Public Release: 

Scripps global climate change pioneer to receive Tyler Prize

Charles David Keeling honored for world-leading research on carbon and climate

University of California - San Diego

Charles David Keeling, a professor of oceanography at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego, has been selected to receive the Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement, which is awarded for accomplishments in environmental science, energy and medicine that confer great benefit upon mankind.

Keeling and co-honoree Lonnie Thompson, University Professor of Geology at Ohio State University, will be formally awarded at a black-tie ceremony at the Four Seasons Hotel Los Angeles in Beverly Hills on April 8. The two will also give public lectures on April 7 at the Davidson Conference Center at the University of Southern California.

Keeling, a world leader in research on the carbon cycle and the increase of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere, known to influence the greenhouse effect, has been affiliated with Scripps since 1956.

"Dave Keeling, more than anyone else, established the imminence of global warming as the most profound, enveloping and inclusive environmental challenge facing mankind," said Charles Kennel, director of Scripps Institution of Oceanography. "His research continues today with the same rigor and dedication that have characterized the past four decades. I can think of no individual who has made a more significant contribution to the modern science of global change research or to our understanding of the global carbon cycle, and therefore, no one more deserving of the world's most distinguished prize for environmental science. By sticking close to his laboratory bench, Dave Keeling showed it is possible for science to change the world."

The Tyler Prize citation notes that Keeling is being recognized "for his rigorous time series measurements of atmospheric carbon dioxide and their interpretation...From his remarkable lifetime of scientific investigations, we know that humans are altering the global physical environment."

The Tyler Prize, administered by the University of Southern California, was established by the late philanthropists John and Alice Tyler in 1973. Previous winners include Jane Goodall, E. O. Wilson and C. Everett Koop, as well as four Scripps scientists: Paul J. Crutzen, Edward D. Goldberg, Mario J. Molina and late Scripps Director Roger Revelle.

Keeling was the first to confirm the accumulation of atmospheric carbon dioxide by very precise measurements that produced a data set now known widely as the "Keeling curve." Prior to his investigations, it was unknown whether the oceans and vegetated areas on land would absorb any significant excess carbon dioxide from the atmosphere produced by the burning of fossil fuels and other industrial activities. He became the first to determine definitively the fraction of carbon dioxide from combustion that is accumulating in the atmosphere.

Keeling's major areas of interest include the geochemistry of carbon and oxygen and other aspects of atmospheric chemistry, with an emphasis on the carbon cycle in nature. He has been a world leader in the study the complex relationships between the carbon cycle and changes in climate. The Keeling record of the increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide measured at Mauna Loa, Hawaii, and at other "pristine air" locations, represents what many believe to be the most important time series data set for the study of global change.

Keeling also has studied the role of oceans in modulating the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide by carrying out extremely accurate measurements of carbon dissolved in seawater.

Keeling and his colleagues also have undertaken major efforts in global carbon cycle modeling. In 1996, Keeling, with his colleagues at Scripps, showed that the amplitude of the Northern Hemispheric seasonal cycles in atmospheric carbon dioxide has been increasing, providing independent support for the conclusion that the growing season is beginning earlier, perhaps in response to global warming.

Born in Scranton, Pennsylvania, on April 20, 1928, Keeling received a B.A. degree in chemistry from the University of Illinois in 1948 and a Ph.D. in chemistry from Northwestern University in 1954. Prior to joining Scripps, Keeling was a postdoctoral fellow in geochemistry at the California Institute of Technology.

While at Scripps, Keeling has been a Guggenheim Fellow at the Meteorological Institute, University of Stockholm, Sweden (1961-62), and a guest professor at both the Second Physical Institute of the University of Heidelberg, Germany (1969-70), and the Physical Institute of the University of Bern, Switzerland (1979-80).

In 2002, President George W. Bush presented Keeling with the National Medal of Science, the nation's highest award for lifetime achievement in scientific research.

He is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Geophysical Union and the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and a member of the National Academy of Sciences.

Keeling and his wife reside in Del Mar, Calif.


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Scripps Institution of Oceanography, at the University of California, San Diego, is one of the oldest, largest, and most important centers for global ocean and earth science research and graduate training in the world. The National Research Council has ranked Scripps first in faculty quality among oceanography programs nationwide. Now in its second century of discovery, the scientific scope of the institution has grown to include biological, physical, chemical, geological, geophysical, and atmospheric studies of the earth as a system. Hundreds of research programs covering a wide range of scientific areas are under way today in 65 countries. The institution has a staff of about 1,300, and annual expenditures of approximately $140 million from federal, state and private sources. Scripps operates one of the largest U.S. academic fleets with four oceanographic research ships and one research platform for worldwide exploration.

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