The environmental journal, Nature, has selected Jane Lubchenco, head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), as its Newsmaker of the Year. Much like TIME magazine's Person of the Year award, it is not a title that necessarily conveys good things or bad - just that your actions were newsworthy and had an impact on society.
Dr. Lubchenco came to NOAA in March, 2009 with the scientific community having high expectations. As a celebrated scientist with time spent in key positions at the Ecological Society of America and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), many looked to Lubchenco to bring a well-needed reorientation toward science at NOAA. But much the same way as President Obama was immediately put to the test with a faltering economy, so was Lubchenco in the form of the Gulf Oil Spill. That environmental disaster tested her management and political skills and not all was smooth sailing.
However, her accomplishments in other areas have been ambitious and commendable. She has taken strong positions on overfishing through the implementing of the Magnuson-Stevens Reauthorization Act, brought more scientists into the agency, and contributed to the strategic development of the Obama Administration's new ocean policy, among other accomplishments.
Rather than simply recite the excellent article, In the Eye of the Storm by Richard Monastersky, which chronicle's her career, her ups and downs within NOAA to date, and her plans for the future; I have chosen excerpts and you can download a PDF of the entire article here:
"A sprawling department of 12,800 people with a budget of US$4.7 billion, NOAA has responsibilities stretching from the bottom of the sea to the top of the atmosphere and even to the Sun, which it monitors for signs of solar storms (see 'A global reach'). That mandate put Lubchenco at the centre of the government's response to the BP Deepwater Horizon oil-spill disaster — a brutal test for a scientist with little previous management experience."
"As a celebrated scientist and vocal conservationist, she made her name urging other researchers to speak out on issues of public importance, a stance that not all of her academic colleagues were comfortable with. Now, at an age when many of her cohort are easing back, she is taking on the most ambitious challenge of her career: reorienting how the nation responds to pressing environmental problems such as dwindling fish stocks, rising seas and a changing climate. She has bold plans to strengthen scientific research at NOAA, make it more relevant to society and improve the health of ecosystems and coastal communities."
"Lubchenco recalls that she turned down Obama's transition team several times when she was first offered the job. Leaving her husband and research behind in Oregon seemed too big a sacrifice. But in the end, she says, she believed in the new president and in the opportunity to achieve her lifelong goals. "I came to NOAA to lead and enable change where it would make a difference," she later explained. The rough days so far have not discouraged her. "Meaningful change is not for the timid."
NOAA, as a vibrant, scientific-based government agency, can be an important resource and contributor to the development and implementation of vital environmental policy. Let's hope that Dr. Jane Lubchenco can fulfill the role of Newsmaker of the Year by leading NOAA in fully realizing its potential.
Read more about Jane Lubchenco in Nature.com.