Obituary Notice: Climate Science Pioneer: Charles David Keeling


A memorial service remembering Charles David Keeling will be held on Saturday, October 8, 2005, at 1:30 p.m. on the Pawka Greeen on the campus of Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, California.

For information on attending, please contact: 858/534-3948.

Charles David Keeling, the world's leading authority on atmospheric greenhouse gas accumulation and climate science pioneer at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California, San Diego (UCSD), died Monday, June 20, 2005, while at his Montana home, of a heart attack. He was 77 years old. Keeling has been affiliated with Scripps since 1956.

Keeling was the first to confirm the rise of atmospheric carbon dioxide by very precise measurements that produced a data set now known widely as the "Keeling Curve." Prior to his investigations, it was unknown whether the carbon dioxide released from the burning of fossil fuels and other industrial activities would accumulate in the atmosphere instead of being fully absorbed by the oceans and vegetated areas on land. He became the first to determine definitively the fraction of carbon dioxide from combustion that remains in the atmosphere. The Keeling record of the increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide measured at Mauna Loa, Hawaii, and at other "pristine air" locations, represents what many believe to be the most important time-series data set for the study of global change.

"There are three occasions when dedication to scientific measurements has changed all of science," said Charles F. Kennel, Scripps director. "Tycho Brahe's observations of planets laid the foundation for Sir Isaac Newton's theory of gravitation. Albert Michelson's measurements of the speed of light laid the foundation for Albert Einstein's theory of relativity. Charles David Keeling's measurements of the global accumulation of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere set the stage for today's profound concerns about climate change. They are the single most important environmental data set taken in the 20th century. Dave Keeling was living proof that a scientist could, by sticking close to his bench, change the world. The loss is the world's loss, and the loss is also Scripps's, but, most of all, it is his family's loss."

"Dave Keeling showed that atmospheric carbon dioxide amounts have grown worldwide. His measurements were done with great accuracy, from 1957 until now," said Ralph Cicerone, recently elected president of the National Academy of Sciences. "The extremely high quality of his research was traceable to the amount of thought, integrity and care that he invested in it. His results were well known, used and respected around the world. During the early 1990s it was said that the only scientific data on display in the White House was one of his graphs; I think that this story was true."

"Dr. Keeling will be sorely missed by the NOAA family," said Retired Navy Vice Adm. Conrad C. Lautenbacher, Ph.D., under secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and NOAA administrator. "As a scientist, he will forever be remembered by one of the most recognizable graphs in science, the sloping curve that symbolically represents the atmospheric carbon dioxide record he derived. His pioneering work on atmospheric carbon dioxide fundamentally changed the way we view the planet and our role on it and firmly placed him in the pantheon of history's great scientists. He has left us with the eternal gift of his vast knowledge, but more importantly he left us and future generations with the gift of inspiration. His legacy will inspire future generations to follow in his footsteps in the quest for scientific discovery."

"Charles Keeling has been a distinguished member of the UCSD faculty and a trailblazer in the field of global climate change," said UC President Robert C. Dynes, former chancellor of UCSD. "The Keeling Curve is known by everyone in the field as a critical discovery in the exploration of human impacts on the accumulation of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. He has made a major contribution to our understanding of global climate change, and those contributions will be greatly missed."

"We are deeply saddened to hear of Dave Keeling's passing," said Marye Anne Fox, chancellor of UCSD. "Charles David Keeling's work in global warming has left a legacy on the local, national and international landscape. His research on the increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, known to influence the greenhouse effect, established him as one of the world's leaders in environmental science. Our hearts go out to his family. We mourn his loss, both as a scientist and as a warm, quiet individual who contributed so much to our world."

In 2002, President George W. Bush selected Keeling to receive the National Medal of Science, the nation's highest award for lifetime achievement in scientific research. In its awards announcement, the National Science Foundation (NSF), which administers the National Medals of Science for the White House, noted that Keeling "pioneered studies on the impact of the carbon cycle to changes in climate, collecting some of the most important data in the study of global climate change." As a result of his National Medal of Science honor, the San Diego Press Club named Keeling the science "Headliner of the Year."

