Ni, as well as many other colleagues with whom I have had a chance to work.

I am also really grateful to my colleagues at Boston University, who are very supportive of my research and teaching in the present early stage of my career as a faculty member by sharing their valuable experience and providing insightful suggestions. It has also been a great pleasure to work with my dear students and postdocs at Boston University, and I believe the best is yet to come.

Finally, I would like to give my special thanks to my family, in particular, my dearest colleague and husband, Toshi Nishimura, who was a recipient of the Macelwane Medal last year, for sharing numerous precious moments with me both academically and personally.

—Wen Li, Boston University, Boston, Mass.


Citation for Tiffany A. Shaw

Tiffany A. Shaw, Macelwane medalist
Tiffany A. Shaw

Tiffany Shaw has done fundamental work explaining the atmospheric dynamics of tropospheric and stratospheric processes using a combination of numerical modeling, basic theory, and analysis of observations. Her work has had a broad impact beyond atmospheric dynamics, including improving global climate models, which are used in climate, paleoclimate, planetary science, and exoplanet research, and explaining important aspects of the Indian monsoon and jet streams, which are important for agriculture, geology, and geochemistry.

Tiffany began her career studying mathematics and atmospheric sciences at the University of British Columbia. She then did her Ph.D. in physics at the University of Toronto under the guidance of Ted Shepherd. Her Ph.D. contribution included theoretical developments related to gravity wave drag parameterization that have helped improve global climate models. Her key physical insight was that the middle atmosphere is driven by nonlocal wave forcing and is connected through it, so that violating momentum conservation can have grave, unintended consequences on the modeled circulation.

Tiffany then spent time as a research assistant professor at New York University and then as a postdoc and assistant professor at Columbia. During her time in New York, she improved our understanding of stratosphere–troposphere coupling and its role in tropospheric climate variability and anthropogenic climate change. She also advanced our understanding of tropospheric moisture and momentum transport between the tropics and the midlatitudes, especially in relation to stationary eddies and the rapid onset of the monsoon.

Since 2015, Tiffany has been on the faculty at the University of Chicago, where she recently received tenure. Here she has continued to branch out from the stratosphere to the troposphere and from the midlatitudes to the tropics. It is now fair to say that Tiffany has made significant contributions to nearly every major area of atmospheric dynamics.

Tiffany’s approach to problems has included abstract mathematical manipulation and interpretation, clever use of global climate models, and careful analysis of observational data. She has dirtied her hands with projects that had appeared too messy to many atmospheric dynamicists and has solved problems that not only have beautiful solutions but also are interesting to a wide community of researchers working in climate and other areas. Her work has already had a tremendous impact, and it will continue to do so for years to come.

—Dorian S. Abbot, University of Chicago, Chicago, Ill.


Thank you, Dorian, for your kind words. It’s been a pleasure to be your colleague these past few years, and I look forward to many more. At the University of Chicago, I’ve become a better scientist because I’ve been pushed to ask big questions.

I’m truly grateful to AGU for this honor. Many people have contributed to my success, and I would like to thank each in turn. I would like to begin by thanking my collaborators, postdocs, and students for joining my quest. I share this award with you.

As an assistant professor, I received invaluable support from my colleagues at Columbia University, in particular, from Professors Arlene Fiore, Lorenzo Polvani, and Adam Sobel. I doubt I would have received this award without their support.

As a postdoctoral fellow, I had the pleasure of working with Professor Olivier Pauluis and Dr. Judith Perlwitz. They expanded my horizons and got me thinking about important processes in the troposphere.

In the very beginning I was fortunate enough to be advised by Professor Ted Shepherd at the University of Toronto. I owe much of my scientific rigor and intuition to him. He instilled in me the importance of using theory for its own sake as well as for practical purposes, for example, to improve climate models.

Finally, I want to thank my family, especially my newborn son, Henry. I look forward to exploring science and the humanities and sharing my future discoveries with you.

—Tiffany A. Shaw, University of Chicago, Chicago, Ill.

Citation: AGU (2017), Kopp, Lamb, Lavallée, Li, and Shaw receive 2017 James B. Macelwane Medals, Eos, 98, Published on 15 December 2017.
© 2017. The authors. CC BY-NC-ND 3.0