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Science for solutions award

Information on the Science for Solutions Award

The Science for Solutions Award is given annually to a student or postdoctoral scientist in recognition of significant contributions in the application and use of the Earth and space science to solve societal problems.

The award was established by the generosity of Peter Schlosser, a former President of AGU’s Ocean Sciences section. The recipient receives a monetary prize to advance their studies or projects.

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Award benefits

AGU is proud to recognize our honorees. Recipients of the Science for Solutions Award will receive an award, as well as the following benefits:
  • 1
    $1,000 monetary award
  • 2
    Recognition and invitation to present at the AGU Fall Meeting during the award presentation year
  • 3
    Two complimentary tickets to the Honors Banquet at the AGU Fall Meeting during the award presentation year


The nominee must be a single contributor who is completing significant work in the Earth and space sciences to contribute solutions to societal problems. To better understand eligibility for nominators, supporters and committee members, review AGU’s Honors Conflict of Interest Policy.
  • 1
    Nominees: The nominee must be a current student or postdoctoral scientist within three years of receiving their Ph.D. AGU membership is not required. They should be in compliance with the Conflict of Interest Policy.
  • 2
    Nominators: Nominators must be active AGU members and in compliance with the Conflict of Interest Policy. Duplicate nominations for the same individual will not be accepted. However, one co-nominator is permitted (but not required) per nomination.
  • 3
    Supporters: Individuals who write letters of support for the nominee are not required to be active AGU members but must be in compliance with the Conflict of Interest Policy.
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Nomination package

Your nomination package must contain all of the following files, which should be no more than two pages in length per document. For detailed information on the requirements, review the Union Awards, Medals and Prizes Frequently Asked Questions.

  • A nomination letter with one-sentence citation (150 characters or less). Letterhead stationery is preferred. Nominator’s name, title, institution, and contact information are required. The citation should appear at either the beginning or end of the nomination letter.
  • A curriculum vitae for the nominee. Include the candidate’s name, address and email, history of employment, degrees, research experience, honors, memberships, and service to the community through committee work, advisory boards, etc.
  • A selected bibliography stating the total number, the types of publications and the number published by AGU.
  • Three letters of support not including the nomination letter. Letterhead is preferred. Supporter’s name, title, institution, and contact information are required.
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Nominees for the Science for Solutions Award must meet the following criteria:

  • Be a student or postdoctoral scientist who is making an impact in Earth and space sciences for solutions.
  • Be working in Earth and space sciences to contribute to solutions for societal problems.
  • Be a single contributor who is completing significant work.
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Nominations are Open!

The nomination cycle for 2023 AGU Union awards, medals, and prizes is now open until 12 April at 23:59 ET. Nominate a colleague, peer or student today.

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Noemi is an exceptionally talented early-career researcher whose research on computational hydrology has provided outstanding contributions to solving water and food security challenges. Noemi develops scalable approaches for hydrological prediction by advancing realism in hyperresolution (tens of meters) land surface models through big geospatial data, satellite land data assimilation, machine learning and high-performance computing, including the representation of human water management such as irrigation and groundwater pumping. These cutting-edge computational approaches enable monitoring and understanding of complex hydrological processes at unprecedented spatial scales and over continental domains that otherwise would be infeasible. Noemi’s work bridges a significant research gap and forms the basis for solving societal problems around water and food security, targeting the spatial scales at which impacts occur and decision-making is implemented, through improved monitoring of crop water demands, hydrologic extremes and other natural hazards.

She developed an assimilation framework (Vergopolan et al., 2020, Remote Sensing of Environment) to represent soil moisture variability at local scale which outperformed state-of-the-art satellite estimates and applied this approach to crop yield prediction (Vergopolan et al., 2021, Hydrology and Earth System Sciences), showing how localized estimates of food security risks are feasible across national domains. These tools are now being used for solutions on the ground, for example, forming the basis of operational flood early warning in southern Africa and quantifying maize yield gaps at field scale in Malawi to provide evidence to national food security policy. She has also pioneered the development of open-source, continental domain, hyperresolution data sets (Vergopolan et al., 2021, Scientific Data) that have potential for applications in water resources, agriculture, ecology and biogeochemistry and has enabled for the first time understanding of the scaling behavior of soil moisture at continental scales (Vergopolan et al., 2022, Geophysical Research Letters). Her current work on improving operational weather and subseasonal climate forecast systems as part of a NOAA fellowship has potential to provide early warning of hydrometeorological risks, especially for the most vulnerable of society.

