R. Lawrence Edwards

Regents Professor

Earth Sciences, College of Science and Engineering, 2015

R. Lawrence Edwards, Robert D. and Carol C. Gunn Professor and Distinguished McKnight University Professor, Department of Earth Sciences, College of Science and Engineering, is a world-renowned geochemist with expertise in climate history, climate change, and geochronology. For more than two decades, he has made significant contributions to science and society through his research, teaching, and service and has made the University of Minnesota a globally recognized leader in climate science.

Edwards studies climate change using the principles of isotope geochemistry. The time scale that his work covers is around the last 500,000 years. He is known for his role in the development of modern uranium-thorium (or Th-230) dating methods and his application of these methods to the study of climate history and ocean chemistry. His strategies are renowned for improving the precision and accuracy with which the timeline of climate history can be established. His work in cave deposits as recorders of historic and pre-historic climate has contributed to and will continue to contribute to the understanding of abrupt climate change and ice age terminations (the rapid melting of ice sheets at the end of glacial cycles). Edwards and his colleagues have drawn plausible links between global shifts in rainfall patterns and major cultural changes such as the dry conditions contributing to the demise of the Tang, Yuan, and Ming Dynasties in China and the significant rainfall in the early decades of the Northern Song Dynasty contributing to the expansion of rice cultivation and population increase in the era when rice became a staple of the Chinese diet. He has also worked with those studying the modern tectonics of the SW Pacific and Indian Ocean using corals to trace the uplift of coral reefs showing they are a significant indicator of past earthquake occurrences and magnitudes. Additionally, he has used thorium and protactinium isotopes to trace the workings of young volcanic eruptions, tracing the origin and timescales of magma generation deep in the mantle.

Edwards has collaborated with over 400 scientists from more than 200 institutions worldwide. He has helped to secure $12.3 million in funding through 57 funded grant proposals at the University of Minnesota. According to ISI Web of Knowledge, Edwards is the 2nd most cited earth scientist worldwide for papers published in the last decade. He has authored or co-authored 270 journal articles, including 33 in the journals Science and Nature. Edwards is a co-author of a chapter in the upcoming edition of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which is considered to be the most influential document summarizing current understanding of anthropogenic impacts on climate change.

Edwards’ intellectual accomplishments are extraordinary and are reflected in the numerous awards he has received. In 2004, he was elected Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and in 2009 Fellow of the National Academy of Sciences. And, in that same year, he received the Arthur L. Day Prize and Lectureship from the National Academy and a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship. Recognition by scholarly societies include becoming the first recipient of the Science Innovation Award from the European Association for Geochemistry, and receiving the C.C. Patterson Medical in Environmental Geochemistry from the Geochemistry Society. He is also a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Geophysical Union, the Geochemical Society, and the European Association of Geochemistry. His work on how the Ice Ages ended is featured in an article in the January 2013 issue of Smithsonian Magazine and he and his work were highlighted in the Emmy-winning “Years of Living Dangerously” Showtime documentary series directed by James Cameron. Stories about Edwards have also appeared in The Economist of London, Minnesota Public Radio, The Times of London, and BBC News.

Described as a dedicated teacher and mentor, Edwards has played a key role in both graduate and undergraduate education in the Department of Earth Sciences throughout his career. He teaches at all levels of the curriculum, including a core-course for undergraduate majors. He has worked with and trained a large number of students and post-doctoral fellows who have gone on to successful careers, many who are now faculty members at respected institutions. Currently, he has four postdocs in his lab.

His professionally related service inside and outside the University is outstanding. Edwards is sought after for serving on advisory boards and panels at the national and international level. He has served on the advisory board for a scientific center proposal for the Danish National Research Council (2011), the advisory board of the Earth Observatory of Singapore (2010), and on the advisory board of the UNESCO International Research Center on Karst, Guilin China (2009 to present). At the University, Edwards served on Provost Hanson’s Grand Challenges Research Strategic Planning Committee and the Graduate School Grant-in-Aid Committee. He has served on his college’s Promotion and Tenure Committee and on almost all of the department’s important committees, including the Graduate Studies Committee, the Undergraduate Studies Committee, and the Executive Review Committee. In addition, Edwards has served as director of graduate studies twice, and he was twice elected to the department’s Executive Review Committee (responsible for faculty merit review). And, he has served and chaired numerous faculty search committees. (Updated, 2015)

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