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Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Howard Spero awarded UC Davis’ Faculty Research Lecture Award

Howard Spero, a professor in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences at UC Davis, was awarded this year’s Faculty Research Lecture Award, an annual honor given to a UC Davis faculty member who has contributed significant research in his or her field.

“I am truly humbled,” Spero said. “There’s a lot of great researchers on campus. [It was] truly unexpected.”

Dawn Sumner, the chair of the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, is thrilled that Spero has received recognition for his hard work.

“It is very exciting,” Sumner said. “We have very high regard for Professor Spero’s research and it is fantastic to have it recognized by [the] campus. He has transformed how scientists reconstruct recent changes in ocean chemistry, providing important insights into climate change over the last several hundred thousand years.”

Spero researches paleoceanography, the study of past oceans and climates, which he described as a mix of several scientific fields.

“My background is a jack-of-all-trades,” Spero said. “I work at the interface between biology, oceanography [and] chemistry. Pick your favorite physical science, and I work at the interface where they intersect.”

Much of Spero’s recent research has focused on gaining an understanding of climate change.

“Professor Spero, and many other paleoclimatologists, use microscopic organisms called forams as a record of ancient seawater chemistry,” Sumner said. “They measure trace elements and isotopes in foram shells. Professor Spero started growing forams in experimental cells and systematically varied the water chemistry to study how the foram shells vary precisely with changes in seawater chemistry. This allowed scientists all over the world to extract more and more precise information from old foram shells, dramatically increasing our understanding of recent climate change.”

Spero said that his research methods have changed over the years as new challenges arise.

“Over the years I’ve gone from working in the field to trying to answer some of the more challenging questions that have popped up through our research, which requires me and my students to use new types of instrumentation to look up where the chemical variations occur,” Spero said.

As part of receiving this award, Spero also received $1,000 and gave a free public lecture on Oct. 30. Spero said that he hoped to educate the audience regarding climate change in his lecture, titled “The Paleoceanography Frontier: Geochemistry, Marine Plankton, and 21st-Century Technologies.”

“[I’m hoping to] take the audience on a journey,” Spero said. “A journey that starts at the present, goes to the future, goes back to the past and then goes up to the present again. We are going to be talking about the carbon problem, CO2 and climate change.”

Spero hopes that by the end of the lecture people have a better understanding of the issues our climate faces.

“Hopefully people have a sense of how well we can reconstruct the temperature or salinity of the ocean as climate varies,” he said.

Tessa Hill, an associate professor at UC Davis in the Department of Earth and Sciences who has worked with Spero for over a decade, believes that he is truly deserving of receiving the Faculty Research Lecture Award.

“[Spero] is an inspiring and extremely productive scientist who has really made his mark on the field of paleoceanography,” Hill said. “He has shared this expertise with countless graduate students and undergraduates, ensuring that the next generation of scientists will have the knowledge to carry on experiments like this in the future. He has won several national and international awards in his field. And, to top it off — he is a well-loved instructor on our campus, teaching popular courses in oceanography, climate change and geochemistry.”

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