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Global WarmingQ&A With French Geophysicist and 2020 Vetlesen Prize Winner Anny Cazenave

Q&A With French Geophysicist and 2020 Vetlesen Prize Winner Anny Cazenave

Q&A With French Geophysicist and 2020 Vetlesen Prize Winner Anny Cazenave

French geophysicist Anny Cazenave has spent greater than twenty years studying climate and environmental science using satellites, with a deal with sea level rise and hydrology. Before that, Cazenave was a pioneer in the sphere of space geodesy, using satellites to measure the Earth’s fundamental properties, including its shape, orientation in space, and gravity field.

For her groundbreaking work in Earth sciences, Cazenave shall be celebrated and presented with the distinguished 2020 Vetlesen Prize at Columbia University this April (after a three-year delay attributable to COVID-19).

Anny Cazenave sitting at her desk

Anny Cazenave, recipient of the 2020 Vetlesen Prize for achievement in earth sciences. (Courtesy Anny Cazenave)

An emeritus scientist on the Laboratory of Space Geophysical and Oceanographic Studies in France and the previous director of Earth sciences on the International Space Science Institute in Switzerland, Cazenave can even share the stage with the 2023 recipient, physicist David Kohlstedt. The Vetlesen Prize is run by Columbia Climate School’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory.

In honor of the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, a U.N.-designated day calling for improved access and equitable participation of girls and girls in science, we spoke with Cazenave about her profession path, the Vetlesen Prize, and ways to encourage more women and girls to enter the sphere.

The next interview has been edited for clarity and length.

What inspired you to pursue Earth sciences and climate research? 

I initially desired to be an astronomer, after I was still a university student. But as a substitute of trying to the sky, I actually have spent my life’s work looking downward on the Earth. And I’ve never regretted this. Through the Nineteen Seventies, I received a PhD studying the rotation of the Earth, and I used to be recruited to work for the CNES, the French Space Center. Space agencies on the time were working to quantify the forces acting on artificial satellites as a way to accurately calculate their orbits. I started my research using different space geodesy techniques to find out the Earth’s gravity field.

I still desired to expand on this research further, so I also studied the origin of the anomalies within the gravity field, similar to those in the interior structure of the Earth. When space geodesy techniques improved with time, it gave me the prospect to check other solid Earth processes, like vertical motions of the Earth’s crust, large-scale tectonic deformations, motions of the Earth’s center of mass, highs and lows of the mean sea surface, and their link with sea floor topography.

The launch of TOPEX/Poseidon, the primary high-precision altimetry mission that used onboard altimeters designed to accurately measure the ocean surface topography and ocean currents, was developed jointly by NASA and CNES, and ushered in an era of “oceanography from space” within the early Nineteen Nineties. I selected to enter this recent field and began to make use of satellite altimetry to measure climate-related sea level rise and its causes. I actually have also been working with satellite altimetry (a method that can even measure river and lake level variations) and space gravimetry (which provides measurements of water storage changes on land) to check land hydrology and the worldwide water cycle. My research in these last twenty years has been mostly centered on climate and environmental science using satellites. Switching to this very recent field 20 years ago was a difficult but highly rewarding process for me.

What projects are you working on right away?  

I’m currently working on sea level rise and climate change. With my coworkers, we routinely measure sea level change from global to local (coastal) scales using altimeter satellites. We also work at quantifying the processes causing sea level rise, namely ocean warming and land ice loss. In parallel, we study sea level rise on the planet coastal zones and the associated impacts.

I’m also a co-principal investigator of a project from the European Research Council dedicated to studying the deep interior of the Earth using global observable measures similar to the Earth’s magnetic and gravity fields, and observations of the Earth’s rotation.

How does it feel to be a Vetlesen winner? Are you looking forward to finally visiting Columbia and accepting this honor in April?

It’s an awesome pleasure, privilege, and immense honor to receive the Vetlesen prize. After I have a look at the list of previous recipients, I feel very humble in comparison with these highly renowned scientists. Overall, I’m very glad and quite proud that our research field has been recognized. I warmly thank the colleagues who’ve nominated me and the Vetlesen jury who chosen me. I’m looking forward to the ceremony in Recent York in April and shall be pleased to satisfy this yr’s awardee!

If you were starting out, how difficult was it to be a girl scientist? Do you’re thinking that things have modified significantly since then?

Overall, the number of girls in sciences has been growing prior to now few a long time in Europe. Still, it’s incredibly low in some scientific areas and in all places at the highest levels. There are clearly multi-factorial causes for this. Based alone experience in the sphere, I haven’t seen this as the results of sexism or discrimination. But I do think there are complex cultural and societal aspects subconsciously persuading women that scientific research is more appropriate for men. Furthermore, many ladies scientists hand over on the thought of reaching a high-level research role because they view this as a strategy to exert power, which they see as something reserved for men. There’s also the struggle of childcare and family commitments and mixing them with high-level research obligations. Too many ladies have been taught it’s natural to offer up their very own scientific ambitions for family commitments and responsibilities.

In my very own life, I actually have chosen to prioritize productivity and expertise in science over other responsibilities, while balancing family demands and research involvement to the very best of my ability. In France, I actually have benefited from a government system that provides women substantial support, including nurseries and recreation centers to take children during school holidays. Overall, I never found that being a girl in science was a handicap. To me, excellence in research, curiosity, and keenness should all the time remain the primary goals, whether you’re a person or a girl.

How else can we proceed to support women scientists? Do you will have any advice for younger ladies or girls who’re serious about entering the sphere?

Senior women scientists (like me) might help the younger generation of their scientific profession path. We are able to definitely start with female PhD and post-docs on the research lab level, by teaching them and supporting them in order that they develop confidence, strive for excellence, and work with passion. It is usually easy and vital to encourage and help junior scientists apply for research grants, share our own scientific networks, and assist them within the navigation and involvement with international meetings and conferences in order that they can grow their confidence and scientific visibility.  It will be significant to encourage women scientists to hitch scientific policy committees and to serve on the groups and panels that select grant and award winners and recruit candidates, so we will increase the ratio of girls in influential decision-making for the sphere. There must be a more clearly defined strategy for including nominations of girls scientists for national and international prizes and awards. We all know that mentoring programs each inside specific fields and nationally are very helpful for younger ladies scientists, but these still should be higher developed.  I feel that essentially the most difficult obstacles to beat are cultural barriers, starting as early as childhood. Early education should teach children to maneuver away from gender bias and stereotypes and to start out scientific experimentation at a young age. Many countries, within the EU especially, have worked to show kids that science just isn’t just meant for boys, and that girls and boys have similar mental abilities.  Women scientists must also consider attending meetings and exchanges with younger students and taking the chance to reply their scientific questions. I visit colleges and high schools several times a yr and find these interactions to be very gratifying.


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