Noemi’s research profile is outstanding for a researcher only 1 year since her Ph.D., with much of this a result of multidisciplinary collaborative work, which is critical to address complex societal problems around water, food and climate. As a young, female researcher from Brazil who has made great strides in the early part of her career, she is a role model for other young and talented Latin researchers and has done much to promote Earth and environmental science within and by this community.

— Justin Sheffield
University of Southampton
Southampton, United Kingdom


I am thrilled and honored to receive the AGU Science for Solutions Award. I am immensely thankful to Justin Sheffield for nominating me; his pioneer research on monitoring droughts and changes in terrestrial water through decision-supporting tools inspired me and shaped the scientist I am today. I also want to thank Elie Bou-Zeid, Marc Bierkens and Jay Famiglietti for their tremendous support in my nomination and throughout my scientific career.

As hydrologic and climate predictions depict a future in which floods and droughts are the new normal, climate change poses an imminent threat to water and food security worldwide. To adapt and mitigate climate change impacts on freshwater systems, locally relevant hydrologic information is critical to support governance and water resources decision-makers in designing local interventions and implementing policies. We bridged this data gap by advancing realism in hyperresolution land surface models through big geospatial data, satellite land data assimilation, machine learning and high-performance computing. These novel approaches enabled hydrologic predictions at unprecedented scales and now are forming the basis for flood early warning in southern Africa and providing evidence to national food security policy in Zambia and Malawi. As a scientist, very little is as rewarding as seeing the impacts of our efforts on improving livelihoods.

As Eric Wood would say, pushing the scientific barriers requires courage. Courage to be creative, courage to be persistent, and courage to think in ways others aren't. As scientists, it is our duty to embrace challenges in water and food security with courage, as the future of the next generations depends on the scientific advances we make today. For a positive impact on society, it has been my mission to advance hydrological monitoring and predictions targeting the spatial scales that can support solutions on the ground.

I am grateful to my Ph.D. advisers, Eric F. Wood and Justin Sheffield — their research vision and commitment to scientific excellence have always inspired me. I am thankful to Nathaniel Chaney, Niko Wanders, Elena Shevliakova and Hylke Beck; their mentorship and encouragement nurtured the researcher I am today. I am deeply grateful to all who supported me along the way and to AGU for honoring me with the 2022 Science for Solutions Award.

— Noemi Vergopolan
Princeton University
Princeton, New Jersey
NOAA Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory
Princeton, New Jersey

Lorenzo Rosa was awarded the 2021 Science for Solutions Award at the AGU Fall Meeting Honors Ceremony, held 15 December 2021 in New Orleans, LA. The award is given “for significant contributions in the application and use of the Earth and space sciences to solve societal problems.”


Dr. Lorenzo Rosa exemplifies the qualities representative of a global citizen-researcher working toward meeting the societal and environmental challenges of the 21st century. 

In his young academic career, he has demonstrated his passion, appreciation and drive for science as a tool to reconcile the needs of people and the planet. His studies on sustainable water-energy-food systems and the deployment of technologies for climate change adaptation and mitigation are shedding new light on pathways toward a more sustainable future. Dr. Rosa’s research is ultimately motivated by an ethical concern about global water-energy-food security, the impacts of climate change, and the challenges they pose for environmental sustainability and the livelihoods and well-being of vulnerable populations around the world. To this end, he has produced impactful and actionable research that can be used to inform sustainable development policy and investment. He is also passionate about outreach, presenting his work and its broader implications to audiences ranging from schoolchildren in his hometown of Lecco, Italy, to international leaders at the U.N. Climate Change Conference COP 25. For the clear societal implications and transformative potential of his work as well as his scientific leadership, Dr. Rosa has been recognized as a prestigious Ermenegildo Zegna Founder’s scholar, as an AGU Horton Research Grant recipient and as an influential young leader in science and technology in 2020 by Forbes 30 Under 30. 

