New Keeling Curve Prize Inspired by Scripps Research Icon

Robert MonroeKeeling Curve History, Outreach

Strategies sought to mitigate greenhouse gases

A $250,000 annual award that encourages climate change solutions has been named for one of Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego’s most famous research endeavors.

The Aspen, Colo.-based Keeling Curve Prize is accepting applications through April 1 from entrants who offer products or strategies that reduce greenhouse gas emissions or reduce existing quantities of greenhouse gases already present in the atmosphere. Prize organizers said they drew inspiration from the Keeling Curve, a measurement of the concentration of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere that ushered in the modern era of climate change research and became one of the iconic images of science.

“As the creator of the Keeling Curve Prize, I wanted the mission to include greenhouse gas mitigation and carbon uptake to reduce the heat trapping gases in our atmosphere,” said Jackie Francis, who co-founded “Keeling Curve Prize: A Global Warming Mitigation Project with philanthropist Michael Klein, chairman of the board of real estate information company CoStar Group. “Fundamentally, the idea is to bend the Keeling Curve downward, so naming the prize after Charles Keeling’s work seemed ideal and I’m thrilled the Keeling family agreed.”

Scripps Oceanography geochemist Charles David Keeling began the Keeling Curve measurement in 1958 at a monitoring station atop Hawaii’s Mauna Loa. The data series draws its name from the shape of its dataset, a trend of steadily rising, seasonally fluctuating CO2 readings that exceeded 400 parts per million in air for the first time in human history in 2013. Prior to the onset of the Industrial Revolution, CO2  levels had fluctuated over millennia but had never exceeded 300 parts per million at any point in the last 800,000 years.

Carbon dioxide is called a greenhouse gas for its ability to trap solar radiation and keep it confined to the atmosphere. It is the most prevalent among all greenhouse gases produced by human activities, especially the burning of fossil fuels.

Scripps geochemist Ralph Keeling, the son of Charles David Keeling and the current director of the Scripps CO2 Program, is a member of the Keeling Curve Prize Advisory Council.

“The buildup of carbon dioxide has accelerated dramatically over the past century, which is not good,” said Ralph Keeling.  “It’s high time the curve started to bend the other way, towards slower buildup. This prize is one step towards helping that happen, by rewarding ideas for reducing emissions.”

The Keeling Curve Prize may be split among as many as 10 entrants who compete in the categories of Distributed/Decentralized Generation, Energy Storage, Climate-smart Agriculture, and “The Accelerator,” for endeavors with the “potential to alter and accelerate the current efforts in global warming emission reductions,” according to the organization.

“We want to find the projects that are beyond the conception stage, needing the momentum to become successful in our changing world,” Francis said. “Our focus is emissions mitigation, which is the best way to ensure future generations will be able to continue a prosperous life on this planet. Our prize is only a step in encouraging viable projects to become game changers in the future.”

The panel of judges awarding the prize includes Jonathan Silver, a former White House advisor and one of the United States’ leading clean energy investors and advisors; Ye Qi, director of the Brookings-Tsinghua Center for Public Policy in Beijing; and Sunita Narain, director general of the Centre for Science and Environment in New Delhi, India.

Keeling Curve Prize organizers said prizes will be awarded during the Aspen Ideas Festival in June.

– Robert Monroe