James F. Kasting, Evan Pugh University Professor of Geosciences, will receive the 2015 National Academy of Sciences Award in Early Earth and Life Sciences. The award will be presented with the Stanley Miller Medal.
The Early Earth and Life Science Award alternates between the Charles Doolittle Walcott Medal for research on Cambrian or pre-Cambrian life and the Stanley Miller Medal which recognizes research on Earth's early development as a planet. Each medal comes with a $10,000 award.
Kasting receives the award "for his outstanding modeling studies of planetary atmospheres and habitability that constrain the environmental context for the origin of life."
He has made fundamental insights into atmospheric evolution through the development of numerical models. The core of Kasting's work involves the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide and calculating the minimum levels of carbon dioxide needed to prevent the planet from freezing into a "snowball Earth" scenario. He and his colleagues have used his models to determine when the planet's carbon dioxide will run out and its water will be lost, calculating that the Earth will no longer be able to support life in 2 billion years or less. Kasting's investigation of the evolution of carbon dioxide and other atmospheric gases — oxygen, methane, nitrous oxide — provided insight into the proliferation of life on early Earth.
He has also made major contributions to the search for life on other planets, including refining the concept of the "habitable zone" — the area around a star where a planet can support liquid water and possibly life.
Kasting will be honored in a ceremony on May 1, 2016 during the National Academy of Sciences 153rd annual meeting.
A'ndrea Elyse Messer