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Noah Diffenbaugh receives AGU’s William Kaula Award

The professor of Earth system science was honored for extraordinary contributions to the growth, quality, and success of the peer-reviewed journal Geophysical Research Letters.

BY Danielle Torrent Tucker
ClockDecember 08, 2020

Climate scientist Noah Diffenbaugh, the Kara J. Foundation Professor at Stanford Earth, has been awarded the William Kaula Award by the American Geophysical Union (AGU).

Noah Diffenbaugh
Noah Diffenbaugh

The award is given in recognition of unselfish service to the scientific community through extraordinary dedication to, and exceptional efforts on behalf of AGU’s publications program. Diffenbaugh served as editor of the peer-reviewed journal Geophysical Research Letters(GRL) from 2009-19, including a four-year term as Editor-in-Chief from 2014-18. 

“Being an editor has been the most enriching learning experience and community engagement experience that I've had professionally,” said Diffenbaugh, who was recognized for his achievement at the AGU Fall Meeting in December 2020.

Diffenbaugh said the achievement he is most proud of is the diversification of the journal’s editorial board. “During my term, we went from an editorial board that was thirteen men and two women when I took over, to fourteen women and seven men,” Diffenbaugh said. “We didn’t succeed in transforming the editorial board to be fully inclusive or fully representative of the AGU community, but we prioritized a rapid transformation, and we made real progress in a short amount of time.”

During Diffenbaugh’s term as Editor-in-Chief, GRL also changed its submittal, editorial, and review policies, and increased visibility of research through editors’ highlights, commentary pieces, press releases and social media promotion.

His role, like other editorial positions with peer-reviewed scientific journals, has required an exceptional commitment. “It takes a lot of time, it takes a lot of sacrifice,” he said. “It takes being willing to be criticized, and being willing to constructively deal with criticism.”

But the commitment has been worthwhile – in more ways than one. As climate editor, the process of handling the peer review of many thousands of papers over a decade opened up new research avenues by stretching his knowledge and thinking, Diffenbaugh said.

And the range of science Diffenbaugh was exposed to as Editor-in-Chief of AGU’s flagship journal was akin to receiving a sampling of the poster hall in the AGU Fall Meeting – numbering thousands of presentations that range from space physics to microbiology – every day, he said.

“When I was Editor-in-Chief, GRL received around 25% of AGU’s journal submissions, with the topics ranging from the center of the Earth out to the Sun, and everything in between,” Diffenbaugh said. “It's been the biggest educational experience of my life.”

Diffenbaugh is also the Kimmelman Family Senior Fellow with the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment and an affiliate of the Precourt Institute for Energy. Read more about his experience with the peer review process in his contribution to this blog from AGU’s journal editors.

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