Alaska scientist wins top award for his Arctic climate research

John Walsh, chief scientist at UAF’s International Arctic Research Center was the first U.S. researcher to receive the Mohn Prize.

By Yereth Rosen - November 15, 2021
John E. Walsh, a University of Alaska Fairbanks climate researcher and chief scientist at the International Arctic Research Center was announced as the winner of the 2022 Mohn Prize for Arctic research. (Laura Walsh via UiT)

A climate scientist with the University of Alaska Fairbanks has won a prestigious award for his Arctic research, officials announced on Friday.

John Walsh, chief scientist at UAF’s International Arctic Research Center, was the third recipient of the Mohn Prize and the first U.S. scientist to receive the award. The prize, worth 2 million Norwegian kroner (about $230,000), is awarded every two years to recipients considered international leaders in Arctic science.

The prize is awarded by the Academia Borealis, the Academy of Sciences and Letters of Northern Norway, Tromsø Research Foundation and UiT – The Arctic University of Norway.

In a ceremony held Friday at the Fram Center in Tromsø, Walsh spoke by video from the Fairbanks campus.

He said he was “stunned and then humbled” when he learned that he would receive the award and that he hopes “to do it justice through the tremendous opportunities that it provides.”

Walsh said Alaska and Norway have much in common — their high latitudes, their mountainous terrain, their remote communities and areas and their economic dependence on oil. While UiT is Europe’s premier Arctic university, UAF is America’s Arctic university, and both universities can collaborate to advance Arctic science, he said.

“My hope is that we can use the Mohn Prize to build upon our Arctic locations, our common scientific interests and our ability to communicate what the science is telling us,” he said. We can do this through our universities and partners in Tromsø such as the Norwegian Polar Institute and the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Program. By working together we can make a difference in public awareness, which in turn can lead to action internationally.”

Marit Reigstad, a professor at UiT by Marit Reigstad and a representative of the Mohn Prize committee, said Walsh was chosen for his lead role in researching how sea ice dynamics are linked to ongoing changes, including extreme events within the Arctic.

“He is one of the most authoritative scholars in the field of modern Arctic change,” she said at the ceremony.

Reigstad cited Walsh’s contributions to creating large-scale Arctic climate models and his “instrumental” role in downscaling those models to interpret the impacts on local and regional areas. He has also been a longtime contributor to international climate reports such as those issued by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the Arctic Council.

An example of Walsh’s recent work is a report he co-authored with other experts at UAF that projects impacts of future precipitation on Alaska’s infrastructure. The report, which uses downscaled models to project through 2100, was conducted for the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities.

The Mohn Prize is named after Henrik Mohn, the first director-general of the Norwegian Meteorological Institute and a figure considered the founder of Norwegian meteorology.

The first Mohn Prize was awarded in 2018.