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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. 1
    Steve Fish says:

    This is really great!

  2. 2
    Chris Colose says:

    Congrats Mike!

    Well deserved.

  3. 3

    AWESOME, Professor Mann! Congratulations!!

  4. 4
    owl905 says:

    And my congrats make tree.

  5. 5
    mike says:

    Thanks so much Steve, Chris, Jan, and Owl. Really appreciate the support :)

  6. 6
    CM says:


    PS. The first link (“Oeschger medal”) dead-ended. Here:

    [thanks, fixed. -editor]

  7. 7

    Indeed, congratulations!

    P.S. The Agassiz medal link needs a look, too… or perhaps it’s a browser issue. But it didn’t load for me.

  8. 8
    Marcus says:

    If I had known this a little earlier, I would have shown up to congratulate personally… so on the virtual way: heartly congratulations!


  9. 9
    BillS says:

    I believe the correct link for the Agassiz Medal is:

  10. 10
    Kate says:

    Congrats! Well deserved!

  11. 11
    MMM says:

    Congratulations! Well-deserved!

    One question: on “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.” I was under the impression that the NRC assessment had slightly downgraded this conclusion, from “likely” to “plausible”. Now, unlike certain skeptics, I realize that even “plausible” is a fairly strong statement (eg, if I said it was plausible that my current hand of cards* was the highest hand of cards that had been observed at my table in the last 1000 games, that would be a fairly strong statement), but I thought it was somewhat lower than “likely”, maybe due to somewhat increased uncertainty bounds?

    (in general, whether for future projections or historical reconstructions or estimates of climate sensitivity, I tend to be sympathetic to arguments of more rather than less uncertainty because I feel like in general, models and statistical approaches are not exhaustive and it is “plausible” that additional factors could lead to either higher or lower estimates than seen with a single approach. I guess the counter-argument to this would be that there are often multiple studies examining the same phenomena, and given Bayesian updating, one could argue that as long as all the estimates are overlapping, the uncertainty could actually be less than any one individual study – see Annan et al, for example)

    *I’d used a specific type of card game, but the spam filter got me…

    [Response:I wrote that sentence, and I stand by it. For one thing, “downgrading” confidence levels somewhat is hardly the same thing as showing a result is wrong (i.e. that the opposite result is true). For another, much as I respect the National Academy, and the various members of the panel that did that assessment, it was in the end their informed opinion being expressed, and there are actually quite a few factual errors in that report (indeed, Steve McIntyre and I had a rare moment of agreement on this, regarding what they said about ice core records in Antarctica). It was not a serious challenge to Mike’s work, which would entail someone publishing something in the literature, with a complete analysis. –eric]

  12. 12

    Congratulations Dr Mann.

    Don’t ever think the shoddy way you’ve been treated by bullying denialists hasn’t been noticed. Their dishonourable, unworthy, and reprehensible attacks on you speak volumes for their failings, and contrasts starkly with your continued dedication and quality of work.

  13. 13
    SteveP says:

    Congratulations Mike! Your work is so important. It is good to see it getting appropriate recognition.

  14. 14
    Martin Vermeer says:

    Yes, congrats for this well deserved recognition!

    BTW where it reads

    … 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.

    Is this really correct? 180/280 is quite a bit less than 50%. And IIRC Arrhenius theorized (and stated that this was the motivation for his CO2 studies) that the ice age cycle was caused in full by variations in atmospheric CO2; an idea that has not stood the test of time. But with the too-large value for doubling sensitivity that he obtained, 5.6K, this idea looked even plausible!

  15. 15
    Jim says:

    Congratulations to Mike, a hero of our cause and our generation. The Oeschger award is particularly apt. Among his many key contributions, Mike showed that in the last 2,000 years, global temperatures have never risen as far or as fast. Carbon isotopes, which Oeschger pioneered, show beyond reasonable doubt that fossil fuel combustion is the source of the CO2 added to the atmosphere.

  16. 16
    Tim Kozusko says:

    Congratulations Mike!

  17. 17
    Dikran Marsupial says:

    Congratulations, well deserved, keep up the good work!

  18. 18
    mike says:

    thanks so much Marcus, Kate, MMM, Chris, Steve, Martin, Tim, Jim, Dikran. The kind words and support really mean a lot.

    Jim: thanks so much for writing about the attacks against climate scientists so cogently and eloquently in “The Inquisition of Climate Science”.

  19. 19
    Robert Damon says:

    Hi Mike,

    Congratulations on this award — well deserved.
    Oh, and I just finished reading your book — it was a good read. Almost unbelievable what you were put through, but I hope you and your colleagues keep it up.

  20. 20
    Edward Greisch says:

    Congratulations Dr. Mann! How do you pronounce “Oeschger?”

  21. 21
    David Graves says:

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

  22. 22
    mike says:

    thanks Robert(on both counts!), Edward, and Dave. Off to bed now…

  23. 23
    tamino says:

    Congratulations again. The award is well-deserved for many reasons, including but not limited to pioneering work on paleoclimate, a very productive scientific output, and for aplomb in spite of being a “lightning rod” for personal attacks from anti-science forces.

    Maybe we should start the “Mann number” — Erdős number (“six degrees of Kevin Bacon”) but with co-author distance from Mike Mann.

