Auburn University researcher ranked among the world’s most influential climate scientists

Published: July 13, 2021
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Within its release of the world’s most influential climate scientists, the international news agency Reuters has named Hanqin Tian, professor in Auburn University’s School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences, to its list of top scholars leading the study of climate change.

Tian, who serves as the Solon and Martha Dixon Endowed Professor and director of the International Center for Climate and Global Change Research, was ranked 118th out of 1,000 international scientists. Known as a preeminent scholar of global environmental change, Tian also leads Auburn’s Climate, Human and Earth System Science (CHESS) Cluster, an interdisciplinary group of faculty working to advance solutions to persistent environmental challenges.

“Dr. Tian’s contributions to the study of climate systems continue to advance solutions to many of the grand challenges facing our society, including protecting natural resources and developing environmentally sustainable solutions,” said Auburn Provost Bill Hardgrave. “His exemplary record of research and scholarship certainly makes him one of the most influential scholars in the field.”

Two of Tian’s former graduate and postdoctoral fellows, Chaopun “Crystal” Lu and Wei Ren, also are included on the list.

To compile the list, Reuters data journalist Maurice Tamman developed a system of identifying and ranking climate academics according to the influence of their research. Examining more than 350,000 scholarly papers, Tamman’s criteria included evaluating the number of publications as of December 2020, the frequency of those citations relative to other papers in the field and the number of references in the press, social media and other public policy papers.

Tian’s groundbreaking research findings in the field of climate science have been featured in over 300 publications, including 10 papers published in the most prestigious scientific journals: Nature, Science and Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, or PNAS. Tian’s Nature paper, “A comprehensive quantification of global nitrous oxide sources and sinks,” made the Altmetric Top 100 most discussed article out of 3.4 million works in 2020 and was featured in 134 news outlets globally.

In 2019, Tian received a prestigious Andrew Carnegie Fellowship to support his work in climate change and food security. Tian was also elected as a fellow to the American Geophysical Union, or AGU, in 2020 for his outstanding and pioneering contributions to understanding the role of terrestrial ecosystems in controlling sources and sinks of greenhouse gases. AGU elects fewer than 0.1% of members to join this prestigious group of fellows.

Tian has co-led an international consortium of scientists from 48 research institutions in 14 countries under the umbrella of the Global Carbon Project, on which he serves as one of 12 scientific steering committee members and co-chair for the International Nitrous Oxide Assessment.

“International collaboration is essential for solutions to global climate change and sustainable development goals,” said Tian. “Therefore, strengthening partnerships for international research and education is of critical importance to Auburn University’s global profile and ranking.”

In the past decade, Tian has trained and prepared young scientists, including more than 10 doctoral students and postdoctoral fellows who have become faculty members across the United States, such as the two who also made the Reuters list: Lu, currently an assistant professor at Iowa State University’s Department of Ecology, Evolution and Organismal Biology, and Ren, now an assistant professor in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences at the University of Kentucky.

“Lu and Ren had a decade-long training and research experience in climate science at Auburn, initially as graduate students, postdoctoral and then research fellows before they assumed faculty positions,” said Tian. “Both received NSF CAREER awards, the most prestigious award in support of early-career faculty.”

Janaki Alavalapati, dean of Auburn’s School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences, said the U.S. administration acknowledges the growing need for climate scientists and initiatives relating to academics, research and outreach.

“With global recognition of Auburn’s unique strengths in climate science, Auburn is well-positioned to engage and lead some of these emerging sciences,” said Alavalapati. “To extend the intellectual reach of Auburn University at regional, national and international scales, it would be strategic and timely to facilitate a conversation to explore avenues to strengthen and expand AU’s climate science platform.”

(Written by Teri Greene)

Auburn University is a nationally ranked land grant institution recognized for its commitment to world-class scholarship, interdisciplinary research with an elite, top-tier Carnegie R1 classification, life-changing outreach with Carnegie’s Community Engagement designation and an undergraduate education experience second to none. Auburn is home to more than 30,000 students, and its faculty and research partners collaborate to develop and deliver meaningful scholarship, science and technology-based advancements that meet pressing regional, national and global needs. Auburn’s commitment to active student engagement, professional success and public/private partnership drives a growing reputation for outreach and extension that delivers broad economic, health and societal impact.