Piers Sellers international climate awards winners announced

Two awards have been made in the name of astronaut and climate scientist Piers Sellers by the Priestley International Centre for Climate.

(l): Professor Felix Creutzig; (r) Ross Gillard


Professor Felix Creutzig of the Berlin-based Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change has been awarded the Piers Sellers Prize for a world leading contribution to solution focused climate research.

Professor Creutzig, an IPCC lead author, was given the prize for his interdisciplinary research on climate change, connecting the areas of bioenergy and land use, urban infrastructures and transportation and his prolific high quality peer reviewed publications in the field (23 over the past five years).

Dr Julia Steinberger, Associate Professor in Ecological Economics at the Sustainability Research Institute, who nominated Professor Creutzig, said: “Felix is a polymath of the interconnected ways human activities relate to climate change.  His background in neuroscience gives him an edge in analysing complex networks, and indeed networks within and between cities have a huge influence on transportation, as well as on land use and land cover, which result in climate changing emissions.

“Professor Creutzig advocates comprehensive climate solutions, which tackle infrastructure, technology and behaviour.”

A second Piers Sellers prize for exceptional PhD research by a University of Leeds student was awarded to Ross Gillard for his publications relating to the politics of climate and energy during austerity in the UK, 2006-2016.

Prof Jouni Paavola, of the School of Earth and Environment, who nominated Ross Gillard, referred to his “remarkable potential”, describing him as “an exceptional postgraduate research student, clearly the best of about 20 research students I have supervised during my career.

“He has produced an outstanding publication track record, which attests his high academic calibre and the career progress prospects he has.”

Tributes to Piers Sellers, who died on 23 December 2016 from pancreatic cancer, were paid at the awards ceremony, with reflections by Dr Wolfgang Beurmann, a former colleague of Piers Sellers.

Dr Sellers, a University of Leeds alumnus who went on to join NASA’s astronaut corps, made three space missions helping to construct the International Space Station. In 2011 he took on the leadership of Goddard’s Sciences and Exploration Directorate and Earth Sciences Division, which he led until his death at 61.

His contribution to climate science was fundamental, developing a Simple Biosphere Model that was the first to realistically simulate the interaction of global photosynthesis and the Earth’s climate.

The Piers Sellers Prizes are sponsored by the University of Leeds alumni Footsteps Fund and the Priestley International Centre for Climate. They were launched in 2016 and Sellers, then too unwell to attend, sent a congratulatory video, reflecting on his time at Leeds.

“I owe this place and all the people living and working here a lot. …and I’m absolutely delighted to be helping out with boosting this new prize” he said. “I am confident that Leeds will be a strong player in the climate science business in the critical decades before us…and the new, well-named Priestley Centre will be at the heart of this effort.”

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