  24. 24
    ScaredAmoeba says:


  25. 25
    William P says:

    Its good to see the truly deserving recognized.

  26. 26
    Phil Clarke says:

    A great day. Congratulations and thanks to Professor Mann for his exemplarary achievements and career, all the more so for being attained under extraordinary duress.

    And I add my recommendations for the book. A must-read for anyone interested in the political as well as scientific debate.

  27. 27
    Juerg Luterbacher says:

    I will be one of the convener of this session and I am looking very much forward to Mikes talk!

  28. 28
    S. Molnar says:

    Well, yes, good for Michael Mann, but I expect RC to “provide the context sometimes missing in mainstream commentary”, which it failed to do in this case: there is no information on what instrument(s) Oeschger played.

  29. 29
    barry says:

    Congratulations. Well deserved!

  30. 30
    Hank Roberts says:

    > no information

    Typical of the best teachers — leave something for the students to puzzle about and find out for themselves.

    RC provides the best teaching I’ve had access to in many decades. I hope the time spent on RC — directly, and by attracting and putting forward other scientists to the foreground — is included with everything else Michael Mann does that’s being acknowledged by the award. Thank you.

  31. 31
    adelady says:

    Congratulations. Well deserved. (And not just because it happens to be an issue close to my heart and important for everyone else whether they know it or not.)

    It’s been earned by outstanding intellectual endeavour and exemplary scientific conduct. Backing it up with resolute integrity and a big dose of personal courage may not be relevant to the award, but it certainly adds to the regard and admiration of all of us.

  32. 32
    Steve Bloom says:

    Congratulations, Mike!

  33. 33
    Susan Anderson says:

    Fabulous and well deserved.

  34. 34
    David Horton says:

    Yes Bravo Michael – and not just for the award!

  35. 35
    michael sweet says:

    Well deserved recognition for an extraordinary scientist!

  36. 36
    tamino says:

    I think John F. Kennedy once said that if a politician has no enemies, he’s not doing his job.

    It occurs to me that one of the reasons Mike Mann has been attacked so often and so viciously, is that he’s doing his job so well.

  37. 37
    climatehawk1 says:

    That’s excellent news. Thanks for the background and, of course, congratulations to Dr. Mann on this recognition of his extensive and valuable work.

  38. 38
    Jim Larsen says:

    Tamino, here’s a short 2006 post where John Fleck attributes Gavin to linking coauthors to show McIntyre’s Mann number is at least as low as 4.



    And congratulations, Dr Mann. Well done.

  39. 39
    David B. Benson says:

    Well done.

  40. 40
    Lynn Vincentnathan says:

    Congratulation, Mike. I bought your book.

    I’ve been slogging it out with denialists elsewhere, and your work and the RC site have given me a firm foundation for refuting those guys. Some of them are so evil and mean. But then I guess the good guys would be accepting what the climate scientists have to say, and out doing their best to mitigate AGW, so that leaves only the bad guys in the denialist camps.

  41. 41

    Congratulations! On the award and on your recent book. I was quite impressed with the latter, with how you went into depth on a variety of subjects, the science, math, history, motives, strategies, but kept the work as a whole accessible.

  42. 42
    Jaime Frontero says:

    Congratulations, Professor Mann.

    Some days it’s just worth turning on your computer…

    And I note, David Graves (@21); that perhaps we should start up a climate award equivalent to the motion picture Razzies. Then perhaps the esteemed Mr. UpWithThat wouldn’t feel so… left out in the cold?

  43. 43

    Every Mann needs balance from injustice!

    Such Awards are the best way to express how wrong Mike’s detractors are.

  44. 44
    Martin Vermeer says:

    Tamino #23, great minds think alike, as was mentioned in the book BTW (on page 165, endnote 11:26).

    …and an Erdős number of four isn’t half bad!

  45. 45
    Fred J says:

    Was just watching Richard Feynman “The pleasure of finding things out” –

    Would be interested what people here thought about his opinion on awards?

  46. 46
    Charles says:

    Hearty congratulations, Mike! Aside from the tremendous contributions you have made to the scholarship on climate, you stand as an inspiration for those of us who are new scholars. In the face of some of the most horrendous attacks on your work and character, you have stood firm and yet open to genuine inquiry. You have been stellar example of grace under fire.

  47. 47
    mike says:

    Thanks so much folks. I really appreciate all of the kind words and support. It really is this sort of support that has helped me through the toughest times (something I actually discussed in the book). Really does mean a lot. So thanks again :)

  48. 48
    bill says:

    Congratulations indeed – and I’d also like to endorse your book, which I, like many here, thoroughly enjoyed.

  49. 49
    Hugh Laue says:

    Wonderful and heart warming news. Well deserved Mike.
    Adelady at #31 reflects my feelings “not just because it happens to be an issue close to my heart and important for everyone else whether they know it or not.
    ….. outstanding intellectual endeavour and exemplary scientific conduct. ……. resolute integrity and a big dose of personal courage ….”.
    For me the uncompromising scientific integrity of Mike, indeed the whole RC team, sets a high standard for anyone who wishes to be considered a genuine scientist.

  50. 50
    Pete Best says:

    its no suprise but still a nice one – congrats to Mike.