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Ocean Surface Topography from Space
Dudley Chelton Honored
February 10, 2011

OSTST founding member, Dudley Chelton, honored

Dr. Dudley Chelton
Dr. Dudley Chelton
The American Meteorological Society has named Dr. Dudley Chelton the 2011 recipient of its Henry Stommel Research Award. In receiving this award, Chelton also became a Fellow of the AMS.

The Stommel Award is granted to researchers in recognition of outstanding contributions to the advancement of the understanding of the dynamics and physics of the ocean. In making the award, the AMS cited Chelton "For fundamental contributions to advancing our understanding of ocean circulation and air-sea interaction."

Chelton was a founding member of NASA altimeter science teams, which evolved from the TOPEX/Poseidon Science Definition Team in 1987 to become the present Ocean Surface Topography Science Team. He served as chair of the TOPEX/Poseidon Subcommittee on System Measurement Accuracy from 1987-1992, for which he received the NASA Public Service Medal in 1994. Chelton has published more than 100 papers on oceanography, meteorology, atmospheric sciences, and related research topics. He was elected a Fellow of the American Geophysical Union In 2008.

"It's not easy for me to articulate the wide range of emotions I feel about receiving the Stommel Award," said Chelton. "I am, of course, deeply honored. I'm also very humbled by the list of prior recipients. And I'm cognizant of the fact that much of the success of my career is attributable in no small way to the efforts of many others. While it has been given to me as an individual, this award would never have been possible without the contributions of the dozens of engineers and fellow oceanographers that have made satellite remote sensing a quantitative observational technique for oceanography. As recipient of the award, I am both fortunate to be the beneficiary of this team effort and happy to see this acknowledgment of the importance of satellites to advancing the understanding of physical oceanography and air-sea interaction."

In looking back on his decision to become a satellite oceanographer in 1980, Chelton says, "It is humorous to reminisce that one of my original motivations was to keep the engineers honest. The past 30 years have turned out to be far more fun than I could ever have imagined. I've often felt like a kid in a candy store to be among the first to see the amazing small-scale features of the ocean and atmosphere that are revealed in the satellite data."

Chelton says that he learned of the award while driving north on I-5 after four days of backpacking in the Trinity Alps in northern California. He was thinking about the daunting task of reading and responding to the 150 email messages and phone messages waiting for his return. "How often is there any good news when you check your email or phone messages? Instead, what you get is requests to do the more of the kind of work that interferes with the research you naively thought as a graduate student that you would be doing full time."

He decided to get the phone messages out of the way while driving so that only the email messages would have to be dealt with the next day. There was a message from Peggy LeMone, President of the AMS, saying she had some good news. "I pondered what good news she could possibly have. I knew she couldn't be calling to ask me to be on an AMS committee or to review a paper for AMS since nobody would refer to that as good news. I was completely surprised when I called her back and she told me that I had received the Stommel Award. I felt more than a little bit guilty for having just played hooky from work for four days."

At the AMS Awards Banquet on January 26, Chelton dedicated his award "to the young oceanographers that will make grand discoveries from the exciting next-generation satellite instruments that will launch at the end of this decade." He added that he looks forward to reading their future papers "to find out what we don't know that we don't know about the ocean and air-sea interaction."

Dr. Lee-Lueng Fu, Project Scientist for NASA's Ocean Topography Missions said, "Please join me to congratulate Dudley for this honor recognizing the impact of his long list of contributions to our field."

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