2023 News & Events

Remembering Dan Albritton

15 April 2023

We are saddened to learn that Daniel L. Albritton (1936-2023), a founding member of our laboratory passed away April 1 in Fort Collins, Colorado.
We are collecting tributes to Dan on this webpage. Please reach out to Cathy Burgdorf Rasco if you would like to contribute.

Dan is a recipient of a 2022 Haagen-Smit Clean Air Award for his air quality improvement achievements in the category of policy. As fate would have it, his letter arrived a couple of days after he passed away. Dan is very deserving of such prestige and will be awarded posthumously. More information

Steve Thur, OAR Assistant Administrator

I write to you with a heavy heart about our dear friend and colleague, Dr. Daniel L. Albritton who peacefully passed away this April 1, 2023 at Pathways Inpatient Hospice Care, Fort Collins, Colorado. He was 86 years old. Among other roles, Dan served as the Director of NOAA's Aeronomy Laboratory (now part of ESRL) in Boulder.

Dan was an award-winning leader in climate science, an amazing partner and collaborator, an innately creative and clever storyteller, and a dear, generous friend to so many. His work and drive to understand and, most importantly, explain the complexity of climate change to all knew no bounds.

Dr. Spinrad, who worked with Dan for many years, has shared the following upon learning of his passing: "I treasured my interactions with Dan from the first day we met. As with so many others who met Dan, I learned so much from him and was permanently influenced by his extraordinary knowledge and razor-sharp communication skills. One of the highlights of my time working with him was establishing the Daniel L. Albritton Outstanding Science Communicator Award, a way of memorializing his style, intellect and insight. I will miss him deeply."

Dr. Albritton remains one of the most effective communicators of NOAA research and related science. His near 40 year career exemplifies a scientist serving national and international needs and using science for the benefit of all people. We will remember Dan not just as a research leader in confronting scientific challenges of the day such as ozone-destroying chemicals, acid rain, and urban smog, but also as a massively influential communicator and educator. Because of his avuncular and professorial demeanor, he was adept at explaining the science of climate change to the general public as well as all levels of government policy makers – including the White House. It is because of his outreach and education efforts with such decision-makers that we benefit from both the Montreal Protocol and the Clean Air Act.

I encourage you to read more about our cherished colleague in his obituary and follow on to [this] memorial page. His celebration of life will be held on August 5, 2023 at his hometown of Camden, Alabama.

David W. Fahey, CSL Director

Dan Albritton
Dr. Daniel L. Albritton soon after the lab moved into the new David Skaggs Research Center, 2001. Photo: C. Burgdorf, NOAA / CIRES

I had the great fortune to work with Dan as his last post-doctoral student on the flowing afterglow systems that he helped develop and master. Within my first year, he transitioned to program management in the Aeronomy Laboratory and then became our Director for more than 20 years before retiring in 2006. I learned much from him in the laboratory conducting reaction studies and in his office coauthoring papers. Later, he brought me into the science-policy world of the international Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer. He was a mentor for me on how to be of importance and value at the science-policy interface by being an honest broker of scientific information. He coached many of us on the principle of having our work be policy relevant while being policy neutral. In today's NOAA Chemical Sciences Laboratory (CSL), I continue to support that principle in our research.

Dan was a gentlemen and scholar. He received wide respect as a scientist, administrator, communicator, and leader. He was caring and gracious to laboratory staff and his many colleagues and associates outside the laboratory. He led the laboratory through the intense years after the discovery of ozone depletion and influenced policy as the first co-chair of the science panel of the Montreal Protocol. The laboratory emerged as a leader in air quality and climate research during his tenure. His communication skills both written and oral set him apart from his peers. His famous viewgraph transparencies were a principle tool in his communication repertoire. The OAR Daniel L. Albritton Outstanding Science Communicator Award was created in his honor to promote the importance of scientific communication within NOAA. His response to this honor was captured in a short video presentation.

The continued success of CSL as a premier national laboratory pursuing research in air quality, climate and stratospheric ozone is part of Dan's legacy as Director. CSL owes much to Dan and his tireless efforts and commitment to our mission over many years. Ravi Ravishankara and I have had the great privilege and responsibility to succeed him as CSL Director and uphold the culture of scientific research and science/policy support that he fostered.

