NCAR coral expert wins prestigious Heinz Award

Joan Kleypas, a marine ecologist and geologist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) who has conducted pioneering research into the effects of climate change on coral reefs, this week was named a recipient of the prestigious Heinz Award.

Kleypas has garnered international recognition in scientific and policy circles for her research into the impacts of increased levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide on marine life. When oceans absorb that carbon dioxide, the waters become more acidic, which harms corals and other marine organisms that secrete skeletal structures. She also studies the effects of rising ocean temperatures on marine ecosystems, including biologically diverse coral reefs.

“Dr. Kleypas’s dedication to uncovering the devastating impact acidification has on coral reefs and her decades-long research has highlighted the roles the reefs have in the marine system,” said Teresa Heinz, chair of the Heinz Family Foundation, in announcing the award.

Heinz established the award in 1993 to honor the memory of her late husband, U.S. Senator John Heinz of Pennsylvania. This year’s awards went to eight individuals and two co-recipients.

The awards will be presented at a ceremony in Washington, D.C., on November 15.

“It’s an amazing honor to receive a Heinz Award,” Kleypas says. “The Heinz Foundation has been remarkable in carrying forward Senator Heinz’s legacy to protect the environment, and I am very grateful to them for the opportunity to highlight how important it is to address the issue of climate change and its impacts on marine ecosystems.”

After several years in Australia studying the Great Barrier Reef as a Ph.D. student, Kleypas brought her studies to NCAR in 1993. She built a computer model to research the hypothesis that coral reef growth releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. However, as she continued her work, it became clear that the coral reef ecosystem was much more affected by climate than the other way around.

In 1999, Kleypas was lead author on a landmark paper, “Geochemical Consequences of Increased Carbon Dioxide on Coral Reefs,” published in the journal Science. The paper highlighted the potential threat of ocean acidification on marine ecosystems.

Kleypas’s testimony before Congress on ocean acidification helped lead to passage of the Federal Ocean Acidification Research and Monitoring Act of 2009.

About the Heinz Awards

The Heinz Awards annually recognize individuals creating and implementing workable solutions to the problems the world faces through invention, research, and education, while inspiring the next generation of modern thinkers. While this year the awards focus singularly on the environment, winners were chosen who address the intersection of the environment with other award categories recognized in many previous years, including arts and humanities, human condition, public policy, technology, and the economy.

Nominations for the Heinz Awards are submitted by invited experts, who serve anonymously. Award recipients are selected by the board of directors for the Heinz Awards upon recommendation by a blue-ribbon panel of jurors.

In addition to $100,000 for their unrestricted use, recipients are presented with a medallion inscribed with the image of Senator Heinz on one side and a rendering of a globe passing between two hands on the other.

David Hosansky, UCAR, 14 September 2011. Article.

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