A longtime professor at The Pennsylvania State University, Dr. Richard Alley has been a game changer in the global warming arena. He revolutionized our understanding of the environment when he discovered that the last Ice Age came to an abrupt end in just three years, breaking open the field of "abrupt climate change."
Dr. Alley's revelation debunks the myth that all of climate change happens slowly and suggests that the impacts from human-induced activities, particularly the burning of fossil fuels, may happen more rapidly than we've come to expect.
Dr. Alley and his team had removed two-mile long polar ice core samples in Greenland and in Antarctica to study climate history and elements that lead to environmental changes. He introduced the important concept that the Earth's climate contains "switches" and "dials" that are interconnected and dependent upon each other. His research found that some switches could be "flipped" by the continued release of greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere. For these important discoveries, the Alley Glacier in the West Antarctic was named in his honor.
He has proven to be one of the most active and powerful communicators on climate science in America today. Recently he hosted the PBS special, Earth: The Operators' Manual and wrote its companion book, both targeted to everyday Americans.
Even non-science majors flock to Dr. Alley's classes on campus. He has won teaching awards for incorporating music and other creative strategies to bring climate science and ice physics to life for his students. His dedication to both the research of environmental change and to inspiring the next generation of scientists will have widespread implications for years to come.
Note: This profile is excerpted from the commemorative brochure published at the time of the awards' presentation.