Public Release: 

Revelle family endows UC San Diego chair honoring Roger Revelle

$2.5 million gift is the largest single donation for an endowed chair in Scripps Institution of Oceanography history

University of California - San Diego

The University of California, San Diego, has established the Roger Revelle Chair in Environmental Science at Scripps Institution of Oceanography to honor Roger Revelle, one of the world's most highly regarded oceanographers, who also is considered to be the father of UC San Diego. A $2.5 million gift from Revelle's wife, Ellen, and family represents the largest single donation ever made for an endowed chair in the 104-year history of Scripps Oceanography. Funds for the endowed chair will be used to recruit an outstanding climate scientist for Scripps, one of the world's foremost climate change research institutions.

Roger Revelle (1909-1991) was one of the nation's most prominent oceanographers and a world leader in the application of science and technology to help solve problems in developing countries. Revelle, one of the true pioneers of climate change research, is often described as the "grandfather of the greenhouse effect."

Long associated with the University of California, Revelle was director of Scripps Institution of Oceanography from 1951 to 1964. His vision and energies led to the establishment of the UC San Diego campus in 1960, where he was a professor of science and public policy. In 1965, the first of UC San Diego's six colleges was named Revelle College in his honor.

For more than five decades, Revelle's counsel and guidance was sought by national and international agencies in areas ranging from the environment and education to agriculture and world population. He was described by New York Times science writer Walter Sullivan as "one of the two or three most articulate spokesmen for science in the Western World."

"Roger Revelle was a bold and legendary scientist of the first order as well as a visionary academic leader who built a powerful institution--UC San Diego--from the ground up. A good measure of UCSD's success can be traced back to the strong foundation laid by Roger Revelle," said UCSD Chancellor Marye Anne Fox. "This generous gift from the Revelle family helps ensure that Scripps Institution of Oceanography remains at the forefront of marine science and climate change research that is unparalleled in this country."

"This enduring gift from our dear friend Ellen Revelle signifies a lifelong commitment that she and Roger shared with Scripps for more than half a century," said Tony Haymet, director of Scripps Institution of Oceanography. "Ellen has a vision for Scripps and our science, now and in the future, and we express our deepest gratitude to her and her family."

"Roger loved being at Scripps--it was always near and dear to his heart," said Ellen Revelle. "Endowing a chair here in his honor seemed like a very appropriate thing to do."

Though Revelle began his career in oceanography in the early 1930s, it was during the 1950s that he first became concerned about the potential for a greenhouse effect resulting from increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide from the use of fossil fuels. He recruited a young scientist, Charles David Keeling, to Scripps and they conducted groundbreaking studies of atmospheric carbon dioxide and the carbon cycle that provided the scientific background for the discussion of human impact on the earth's climate. This research revealed that carbon dioxide levels are increasing. Today, this seminal data set, now known as "the Keeling Curve," is the benchmark for scientific studies of climate change.

In 1965, in a report prepared by the Environmental Pollution Panel of the President's Science Advisory Committee, Revelle stated that the burning of fossil fuels by man "is measurably increasing the atmospheric carbon dioxide," and that this increase "would act, like the glass in a greenhouse, to raise the temperature of the lower air."

In 1977, he chaired the National Academy of Sciences Energy and Climate Panel that recommended "an interdisciplinary effort of an almost unique kind" to investigate the effects of increasing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. After that, he was a prominent figure and a world renowned authority on the prospects and ramifications of what is now popularly called "global warming."

Revelle's research on climate change was a major factor in his selection for the National Medal of Science, which he was presented with in November 1990 from then-President George H.W. Bush. The medal citation reads, "for his pioneering work in the areas of carbon dioxide and climate modification, oceanographic exploration presaging plate tectonics, and the biological effects of radiation in the marine environment, and studies of human population growth and global food supplies."

He was among the most sought-after speakers on science and public policy and was a prolific author with wide-ranging interests. Recognition of Revelle's accomplishments included the prestigious Vannevar Bush Award from the National Science Foundation for "contributions to the field of oceanography and work to apply science to the problems of developing countries" in 1984, the Tyler Ecology Prize for Environmental Achievement for his "contributions to ecology, oceanography and public affairs" in 1984, and the 1986 Balzan Foundation Prize for "lifetime achievement in global cooperation and investigations of carbon dioxide."

Revelle was born in Seattle, Wash., on March 7, 1909, and raised in Pasadena, Calif. He received a bachelor's degree in geology from Pomona College in Claremont, Calif., in 1929, and entered the University of California at Berkeley for graduate work. He completed his graduate studies at the university's Scripps Institution of Oceanography and received a Ph.D. in oceanography in 1936. In 1931, Revelle married Ellen Virginia Clark, a grandniece of Ellen Browning Scripps and Edward Willis Scripps, who were major benefactors to Scripps Institution of Oceanography many years earlier.

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At the University of California, endowed chairs are teaching/research positions occupied by distinguished scholars. The university provides the teaching/research position and pays the salary of the person appointed to the endowed chairs. The permanent endowed fund created by philanthropic gifts provides perpetual annual income in support of the teaching and research activities of the person holding the chair.

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