Scripps Researcher Receives Geochemical Society Honor


Jeff Severinghaus, whose work with glacial ice in Greenland and Antarctica has helped recreate some of history’s most significant climate events, received the Clair C. Patterson Award from the Geochemical Society during a recent ceremony in Prague.

The award recognizes breakthroughs in environmental geochemistry research. Severinghaus’ study of gases trapped in ancient ice cores has helped validate a long-standing theory about how ice ages throughout history have begun. Ongoing work by his team in Antarctica is helping to reveal details of the relationship between increases in greenhouse gas concentrations and ancient climate change events. He has also identified sources of past climate-changing events of recent history such as a large influx of atmospheric methane 11,000 years ago that can help modern society contend with contemporary global warming trends.

“For his elegant development of applications of isotopes and elements of gases trapped in ice, for his uncompromising approach and insistence on extremely precise measurements and for solution of important environmental problems, I have the privilege to present to you Jeffrey P. Severinghaus for the Clair C. Patterson Award of the Geochemical Society for 2011,” wrote citationist Boaz Luz, a researcher at the Institute for Earth Sciences at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and a past winner of the Patterson Award.

After receiving a doctorate in geological sciences from Columbia University in 1995, Severinghaus joined Scripps as an assistant professor in 1997. He has been a full professor since 2004.

A California Institute of Technology researcher, Patterson developed the uranium-lead dating method. Using lead and uranium isotopic data from meteorite samples, he calculated an age for the Earth of 4.55 billion years. He also was an expert on lead’s effects on the environment who warned of its risks to humans. He died in 1995.

“I’m very humbled to be associated with Clair Patterson, the man who got the lead out of gasoline,” Severinghaus said.

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