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Another well-deserved honor: Oeschger medal awarded to Michael Mann

Filed under: — group @ 24 April 2012

As many will have already heard, our colleague, RC co-founder and friend Michael Mann will receive the Oeschger medal from the European Geosciences Union this week in Vienna. We are delighted to announce this and to congratulate Mike.

Hans Oeschger was a Swiss scientist originally trained as a nuclear physicist. His name is well known in climate science, especially because of his discovery, with Willi Dansgaard, of the Dansgaard-Oeschger events (the rapid climate changes during the last glacial period, first observed in Greenland ice cores). He was even better known in the radiocarbon research community as famously having developed one of the first instruments (the “Oeschger counter”) for measuring carbon-14. This paved the way for determining the age of very small organic materials, including samples from deep-sea sediment cores, which eventually led to the validation of the Milankovitch theory of ice ages. Oeschger and his colleagues in Bern were the first to measure the glacial-interglacial change of atmospheric CO2 in ice cores, showing that atmospheric concentrations of CO2 during the glacial period was 50% lower than the pre-industrial concentration, a result predicted by Arrhenius nearly a century earlier. Oeschger may thus be credited with work that was critical to validating two of the most important theories in science: the role of CO2 in climate change, and the role of changes in the earth’s orbit. Oeschger was also an accomplished musician, and was known to join colleagues in playing chamber music at the International Conference on Radiocarbon.

Oeschger left rather large shoes to fill, and it is a great honor for Mike Mann to win an award bearing Oeschger’s name. Most everyone will probably assume that the award is for Mike’s well known “hockey stick” work. No doubt this is part of it, but the Oeschger award has never been given simply for the publication of one study, but rather for a career’s-worth of outstanding achievements. Most of the previous medalists are a good deal more senior than Mike Mann, and include paleoceanographer Laurent Labeyrie, limnologist Francoise Gasse, ice core pioneers Dominique Raynaud and Sigfus Johnsen and number of other major names in the climate and paleoclimate research, including RC’s own Ray Bradley.

Mike’s work, like that of previous award winners, is diverse, and includes pioneering and highly cited work in time series analysis (an elegant use of Thomson’s multitaper spectral analysis approach to detect spatiotemporal oscillations in the climate record and methods for smoothing temporal data), decadal climate variability (the term “Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation” or “AMO” was coined by Mike in an interview with Science’s Richard Kerr about a paper he had published with Tom Delworth of GFDL showing evidence in both climate model simulations and observational data for a 50-70 year oscillation in the climate system; significantly Mike also published work with Kerry Emanuel in 2006 showing that the AMO concept has been overstated as regards its role in 20th century tropical Atlantic SST changes, a finding recently reaffirmed by a study published in Nature), in showing how changes in radiative forcing from volcanoes can affect ENSO, in examining the role of solar variations in explaining the pattern of the Medieval Climate Anomaly and Little Ice Age, the relationship between the climate changes of past centuries and phenomena such as Atlantic tropical cyclones and global sea level, and even a bit of work in atmospheric chemistry (an analysis of beryllium-7 measurements). Mike’s earliest work, as a physicist, involved studying the behavior of liquids and solids, and trying to understand phenomena such as the structural ordering of high temperature superconductors. In the earth sciences, he has published on topics as varied as the recovery from the KT-boundary mass extinction event and the factors driving long-term changes in the volume of the Great Salt Lake. He has studied and published on the impacts of historical and projected climate change on everything from the behavior of the Asian Summer Monsoon, to Atlantic Hurricanes, to rainfall patterns in the U.S. And for those interested in the hard-nosed statistics by which a scientist’s productivity gets measured, a quick check on the ISI web site will tell you that he has an “H Index” of 40 (that means that 40 of his papers have been cited at least 40 times), more than twenty of his papers have over 100 citations each, and two have over 700. Those are high numbers by any comparison.

