The Association of African Women Geoscientists Awards Judith Totman Parrish

The Project

Judith Totman Parrish, a professor of geological sciences within the College of Science, recently gave a keynote presentation at the Association of African Women Geoscientists conference (AAWG) event held in Cairo, Egypt. The conference brought together African geoscientists and professionals and those from other continents to share experiences, knowledge and ideas for the future of the African continent. In her presentation she urged political and business leaders to take a historical and geological perspective when examining important climate change issues.

The Impact

Parrish, who is also the president of the Geological Society of America, was one of five keynote speakers at the fourth international AAWG conference. Over the course of her career, Parrish's research has shown that for most of the last 540 million years, there were no ice caps and polar temperatures were actually quite warm. In her presentation at the world-renowned conference, she stressed that scientific research must inform policy decisions.

She also highlighted that current concerns about global climate change are often built around short-term observations of climate variability. And although she believes the social and political consequences of the results of climate change cannot be ignored, she feels that often lost in the discussion is the fact that climate has in the deep past varied on time scales as fast and with amplitudes much larger than we have observed in the recent past. She believes that this natural variability of climate should be part of the discussion in order to provide context for any proposed actions.

“We are using highly complex and incompletely tested climate models to predict the future behavior of climate, and are making large policy decisions based on the results,” she said. “One area climate models don't handle very well are the polar regions, yet we have never taken what we know from very different past climates and used it to modify the climate models.”

The Vision

Hanaa Salem, AAWG conference chair and professor of geology at Cairo University, said Parrish was chosen for lifetime achievement recognition because of her lifelong commitment to science and geological research.

“. . . because of her progress in her career as a woman, for her honors and awards during her life, and for all her achievement from teaching to research and leader positions.”.

The People

Parrish is currently a teaching and research professor at the University of Idaho, and she also served as the dean of the College of Science from 2003 to 2007. Prior to Idaho, she was the associate dean and professor of geosciences at the College of Science at the University of Arizona, Tucson. She earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in biology and her doctorate in earth science from the University of California in Santa Cruz. She did postdoctoral work at the University of Chicago. Her research expertise is paleoclimatology and she has remained active in field studies in Alaska, Argentina and the Colorado Plateau region. Read Parrish’s AAWG conference abstract Climate change — perspectives from the past.