Dr. Paul Falkowski Awarded Prestigious Tyler Prize

Paul Falkowski
Paul Falkowski

Rutgers distinguished professor Paul Falkowski. Photo: Katie Voss.

The 2018 Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement – often described as the ‘Nobel Prize for the Environment’ – has been awarded to Paul Falkowski and James J. McCarthy, for their decades of leadership in understanding – and communicating – the impacts of climate change. Paul Falkowski, one of the world’s greatest pioneers in the field of biological oceanography, is a Rutgers distinguished professor in the departments of Earth and Planetary Sciences and Marine and Coastal Sciences and is the founding director of the Rutgers Energy Institute. James J. McCarthy is from the Department of Biological Oceanography at Harvard University.

“Climate change poses a great challenge to global communities. We are recognizing these two great scientists for their enormous contributions to fighting climate change through increasing our scientific understanding of how Earth’s climate works, as well as bringing together that knowledge for the purpose of policy change,” said Julia Marton-Lefèvre, chair of the Tyler Prize Committee.

“This is a great message for the world today; that U.S. scientists are leading some of the most promising research into Earth’s climate, and helping to turn that knowledge into policy change,” said Marton-Lefèvre.

Human activity has changed Earth’s atmosphere, which in turn is changing the Earth’s climate. However, early climate models were often inaccurate, because science lacked a detailed understanding of how our modern climate originally evolved. Since all life originated in the ocean, that’s exactly where Falkowski chose to direct his research.

As his citation states:

“One of the world’s greatest pioneers in the field of biological oceanography, Dr. Paul Falkowski is a distinguished professor in the Departments of Marine and Coastal Sciences and Earth and Planetary Sciences at Rutgers University.


Focusing primarily on phytoplankton, coral, and the primary production of aquatic organisms, Dr. Falkowski studies the biophysical processes controlling ocean productivity, especially the roles of the nitrogen and iron cycles in ocean biogeochemistry and climate.


The knowledge that climate strongly influences the distribution and diversity of all animals and plants has been historically clear, but its effect on microbial communities were poorly understood. In the 1970s, Dr. Falkowski was among the first scientists to observe this chain of linked processes at the source of all life’s origin– our oceans– that now informs predictions about how phytoplankton communities will change in the future and impact global climate.


In the evolution of Earth, Dr. Falkowski’s research has been influential in identifying how microbes became a major force in transforming this planet to make it habitable for animals, including humans. His research observes how electron transfer reactions are mediated throughout our planet and have changed its geochemistry over time. Over the course of his 42-year career, Dr. Falkowski has published over 300 papers in leading peer-reviewed journals, edited and authored 6 books, and advised more than 100 graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, and visiting scientists at Rutgers University, internationally known as a top-tier academic research institution in the field of biological Oceanography.


Having received his undergraduate degree in biology from the City College of New York, in 1975, Dr. Falkowski emigrated to Canada and obtained a PhD in Biology and Oceanography from the University of British Columbia. Faced with the prospect of working in a medical school in Canada, or going to sea as an oceanographer, Dr. Falkowski chose the latter and completed his postdoctoral research at the University of Rhode Island. Following his postdoctoral work, in 1976 he was hired at the Brookhaven National Laboratory as a staff scientist in the newly formed Oceanographic and Atmospheric Sciences Division, where he developed the field of environmental biophysics. Since then, he participated in over 45 cruise expeditions to regions including the subtropical Atlantic, Antarctica, and the Black Sea.


In 1998, Dr. Falkowski moved this research group to Rutgers University where he now holds tenure as the Bennett L. Smith Chair in Business and Natural Resources, and is the founding director of the Rutgers Energy Institute.”

Beginning excerpt originally published by the Office of Communications on February 6th, 2018. Cited biography of Dr. Falkowski from the Tyler Prize Committee.