Dr. Rosa is also generous with his time beyond his impressive research. As just one example, he has volunteered extensively for The Oasis Initiative, a nonprofit organization that aims to build the evidence base and local leadership necessary to overcome the most serious development challenges in Africa’s Sahel region. These efforts include advancing girls’ education and developing climate change adaptation strategies to improve food security. He has also been a vocal and active supporter of and made concerted efforts to promote women in science by effectively advocating for their recruitment for undergraduate and graduate research programs and projects. Because of all these qualities, Dr. Rosa sets a great example for how to make the world around us a better place —through both our research and our everyday actions.

— Kyle Frankel Davis
University of Delaware
Newark, Delaware


I am honored and humbled to receive the AGU Science for Solutions Award. I would like to thank Kyle Davis for leading my nomination; Inez Fung, Dennis Baldocchi and Jeffrey Reimer for sponsoring my nomination; and the award committee for their time and effort during the selection process. 

Satisfying global demand for energy, agricultural and freshwater resources without causing environmental degradation and reaching net-zero carbon emissions is a central challenge of the 21st century. My research focuses on climate change mitigation and adaptation solutions to food, water and energy systems. What excites me most about my research is that as investments in science and engineering solutions for climate change mitigation and adaption are growing, so are the partnerships between researchers, industry, governments and civil society. Today, global leaders are discussing how to secure global net-zero emissions by midcentury, keeping 1.5°C degrees within reach and protecting communities and natural habitats through adaptation. In my daily research, I see a myriad of opportunities for Earth scientists to make impactful contributions in the pursuit of solutions for a sustainable future.

I am extremely grateful to AGU for supporting early-career scientists through the Science for Solutions Award — especially now as we begin to recover from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. I am especially indebted to my mentors and colleagues at Politecnico di Milano; University of California, Berkeley; and ETH Zurich, who have inspired and supported me along my doctoral and postdoc studies and have created intellectual communities from which I have benefited enormously. I am grateful to my Ph.D. supervisor, Paolo D’Odorico, whose mentorship has been fundamental in shaping me as a scientist. Last but not least, I would like to thank Kyle Davis for inspiring me to pursue Ph.D. studies and being an example to follow.

Thank you for this award. This recognition is motivation to continue my efforts in using Earth and environmental sciences to bring sustainability solutions for the people and the planet. 

— Lorenzo Rosa
ETH Zurich
Zurich, Switzerland


Mette Bendixen was awarded the 2020 Science for Solutions Award at the virtual AGU Fall Meeting in December. The award is for “significant contributions in the application and use of the Earth and space sciences to solve societal problems.”


For outstanding contributions that set a new agenda to solve a pressing societal challenge—the scarcity of sand resources.

Dr. Bendixen has worked on coastal processes in the Arctic region and, using unique archival imagery and remote sensing data, showed how Greenlandic deltas are now growing more rapidly than earlier in the 20th century. She innovatively applied statistical techniques to quantify the impact of major controlling physical factors such as the melting Greenland ice sheet. She published her findings in Nature (Bendixen et al., Nature, 55, 101–104, 2017). It turned out that with a rapidly melting ice sheet Greenland’s deltas receive a large and steady supply of sand.

Dr. Bendixen realized, in a pivot from her initial interests in just the physical system, that if sediment loads to Greenland deltas are indeed so large, could they be a part of the solution to the global sand scarcity problem? She published this idea first in a commentary for Science, bringing together the new knowledge of the enormous sediment load originating from Greenland and the fact that sand is becoming a sparse resource globally. The world needs sand for infrastructure, housing, road bases, and coastal defense but has been running out of this most basic resource. Mette’s paper demonstrated her ability to relate her geomorphologically based research to societally relevant solutions and innovations. This was a highly original idea with an implication for Greenland to potentially make use of the sand accumulating at their coastlines for export. The initial idea was further developed by putting the shear sand volumes into a context of modeled future economic value and scarcity of sand.

Moreover, in her current work, Dr. Bendixen is building collaborations between research, industry, and policymakers to work toward defining a sustainable future for sand. She now collaborates on research on sand scarcity and is seeking information from Greenland’s citizens directly through surveys. Her research agenda further broadened and also investigates sand mining in Africa—perhaps one of the most understudied continents in the sense of river sediment fluxes and, consequently, sand resources. Providing these insights in the rate of mining and resource extraction will be vital information for regulation and sustainable use.

