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FSU professor wins major meteorology award for research on El Nino

Florida State University oceanography professor Allan Clarke grew up in a coastal town in southern Australia where he loved the ocean, the beach and the warmth of thesun. Little did he know that his fondness for that beautiful coastline would one day lead him to become an international expert on physical oceanography, climate dynamics and El Nio.

In a symbol of the professional esteem with which he is regarded by his peers, Clarke has been named the winner the American Meteorological Society's 2012 Sverdrup Gold Medal Award, granted each year to a researcher who makes outstanding contributions to the scientific knowledge of interactions between the oceans and the atmosphere. In winning the award, he was cited for "fundamental contributions to the dynamics of ocean currents and air-sea interaction with particular emphasis on El Nio/Southern Oscillation."

"I was thrilled beyond belief to win it was fantastic," Clarke said, his Australian accent still so crisp it could win him a spot in an Outback Steakhouse commercial.

Clarke is the Adrian E. Gill Professor of Oceanography and a Distinguished Research Professor at FSU. His professorship is named after his beloved former professor and mentor, who was an expert in atmosphere-ocean dynamics.

Along with Florida State research associate Steve Van Gorder, Clarke has been predicting El Nio monthly since 2003. (See Those predictions have been provided to the International Research Institute for Climate and Society and have also been used in Australia to help farmers better grow their crops. Florida produces much of the U.S. winter vegetables and fruit, and Clarke is planning to apply his climate knowledge to help Florida growers.

As a boy growing up in southern Australia, Clarke loved to play cricket and Australian rules football. He also played such a mean game of tennis that he eventually landed on the University of Cambridge tennis team in England.

Though an admitted math ace, Clarke never dreamed he would become a Florida State professor "who researched ocean currents and climate variability," he said.

"I used to wonder why some Australian summers were hotter than others but never thought that I would someday have the privilege of finding out about those things," explained Clarke, who earned his doctorate in applied mathematics and theoretical physics from Cambridge (and from the same department that attracted world-renowned cosmologist Stephen Hawking).

Clarke's respected textbook, published in 2008 a project that was nearly a decade in the making was written for students and scientists either working on the El Nio/Southern Oscillation (ENSO) problem or its many applications. ENSO affects climate variability over 70 percent of the globe. For example, an El Nio typically results in a colder and wetter winter in Florida and the southeastern United States while making other parts of the world (for example, Australia) drier than normal. Clarke's book addresses topics such as air-sea interaction during El Nio, ENSO forecasting using statistical and huge computer models, and understanding how these changes affect marine and bird life.

One of his former students who reviewed it enthusiastically summed up Clarke's teaching method: "The book follows Dr. Clarke's style: 'mathematically rigorous development of topics and applications on the real world problems.'"

Clarke admits he adores teaching, research and his students.

"Teaching and research go extremely well together. I'm not going to teach what I don't understand completely," said Clarke, "and in that process you often learn new things." More than 25 research papers by Clarke and his students have been a direct result of his classes.

"One of the privileges of working at a university is the opportunity to meet and work with students," he added. "It's great to see them learn, be excited about the same things I enjoy and develop as scientists."


Contact: Allan Clarke
Florida State University

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