The 2015 Division Outstanding Young Scientists Award is awarded to James Rae for his contributions to our understanding of the past climate change and its causes.
A recent study, led by Dr James Rae of the University of St Andrews, found that changes in ocean circulation in the North Pacific caused a massive ‘burp’ of CO2 to be released from the deep ocean into the atmosphere, helping to warm the planet sufficiently to trigger the end of the ice age.
Previously, scientists have suggested that the Antarctic Ocean and North Atlantic were the only places likely to release deglacial CO2, due to their deep water formation. However, a change in rainfall over the North Pacific region, caused by the East Asian monsoon and the Westerly storm track, made the ocean surface saltier and less buoyant, allowing it to form deep water. This allowed CO2 stored in the deep Pacific to be released to the atmosphere, where it helped warm the planet and melt back the ice sheets that covered much of the Northern Hemisphere.
Since completing a PhD with a short post-doc at Bristol and a two year position at Caltech, Dr. James Rae has rapidly become an independent, self-motivated researcher and has a growing reputation in the field. He is a key player in the widening the usage of boron isotopes and boron-based proxies in paleoceanography having an intuitive knowledge of the ocean carbonate system. To date, Dr. James Rae has (co)authored 12 publications, and his recent paper in Paleoceanography (Deep water formation in the North Pacific and deglacial CO2 rise; doi: 10.1002/2013PA002570) deserves a particular mention. The work of James is devoted to find out a missing piece of the long standing puzzle of why and how atmospheric CO2 changes on glacial-interglacial timescales. He is one of those rare all-round young scientists who is not only great in the lab but is also highly numerate and is familiar with complex modeling approaches. He is also keen and able to put his results in their correct context, he communicates his science well and is an inspirational public speaker who understands, and is driven by, the bigger picture.