Congratulation, Mette, for a well-deserved recognition of your creativity and persistence to bring your interdisciplinary science to contribute solutions to societal challenges!

—Irina Overeem, University of Colorado Boulder


I am exceptionally honored to receive the AGU Science for Solutions Award for my work on global sand scarcity and potential solutions to solve the growing demand. I am deeply grateful for the nomination and want to thank my colleague and nominator, Associate Professor Irina Overeem, for being supportive and enthusiastic about my work and my colleagues for supporting this nomination. Specifically, I am deeply thankful to my doctoral adviser, Professor Aart Kroon, for having trained me to think holistically and critically about my research and for supporting my curiosity throughout my academic career.

With a background in physical geography and geomorphology, I have come to appreciate the growing interdependence and linkages between geosciences and human activities and how these links are increasingly adding challenges to our environment and society. Being open to cross-disciplinary collaborations and not being afraid to ask sometimes even basic questions are fundamental when trying to solve these global challenges. Receiving the Science for Solutions Award makes me exceptionally proud, and I am confident that I could not have advanced my work to this point if I hadn’t had the opportunity to work with and receive support and guidance from a broad set of researchers and colleagues, indeed also from outside the academic community.

In a time when global challenges are rising, I believe it’s extremely important we are tackling these challenges across disciplines and through an integrative and interdisciplinary approach. I trust that this can only be done through respect for, with inclusion of, and in collaboration with Indigenous communities.

I want to also take the opportunity to thank AGU for supporting early-career researchers and Peter Schlosser for establishing the Science for Solutions Award. Finally, I would like to thank the Carlsberg Foundation for their support of my work.

—Mette Bendixen, Department of Food and Resource Economics, University of Copenhagen, Denmark 


Franziska C. Landes was awarded the 2019 Science for Solutions Award at the AGU Fall Meeting Honors Ceremony, held on 11 December 2019 in San Francisco, Calif. The award is given “for significant contributions in the application and use of the Earth and space sciences to solve societal problems.”



The creativity, passion, and impact of young researchers is inspiring, and when applied to pressing, real-world problems like lead poisoning, these research characteristics take on an even more important and pressing tone. Dr. Franziska Landes has consistently demonstrated the drive to make real differences in communities, the creativity to develop new lead testing strategies and place them in the hands of the very communities that are burdened by lead contamination, and the scholarship to produce scientific products to share these innovations with the world.

Franziska uses citizen science and community-engaged research to identify and eradicate pollution in environments ranging from New York City backyards to mining villages in the Peruvian Andes. Achieving this scale of impact requires creative thinking about how to engage people in the discovery and research process and providing them with tools that they could use themselves in a practical way. It is also incredibly hard as a researcher to take the time to develop trust in the community and to develops tools that are user friendly, culturally appropriate, and understandable for the communities that need them. Franziska not only developed and validated low-cost, citizen-friendly testing kits for bioavailable lead in soils but also created a mobile-friendly database structure and autocapture system for demographics, observations, and lead data and in Spanish on top of all that!

Franziska is sharing the products of these efforts in several ways. She has followed the traditional publication route to share her technique development and implementation results. But perhaps as important, she worked with communities to develop locally appropriate research translation tools for communities and engaged actively with organizations in Peru to ensure sustainability of this program. She has also brought her passion to the AGU GeoHealth section, chairing the Early Career Committee and guest editing a special issue of the journal GeoHealth on community-engaged research and citizen science.

Overall, if I were asked to identify the type of scholar who should come out of the 21st century academy, it would be Franziska: scientifically diligent, passionate about using science to improve society, and engaging in the trenches on the important environmental health issues of the day. It is truly my honor to have been able to nominate Franziska for this award.

—Gabriel Filippelli, Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis


I am greatly honored to be receiving this year’s Science for Solutions Award. I would like to thank Gabriel Filippelli for organizing this nomination and for his leadership in community-engaged research and geohealth. I also want to thank my doctoral adviser, Lex van Geen, for his support and continuous encouragement to think about real-world applications. Thank you also to Peter Schlosser for establishing this award and his continued dedication to identifying solutions based in the Earth sciences.

