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National Academy of Sciences Awards Scripps Oceanographer for Scientific Leadership

Dean Roemmich to receive the Alexander Agassiz Medal for contributions to oceanography

Scripps oceanographer Dean Roemmich.

Dean Roemmich, a distinguished professor of oceanography at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego, will receive the 2018 Alexander Agassiz Medal from the National Academy of Sciences (NAS).

The Alexander Agassiz Medal is currently presented every five years and honors original contributions in the science of oceanography. Roemmich is being recognized by NAS for “his leadership in understanding the ocean’s roles in climate variability and change.” He will receive a medal and a $20,000 prize during the NAS annual meeting on April 29 in Washington, D.C.

“I'm honored to be selected for the 2018 Alexander Agassiz Medal, which recognizes the innovative efforts of many dedicated ocean scientists, engineers, data specialists, and agency personnel around the world who are collectively and collaboratively responsible for implementing and sustaining Argo, the global ocean climate observatory,” said Roemmich, a professor in the Integrative Oceanography Division and the Climate, Atmospheric Science, and Physical Oceanography Division at Scripps. “Argo and other autonomous ocean observing systems will continue to transform ocean science for decades to come.”

Roemmich is a leading expert in the general circulation of the oceans and the role of the ocean in the climate system. In partnership and collaboration with NOAA leadership and with NOAA funding, Roemmich helped conceive, then led and developed international scientific support for the Argo Program, an array of nearly 4,000 free-drifting profiling floats that collect information on the circulation, salinity, density, and climate variability of the world’s oceans from the sea surface to a depth of 2,000 meters (6,600 feet). In 2014, the Argo Program began developing and deploying Deep Argo floats which can make profiles from the ocean surface to the ocean bottom, reaching depths of up to 6,000 meters (almost 20,000 feet). There are currently 69 Deep Argo units deployed globally, 38 of which are operated by Scripps.

More than 30 nations and hundreds of researchers currently participate and cooperate with the Argo Program, which has been called one of the scientific triumphs of oceanography. The data collected by these probes and made freely available have transformed society’s understanding of the ocean’s roles in climate variability and change over a broad range of space- and time-scales. Argo has enabled comprehensive studies of the mean ocean circulation, the oceanic seasonal cycle, interannual ocean/atmosphere phenomena such as El Niño, and long-term trends including heat gain by the global ocean. Argo data now appear in more than 200 research papers per year.

Roemmich serves as co-chairman of the International Argo Steering Team and coordinator of the U.S. Argo Program. He led the original design team of the Argo array in 1998.

Prior to Argo, Roemmich was already a pioneering oceanographer whose studies covered the large-scale circulation of the oceans by combining hydrology and satellite altimetry. These studies, which examined the heat budget of the ocean and required the development of new types of probes and new observing networks, set the stage for the work currently being done by the Argo Program.

Roemmich’s role in the development and implementation of the Argo array, as well as earlier research achievements, were recognized by his receiving the American Meteorological Society’s Sverdrup Gold Medal in 2008. In 2010, Roemmich was named a Fellow of the American Geophysical Union. He also served as a Lead Author for the 5th Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Roemmich has published more than 90 research papers over the course of his 35+ years as a researcher and educator.

The Alexander Agassiz Medal was established by a gift from scientist Sir John Murray in 1911. Murray established the award to honor his friend and renowned ichthyologist Alexander Agassiz, who served as president of NAS from 1901 to 1907. The Agassiz Medal has been presented since 1913, with previous recipients including Scripps scientists Charles Cox (2001), Victor Vacquier (1995), Joseph Reid (1992), Walter Munk (1976), Carl Eckart (1966), Roger Revelle (1963), Martin Johnson (1959), Harald Sverdrup (1938), and T. Wayland Vaughan (1935).

The U.S. Argo Program is supported by NOAA. In addition to Scripps Oceanography, partner institutions in the U.S. Argo Program include Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, the University of Washington, NOAA's Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory, and NOAA's Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory.


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