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People examine wall of snow pit.
Photo Credit: Kendrick Taylor/WAIS Divide
Scientists examine the stratigraphic layers in a snow pit at the WAIS Divide field camp in 2008 where researchers drilled the longest U.S. ice core in history. Scientist Richard Alley is an expert on the physical properties of ice cores and is a funded investigator on the WAIS Divide project. He was recently awarded a major prize for his research and public outreach efforts.

Heinz Awards

Alley recognized for research and outreach efforts on climate change

Richard Alley External Non-U.S. government site, Evan Pugh professor of Geosciences at Penn State External Non-U.S. government site, is a recipient of a $100,000 Heinz Award for being a leader in climate and polar ice studies.

The Heinz Awards External Non-U.S. government site, now in their 17th year, annually recognize individuals creating and implementing workable solutions to the problems the world faces through invention, research and education while inspiring the next generation of modern thinkers.

This year’s awards focused on the environment, but the nine winners were also chosen based on their related contributions to the other award categories recognized in many previous years, including arts and humanities, public policy, technology and the economy.

Richard Alley
Richard Alley

Alley’s discovery that the last Ice Age came to an abrupt end over a period of only three years broke open the field of abrupt climate change. This debunked the myth that climate change is a slow process and suggests that some climate changes in response to human-induced activities, particularly the burning of fossil fuels, may arrive more rapidly than expected.

“Dr. Alley’s research on ice cores has provided an essential cornerstone to the study of environmental change,” Teresa Heinz, chairman of the Heinz Family Foundation, said in a press release from Penn State. “He discovered that such changes can be abrupt and massive, and he is able to communicate these complex ideas in a clear and compelling way.”

Alley has received more than 30 grants as a principal investigator or co-PI from the National Science Foundation External U.S. government site since 1986. Current grants include an award to study the physical properties of an ice core retrieved from West Antarctica over the last several years. [See previous article: Deep core complete.]

The Penn State scientist regularly testifies before congressional committees and policymakers on climate change. He has been a lead and contributing author on several reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change External Non-U.S. government site, including the 2007 report, which received the Nobel Peace Prize.

Alley is active in communicating earth sciences to the general public. Earlier this year, he hosted a PBS special on climate change and sustainable energy called “Earth: The Operators’ Manual” External Non-U.S. government site and authored a companion book of the same name. The NSF also supported that project with a grant.

“Climate change is an enormous challenge that requires big action,” Alley said. “Our grandchildren will one day ask us to explain the choices our leaders made today.”

NSF-funded research in this article: Richard Alley, Penn State, Award Nos. 1043528 External U.S. government site (with Don Voigt) and 0539578 External U.S. government site (with Don Voigt and David Reusch); and Geoffrey Haines-Stiles, Richard Alley and Erna Akuginow, Geoffrey Haines-Stiles Productions, Award No. 0917564 External U.S. government site

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See previous interview with Richard Alley: It's just physics