Fred Fehsenfeld, CSL Senior Scientist

It was with great sadness we learned of the passing of Dan Albritton on April 1. But, the aims and goals he championed, the resulting unmatched successes and progress he achieved and the future use of his unique approach will be followed carefully in future times.

Dan Albritton works with Mack McFarland on a ballloon instrument package in the lab

I first met Dan in 1967 when he joined our research group in the Aeronomy Laboratory. From that time, he went on to become an outstanding scientist and then later become an exceptional scientific administrator and internationally recognized scientific leader until his retirement in 2006.

As we reflect on how much Dan achieved, from my perspective I would like to briefly describe using three words, perception, persuasion, and progress, how he altered and managed the future research being undertaken by our laboratory. First, he used his unique abilities to affect a positive perception of the scientific accomplishments made by our science that was being done through the offices of NOAA. This allowed him to achieve effective and rapid progress in the evaluation, acceptance and certification of these results by upper management. And finally, even most significantly, the persuasion he used, to ensure that the future research being planned and developed by our laboratory would be supported to successfully achieve these goals.

Dan's success in these matters relied heavily on one of the fundamental aspects of his personality. He was a very organized person. His aim was to get straight to the point with the maximum amount of usable information in the minimum amount of time. This meant he aimed at achieving his stated goals with the least amount of filigree or diversions.

NOAA at a Glance viewgraph

Fortunately, in order to achieve these goals, Dan had exceptional talent. Dan had a unique ability to cartoon research achievements and plans in a way that was informative, entertaining and, most importantly, thought provoking. He directed these with an aim to support and provide for our future research. This talent allowed him to simplify and restate complex science and the requisite required management approaches in simpler, more informative, understandable, and indeed entertaining, terms without distortion. Dan's cartoons proved that truth can be most succinctly told without using words. They often made his scientific and technical reports and the ongoing requisite research plans and undertaking more clear, direct and actionable.

Dan's articulation of our research allowed great advances to be made toward the certification of important scientific and environmental goals that we NOAA scientists, managers and administrators worked toward and hoped to achieve. Indeed, the NOAA Research Dr. Daniel L. Albritton Outstanding Science Communicator Award was established to identify a leading NOAA scientist or administrator whose work has best exemplified Dan's "perception, persuasion and progress" approach and the ensuing acceptance of past achievements and future plans that were presented.

I should also mention that Dan's organization was also reflected by his showing up at work each morning with several 3" X 5" Q-cards in the left pocket of his shirt that listed reminders, tasks and appointments he would undertake that day. I often kidded him that each card continued about a week's work and, for Dan, the work week had seven days.

On a more personal level, I must say, since the time I first met Dan, he was a superb colleague and dear friend to me. In addition, he was head of a marvelous family that included Vera, his lovely wife, and their three wonderful children, Elizabeth, Vivian and Danny that they unconditionally loved and adored.

Dennis Baldocchi, University of California, Berkeley

Sad to hear of Dan's passing. When I was a junior scientist at NOAA Oak Ridge, I attended many meetings led by Dan, as we were working on dry deposition. I viewed Dan as a role model on how to lead fairly and effectively. I was very impressed how he ran meetings in a very professional manner. Scientifically, he led his lab to perform state of art research on atmospheric chemistry. He clearly had great knowledge and a keen eye on what needed to be done next. And he recruited the best people to do this work. He exemplified NOAA at its best.

