September 18, 2023
Staff Accomplishment

An Award for Ward: AGU Bestows Honor

Researcher at PNNL earns an early career laurel for contributions to biogeosciences

Nick Ward

PNNL's Nick Ward, an Earth scientist, has received the Thomas Hilker Early Career Award.

(Photo by Andrea Starr | Pacific Northwest National Laboratory)

Nick Ward’s research has covered quite a bit of ground—and rivers, oceans, and wetlands.

His drive to probe the interfaces of terrestrial landscapes and bodies of water to better understand how carbon travels in the environment is one of the attributes that helped him garner this year’s Thomas Hilker Early Career Award for Excellence in Biogeosciences. The award is presented by the American Geophysical Union (AGU), a global community supporting more than half a million advocates and professionals in Earth and space sciences.

“I was totally surprised and honored,” Ward said. “I’ve been an active participant in AGU meetings since first attending the Fall Meeting in grad school, about 12 years ago, so it’s awesome to be acknowledged by this organization for my contributions to the field.” Ward is an Earth scientist at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory’s (PNNL’s) Marine and Coastal Research Laboratory at Sequim, WA. He joined PNNL in 2016.

He was recognized by AGU in part for creatively and broadly deepening the understanding of carbon cycling processes. He has tracked carbon from the atmosphere through land, rivers (including the Amazon), and the ocean. “My career goal has been to connect dots, to reach across different disciplines and apply diverse approaches, and not work in a silo,” he explained. Peers note that Ward remarkably has established expertise in five different fields of research to understand carbon cycling.

Some of his early work as a grad student, which provided a new perspective on the idea that carbon sequestered in terrestrial systems remains either locked in the soil or non-reactive in aquatic environments, has been among his most fulfilling. “My research demonstrated that actually quite a lot of carbon moves from land to water, and once it's in the water, it can be highly reactive and return to the atmosphere as carbon dioxide,” he said.

Along with his science accomplishments, Ward is known for his excellence in mentoring young researchers. He also champions the advancement of biogeochemistry through peer-reviewed research. Some of his more than 50 papers since joining PNNL have included titles such as “Where Carbon Goes When Water Flows: Carbon Cycling Across the Aquatic Continuum” and “Representing the Function and Sensitivity of Coastal Interfaces in Earth System Models.”

The Hilker award has been presented to one individual annually since 2019. The honor recognizes unusually creative work by an early career scientist that advances scientific understanding of biogeosciences. Ward will be recognized at AGU23, which convenes more than 25,000 attendees from over 100 countries in San Francisco in December.

Earlier this year, Ward was also named a fellow of the Association for the Sciences of Limnology and Oceanography.

Published: September 18, 2023