NEWS | Oct. 5, 2011

Dr. Judith Lean Receives Presidential Rank Award for Meritorious Senior Professional

By Donna McKinney

Each year, the President recognizes and celebrates a small group of career Senior Executives and senior career employees with the Presidential Rank Award. This year, the Naval Research Laboratory's Dr. Judith Lean has received the award of Meritorious Senior Professional. Recipients of this prestigious award are strong leaders, professionals, and scientists who achieve results and consistently demonstrate strength, integrity, industry and a relentless commitment to excellence in public service.

In her position as Senior Scientist for Sun-Earth System Research, Lean conducts research toward quantitative knowledge of the energy flow within the Sun-Earth system, and the environmental responses to changes in this energy flow. This work advances DoD and Navy activities such as satellite tracking, geolocation, and accurate characterization and prediction of space and terrestrial weather and climate.

Dr. Lean's unique central achievement has been to establish Sun-Earth System research as a new focus, towards understanding the Sun's variability using measurements and models, and determining the impact of this variability on the Earth system, including climate change, the ozone layer, and space weather, explains Dr. Jill Dahlburg, superintendent of the Space Science Division at NRL.

Her approach unifies observational and data evaluation methods with scientific theory, systems analysis, the power of computers, and decades of space-based and terrestrial environmental data records. Lean quantifies the Sun's variability using measurements and models, and determines the impact of this variability on the Earth system in comparison with other natural and anthropogenic influences. Her studies are reversing earlier theories drawn primarily from sunspot data that suggest solar variability can at times dominate climate change, explains Dahlburg. In moving the science of Sun-climate connections from speculative belief to one grounded in physical understanding and solid data, Lean's work quantifies the small but measureable role of solar variability in climate change, including on decadal time scales, a significant role in altering the ozone layer, and a dominate role in the weather and climatology of the space environment.

In the award nomination, Lean is noted as being the center of a diverse, multidisciplinary research network focused on quantitative predictive understanding of the energy flow within the entire Sun-Earth system, and the environmental responses to changes in this energy flow. Her work has taken on new relevance to the Navy, with the recognition that global changes in climate have potentially substantial effects on U.S. military operations.

Her work provides clear explanation of how solar variability, rather than abeyance of anthropogenic influences, has contributed to the lack of global warming during the past decade. In addition, it predicts an increase to global surface temperature at a rate 50% greater than that predicted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which has Naval implications ranging from demands for alternate fuels and corrosion-resistant ship hulls to the effects on national security associated with the appearance of a new transcontinental coastline and major shipping route to the north, and climate-related disruptions of extant socio-economic structures.

Lean received her bachelor's degree in physics from Australian National University and her doctorate in atmospheric physics from the University of Adelaide.

Among her many awards, Lean is a Fellow of the American Geophysical Union and a member of the National Academy of Sciences. She has published over 100 refereed journal papers and 30 conference proceedings. In 2004 to 2006, she served as lead author of a major section of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report which resulted in her being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize as shared with Albert Gore and the IPCC.