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NOAA scientists earn presidential honor for early career achievements
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/ Categories: Research Headlines, 2012

NOAA scientists earn presidential honor for early career achievements

Contact: John Ewald, 301-734-1165 or Wende Goo, 808-944-2245 in Honolulu

The White House today named two NOAA scientists and a NOAA-funded scientist as recipients of the 2011 Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE). The award is the highest honor given by the federal government to outstanding scientists and engineers in the early stages of their careers.


The honorees are Anthony Arguez, Ph.D., of the NOAA National Climatic Data Center (NCDC), Kyle Van Houtan, Ph.D., of the NOAA Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center, and Rebecca Washenfelder, Ph.D., of the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES) at the University of Colorado Boulder. They will receive the PECASE along with other honorees from across the federal government later this month in a ceremony at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C.

“NOAA is very fortunate to have these talented young scientists working on some of the most important scientific challenges of the day – the health of our oceans and atmosphere and understanding our changing climate,” said Jane Lubchenco, Ph.D., undersecretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and NOAA administrator. “I am proud of their contributions to science and to the nation.”

Van Houtan is a research ecologist and leader of the Marine Turtle Assessment Program in Honolulu. His PECASE award citation notes that he was selected “for discovery of the long-term influence of climate to sea turtle populations and for working with academia to build indigenous scientific capacity in the Pacific Islands.”

He made innovative discoveries about how changes in the Earth’s ocean climate influence sea turtle populations. Van Houtan’s work provides a clearer understanding of the past few decades of population trends and allows future population predictions based on climate and climatic change. He earned a doctorate in ecology and ethics from Duke University, a master’s of science degree in evolutionary biology at Stanford University, and bachelor’s degree in environmental science from the University of Virginia.

Washenfelder is an atmospheric chemist with CIRES, a partnership between NOAA and the University of Colorado Boulder. Her PECASE award citation acknowledges her “pioneering work in developing and applying new measurement techniques to study atmospheric chemistry related to climate and air quality and for commitment to science education and outreach.”

She developed a new instrument that uses light in studies of the sources and composition of tiny airborne particles that affect both climate and air quality. Such particles, also known as aerosols, are an important and poorly understood component of the atmosphere. Her studies with the new instrument are expected to further scientific understanding about how aerosols affect climate and air quality. She earned her master’s and doctoral degrees in environmental science and engineering from California Institute of Technology, and a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Pomona College.

Arguez is a research climatologist at NCDC in Asheville, N.C. His PECASE award citation recognizes his “innovations in climate science, statistical methods, and user engagement, and for producing the official source of temperature ‘normals’ for the American public.”

Updated every 10 years, temperature normals are computed from the most recent three decades of daily temperature readings from a specific location and serve as a 30-year baseline average. Arguez led the team that developed the most recent 1981- 2010 climate normals and developed innovative scientific methods used in the production of the normals. He also leads a project on alternative normals, an effort to compute climate normals that are more representative of current climate conditions than the traditional 30-year normals. He received doctoral and master’s degrees in meteorology and bachelor’s degrees in meteorology and environmental studies from Florida State University.

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