On a global scale, we face a growing urgency to find solutions to enable living sustainable and equitable lives. By engaging communities in the scientific process and by enabling people to pose questions, conduct environmental measurements, and identify answers on their own, we as a society can be better positioned to find the solutions we need now and in the future. My work is motivated by a desire to improve human and environmental health, and on a daily basis I am inspired by community members, parents, teachers, and students striving for these same goals.

I would also like to thank the AGU community for their support of early-career scientists and especially the AGU GeoHealth leadership team for creating a welcoming community that incorporates early-career members at all levels. I am continuously inspired by the work of these interdisciplinary researchers and practitioners, and I am excited to be a part of this community focused on the interactions between the health of people, ecosystems, and the environment.

—Franziska C. Landes, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, Columbia University, Palisades, N.Y.

Kyle Frankel Davis received the Science for Solutions Award at the 2018 AGU Fall Meeting Honors Ceremony, held 12 December 2018 in Washington, D. C. The award recognizes a student or postdoctoral scientist “for significant contributions in the application and use of the Earth and space sciences to solve societal problems.”



Dr. Davis’s research addresses questions in the general area of global crop production, water and food security, environmental sustainability, and the food–water–energy nexus. His early work evaluated the extent to which agricultural intensification would be able to meet the increasing food demand of human societies under a variety of dietary and land use change conditions. His research quantitatively demonstrated how—under suitable diet moderation and agricultural intensification scenarios—enough water and food would be available to feed the growing global population until the end of the century. He also evaluated the “hydrologic feasibility” of yield gap closure scenarios.

His research has also investigated ongoing changes in livestock production and quantified the relative importance of feed-fed and grass-fed production in different regions of the world and the associated impacts on the water footprint of the livestock. He identified patterns of virtual water flow associated with the animal feed trade and documented the ongoing “livestock transition” resulting from the increasing reliance on less resource intensive livestock types.

One of the effects of the recent food crises has been the increase in transnational investments in agriculture by agribusiness corporations. Kyle’s research has evaluated the role of climate change in this phenomenon and quantified the impact of large-scale land acquisitions on rural livelihoods and the environment. His work focused on the impact of large-scale land acquisitions on land use change and demonstrated how the ongoing land rush is contributing to deforestation in Cambodia.

Some of his research work is investigating alternative models of agricultural development that would allow for an increase in yields without requiring massive investments in modern irrigation technology that local farmers in the developing world would not be able to afford. For instance, by planting more suitable crops in the “right place,” it would be possible to increase food production while reducing water consumption.

Collectively, these contributions demonstrate his ability to identify important societal problems and develop a research agenda that can provide the basis for effective solutions. Through fieldwork in Mozambique, Nigeria, and India, he is filling the gap traditionally existing between science and the solution of societal problems by means of interactions with local farmers, communities, and policy makers in some of the areas of the world that are most in need. Kyle has a unique intellectual curiosity, a diverse range of interests, and a strong personal motivation to contribute to a better world with his work and studies.

—Maria Cristina Rulli, Politecnico di Milano, Milan, Italy


I am greatly humbled and honored to be receiving the 2018 Science for Solutions Award. I am deeply grateful to Cristina Rulli for leading my nomination, to the award committee for their time and effort during the selection process, and to AGU for its continued support of early-career scientists.

As with many of us, I was originally drawn to Earth and environmental sciences by a fascination with nature and the excitement of scientific discovery. While the role of such scientific curiosity and of basic science will always be vital to what we do, there is a growing need for research that pursues direct benefits to societal challenges. Processes like globalization and climate change mean that the issues facing decision makers are increasingly complex. As scientists, we have a critical role to play in understanding these interconnections and in providing evidence and information that are readily comprehendible beyond our scientific community. Developing relationships with stakeholders and decision makers will be essential for bridging the gap between our science and the policies that it can ultimately help to inform. AGU’s efforts at improving the ability of its members to effectively interact and communicate with the public and policy makers—for example, through its Science Policy and Sharing Science initiatives—are recognition that these skills and connections are becoming increasingly important for researchers and for young scientists in particular.

