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James J. McCarthy

UCS Board president

Before it became fashionable, James J. McCarthy understood the importance of reaching across boundaries with interdisciplinary research. He was drawn to his field, oceanography, because it allowed him to approach the topic from more than a single discipline, requiring as it does work in biology, chemistry, and geology. His work has focused on the regulation of plankton productivity in the sea particularly in regions that are strongly affected by seasonal and inter-annual variation in climate.

“I’ve spent much of my time for the last 25 years working to bring groups of scientists together who had historically worked alone in their own disciplinary communities” to bridge boundaries and explore exciting new directions in science, he said in an interview for Science. He is also committed to engaging scientists in developing countries to address the critical intersections of science and policy, and to make science more accessible to nonscientists. It is no wonder that he has been deeply committed to the work of UCS, serving now as the third chair of the Board of Directors. 

Dr. McCarthy is the Alexander Agassiz Professor of Biological Oceanography at Harvard University and from 1982 to 2002 he was the director of Harvard University’s Museum of Comparative Zoology.  He has participated in and led national and international organizations whose goal is addressing climate and global change. He chaired the inaugural committee that launched the International Geosphere-Biosphere Program, and he was the founding editor of the journal Global Biogeochemical Cycles, which has been a successful venue for publishing results of research that span broad areas of the Earth sciences relating to global change. He has been an author for regional, national, and global climate change assessments, was vice chair of the Northeast Climate Impacts Assessment, and headed the 2001 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Working Group II assessment of impacts and vulnerabilities relating to climate change.

His honors include election as a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and a Foreign Member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.  He has received the New England Aquarium’s David B. Stone award for distinguished service to the environment and the community and the Museum of Science Walker Prize for meritorious published scientific investigation and discovery.  He is past president and chair of the Board of Directors of the AAAS.

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