Jim Randerson is the perfect candidate for the Piers J. Sellers Global Environmental Change Mid-Career Award. Over the nearly 20 years between completing his Ph.D. at Stanford to his current position as Chancellor’s Professor of Earth System Science at UC Irvine, Jim’s professional ascent and scientific contributions have been nothing short of phenomenal, not unlike those of Piers in the period between completing his Ph.D. and entering the NASA astronaut program.
Jim’s research focuses on the interactions between the terrestrial biosphere and Earth’s climate system, investigating the effects of climate on ecosystems and also the feedbacks of terrestrial ecosystems on global and regional climate as mediated by processes such as disturbance, albedo, and carbon dioxide exchange. The breadth of his research ranges from fine-scale controls on wildfire in southern California, Alaska, and Brazil, to continental-scale patterns of wildfire emissions as radiative forcings on climate and energy budgets, to global models and syntheses of the Earth’s terrestrial carbon exchange.
He is prolific, influential, and broadly engaged in a range of interdisciplinary Earth system science research endeavors around the world. He has accomplished this through the excellence of his own research as well as an extensive set of collaborations with the very best scientists working to understand and quantify the changing biosphere. This is very much like Piers’s legacy in bringing together a broad team of top-notch scientists to rapidly advance interdisciplinary research of the Earth system in the 1980s and 1990s. Also like Piers, Jim has been a mentor to many students and early-career scientists who have gone on to excel in their own careers.
Having had the good fortune and pleasure to work with Piers, I am certain he would be pleased to have an award in his name being conferred upon Jim.
—Scott Goetz, Northern Arizona University, Flagstaff
Thank you, Scott, for the generous citation! This award means a lot to me because I knew Piers—he served as a role model when I was starting out as a young scientist. I was fortunate to work first as a graduate student and then as a postdoc during the 1990s as a part of a NASA Interdisciplinary Science project that Piers co-led. The experience was amazing. Every 6 months, like clockwork, our team would assemble and review progress toward our goal of building a new generation of biosphere models. For the students and postdoctoral scholars participating in this project, these meetings were simultaneously intimidating and inspiring. Feedback on new ideas was swift, sometimes requiring soul searching, and often punctuated by Piers’s sharp wit. Listening from the back of the room, we were witness to Piers and his friends defining a new field of global ecology. He pushed us to be our best through a singular combination of brilliance, humor, and passion. There are many of us who emerged from this ecosystem, now hoping to carry on in his footsteps and drawing inspiration from his editorial last year in the New York Times. When I look back at the transformative impact of Terra and other satellites in NASA’s Earth Observing System, I view this achievement as a tribute to Piers and his colleagues inside and outside of NASA who changed the way we view the biosphere on Earth.
With every passing day, I feel more and more fortunate to have a career as a scientist. I am indebted to Chris Field for his careful mentorship as my Ph.D. advisor, and to my postdoc mentors Inez Fung and Terry Chapin for providing further guidance. I am lucky to work with wonderful colleagues at UC Irvine. I share this honor with them, and with the exceptional students and early-career scientists I have had the privilege of working with. My family makes all of this worthwhile, and I thank Kathleen, Kate, and John for their love and support!
—James Randerson, University of California, Irvine