Physicist Isaac Held of the Geophysical Fluid Dynamic Laboratory at Princeton Forrestal Campus has won an award for his work in global warming and climate change.
Held was the winner of a BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Award for contributions to the understanding of the structure of atmospheric circulation systems and the role of water vapor, “the most important greenhouse gas in climate change,” the jury wrote.
While climate change research centers on rising temperatures, Held studies water’s movement in the atmosphere and investigates how water vapor influences the greenhouse effect, said Bjorn Stevens, the jury chairman.
Held’s research explains why tropical zones will become more humid as subtropical zones get drier.
“The amount of water in the atmosphere is what makes some zones wetter than others,” says Held, whose work at GFDL was the subject of a March 14, 2007, U.S. 1 cover story. “Trying to understand how water moves in the atmosphere and how climate change may alter those patterns in the future is one of the things I have focused on in my research.”
As temperatures rise, so too will the quantity of water vapor in the atmosphere, and this gas, in turn, will drive further warming. According to Held’s forecasts, if CO2 emissions are not curtailed, temperatures in the Mediterranean could increase by three degrees within a century. This would mean a major reduction in rainfall.
“We expect precipitation to decrease maybe 5 percent to 10 percent for every degree of warming,” Held says.
Held was born in a German refugee camp. At age four, he immigrated to the United States with his brother, father and mother — an Auschwitz survivor.
After graduating from the State University of New York at Stony Brook, he earned his PhD in atmospheric and oceanic sciences at Princeton. In 1978, he joined the NOAA’s Geophysical Fluid Dynamic Laboratory, where he still combines his research with teaching at Princeton.
The BBVA Foundation, based in Madrid and funded by the Spanish conglomerate, the BBVA Group, established the Frontiers of Knowledge Awards in 2008 to recognize the authors of outstanding contributions and significant advances in science and technology. The award honors world-class research and artistic creation in eight categories, each carrying a 400,000 Euro prize.
Among the foundation’s areas of activity are sciences, biomedicine, ecology and conservation biology, social sciences and literary and musical creation.