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Goddard Institute for Space Studies Scientist Wins 2017 Nordberg Award

Tony Del Genio, of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, has been selected as the recipient of the 2017 William Nordberg Memorial Award.

Photo of Tony Del Genio with Nordberg Award

Tony Del Genio (center) of NASA/GISS receives the Nordberg Award from Colleen Hartman, director of Sciences and Exploration at GSFC, and Mark Clampin, deputy director. (Image credit: NASA/GSFC/Debora McCallum)

The award, coordinated by Goddard Space Flight Center's Awards Office, is given annually to a Goddard scientist who embodies the characteristics of William Nordberg's career. Nordberg was a pioneer in remote sensing and a NASA Earth scientist from 1959 to 1976. Winners are selected for their vision, leadership, and accomplishments in Earth System processes, according to the Goddard Scientific Colloquium Committee, which organized and hosted the award ceremony.

Previous winner Claire Parkinson was in attendance at the ceremony. She described the award as “a deeply meaningful honor” and “the highest Earth Science award given at NASA Goddard”.

Del Genio said, “It is such an honor to be added to the list of previous recipients, many of whom I have known for a long time and whose work has been so central to the success of Goddard's Earth science mission.”

Del Genio was selected by his peers for his advances in modeling clouds and related atmospheric processes, to better understand their role in Earth's changing climate. For years, clouds have been the largest source of uncertainty in predicting how much the planet will warm in response to increasing greenhouse gas emissions. Del Genio's work has not completely resolved this uncertainty, but it has greatly reduced it.

Photo of Del Genio giving Nordberg lecture

Tony Del Genio discusses "Cloud Feedback on Climate Change — Are We There Yet?" in the Nordberg lecture. (Image credit: NASA/GSFC/Debora McCallum)

In a lecture accompanying the award ceremony, Del Genio gave a sweeping overview of the problems and advances in the field, and how it has changed over time. In it, Del Genio described how the accumulation of decades of satellite data has finally allowed scientists to test assumptions that they may have long held, but were the product of inspiration rather than knowledge.

“Bringing satellite data into our thinking forces us instead to confront misconceptions,” Del Genio said. “At first this sets us back, as we struggle to reconcile seemingly contradictory behaviors of clouds in different places and times. Ultimately though, it leads us to a deeper understanding of the environmental factors that control clouds, and to better projections of future climate change.”

Even though Del Genio said in his lecture “the end may be in sight” on the question of clouds and climate change, he is not slowing down. While he continues his work on clouds, he has also turned his focus to space. Using insights from Earth science, Del Genio is helping NASA understand the habitability of other planets in our solar system and beyond, and what this might mean for life on other worlds. Del Genio represents the Goddard Earth Sciences Division in the Sellers Exoplanet Environments Collaboration (SEEC) and is also co-leading the Nexus for Exoplanet System Science (NExSS) project, two interdisciplinary projects researching habitable worlds elsewhere in space.

The 2017 Nordberg Award was presented at the Goddard Scientific Colloquium on September, 13, at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

This article was originally prepared by Peter Jacobs.

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