Richard A. Houghton Elected a Fellow of the American Geophysical Union

Richard A. Houghton, a Senior Scientist at the Woods Hole Research Center (WHRC) since 1987, has been elected a Fellow of the American Geophysical Union. An award ceremony will be held at the Fall 2012 AGU annual meeting in San Francisco, where Dr. Houghton will receive the honor.

Dr. Houghton is an ecologist who has spent most of his career studying the role that terrestrial ecosystems play in climate change and the global carbon cycle. He is holder of the George M. Woodwell Chair for Global Ecology, and he coordinates the Center’s efforts to understand the global carbon cycle, especially the role that forests play in affecting the rate of increase in atmospheric CO2. His area of expertise has been the documentation of changes in land use and determination of historic and current sources and sinks of carbon resulting directly from human activity. Dr. Houghton has held positions as Assistant Scientist at the Ecosystems Center of the Marine Biological Laboratory and as Research Associate at Brookhaven National Laboratory. His doctorate is in ecology from SUNY at Stony Brook.

“We are delighted with this news,” said Eric Davidson, Executive Director of WHRC. “Dr. Houghton’s mild mannered, unassuming, ever restrained and polite demeanor belies his status as a world-renowned expert. This honor adds to an accumulating list, including his part in the Nobel Prize awarded to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in 2007. The world benefits greatly from his unique experience and insights.”

To be elected a Fellow of AGU is a special tribute for those who have made exceptional scientific contributions. Nominated Fellows must have attained acknowledged eminence in the Earth and space sciences. Primary criteria for evaluation in scientific eminence are major breakthrough/discovery and paradigm shift. This designation is conferred upon not more than 0.1% of all AGU members in any given year. New Fellows are chosen by a Committee of Fellows.

Over the past forty years, Skee, as Dr. Houghton is widely known, has become the world’s leading authority on the role of the terrestrial biota, especially forests, in determining the carbon dioxide content of the atmosphere. He, with colleagues at Brookhaven National Laboratory, started during the 1960s and early 1970s to appraise and define the carbon content of the global vegetation and soils and made early field measurements of their metabolism, separating the diurnal course of respiration and photosynthesis and showing over time the importance of deforestation (and potentially, reforestation) in affecting the buildup of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Emphasizing the importance of Dr. Houghton’s work, Senior Scientist and WHRC Deputy Director Scott Goetz noted, “Skee’s career, closely focused on the biotic causes and effects of climate change, has made him the contemporary authority on the topic as it has evolved into international efforts to mitigate additional climatic warming.” This is particularly true for emerging efforts to reduce emissions from tropical deforestation and forest degradation.

WHRC Founder and Director Emeritus George M. Woodwell adds, “Dr. Houghton has for nearly forty years been the primary reference on the biotic causes and effects of the climatic disruption.” In short he has defined for all, the enormous role that forests globally have in affecting the heat-trapping gas content of the atmosphere, changing it a few percentage points in just a few weeks. “His systematic, carefully written analyses have become the global standard, universally admired and used around the world,” say Dr. Woodwell. All applaud the AGU’s recognition of this talented, steadfastly insightful scholar.

Link to list of the 2012 Fellows »