But back to the hockey stick. Mike has weathered some rather intense scrutiny and criticism over the years, mostly over the details of a paper nearly 15 years old. Yet the basic conclusions of the “hockey stick” remain, and indeed have been strengthened by subsequent work. Most will be aware, for example, that the conclusion that the past few decades are likely the warmest of the past millennium — i.e. the conclusion of the best-known of Mike’s papers in Nature and Geophysical Research Letters –has never been seriously challenged. But well beyond the simple fact of having been right, Mike’s work was seminal, like Oeschger’s, in playing a pivotal role in launching an entirely new field of study. Although some earlier work along similar lines had been done by other paleoclimate researchers (Ed Cook, Phil Jones, Keith Briffa, Ray Bradley, Malcolm Hughes, and Henry Diaz being just a few examples), before Mike, no one had seriously attempted to use all the available paleoclimate data together, to try to reconstruct the global patterns of climate back in time before the start of direct instrumental observations of climate, or to estimate the underlying statistical uncertainties in reconstructing past temperature changes. Since Mike’s pioneering work (starting in 1995), hundreds of papers have adopted the basic approach he pioneered, and numerous PHD projects have been launched to try to improve upon it. Methods have improved of course, and no doubt will improve further (paleoclimate reconstruction using weather forecast data assimilation methods is the latest and most promising recent development). That Mike is a co-author on many of the latest and most innovative publications in this area — with dozens of different people — attests to the groundbreaking nature of his work.

We look forward to seeing Mike’s award lecture in Vienna, and we offer our heartfelt congratulations to a well-deserved honor. And while we are at it, we should congratulate Mike in advance for his election as a Fellow of the American Geophysical Union; that honor will be bestowed this fall in San Francisco.

Finally, we would be remiss to not mention that Mike has spent much of the past few months touring and lecturing on his experiences as an accidental and reluctant public figure in the debate over human-caused climate change, as detailed in his recent book The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars: Dispatches from the Front Lines.

P.S. For those at EGU, you should also check out glaciologist Ian Joughin’s award lecture (Wednesday evening) for the Agassiz medal, for his important work in documenting and understanding the acceleration of Antarctica and Greenland’s glaciers.

97 Responses to “Another well-deserved honor: Oeschger medal awarded to Michael Mann”

  1. 51
    Sou says:

    Congratulations, Professor Mann on this and all your achievements. Well done.

    Kudos to the whole team at

  2. 52
    mike says:

    Thanks so much Bill, Hugh, and Pete. Was wonderful to be able to sign copies of my book for students & professional colleagues after my medal lecture. Part of what gives me optimism is the energy & passion among today’s younger scientists for not only doing good hard science, but communicating the science and its implications to the broader public. This come across loud and clear w/ the young scientists I encounter at public lectures and at meetings like EGU and AGU.

  3. 53
    mike says:

    Thanks Sou (#51). I do believe that many of the awards that we receive as individuals implicitly reflect the larger group efforts like those here at RealClimate.

  4. 54
    Ron Broberg says:


    Since reading the early bio in your latest book, I feel in some *slight* way that you are my ‘path not taken.’ I wish you a long and productive career, if only for vicarous selfishness! ;)

    Your continued spirit of engagement is noted and admired.

    I hope the talk is made public in some way?

  5. 55
    mike says:

    Thanks so much Ron, really appreciate that anecdote :)
    Not sure if video link for talk will be available (will check into that), but I do plan to upload the ppt lecture to my “Talks” page:

  6. 56
    caerbannog says:

    Dr. Mann,

    Don’t forget to start your acceptance speech with “Muahahahahah!”

  7. 57
    Hank Roberts says:

    > Feynman on awards

    Well, that’s tangential.

    What stood out for me is that he misses something important early on in that video.

    So you know that a “brown-throated thrush” is a bird’s name in English.
    And Portugese, Italian, Chinese, Japanese, and other languages each have a name for that same bird, he says

    Feynmann quotes his father as saying: “you only know about humans in different places and what they call the bird.” That’s not “nothing.”

    If what you think you know about the species and the names is correct — check each assertion — you know something about the geographic range and habitat of that bird species over time.

    What we call the bird, here, now, is ‘weather’ — birdwatching.
    What everyone has called the bird, over time, is ‘climate’– phenology.

    (Be wary; on climate blogs, reference to an Arctic robin is usually a red herring.)

    Pardon the digression ….

  8. 58
    Ron Taylor says:

    Heartfelt congratulations, Dr. Mann. You are a hero of mine in this climate science war, one of the most critical issues humanity and science have ever faced. It has been painful to see you subject to disgraceful abuse from people who should know better. What a pleasure to see you receive this well-deserved honor!

