Mary Tobin

Vetlesen Prize of $200,000 is Awarded for Achievement in Climate Sciences Research

picture of the Vetlesen Medal
The Vetlesen Medal
Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and the G. Unger Vetlesen Foundation will award the 2004 Vetlesen Prize, considered among the most prestigious of earth sciences awards, to Professors Richard Peltier and Sir Nicholas Shackleton. The prize carries a cash value of $200,000 to be split between the honorees.

The Vetlesen Prize is administered by Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and is granted for revolutionary scientific achievements resulting in a clearer understanding of the Earth, its history, or its relationship to the universe.

"Since the first Vetlesen Prize was awarded in 1960, Columbia has been proud to administer this high achievement, said Lee C. Bollinger, President of Columbia University." The caliber of scientists nominated globally for the 2004 award stands as a testament to Professors Peltier and Shackleton, whose body of research and contributions to our knowledge on climate change are revolutionizing scientific inquiry in this important area."  

The Vetlesen Prize is generally awarded every two years. The selection process includes a five-member jury, appointed by the President of Columbia University.

"This years recipients are responsible for profound achievements in what may be the 21st century's most germane and crucial discipline of earth sciences — climate change," said G. Michael Purdy, Director of Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. "It is with great honor and deep respect that we announce Professors Peltier and Shackleton as the 2004 Vetlesen Prize recipients."

Professor W. Richard Peltier, Department of Physics at the University of Toronto, is being awarded the 2004 Vetlesen Prize for developing a series of increasingly more accurate techniques that reconstruct the distribution and thickness of continental ice sheets during the ice age. The method he pioneered integrates a variety of geological, geophysical, and geodetic data with global coverage to predict the original ice distribution using knowledge of the viscous and elastic response of Earth to surface loads on 10,000-year time scales. These reconstructions are now the standard used in most studies designed to understand large past climate changes and to test the predictive powers of future climate scenarios. Peltier also is being recognized for the great breadth of his achievements in the geosciences, including his path breaking work in atmospheric sciences, geodynamics, and ocean circulation.

Professor Sir Nicholas Shackleton, Godwin Institute for Quaternary Research at the University of Cambridge, is being awarded the 2004 Vetlesen Prize for far-reaching contributions to our understanding of the history of the Earth's climate system, playing a leadership role in a major revolution in the geologic sciences. He is a leader in elucidating the connection between climate and geologic processes through a remarkable ability to collect and interpret data from ocean sediments. His vastly significant contributions to climate sciences include the development of techniques that have led to our understanding of ice sheet fluctuations and the connection of climate to variations in the Earth's orbit, and the clarification of long-standing puzzles about the behavior of large ice sheets and carbon dioxide concentration changes.

The first Vetlesen Prize was awarded in 1960 to the first director and founder of Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory (LDEO) at Columbia University, Maurice Ewing. There have been 22 esteemed recipients since then, including Lynn Sykes of LDEO, Walter Pitman of LDEO, W. Jason Morgan of Princeton University, Walter Munk of the University of California, San Diego (UCSD), Wallace S. Broecker, LDEO, Harmon Craig, UCSD, and William A. Fowler of Caltech.

For more information on the Vetlesen Prize and the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University, visit

The Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, a member of The Earth Institute at Columbia University, is one of the world's leading research centers examining the planet from its core to its atmosphere, across every continent and every ocean. From global climate change to earthquakes, volcanoes, environmental hazards and beyond, Observatory scientists provide the basic knowledge of Earth systems needed to inform the future health and habitability of our planet.

The Earth Institute at Columbia University is among the world's leading academic centers for the integrated study of Earth, its environment, and society. The Earth Institute builds upon excellence in the core disciplines — earth sciences, biological sciences, engineering sciences, social sciences and health sciences — and stresses cross-disciplinary approaches to complex problems. Through its research training and global partnerships, it mobilizes science and technology to advance sustainable development, while placing special emphasis on the needs of the world's poor.

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