Alley to share Tyler Prize for environmental achievement

February 26, 2009

University Park, Pa. -- Richard B. Alley, Evan Pugh professor of geosciences, Penn State, will share the 2009 Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement with Veerabhadran (Ram) Ramanathan, distinguished professor of climate and atmospheric sciences, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California, San Diego.

The prize committee recognized the two "for their scientific contributions that advanced understanding of how human activities influence global climate, and alter oceanic, glacial and atmospheric phenomena in ways that adversely affect planet Earth."

Alley is honored for his contributions to understanding the relationships between the cryosphere and global warming, the vulnerability of the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets, and for alerting us to the potential for contemporary abrupt climate change and its possible impacts and costs to society today.

The Tyler Prize was established in 1973 by the late John and Alice Tyler as an international award honoring achievements in environmental science, policy, energy and health of worldwide importance conferring great benefit on humanity. The Tyler Prize consists of a cash award of $200,000, to be split between the recipients, and a gold Tyler Prize medallion.

Alley is widely credited with showing that the Earth has experienced abrupt climate change in the past, and likely will again. He based his work on a meticulous study of ice cores from Greenland and West Antarctica. Up to two miles thick, the ice sheets contain a unique record of Earth's climate history.

"Among climate scientists he is recognized as an outstanding example of a superlative researcher who has found a way to balance his passion for discovery with his duty to inform nonscientists of the crises that are looming," geophysicist Garry Clarke of the University of British Columbia wrote in support of Alley's nomination. "His wonderful book 'The Two-Mile Time Machine' (on the climate record from Greenland ice cores and its implications for humankind) combines good science with a serious message and succeeds, equally, with novices and experts."

One of the world's leading atmospheric scientists, Ramanathan was the first to show that ozone-depleting aerosols could aggravate the greenhouse effect. In 1980, he correctly predicted that global warming from carbon dioxide would be detectable by the year 2000.

More recently, Ramanathan showed that South Asian "brown clouds" caused by the burning of fossil fuels could lower ocean temperatures, slow down monsoon circulation and reduce seasonal rainfall. In a pioneering study with agricultural economists, he linked the phenomenon to a significant decrease in the Indian rice harvest. Ramanathan also showed that black carbon particles in brown clouds absorb far more solar radiation than previously thought, contributing to the warming of the upper atmosphere.

Ramanathan and Alley served as authors on the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with former Vice President Al Gore.

The award will be presented April 24, at 7 p.m. when the Tyler Prize Executive Committee and the international environmental community will honor the recipients at a banquet and ceremony at the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills.

For more information on the Tyler Prize and its recipients, see


  • Richard Alley

    IMAGE: Penn State

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Last Updated December 14, 2016