The jury has decided to bestow the BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Award in Climate Change, in its seventh edition, on Richard Alley, a professor at Pennsylvania State University, for expanding the frontiers of knowledge of the mechanics of ice and their implications for abrupt climate change.
Alley’s pioneering research into the properties of ice has proven crucial to understand ice flow and the stability of ice sheets and glaciers. These insights have led to the ability to detect and to interpret rapid climate variations from high temporal resolution ice cores.
Land ice is a natural recorder of past climate changes and its behavior critically controls global sea level and climate. Interpreting these records requires understanding how ice forms, deforms and flows. Richard Alley’s early studies of fast-flowing Antarctic glaciers identified key processes that have enabled the interpretation of ice records, and have shown how ice sheets could be extremely sensitive to climate change. His ability to integrate and work across different fields, including geophysics, geology and glaciology, has provided definitive observational evidence for large swings in regional climate over decades, and for the mechanisms underlying them.
Alley’s work and his passionate ability to communicate climate system science have alerted our society to the risks, in a warming world, of rapidly disintegrating ice sheets and abrupt regional climate changes.