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Atmospheric science

Renowned Mason scientist recognized for climate research contributions and philanthropy

Fernando Miralles-Wilhelm, Dr. J. Shukla, and Dr. Syukuro "Suki" Manabe
(L-R) Fernando Miralles-Wilhelm, Dr. J. Shukla, and Dr. Syukuro "Suki" Manabe. Photo by Max Taylor Photography.

More than 90 guests gathered Friday, April 22, 2022 to celebrate the achievements of College of Science Professor Dr. Jagadish Shukla. Considered a trailblazer in the Mason community, Shukla’s esteemed career spans the globe, from establishing the Center for Ocean-Land-Atmosphere Studies (COLA) and modernizing India’s weather enterprise to serving as lead author of the 2007 report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate change that shared the Nobel Peace Prize with Vice President Al Gore. What better day to celebrate his contributions than on Earth Day?

College of Science Dean Fernando Miralles-Wilhelm who, with Shukla, teaches in the college’s Department of Atmospheric, Oceanic and Earth Sciences (AOES) described Shukla’s upbringing in the district of Ballia. From Uttar Predesh, a village without electricity, roads, or a primary school, Shukla’s early education came primarily from his father, the only man in the town able to read, and later at a middle school located three miles away—which Shukla would walk to and from every day.

Dr. J. Shukla and his wife Anastasia Shukla
Dr. J. Shukla and his wife Anastasia Shukla. Photo by Max Taylor Photography.

Shukla excelled in the sciences, eventually attending Banaras Hindu University and earning a bachelor’s and master’s degree in geophysics. He later worked at the Institute of Tropical Meteorology where he wrote a paper challenging the work of one of the most renowned meteorologists of the day—Dr. Jule Charney. Not only did he meet Charney as a result of his paper, but gained a mentor while earning a Doctor of Science under him at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

He personifies that Mason spirit,” said George Mason University President Gregory Washington, who spoke of Shukla’s “grit” and “audacity” to overcome educational barriers and question the status quo. “His story tells the story of George Mason University.”

Certainly a highlight of the event included time spent with long-time mentor and friend Dr. Syukuro Manabe, a 2021 Nobel Prize recipient for contributions to the physical modeling of earth's climate. Manabe served as an advisor to Shukla while pursuing his SciD at MIT and both maintained contact throughout their respective careers.

Delegate Mark Keam, representative of the 35th district in the Virginia House of Delegates also attended saying “I couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate Earth Day than to be with people that are doing something to help protect and preserve our Earth. And there’s nobody more important in this world that is doing good work than scientists.”

Scientists like Shukla certainly have a ripple effect in their fields. Since establishing COLA, the team received grant funds totaling more than $46 million, providing support for about 70 PhD students and 20 faculty and research scientists. This funding played a key role in Mason’s designation as a Research 1 institution in 2016, a distinction the university carries to this day.

Dr. Mark Uhen, Chair, AOES, said the center’s research program helped grow the Climate Dynamics PhD program, the first of its kind in the United States. The program has since graduated more than 50 students. Dr. Natalie Burls, Director of the Climate Dynamics program, introduced the fiftieth graduate in attendance—Dr. Abdullah al Fahad, author of several papers focused on the Southern Hemisphere climate change and is now earning a postdoc at NASA.

“Shukla’s global reputation as a renowned climate scientist is rivaled only by his profound generosity,” said Dean Miralles-Wilhelm. In 2020,Shukla and his wife established the Jagadish and Anastasia Shukla AOES Fellowship Endowment to support graduate students pursuing their PhD in climate dynamics. It is among the largest philanthropic commitments ever made by a Mason faculty member.

Nicole Washington, Dr. Syukuro "Suki" Manabe, Dr. J. Shukla, Alia Wofford, Dr. Gregory Washington
(L-R) Nicole Washington, Dr. Syukuro "Suki" Manabe, Dr. J. Shukla, Alia Wofford, Dr. Gregory Washington. Photo by Max Taylor Photography.

The fellowship’s first recipient, Alia Wofford, who joined the Climate Dynamics PhD program in fall 2021 also attended the recognition event. President Washington introduced Alia, who plans to study the Earth’s paleo, or ancient geography, to improve our understanding of the role that aerosols, such as dust, played in shaping in the evolution of Earth’s climate and improve our ability to understand and model how Earth’s climate will change in the future under global warming.

The evening concluded with a standing ovation for Dr. Shukla who addressed the room saying “To all my students, faculty members, and scientists that I work with I want to say, you have made me a better scientist. To all my family and friends, you have made me a better man.”

If you would like to support the Jagadish and Anastasia Shukla AOES Fellowship Endowment, please consider making a donation.

Working closely alongside Shukla is COLA director Jim Kinter. Kinter and Mason’s Ed Maibach recently announced Mason’s Virginia Climate Center that will provide municipal leaders with an unprecedented range of observational data, environmental models, and experts in climate science, sustainability and engineering solutions.