FACULTY AWARD: Philander receives Vetlesen Prize for unraveling El Niño's effects

Jan. 24, 2017 11:15 a.m.

S. George Philander, Princeton University's Knox Taylor Professor of Geosciences, will share the 2017 Vetlesen Prize for his work in uncovering the global scale of El Niño, the world's most powerful weather cycle. Established in 1959, the biennial prize is presented by Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and includes a $250,000 prize. Philander shares the 2017 prize with Mark Cane of the Lamont-Doherty Observatory. Because of Philander and Cane's work since the 1970s, El Niño — once thought to be an unusually wet season in Peru — is now known to periodically influence global weather, affecting agriculture, disease control and flooding or droughts. Philander and Cane discovered that permanent weather instability in the tropical Pacific Ocean creates the complex interaction of winds, shallow currents and surface temperatures that create El Niño's irregular swings in temperature and rainfall. Philander also popularized the term "La Niña," the opposite of El Niño, in which winds pick up to cause less rain in the Americas and more in Asia. Philander, who earned his Ph.D. in applied mathematics from Harvard University in 1970, joined Princeton's faculty in 1990.