All of my work continues to be possible due in large part to the guidance, support, and collaborative efforts of a great many people. I am especially indebted to my Ph.D. and postdoctoral advisors, Paolo D’Odorico and Ruth DeFries, who have encouraged me to think big, to be creative, and to pursue solutions that benefit people and the environment. I am also grateful to Cristina Rulli and Brian Richter for the invaluable roles they have played in nurturing my scientific interests and for showing me that my work can potentially play a part in tackling some of today’s grand societal challenges. I would also like to thank The Nature Conservancy and Columbia University’s Earth Institute and Data Science Institute for their support of my work.

Thank you again for this award. I am excited to be part of the next generation of international scientists with profound and far-reaching opportunities for (and challenges to) realizing positive change for people and the planet.

—Kyle Frankel Davis, Columbia University, New York

David A. Seekell received the 2016 Science for Solutions Award at the AGU Fall Meeting Honors Ceremony, held on 14 December 2016 in San Francisco, Calif. The award is for “significant contributions in the application and use of the Earth and space sciences to solve societal problems.”



One of the major goals for modern societies is to secure access to enough resources that can be used to produce a sufficient amount of food to feed the growing and increasingly demanding human population while eradicating undernourishment and limiting the impact on the environment. Two of the main challenges in doing so are as follows: (1) In many countries the population has grown so much that the land and water resources locally available are not sufficient to produce all the food they need. Therefore, these countries depend on trade. (2) The environmental response to increasing human pressure may be nonlinear. Ecosystems may be susceptible to abrupt and highly irreversible changes to unwanted alternative states. It is still unclear how the resilience of global food systems is affected by the globalization of food through trade and the presence of alternative stable environmental states. Research in these areas is crucially important to the future of the global society. David Seekell’s scholarly work has contributed to major advances in both directions.

His research on early warning signs of state change in lakes has moved ecological theories forward while providing new tools for ecosystem management. David focused on transitions between alternative stable states in bistable ecosystem dynamics and developed methods that can be used to recognize incipient conditions of regime shift. His work has developed some “leading indicators” based on the use of conditional variance as a precursor of transitions between eutrophic and oligotrophic conditions. Through theory, numerical simulations, observations, and experimental manipulations, his work has advanced our current understanding of regime shift in ecosystems and identified early warning signs that “work” even when the other leading indicators either fail or are ineffective.

David Seekell is addressing research questions relevant to social-environmental systems with a focus on food security, inequality, and globalization. His work is connecting the dots between water use and inequality theories. His research on the global inequality of water use has investigated the major biophysical factors contributing to inequality in access to water and clarified the extent to which it is affected by trade. His recent work has also highlighted how the resilience of the global food system strongly depends on the presence of redundancies (e.g., yield gaps, uncultivated land, and grain reserves), the structure of the trade network, and the degree of trade dependency. Collectively, these areas of activities connect fundamental research questions with issues of immediate societal relevance.

—Paolo D’Odorico, University of Virginia, Charlottesville


I am honored and humbled to receive the Science for Solutions Award. I would like to thank Paolo D’Odorico for organizing the nomination and AGU for recognizing and supporting the efforts of ­early-­career researchers.

I consider myself first and foremost a limnologist and aquatic ecologist with a focus on lakes. Few features of the Earth system are untouched by human activities, and lakes reflect human activities particularly strongly. The human–­ecosystem connection is strong to the extent that even the most fundamental questions are not fully evaluated without considering them within the human context. Increasingly, this includes international teleconnections such as climate change and international trade. Patterns of international trade, for example, can be strongly related to changes in ecosystem mass balances but are rarely evaluated because limnological studies tend to have a more local focus. I expect that developing an understanding of these types of connections will be an active area of research for my generation, and I am encouraged that AGU supports this through both the Science for Solutions Award and the development of the journal Earth’s Future.

The Earth science community comprises smart, kind, and supportive individuals. Collaborating with members of this community has made my career in research a worthwhile and enjoyable endeavor. The group of researchers I have had the pleasure of working with is too large to list in this response, but I am particularly grateful for the support and encouragement of Michael Pace and Jan Karlsson, who were my doctoral and postdoctoral advisors. I am also grateful for mentoring and opportunities provided by Paolo D’Odorico, Stephen Carpenter, and Jon Cole. Finally, I would like to thank the Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation for its support through the Wallenberg Academy Fellows program.