In 1997, Keeling was honored at a White House ceremony by then-Vice President Al Gore with a special achievement award "for forty years of outstanding scientific research associated with monitoring atmospheric carbon dioxide in connection with the Mauna Loa Observatory." In April 2005, Keeling received the Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement, considered to be the world's most distinguished award in environmental science.

Keeling also led major efforts in global carbon cycle modeling. In 1996, Keeling, with his colleagues at Scripps, showed that the amplitude of the Northern Hemispheric seasonal cycles in atmospheric carbon dioxide has been increasing, providing independent support for the conclusion that the growing season is beginning earlier, perhaps in response to global warming.

Keeling's major areas of interest included the geochemistry of carbon and other aspects of atmospheric chemistry, with an emphasis on the carbon cycle in nature. He was a world leader in these studies, and also conducted research on changes to the atmosphere through the combustion of fossil fuels and changes in land use, and the complex relationships between the carbon cycle and changes in climate. Keeling also studied the role of oceans in modulating the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide by carrying out extremely accurate measurements of carbon dissolved in seawater. Up to his final day, Keeling was fully engaged in research on carbon dioxide as well as exploring other frontiers of climate science, such as tidal effects.

Born in Scranton, Pa., on April 20, 1928, Keeling received a B.A. degree in chemistry from the University of Illinois in 1948 and a Ph.D. degree in chemistry from Northwestern University in 1954.

During the 1950s, the late Roger Revelle, one of the world's preeminent oceanographers and director of Scripps from 1950-1964, first became concerned about the potential for a greenhouse effect resulting from increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide from the use of fossil fuels. He established an ongoing research program at Scripps Institution to monitor carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and, in 1956, recruited Keeling, who was then a postdoctoral fellow in geochemistry at the California Institute of Technology.

While at Scripps, Keeling was a Guggenheim Fellow at the Meteorological Institute, University of Stockholm, Sweden (1961-62), and a guest professor at the Second Physical Institute of the University of Heidelberg, Germany (1969-70), and the Physical Institute of the University of Bern, Switzerland (1979-80).

In 1993, Keeling received the Blue Planet Prize from the Science Council of Japan and the Asahi Foundation. In 1991, he received the Maurice Ewing Medal of the American Geophysical Union.

In 1981, Keeling received the Second Half Century Award of the American Meteorology Society "for his fundamental and far-reaching work on the measurement of atmospheric carbon dioxide which has been the only long-term record of the systematic increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere."

He was a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Geophysical Union and the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the American Philosophical Society.

Keeling was the co-convenor of two international conferences on oceanic and atmospheric carbon dioxide and a speaker at numerous similar meetings. He was the author of nearly 100 research articles.

For two decades he was a member of the Commission on Atmospheric Chemistry and Global Pollution of the International Association of Meteorology and Atmospheric Physics, and the scientific director of the Central CO2 Calibration Laboratory of the World Meteorological Organization.

Keeling enjoyed a rich life outside of scientific pursuits. He was an avid outdoorsman, a champion of wilderness, and enjoyed hiking and camping in the mountains of California, Montana, Canada and Switzerland. He was a civic leader and a primary author of the city of Del Mar's General Plan. He was an accomplished pianist, the founding director of the UCSD Madrigal Singers and enjoyed playing chamber music with his friends, colleagues and his own children. He very nearly chose a career in music over science.

Keeling was a devoted and loving husband and father. He is survived by Louise, his wife of 50 years, and by his children Andrew of Zurich, Switzerland; Ralph of La Jolla, Calif.; Emily of Boulder, Colo.; Eric of Missoula, Mont.; and Paul of Vancouver, British Columbia; as well as six grandchildren. A ceremony for the family will take place later this week in Hamilton, Mont.

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