The Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences has awarded the Dr A.H. Heineken Prize for Environmental Sciences 2020 to Corinne Le Quéré, Royal Society Research Professor of Climate Change Science at the University of East Anglia (Norwich, England).
Le Quéré is receiving the prize for her interdisciplinary research on the interaction between climate change and the carbon cycle.
Le Quéré shows impact of climate change on CO2 uptake in the oceans
Corinne Le Quéré has meticulously kept track of the role of the oceans in absorbing carbon dioxide (CO2) by charting the processes involved. Human activities such as burning fossil fuels and deforestation now cause annual emissions of 43 gigatonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere. About 30% of this is absorbed by trees and plants. The world’s oceans absorb about 25% because CO2 dissolves in water at the air-sea interface and is transported to the deep ocean by currents. The remaining 45% stays in the atmosphere and causes climate change.
Together with colleagues, Le Quéré has identified why the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere varies on different timescales. Some of the variations are caused, for example, by changes in marine productivity during ice ages and by changes in oceanic CO2 uptake from varying ocean currents. Le Quéré was the first to identify a possible weakening in CO2 uptake in the Antarctic Ocean associated with ozone depletion, and to quantify the impact of climate change and variability on global CO2 uptake in the oceans in recent decades.
Le Quéré is the Chair of France’s High Council on Climate, an independent advisory body set up by President Macron to advise the French government on how to deal with climate change. During the corona crisis, the High Council presented eighteen recommendations to learn from the crisis, better prepare and reduce the risks of future health and climate crises. Le Quéré argues that the pandemic and climate change share common causes, in particular the untenable pressure we exert on the natural environment.
About the laureate
Corinne Le Quéré was born in Canada in 1966 and holds British, French, and Canadian nationality. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in physics from the University of Montreal in 1990. She received her master’s degree in Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences from McGill University (Montreal) two years later. She completed her PhD research in oceanography at the Sorbonne University in Paris in just 2½ years. She conducted research at the Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry (Germany), then directed the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research before she was appointed Royal Society Research Professor of Climate Change Science at the School of Environmental Sciences at the University of East Anglia (Norwich, England) in 2019.
In 2004, Le Quéré initiated the annual publication of the Global Carbon Budget, an international initiative of the Global Carbon Project to provide up-to-date information on carbon emissions and their distribution among the atmosphere, land, and oceans, including their main drivers. These publications have a major impact on climate science and climate policy. Le Quéré is the author of the third, fourth, and fifth reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).