Thank you for this award. This recognition is motivation to continue my efforts in addressing these fundamental questions.

—David A. Seekell, Umeå University, Umeå, Sweden

Chigomezyo Mudala Ngwira was awarded the 2014 Science for Solutions Award at the AGU Fall Meeting Honors Ceremony, held on 17 December 2014 in San Francisco, Calif. The award is for “significant contributions in the application and use of Earth and space sciences to solve societal problems.”



Within heliophysics, space weather is the newest field and also the field most pertinent to life and technology. The most explosive space weather originates as solar eruptions, producing myriad secondary effects as they propagate through the heliosphere. When these events approach Earth’s magnetosphere, inducing geomagnetic storms (GSs), they can wreak havoc on humans, spacecraft, and instruments. Determining how and when these adverse effects occur, and ultimately mitigating them, is a key goal of heliophysics today. Much is at stake: Society depends increasingly on vulnerable satellite-based technologies (e.g., GPS and cell phones), and electric power grids can be severely damaged by ground-level magnetic changes. Chigomezyo Ngwira is combining theory, modeling, and data analysis in novel ways to make progress on this urgent problem.

Chigo’s work has been focused on the critical ground-level effects of solar eruptions: geomagnetically induced currents (GICs). As the magnetosphere is reconfigured by an eruption, the current system from the ionosphere to the surface is altered, inducing large currents in wires and associated power grid equipment. At worst, portions of the grid could be disabled, straining the resources of hospitals, data farms, and other critical facilities. The scientific foundation required for comprehensive understanding of GICs became available only recently, thanks largely to Chigo and his colleagues.

Chigo has made great strides on two crucial fronts: (1) GICs at middle and southern latitudes, locations earlier thought not to be threatened by GSs, and (2) impacts of extreme GSs and GICs based on historical events and state-of-the-art simulations of the near-Earth response to extreme solar eruptions. In “Improved Modeling of Geomagnetically Induced Currents in the South African Power Network,” Chigo and colleagues showed, for the first time, that significant GICs could occur in the South African grid during major GSs. This pioneering work launched major GIC activities in South Africa.

In “Simulation of the 23 July 2012 Extreme Space Weather Event: What if This Extremely Rare CME Was Earth Directed?,” Chigo and colleagues used advanced models to study, for the first time, the GIC activity that such a well-observed extreme event would cause if aimed at Earth. In “Modeling Extreme ‘Carrington-Type’ Space Weather Events Using Three-Dimensional Global MHD Simulations,” he and his coauthors predicted maximum possible GIC amplitudes and revealed impacts at latitudes much farther south than expected.

Chigomezyo Ngwira’s research is a prime example of how science directly benefits society worldwide, through better understanding of natural hazards and improved preparedness for extreme events. His results not only guide U.S. policy decisions now but also manifest enormous potential for guiding energy policy in the developing world.

—Judith T. Karpen, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.


I am greatly humbled and honored to receive this prestigious award. I would like to offer my sincerest gratitude to AGU for this honor established by Peter Schlosser. In accepting this award, I want to say thank you to Judith Karpen for the nomination and to Antti Pulkkinen, my postdoc advisor, for believing in me.

The research on extreme space weather, particularly geomagnetically induced currents, is an important topic for our technologically dependent society given the potentially catastrophic consequences on high-voltage power transmission grids. I am excited that “the application and use of the Earth and space sciences to solve societal problems” is recognized as a novel way to advance our understanding of the world we live in.

Growing up, I learned at an early stage that education was the key to a successful future. However, I did not make the journey here alone. Numerous people have supported me along the way. I would like to thank Lee-Anne McKinnell and Pierre Cilliers—my graduate school advisors—and many other people who have supported me during this journey. I am also blessed with an amazing and loving family, especially my wife, Chomba, who has been very supportive of my work. I would not be here today without all of that love, support, and encouragement.

In conclusion, I want to again say how grateful I am to receive this award, especially knowing that I work every day among other brilliant postdoc scientists who are equally deserving. I count it a blessing to work alongside many eminent scientists at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. I’ve also had wonderful support from my employers at The Catholic University of America.

—Chigomezyo Mudala Ngwira, The Catholic University of America, Washington, D.C.

