Kim M. Cobb
The 2020 Hans Oeschger Medal is awarded to Kim M. Cobb for pioneering acquisition and interpretation of high-resolution observations from corals and cave deposits in Earth’s equatorial regions and their implications for climate change.
Kim Cobb received her PhD in Oceanography from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in 2002. After post-doctoral work at the California Institute of Technology, in 2004 she joined the Georgia Tech faculty, where she is now the George Power Chair and ADVANCE Professor as well as the director of the Global Change Program. Cobb has pioneered acquisition and quantitative interpretation of multiple, replicated sequences of high-resolution observations from coral and speleothem archives in the key western warm pool and central equatorial Pacific regions during the past 20 years. In parallel, she has delved into the exquisite details of the geochemistry, physics, hydrology and isotopic systematics of these archives, developing chronometric protocols and ground truthing.
Cobb’s work has addressed equatorial climate history on a variety of time scales. She is perhaps best known for quantifying changes in ENSO variability during the Holocene using multiple coral records and has also conducted important work on climate change on longer time scales from stalagmite records in the western Pacific warm pool. Not only has her work involved complicated and demanding field investigation, but she has also dived deeply into quantifying geochemical proxies in corals and speleothems through model studies and model-data comparisons, setting standards for the rigour required of such work.
Cobb’s scientific achievements are complimented by a dedication to scientific outreach and service. She has not only served in a variety of advisory capacities for PAGES, CLIVAR, AGU and AAAS, but has also provided her expertise in testimony before the US Congress, advice to non-governmental organisations, and is now serving as a lead author in the 6th IPCC Assessment. Even a brief tour through Cobb’s lab website reveals a dizzying level of engagement in communicating science to diverse audiences that is matched by very few contemporaries. In addition, she is known as a prodigious and dynamic speaker, communicating the multivariate challenges presented by human-caused climate change.
Cobb is also a highly regarded teacher and mentor, in particular to women in science, and has guided an already long list of productive students and postdocs. She is the recipient of a number of prestigious awards, including the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE), the highest honor bestowed by the US government to outstanding scientists and engineers who are beginning their independent research careers and who show exceptional promise for leadership in science and technology.