Peter E. Thornton

Scientist and Science Lead, Ecosystem Simulation Science
Peter E. Thornton

Peter E. Thornton is part of ORNL’s Ecosystem Simulation Science group and was also appointed earlier this year as lead for the Climate Change Science Institute’s Terrestrial Ecosystem and Carbon Cycle research theme. Thornton’s current work includes several collaborative, cross-disciplinary projects, for three of which he is the principal investigator (PI): PI for “Climate Change Forcing Science Focus Area”, local PI for “Improving the Representations of Human-Earth Interactions,” and lead PI for “Quantification and Reduction of Critical Uncertainties Associated with Carbon Cycle-Climate System Feedbacks.”

Thornton received his BS in biomedical engineering from Johns Hopkins University, leading to an interest in physiological feedback systems. Undergraduate courses in plant geography led to a summer field program in ecology in the Rocky Mountains, where the notion of merging feedback research with ecological modeling began to take root. He went on to earn his MS in geography and environmental engineering at Johns Hopkins, studying the paleoecology of Chesapeake Bay salt marshes. He obtained his PhD in terrestrial biogeochemistry at the University of Montana under the guidance of Dr. Steven Running in the School of Forestry.

Thornton has been honored as a National Merit Scholar and as a Global Change Research Fellow (National Aeronautics and Space Administration). He recently shared the Community Climate System Model (CCSM) Distinguished Achievement Award as part of the Land Model Working Group. Thornton serves on science advisory boards for the North American Carbon Program, the AmeriFlux Network, and the Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center and was recently selected as a lead author on the upcoming Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fifth Assessment Report.