Ice sheet expert wins prestigious prize


University of Tokyo professor Ayako Abe has won the prestigious Saruhashi Award, which honors female scientists for extraordinary contributions to natural science, for her research into climate change and global warming models.

Abe, 49, who specializes in climate change modeling at the university’s Atmosphere and Ocean Research Institute, was commended for her accurate projections of the world’s shrinking ice sheets, a factor widely attributed to rising global temperatures that many fear will have a catastrophic impact on sea levels.

The prize is awarded annually by the Association for the Bright Future of Women Scientists.

“Our mission is to persuade those skeptical about global warming that the phenomenon is actually occurring by building up scientific data,” said Abe, who is also a member of the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s team drafting a fifth report on global warming.

Abe, a Tokyo native, developed an interest in Earth sciences after reading a book on the subject while in junior high school. “The Earth does not appear to change, but it does so significantly. I wanted to learn about the mechanisms,” she explained.

She went on to enroll at the University of Tokyo, where she began studying geological layers. But she found the field less than scintillating and briefly gave up on her dream of becoming a scientist.

After considering a career in journalism, however, she ultimately realized she wanted to focus on a different scientific field and resumed her studies at the university, changing her major to geophysics.

She later studied climate system modeling techniques at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich.

“Research on climate models is relatively new,” she said. “It is important to integrate ideas from various fields in a balanced way.”