Ohio State climate scientists named to receive Benjamin Franklin Medal

News Release Date: 
12.19.11

COLUMBUS, Ohio – Two Ohio State University climate scientists have been selected to receive this year’s Benjamin Franklin Medal from The Franklin Institute, a prestigious honor previously awarded to scientists such as Albert Einstein, Stephen Hawking, Jane Goodall and Jacques Cousteau.

Lonnie Thompson, distinguished university professor of earth sciences, and Ellen Mosley-Thompson, distinguished university professor of geography and director of the Byrd Polar Research Center, will receive the Institute’s award for Earth and Environmental Science during ceremonies in April.

Their award citation reads:  “For their contributions to our understanding of the Earth’s climate history from the chemical and physical properties of ice cores, which have demonstrated the important role of the low latitudes in global climate change and earth system dynamics.”

This is just the latest honor bestowed on this husband-wife team of researchers.  In 2008, they were named winners of the Dan David Prize, and in 2002 were chosen for the respected Common Wealth Award for Science and Invention.  Both are members of the National Academy of Sciences and both are Fellows of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Lonnie Thompson received the Heineken Prize for Environmental Science in 2002, given by the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences; the Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement in 2005, and the Vega Medal in 2002 from the Swedish Society for Anthropology and Geography.  In 2009, he was elected to the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

Ellen Mosley-Thompson was elected a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2011, the American Philosophical Society in 2009 and is a Fellow in the American Geophysical Union.  She is also a member of the National Research Council’s-National Academy of Sciences’ Polar Research Board.

“There are few individuals who have had such a profound and transformative effect on higher education and on our understanding of global climate systems than Lonnie and Ellen,” said Ohio State President E. Gordon Gee.

“Their groundbreaking research and consummate leadership at our Byrd Polar Research Center have led to remarkable discoveries that have both fueled new fields of study and shaped international policy.  Truly, no one embodies the ideals of this award more clearly than Lonnie and Ellen, and I count it among my highest honors to call them colleagues and friends.”
The Benjamin Franklin awards have been given to some of the most famous and influential names in science, “men and women who have deepened human knowledge at both the basic and applied levels,” according to the Franklin Institute.

“Receiving the Benjamin Franklin Medal is very humbling in light of the accomplishments of both past and current awardees,” Mosley-Thompson said.  “I am very proud to be associated with this long-established organization that is firmly dedicated to promoting transformative scholarship, engaging the public in science and engineering and advancing science literacy.”

“I am truly honored to receive the Benjamin Franklin Medal that recognizes both Benjamin Franklin and the many contributions that have transformed human life,” Thompson said.  “Future challenges for humanity stemming from global climate change will require our collective efforts to elevate climate change discussions to both the national and global stages.”

Thompson has led at least 58 expeditions to some of the world’s most remote ice fields on five continents and has probably spent more time at altitudes above 18,000 feet than any human being.  Mosley-Thompson has headed another nine expeditions to Antarctica and six expeditions to Greenland to retrieve ice cores containing clues about ancient climate.

At the beginning of their careers, they faced opposition for proposing that the earliest signals of climate change would become apparent within the planet’s temperate and tropical zones, not the Polar Regions where most experts of the time assumed.  Now, years later, their approach has been proved correct and some of their most vocal former critics are now their staunchest supporters.
Both researchers will receive their awards April 26, 2012, in Philadelphia at The Franklin Institute, as part of a week of events aimed at highlighting science education.

For more, see:  http://researchnews.osu.edu/archive/franklinmedal.htm