9 March 2017
— By Robin Bell, President-elect, AGU
I am honored to have been elected to serve as AGU’s president-elect in what is emerging as a challenging time for science. It is my hope that by working together through AGU we will meet this challenge and emerge stronger having conveyed a broader understanding of the importance and relevance of earth and space science to people everywhere.
I decided to become a geophysicist just after I graduated from high school when I learned it was possible to use physics to decode how the earth worked. While I started my career studying gravity and tectonics, I shifted to the study of large ice sheets, as these continental scale pieces of ice impact people around the globe. My work has been richly interdisciplinary as ice sheets cover many things: my favorites are subglacial volcanos, hidden ancient mountains ranges, subglacial lakes and fluvial systems. How these features develop and change are important for ice sheet stability.
The Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University has been my science home for 35 years. It is a great place to do science and New York offered many opportunities for a two career couple. I have been very lucky to be married to Karl Coplan who has been my hero, rearing our children while I chased science from pole to pole. Karl and I love being in the open ocean and together sailed across the Atlantic with our children. It was so much fun we did it again.
Science is my passion. It is a good day when I learn something new. It is even more fun when I am in the room when something new is discovered. One of my favorite AGU moments was watching two young scientists give back-to-back talks and observing the moment when they realized that their two papers, taken together, revealed a new discovery. We are very lucky as a species to be able to have a global perspective on how our planet operates. And AGU is critical to making sure we communicate the beauty and wonder of our science, and that we attract the best young people to the field of earth and space science. I am keen that our field be open to all, and provide an unbiased and fair experience for all.
As a young scientist, AGU provided a place for me to share my science through meetings and publications. AGU also enabled me to build connections across the global science community that are so essential for science. I made the decision to become involved with AGU leadership as a way to give back to that community, and to ensure that AGU remains a vital organization that fosters the development of scientists of all career stages — enabling discoveries and empowering the next generation of leaders.
Given the changes in the political scene over the last several months in the United States and globally, it seems that this job will be much more dynamic than I thought when I agreed to run! While the administration in the US has many worried that our profession – as one that honors evidence and facts – will be under attack, this challenging time will also bring new opportunities. We have an opportunity to expand public understanding about how essential science is to our global society. It will be especially important to build stronger connections between scientists and the communities they live and work in. A critical challenge in the coming years will be to take steps to ensure that anti science rhetoric does not drive away or discourage prospective and young scientists.
While science and support for science appears to be under attack, AGU has several opportunities for enhanced engagement across the sciences and with the public, including, but not limited to the centennial, Sharing Science, and the Thriving Earth Exchange (TEX). I look forward to advancing these programs and to supporting and developing an enhanced meeting portfolio with AGU members, council, board and staff in the coming years.