  9. 59
    Brian Chow says:

    Congratulations, Dr. Mann!

  10. 60
    WheelsOC says:

    Some well-earned recognition!

  11. 61
    ghost says:

    Congratulations, Dr. Mann. Many more to come, I shouldn’t wonder.

  12. 62
    John Pollack says:

    Congratulations, Dr. Mann, and thank you!

    Your deft treatment of climate proxies with appropriate techniques grounded in physical reality (e.g. missing rings in tree series) is a real service to the climate community.

    Your stand against the attacks of the denialists is a service to humanity, and the other inhabitants of this planet, as well.

    I’m also enjoying your latest book. I think it has more footnotes than anything else in my library. It’s the only book I’ve used two bookmarks to read, and only the second popular work, after The Mismeasure of Man, to tackle PCA!

  13. 63
    caroza says:

    Congratulations on a thoroughly deserved award.

  14. 64
    mike says:

    thanks Caerbannog, Ron T, Brian, Wheels, Ghost, John, and Caroza. Really appreciate the kind words. John: particularly pleased you appreciated the Stephen Jay Gould tie-in. Both his and Carl Sagan’s writings provided inspiration. Caerbannog: sorry, I forgot ;)

  15. 65
    Deech56 says:

    More congratulations (again – did so already on FB, but what the heck). I would encourage anyone who read The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars: Dispatches from the Front Lines to contribute a review to Amazon or B&N and/or “like” the positive ones. There was an onslaught of negative reviews and comments on Amazon after a certain “science” blog encouraged participation.

  16. 66
    mike says:

    thanks Deech, really appreciate it :)

  17. 67
    Daniel J. Andrews says:

    Hearty congratulations! I enjoyed your book, by the way, and am rereading it again. As well, I spent some time on Amazon and read the longer reviews and “liked” them.

  18. 68
    mike says:

    Thanks so much Daniel, really appreciate the comments (and help!) :)

  19. 69
    Pete Helseth says:

    Congratulations! I hope this kind of thing helps make up for the other side of the coin that burdens those of you in this critical line of work.

  20. 70
    Arjan says:

    A very inspiring talk it was, and one of the best at EGU. Keep up the good work! Congrats!!!

  21. 71
    mike says:

    thanks Pete, it does indeed. And thanks very much Arjan, really glad you were able to attend the talk, and I very much appreciate the kind words.

  22. 72
    Anteros says:


  23. 73
    Nat J says:

    Congratulations! A well deserved honor, particularly with all you endured to achieve it.

  24. 74
    Brian Dodge says:

    “Mr. Cuccinelli,

    As you may have heard, Dr. Michael Mann has been awarded the Oeschger medal from the European Geosciences Union, “for his significant contributions to understanding decadal-centennial scale climate change over the last two millennia and for pioneering techniques to synthesize patterns and northern hemispheric time series of past climate using proxy data reconstructions.”

    Would you care to comment?


    Brian Dodge”

    I’ll let y’all know if I get anything more than a boilerplate “Thank you for contacting the AG’s office…” Or not.
    Maybe he’ll post here – Although I doubt that anyone who reads realclimate knows anyone who knows anyone who knows anyone who knows anyone who knows Cuccinelli.

    FWIW –
    “March 22, 2012
    Dear Fellow Virginians,
    I wanted to let you know that today I formally announced my candidacy to be the next Governor of Virginia.”

    I wonder if the Virginia voters will reject science in favor of right wing ideology, to “…to promote the principles of smaller, more efficient,[less reality based] state government…?”

    [Response:I appreciate the humor here but I’m not sure it’s actually very helpful or indeed relevant. Mike was being celebrated for his science. Full stop. For my part, I’d like to see the politics left out of it for once.–eric]

  25. 75
    Douglas Watts says:

    Mike’s work is daunting but also very useful for us trying to figure out how fish got into New England after the last Ice Age. It shows a path forward.

  26. 76
    Hans Jensen says:

    Wonderful news! Congratulations indeed, Dr. Mann.

  27. 77
    dbostrom says:

    After you’ve offered your congratulations, create your own award in the form of a brief visit to the Climate Science Defense Fund. There you can contribute to the continuing effort to help Dr. Mann and others continue to be productive scientists as opposed to bogged-down, distracted victims of frivolous litigation.

