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U.S. Atmospheric Researcher Wins International Award

24 January 2012
Portrait of Isaac Held with long gray hair and beard, glasses (NOAA)

Isaac Held is a senior scientist with the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory.

Washington — A senior research scientist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) will receive a prestigious award for his contributions to improved understanding of climate change and atmospheric circulation systems.

Isaac Held will accept the BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Award at a ceremony in Madrid in June.

In a more than 30-year career with NOAA, Held has enhanced the scientific community’s understanding of the atmosphere’s structure and circulation. Working at the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory in Princeton, New Jersey, Held’s studies on atmospheric water vapor have led to a greater understanding of how it affects atmospheric warming. Held has earned an international reputation for his unique contributions to the field.

Held was born in a German refugee camp in 1948 and immigrated to the United States at age 4. He says that reading one of the first scientific assessments on climate change in 1972 inspired him to become a climate researcher.

“The committee emphasized studies of atmospheric water vapor and climate change, partly, I think, because of the importance of projections for the drying of the subtropics, including the Mediterranean area, a subject on which I have written,” Held said. “There are many excellent researchers pursuing similar studies, and I am just happy to be considered a productive member of this group.”

The Frontiers of Knowledge Awards recognize scientific and cultural contributions that address some of the world’s most pressing challenges in science, technology, economics and society. BBVA is an international financial services group based in Spain.

BBVA jury chairman Bjorn Stevens said that while climate change research often focuses on rising temperatures, Held has opened up new avenues of interest that examine the essential role of water, both by studying its movement in the atmosphere and by investigating how water vapor influences the greenhouse effect.

Held’s research on water vapor and atmospheric circulation has helped reveal the processes behind the existence of geographic climate zones. His work also helps predict how climate zones will change as the atmosphere warms.

“Isaac Held’s choice to investigate the role of water vapor in atmospheric warming was, in the 1970s, a turn down [poet Robert] Frost’s ‘road less traveled,’” said NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco. “His brilliant research and tenacious pursuit of knowledge have given us a better ability to predict future changes in climate that will result from a warming atmosphere. I am very proud to have researchers of his caliber working for NOAA.”

Held is the first U.S. government scientist to receive the Frontiers of Knowledge Award in the climate change category. The BBVA Foundation has also given the climate change award to British scientist Nicholas Stern, German physicist and mathematician Klaus Hasselmann, and Wallace Broecker of Columbia University, who receives funding through NOAA’s Cooperative Institute for Climate Applications and Research.

Learn more about Held at the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory’s website.

(This is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://iipdigital.usembassy.gov/iipdigital-en/index.html)