Preston to receive 2015 American Geophysical Union Falkenberg Award

Aug 06, 2015
Ben Preston

Dr. Benjamin L. Preston, senior research scientist and deputy director of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) Climate Change Science Institute, has been awarded the 2015 American Geophysical Union’s (AGU’s) Charles S. Falkenberg Award. Established in 2002 and jointly sponsored with the Federation of Earth Science Information Partners, the award is presented annually to a scientist under 45 years of age who “has contributed to the quality of life, economic opportunities, and stewardship of the planet through the use of Earth science information and to the public awareness of the importance of understanding our planet.” In the award nomination, Ben was cited “for his commitment to communicate climate change science and use that information to improve lives, economic opportunities, and planet stewardship.”

Ben has been a tireless leader not only in climate change research, but also in raising societal awareness of the challenges posed by climate change. His published research spans experimentation, analysis of Earth system observations, and physical/ecosystem modeling. His research leadership extends to the social sciences. This depth has enabled Ben to become an internationally recognized innovator in both fundamental and applied research regarding the assessment of climate change vulnerability and risk, including probabilistic analysis of climate projection ensembles, evaluation of exceeding climate thresholds in natural and human systems, and the use of risk management in guiding climate adaptation decision making.

Over the past decade, Ben has been working on the analysis of the spatial and temporal dynamics of climate risk to human settlements, including spatial integration of heterogeneous biophysical data on climate, topography, and land use from Earth system models and remote sensing. He has integrated these data with socioeconomic data such as land values, population, and infrastructure to predict societal vulnerabilities and adaptive capacities. This commitment to understanding how the results of climate risk research are and can be used by society is one characteristic that sets Ben apart from others.

Another unique characteristic of Ben’s approach is his commitment to bridging the science and policy worlds. As a PhD student, he minored in public policy to better understand how Earth system research could be conducted so as to also be policy relevant. Over his career, he has demonstrated his capacity to move seamlessly between policy and research organizations.

But perhaps the most distinctive characteristics of Ben’s approach, and the ones most in keeping with the spirit of the award, are his passion and well-known skills in communicating with various audiences about climate change, the underlying science, and ways in which society can manage climate risk. Exemplifying this, in 2008 the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO), Australia’s main research institution, recognized him as one of the organization’s top 10 spokespersons (out of a staff of ~6,000). Without exception, those supporting his nomination mentioned this trait one way or another: “Ben has clearly placed a priority on balancing a commitment to strong research with deep involvement in science outreach,” “his understanding of the core importance of . . . communication,” “Ben is truly gifted . . . a great spokesperson for science,” “a communicator and advocate for scientific research.”

Ben received his doctorate in environmental biology from the Georgia Institute of Technology in 2000 and in a relatively short period of time has established himself as an internationally recognized and respected Earth scientist and communicator regarding the assessment of climate change vulnerability and risk and the role of adaptation in reducing that risk. Before coming to ORNL, he had postings at both the Pew Center on Global Climate Change (now the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions) and CSIRO. More recently he served as a coordinating lead author for Working Group II of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Fifth Assessment Report.

The award will be presented at the AGU Fall Meeting in San Francisco this December.

by VJ Ewing.  Posted August 6, 2015  2:30 p.m.