2024 News & Events

Silver Medal Awarded to NOAA Researchers

6 February 2024

One of two highest honor awards granted by the Secretary of Commerce, the Department of Commerce Silver Medal recognizes exceptional performance characterized by noteworthy or superlative contributions that have a direct and lasting impact within DOC. To warrant a Silver Medal, a contribution must focus on qualitative and quantitative performance measures reflected in DOC's Strategic Plan.

silver medal award
Gary Morris (GML), Steve Ciciora and Troy Thornberry (CSL) accepted the Silver Medal at the Secretary of Commerce Annual Awards Ceremony in Washington D.C.

Karen Rosenlof, Troy Thornberry, Steve Cicicora, Ru-Shan Gao, and Bryan Johnson (GML), Gary Morris (GML), Alice Crawford (ARL) receive a NOAA Silver Medal for scientific/engineering achievement "for successfully executing a rapid response campaign to study the atmospheric impact of the unprecedented Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'apai volcano eruption." They are recognized with Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES) affiliates Elizabeth Asher (CSL, now at GML), Patrick Cullis (GML), Emrys Hall (GML), Dale Hurst (GML), Allen Jordan (GML), Yunqian Zhu (CSL), Kensy Xiong (GML, now at Agilent Technologies), and Michael Todt (CSL, now at Finnish Meteorological Institute).

The group is honored for executing an international rapid response to quantify the atmospheric impact of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'apai (HTHH) volcanic eruption. Within 6 days of the eruption, a strategy was developed, instruments were prepared, and scientists made the 36-hour journey to Reunion Island, in time to measure within the volcanic plume over Reunion. It was the fastest in situ measurement response to a major volcanic eruption. The balloon measurements taken over 5 days continue to be analyzed and will improve the representation of aerosol/climate interactions in global models.

The eruption of HTHH was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to obtain in situ measurements of a volcanic plume and advance knowledge of the role of stratospheric aerosols on climate. The challenge was to develop a strategy, prepare instruments and deploy scientists to Reunion Island within days of the eruption and during a global pandemic. The data from the rapid response will increase the impact of climate data and services for decision makers (a DOC strategic objective) and the balloon launches enhanced observational infrastructure (a DOC strategic objective strategy).

Partly due to a lack of in situ observations, the role of stratospheric aerosols on climate are not fully understood. As the world faces the dire consequences of climate change, the appeal of considering climate intervention is increasing, especially the idea of injecting aerosol into the stratosphere to cool the planet. It is therefore urgent to obtain in situ measurements of stratospheric aerosol to improve climate models and provide critical information to decision makers considering climate intervention options. HTHH was the largest stratospheric volcanic perturbation in 30 years, injecting aerosol into the tropical stratosphere, and providing a unique opportunity to obtain in situ stratospheric aerosol measurements.

The Secretary presents this Silver Medal to these esteemed recipients at the 75th Annual Honor Awards Ceremony on February 6 in Washington, D.C.