Interviews

2017 Awards – an interview with our Wollaston Medallist, Professor Richard Alley

The Wollaston medal

The Geological Society’s annual awards will be presented on 7 June, President’s Day. All are welcome to come along – visit our website to find out more!

This year’s Wollaston Medal, our highest award, is presented to Professor Richard Alley of Penn State University. One of the foremost Earth scientists of his generation, Professor Alley’s research focuses on ice sheets, glacial and glacial-geological processes, and ice-core records of climate change. His work has demonstrated the amplitude of abrupt climate change and the natural variability of the Earth’s climate system.

 

 

‘The biggest issue in our field, and the biggest focus of our work’ he says, ‘is the possibility that sea-level rise from West Antarctica will be both large and fast. We have been tracking various pieces of this story, including the competing controls that give rise to long-term stability and short-term rapid retreat of glaciers that end in the ocean, and the processes involving brittle failure that can so greatly accelerate retreat.’

‘People and places’

On pursuing a career in geosciences, Professor Alley says one of his favourite parts of the job is ‘the people, the places and the fascinating processes. The job description for those of us in research, teaching and service, more or less, is ‘go to some of the most beautiful places on Earth with great people, learn what nobody knows, and share that knowledge with others to help them do good things.’

‘I had a long term interest in nature, nurtured by my parents and by community members and groups who took me rock collecting and caving and otherwise gave me opportunities. So, the Department of Geology and Mineralogy was an obvious choice when I started my undergraduate studies at The Ohio State University.

‘My focus on glaciers and ice sheets grew out of the good fortune that the late, great Prof. Ian Whillans had a summer job open, and he took a chance on me.’

‘I’m humbled and honoured’ he says, on being awarded the Geological Society’s Wollaston Medal, which he says is one of the highlights of his career. On other career high points: ‘discoveries in which I’ve played some role are included in the standard textbooks, and are informing decision-making by policymakers. And, students I’ve worked with are spread across great universities, doing wonderful work.’

Professor Alley’s advice to aspiring geoscientists is ‘Enjoy! The drumbeat of bad news can be daunting, but we work in a wonderful field, and the knowledge we produce really does help people live better.’

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s