James M. Russell, winner of the 2020 Paleoceanography and Paleoclimatology Willi Dansgaard Award
James M. Russell

It is my great pleasure to introduce Jim Russell as the 2020 AGU Willi Dansgaard Award recipient. Jim began his research career with a Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota in 2004 and completed a postdoc at the Large Lakes Observatory in 2005. He joined Brown University’s Department of Earth, Environmental and Planetary Sciences in 2006 and is currently its chair.

Jim has long been a leader in marrying classical methods in paleolimnology with more novel tools from organic geochemistry to investigate the environmental history of the tropics. He applies this diverse skill set to investigate a wide array of phenomena, ranging from glacial geology to past atmospheric circulation, climate change, paleoecology, and human prehistory. Among his many accomplishments, Jim and his advisees have developed new molecular methods to reconstruct continental temperature and have produced some of the first continuous records of tropical continental temperature. They have also developed networks of long, isotope-based hydrological records from tropical Africa and Southeast Asia to better inform our understanding of the mechanisms of Quaternary rainfall change in these monsoonal regions. His research in these areas represents major breakthroughs.

In addition to his research accomplishments, Jim is a committed educator and mentor. He has trained over a dozen graduate students and postdocs, and the very high level of achievement of so many of his former mentees is strong testimony to his excellence as an adviser. He is also deeply committed to undergraduate education and currently holds a Royce Family Professor of Teaching Excellence chair at Brown. Jim is also recognized as an international service leader in paleoceanography and paleoclimatology through his efforts to promote continental scientific drilling, as associate editor of Paleoceanography and Paleoclimatology, and for his efforts to promote climate change literacy in the global south.

For all of these achievements, Jim merits recognition with the Dansgaard Award.

—Paul Baker, Duke University, Durham, N.C.


I thank Paul Baker for his kind words and for the nomination. I also thank my other nominators and the Paleoceanography and Paleoclimatology award committee for selecting me. It’s truly a great feeling to be recognized by one’s colleagues, and I am honored to join the outstanding paleoceanographers and paleoclimatologists who have won this award before me.

As Paul described, much of my work seeks to understand tropical climate and environmental change. This can be frustrating work. We are limited by the available archives, but fieldwork is logistically difficult. We develop cutting-edge geochemical techniques that produce more and more robust estimates of past climate and environmental change, but we are left with uncertainty and new questions. At the same time, our pursuit to understand the climate system is critically important and fascinating work, and I always feel blessed that I found this profession. I have been extraordinarily lucky to work with a group of outstanding graduate students and postdocs, and with colleagues and collaborators at Brown and beyond who keep me energized and enthusiastic to learn. They have contributed greatly to my scientific accomplishments and career, and this award would have been impossible without all of their hard work and insight.

—Jim Russell, Brown University, Providence, R.I.


(2021), Russell receives 2020 Paleoceanography and Paleoclimatology Willi Dansgaard Award, Eos, 102, Published on 02 July 2021.

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