Solomon M. Hsiang was awarded the 2013 Science for Solutions Award at the AGU Fall Meeting Honors Ceremony, held on 11 December 2013 in San Francisco, Calif. The award is for “significant contributions in the application and use of Earth and space sciences to solve societal problems.”



Solomon Hsiang is representative of a new generation in the geosciences community, whose work spans several disciplines, drawing on methods and concepts from far outside the traditional physical science domain in order to make progress on difficult questions at the intersection of natural science, social science, and public policy. Broadly speaking, by examining how humanity has responded to climate variability and change in the distant and recent past, Sol’s research elucidates the question of how humanity may respond to a changing climate in the future. Combining large, independent sets of social science, meteorological, and climatological data and analyzing them with tools more common in microeconomics than natural science, Sol, still at an early stage of his career, has made critical contributions to an incipient revolution in our understanding of the sensitivity and adaptability of humans and their social arrangements to climate variability and change. Such insights will greatly improve the information base from which effective public policy is developed.

A key focus of Sol’s work has been the relation between violent conflict and climate variability and change. Although a considerable amount of research had speculated on such a connection and argued the case in specific instances, Sol’s research demonstrates a pervasive influence of climate variability and change across a very large range of time and spatial scales. In “Civil Conflicts Are Associated With Global Climate,” Sol and coworkers Mark Cane and Kyle Meng demonstrate that new civil conflict in the tropics doubles during El Niño years relative to La Niña years. This paper was the first to show a relationship between social stability and global features of the climate system. The paper is both notable in its findings and characteristic of Sol’s work in its careful analysis of geophysical data (El Niño–Southern Oscillation indicators and surface temperatures) in order to establish a cleverly designed natural experiment of the sort typical in the social sciences. In this case, societal responses as measured by standard indicators of violence were compared not only across El Niño and La Niña periods but also for strongly versus weakly teleconnected regions in order to ferret out a robust signal.

This work was complemented recently by “Quantifying the Influence of Climate on Human Conflict” with collaborators Marshall Burke and Edward Miguel. This meta-analysis of dozens of studies linking weather or climate with conflict provides a compelling picture of social phenomena playing out across a very large range of spatial and temporal scales, ranging from episodes of interpersonal violence to decade-scale wars and multicentury-scale catastrophic societal collapse, with a common driving force.

Sol’s work continues to break new ground as he explores other arenas where climate generates economically and socially important responses by people that cause further socioeconomic ripple effects, including changes in labor productivity, agricultural land use, and income and family structure following tropical cyclone strikes. Taken together, these and related research findings are reinventing the nature of the knowledge base available to governments and individuals as they make choices for dealing with a rapidly changing climate.

—MICHAEL OPPENHEIMER, Princeton University, Princeton, N. J.


I am honored to receive this award, created by Peter Schlosser, nominated by my postdoc advisor Michael Oppenheimer, and alongside my thesis advisor Mark Cane, recipient of this year’s Maurice Ewing Medal—all role models and original pioneers in “the application and use of Earth and space sciences to solve societal problems.”

In accepting this award, I want to express my excitement for what it means about the direction and leadership of AGU. More difficult than doing research to inform policy is designing institutions that will support and foster this kind of work. The creation of this award helps build an environment that encourages and nurtures young interdisciplinary thinkers while challenging them to take on the important questions that are so pressing to modern society. At such a critical time in history, we junior researchers must have the audacity to attack the questions that seem too big to answer without compromising the quality of our research so that we may credibly contribute to thoughtful solutions.

I am honored by this recognition, but it is a recognition that I must share with those who have supported me directly as well as those who laid the groundwork that enabled my colleagues and me to flourish. My mentors, teachers, and colleagues at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Columbia, Princeton, and Berkeley have created lively intellectual communities from which I have benefited enormously, and my family and friends have inspired and supported me throughout.

Thank you for this award; I hope that I may continue to do work—and to assist the work of others—that is worthy of this recognition.

—SOLOMON M. HSIANG, University of California, Berkley

Honors Contacts

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Rosa Maymi

Director, Engagement and Membership

202-777-7322 | [email protected]

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Leah Bland

Manager, Honors

202-777-7389 | [email protected]

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Hannah Hoffman

Program Manager, Fellows

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