Honorary doctorates for two leading climate scientists
Utrecht University will award two honorary doctorates to leading climate scientists, Professor Corinne Le Quéré and Professor Sonia Seneviratne, during the celebration of the university’s 387th Dies Natalis, or birthday, on 27 March 2023. With these honorary doctorates, Utrecht University honours their outstanding contributions to science, policy and society in the fight against climate change, which is the theme of this year’s Dies Natalis.
Prof. dr. Corinne Le Quéré: Probing the oceans’ limits
To assess future climate change, it is essential to have a complete picture of the global carbon cycle. Corinne Le Quéré’s work is devoted to this. In 2007, she demonstrated for the first time that the Southern Ocean’s ability to absorb excess carbon emissions was slowing down, implying that oceans would not be an endless sink to absorb CO2 emitted into the atmosphere. Her discovery shed new light on the responses of the oceans and marine ecosystems to increasing greenhouse-gas emissions from human activities. Subsequently, Le Quéré instigated and led the publication of the ‘Global Carbon Budget’ for 13 years, which reports each year on how much carbon is being emitted around the world and how much of it is being absorbed in oceans and the terrestrial biosphere. It has become a major benchmark for the assessment reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
Her work tracing global carbon forms the basis of future emission scenarios.
A thorough understanding of the global carbon cycle is essential to make more accurate predictions about the future of the planet and to support climate policies. Her work tracing global carbon forms the basis of future emission scenarios, such as those leading to the Paris Agreement targets, says Detlef van Vuuren, Utrecht University’s Professor of Integrated Assessment of Global Environmental Change and promoter of Le Quéré’s honorary doctorate, along with Professor Jack Middelburg.
Le Quéré’s rigorous assessment of the uptake of carbon dioxide by the oceans and how it is changing over the years is of eminent importance to determine what portion of emitted carbon remains in the atmosphere, as that leads to even higher temperatures, Middelburg adds.
Having achieved undisputable recognition in climate science and policy, Le Quéré also stands out for her efforts to communicate the implications of the latest climate research to the public, such as in a charismatic TED Talk titled “Inside the Mind of a Climate Change Scientist.”
About Corinne Le Quéré
Corinne Le Quéré (Canada, 1966) is a Royal Society Research Professor of Climate Change Science at the University of East Anglia, United Kingdom. She serves as the chair of France’s High Council for Climate Change and she is a member of the UK’s Climate Change Committee. She has received numerous awards for her research. The most recent ones are the Dr A.H. Heineken Prize for Environmental Sciences (2020) and the Prince Albert I Medal of the International Association for the Physical Sciences of the Oceans (2019). She has been listed among the 20 "women making waves in the climate change debate" on the Road to Paris and Reuter’s Hot List of the world’s top climate scientists.
Prof. Dr. Sonia Seneviratne: Predicting the unpredictable
The outstanding heatwaves that hit large parts of the world last summer was a reckoning that extreme weather events are becoming more common on a warming planet. However, drawing a direct link between extreme weather and human-induced climate change is scientifically challenging because extreme events are, by definition, rare. Sonia Seneviratne has done pioneering research in mechanisms leading to heatwaves and droughts in both present and future climate.
Seneviratne probed the existence of a direct link between extreme weather and increasing global temperatures.
Thanks to innovative climate models and field observations, Seneviratne probed the existence of a direct link between extreme weather and increasing global temperatures, showing that heatwaves and droughts are becoming more frequent and intense in many regions due to human-induced climate change, and also exacerbate one another, says Utrecht University’s Professor of Earth Surface Hydrology and Seneviratnes promoter, Marc Bierkens.
Seneviratnes work further shows the crucial role of soil moisture and vegetation in climate change, and the occurrence and severity of extreme conditions. This knowledge is instrumental to reduce the effects of global warming.
Seneviratnes scientific research has proved to be of great relevance for various IPCC reports and their recommendations for adapting to climate change. She was a lead author of the IPCC Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C, and a coordinating lead author of the Sixth Assessment Report, which showed in painstaking detail the role humans play in climate change.
Thanks to all this work and over 200 peer-reviewed scientific articles, Seneviratne is ranked in ninth position in the list of the World’s 1,000 most influential climate specialists, compiled by Reuters. She is the only woman in the top 30.
About Sonia Seneviratne
Sonia I. Seneviratne (Switzerland, 1974) is a Professor of Land-Climate Dynamics at the Institute for Atmospheric and Climate Science at ETH Zurich. She is also the Associate Vice President for Sustainability for the Executive Board of ETH. She has received several awards for her research, including the Macelwane Medal of the American Geophysical Union (AGU, 2013), a Consolidator Grant of the European Research Council (ERC, 2014-2019) and the Hans Oeschger Medal of the European Geosciences Union (EGU, 2021).
Rector Magnificus Henk Kummeling about the Honorary Doctorates
Rector Magnificus Henk Kummeling is proud to confer this year’s honorary doctorates to two outstanding climate scientists who have made every effort to have the ears of policy makers and society to avert the climate crisis.
Prof. dr. Corinne Le Quéré and Prof. dr. Sonia Seneviratne have exercised their leadership positions tirelessly to have worldwide impacts on research and climate-change policies.
Prof. dr. Corinne Le Quéré and Prof. dr. Sonia Seneviratne have exercised their leadership positions tirelessly to have worldwide impacts on research and climate-change policies. We trust their appointments will deepen cooperation with Utrecht University’s research communities and the strategic theme Pathways to Sustainability to inspire the kind of interdisciplinary collaborations needed to build a more resilient future for our planet.