    Despite accolades from those knowing better Dr. Mann is still in the crosshairs of others nursing a grudge against his findings.

  28. 78
    Tokodave says:

    Congratulations! As others have noted notable not only for your work but what you’ve endured! Thanx and keep up the good work!

  29. 79
    MarkB says:

    Congratulations, Dr. Mann. Maintaining the high road in the face of some fierce politically-motivated attacks I imagine is difficult to do, but you are to be commended for it. Your book is nearing the front of my reading queue. Looking forward to it.

  30. 80
    bibasir says:

    Congratulations. I think this write up should be sent to Cuccinelli and Inhofe or perhaps a friendly congressman could read it at a hearing and put in the Congressional Record.

    I just finished reading Dr Mann’s book The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars and I think I will use it as the main book I recommend to people who are uncertain as to whether and why there is Global Warming.

  31. 81
    mike says:

    thanks Anteros, Nat, and the others. Really appreciate all of the kind words. Bibasir–really appreciate your positive comments about the book :)

  32. 82

    It’s fantastic to see this kind of recognition. On scientists communicating: we should not beat ourselves up so. It’s journalists who have failed big time. The denial cause is so obviously from the same playbook as the other big science denial causes of the last 50 years that it’s almost unbelievable that anyone, let alone a large number of otherwise skeptical journalists, would fall for it. It doesn’t take the ability to read an academic paper or science text to see that. Hence the need for efforts like RealClimate. Keep doing what you’re doing. They wouldn’t fight back so hard if it wasn’t working.

  33. 83
    Peter Adamski says:

    Congratulations Dr. Mann. Another well deserved award.

  34. 84
    sydb says:

    Congratulations, Mike. There are still many, many people round the world who honour and respect truth and those with the courage to tell it, despite the howls of the ignorant and the self-serving. “The truth will out,” as the old saying goes. Your fight is the fight of us all, and for those still unborn. Keep up the good work.

  35. 85
    mike says:

    thanks Philip, Peter, Sydb: really appreciate the support. Sydb: I like to believe that expression.

  36. 86

    “They wouldn’t fight back so hard if it wasn’t working.”

    ““The truth will out,” as the old saying goes.”

    I do think so… but may it be sooner, rather than later.

  37. 87
    WhiteBeard says:

    #21, David Graves, 23 Apr 2012, 3:23 PM

    “It’s only a matter of time before the howls of outrage from WUWT/ corner.”

    It seems that half a towel was tossed from the SevieMc side of that tag team combo.

    At the end.

    captcha: lacksr this

  38. 88
    John Mason says:

    Mike, very many congrats for this, and here’s to many more interesting years of discovery and contribution towards our understanding of what makes the planet tick!

    Best wishes – John

  39. 89
    John Mason says:

    Mike, many congratulations for this and here’s to many more years of discovery and contribution to our understanding of what makes the planet tick!

    Best wishes – John

  40. 90
    Alexandre Costa says:

    Very glad to see one of the biggest rooms at the EGU Assembly absoluteley full. Also very happy about the standing ovation that Mike received compared only to the ones we see in classical music concerts. Take this, delianist machine! Once again, congratulations, Mike!

  41. 91
    mike says:

    thanks so much John, really appreciate these kind words :)

  42. 92
    Ryan Otte says:

    Congratulations Dr. Mann! We all hope for more success in your future scientific endeavors.

  43. 93
    mark says:

    Congratulations Mike

  44. 94
    mike says:

    thanks Ryan! Thanks Mark!

  45. 95
    Bob Loblaw says:

    Arriving at the party a little late, but one more “congratulations, Mike!”.

    I’m also willing to put my money where my mouth is. I bought your “Hockey Stick…” book last weekend. Picked it up at the local bookstore instead of on-line: wanted to encourage them to bring books like that in.

  46. 96
    tckev says:

    I hope you have a very, very long life so that you will see some of the proof of your work.

  47. 97
    Jay McIntosh says:

    I finished reading ‘Hockey Stick…’ a couple of weeks ago. I learned about it after hearing you on CBC radio. Thanks for all your hard work and your courage to educate the public. I’ve been debating AGW with my brother lately who is a Geophysicist. He’s in the oil industry so he’s in the denial camp. You have helped me very much with this debate. Thanks again Mike and congratulations on the Oeschger metal.