Adrian Tuck, NOAA Aeronomy Lab / ESRL CSD - 1986-2007

I first met Dan Albritton at a WMO meeting in Feldafing, West Germany, in 1984. I knew his name from the literature in connection with the Λ-doubling in OH in my physical chemistry days, prior to becoming a meteorologist. Although it was not apparent at the time, that meeting, organized by Bob Watson, was a turning point in the stratospheric ozone story. The then Aeronomy Laboratory was represented by Dan, Art Schmeltekopf, Dieter Kley and Susan Solomon. Sherry Rowland talked about how chlorine nitrate reacted with HCl on the quartz surface of his flow reactor – and dismissed it as being of no consequence because there was no quartz surface in the stratosphere. That disappeared into history with Joe Farman's ozone hole paper in Nature the next year, followed by Susan's paper in 1986 attributing the ozone hole loss to that reaction on the surfaces of polar stratospheric clouds. Dan was quicker to grasp the significance of all this than anyone else, displaying wisdom as well as intelligence. An aftermath of that meeting was that Susan, Art and Dan persuaded Eldon Ferguson to offer me a job – to follow Dan as a program chief as he became Director when Eldon retired.

Dan in his 1963 VW Beetle

I resigned from the UK Meteorological Office in July 1986, and arrived in Boulder in early August. Dan picked Diane, son Matthew and me at Stapleton, driving us back to Boulder in the famed Blue Beetle, a 1963 VW model. He and Vera, and daughter Vivian entertained us to dinner at their house on Heidelberg and made every effort to make us welcome. This was characteristic of Dan, a real gentleman as well as being a first-class scientist. In the subsequent 21 years I came to appreciate how rare was his combination of intelligence, foresight and administrative ability cemented together with wisdom, backed up by phenomenal energy and persistence. He was a living proof of the dictum that there is no wisdom without intelligence, but there's plenty of intelligence without wisdom. He dealt with the all-too-common latter combination skilfully and diplomatically.

The Montreal Protocol owed a huge debt to Dan. In combination with Bob Watson, it was steered past the initial opposition from the Reagan administration and the even more tortuous vicissitudes of international politics. Dan had the wisdom to present the case rationally and objectively to the administrators and politicians in Washington, via his famous viewgraphs, hand drawn models of clarity. They were described by Colin Powell as steam age PowerPoints – and praised as being better. He never accompanied his expositions to politicians with a request for more research funding, something that gave the "Bob and Dan Show" unique credibility.

He was very sympathetic to my efforts to get better pay and promotion prospects for the scientists and engineers in the Meteorological Chemistry Program. They were high achievers beyond compare on the NASA airborne missions and were under recognised by the then NOAA structure. The stellar reputation that the Aeronomy Laboratory acquired was directly attributable to Dan's tactical and strategic foresight as Director. He was respected in the Federal Government, at International Organizations, in academia and in the chemical industry.

Farewell Dan, few scientists leave a legacy such as yours.

Jana Goldman, NOAA OAR PAO - 1999-2013

I was deeply saddened to learn of Dan Albritton's death.

I had the good fortune to work with this sweet, wise man when I was the Public Affairs Officer for NOAA's research office – the Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research or the beloved OAR, He taught me so much in his gentle, but learned way. Who can forget his hand-drawn transparencies – well before PowerPoint – showing the degrees of confidence in the data with a small thermometer along the side? In fact, they were featured in an Andy Revkin piece in the New York Times: You'll Want to Take Notes, Folks. There Will Be a Test.

My favorite story of this wonderful man was when the IPCC report came out just as George W. Bush was being inaugurated. We at NOAA knew of the IPCC findings and with Dan's help, created a briefing for the incoming administration. Evidently, that briefing never reached the new people. So, the day of the inauguration, the New York Times front page had the political news above the fold, but the IPCC findings below the fold.

Faster than you can say climate, Dan was summoned to Washington to explain this. In a meeting with the new administration, he met with the new Commerce Director – a friend of President Bush's – Donald Evans. Evans tried to find out Dan's views on nuclear power. All Dan would say was - nuclear doesn't emit greenhouse gases. Evans tried six ways to Sunday to get Dan to say one way or the other what he thought of nuclear power. But Dan always stuck to the science, and kept repeating that nuclear does not cause greenhouse gases.

Evans finally gave up. But I always used this example in my workshops with other scientists to show how one can share the science in a clear, factual way.

Dan was generous with his time and knowledge as he explained things to me so I could share them with the public. He was the consummate scientist and public servant.

My deepest sympathies to his family, his friends, and his colleagues. He will be greatly missed.

His memory will be a blessing.

Dan Albritton obituary
Legacy Remembers Obituary