Ghassem Asrar

Nov. 12, 2013

Ghassem Asrar (MS Civ Egr '81) was named the new director of the Joint Global Change Research Institute. The institute, a partnership between the Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and the University of Maryland in College Park, Md., brings together internationally renowned expertise in science, technology, economics and policy to study global climate change, its impacts and solution.

Asrar, who began his appointment Nov. 11, 2013, comes to the institute from Geneva, Switzerland, where he is completing his current role as the director of the World Climate Research Programme, which coordinates international climate research. WCRP is co-sponsored by the World Meteorological Organization, International Council for Science and the intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

"He will bring a wealth of leadership experience working across a broad suite of national and international government agencies, organizations and businesses in developing and advancing research and applications in Earth sciences and climate change," said Marc Imhoff, interim director of JGCRI.

In addition to WCRP, Asrar's experience includes work at NASA's Office of Earth Science as associate administrator and the chief scientist for the Earth Observing System—a satellite-based science program that improved scientists' understanding of Earth's climate and biogeochemical systems. He also served as the deputy administrator for Natural Resources and Agricultural Systems with Agricultural Research Service of the Department of Agriculture.

"He's very comfortable and effective at working in interagency and international contexts," said Antonio Busalacchi, director of the Earth System Science Interdisciplinary Center at the University of Maryland, who worked with Asrar while on a WCRP committee. "He'll take the institute to the next level."

That level, Asrar said, is seizing the opportunity to offer practical solutions for forces that don't always agree: environmental stewardship, energy independence and economic development.

"There is a growing need for action-oriented and science-based information at the intersection of energy, environment and economy in a rapidly developing world," Asrar said. "JGCRI is uniquely positioned based on its capabilities and track record to be an authoritative source of such information."

Charlette Geffen, director of the Atmospheric Sciences and Global Change Division and the Climate Science Portfolio at PNNL, said, "We are working to extend our internationally acclaimed expertise in integrated assessment modeling to incorporate more robust representation of the physical climate and energy infrastructure, to better understand the dynamics of the human interactions with the climate system and potential responses. Asrar's experience and interests in developing science-based information that is relevant to policy and decision makers is a perfect fit for our institute."

Asrar earned two master's degrees, in environmental biophysics (MS '78) and civil engineering (MS '81), and an interdisciplinary doctorate degree in the field of environmental physics (Ph.D. '81) at Michigan State University. He conducted research and trained undergraduate and post-graduate students for nine years in academia prior to joining NASA in 1987.

He has authored more than 100 peer-reviewed scientific and technical papers, primarily in the fields of biosphere and atmosphere studies, and has edited several reference and text books.


The Joint Global Change Research Institute is a unique partnership formed in 2001 between the Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and the University of Maryland. The PNNL staff associated with the institute is world renowned for expertise in energy conservation and understanding of the interactions between climate, energy production and use, economic activity and the environment.