Peter Langdon Ward

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Peter Langdon Ward
Peter Langdon Ward.jpg
Born (1943-08-10) August 10, 1943 (age 76)
Washington D.C., United States
Alma materDartmouth College, Columbia University
Scientific career
FieldsEarthquakes, volcanism, regional plate tectonics, the causes of climate change and extreme weather, and living more safely with natural hazards
InstitutionsU.S. Geological Survey, Teton Tectonics, and Science Is Never Settled

Peter Langdon Ward is a geophysicist specializing in seismology and volcanology.

Life and work[edit]

Ward is an American earth scientist and geophysicist who has studied microearthquakes associated with active fault systems and volcanic eruptions throughout the western United States, Alaska, Hawaii, Iceland, Central America, and the East African Rift System. He developed a prototype global volcano surveillance system[1] that relayed data through the ERTS satellite. He was born August 10, 1943, in Washington, D.C. and was educated at the Noble and Greenough School (1955–1961), Dartmouth College (BA 1965), and Columbia University (MA, 1967, PhD 1970).

In January, 1975, he was appointed chief of the Branch of Seismology, a group of 140 scientists and staff at the United States Geological Survey in Menlo Park, California, playing a lead role in the development of, and initial management of, the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program. This Branch became the Branch of Earthquake Mechanics and Prediction, conducting scientific research aimed at predicting the time of occurrence of damaging earthquakes at a time when such research appeared promising worldwide.

Ward's work to educate the general public about earthquake hazards included writing, producing, and finding funding for a 24-page magazine about the Next Big Earthquake distributed in English,[2] Chinese,[3] Spanish[4] and Braille to 3.3 million homes via 41 newspapers throughout the San Francisco Bay Area of California. Ward won the Public Service Award from the Secretary of Interior, the top award of the National Association of Government Communicators,[5] and was runner up for Federal Employee of the Year in 1991. This magazine set a whole new standard for public education about natural hazards that has been emulated widely. It was featured on Good Morning America.[6]

Ward worked to develop protocols for rapid warning by government officials of people at immediate risk from natural or manmade hazards. He chaired a committee of government scientists[7] at the White House (1997–1998) and, as Founding Chairman of the Board for the public/private Partnership for Public Warning[8] (2002–2004), he laid the foundation for FEMA Wireless Emergency Alerts.[9]

Ward contributed to an understanding of how geologic records of volcanism in western North America relate in detail to motions of tectonic plates under the eastern Pacific Ocean.[10][11]

Global warming[edit]

In a 2009 paper,[12] Ward suggested that "large volumes of SO
erupted frequently appear to overdrive the oxidizing capacity of the atmosphere resulting in very rapid warming" (Page 3188). In addition, he noted that sulfur dioxide is a strong absorber of visible light. He proposed that the rapid increase in global warming during the 20th century was caused by these mechanisms as a result of the rapid increase in sulfur dioxide emitted by the burning fossil fuels.

In 2009, however, Ward noticed that the lowest levels of total column ozone since measurements began in 1927 occurred in 1992 and 1993 following the 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo —the largest volcanic eruption since 1912. He subsequently found that similar depletion of ozone follows most volcanic eruptions, even small ones. From these observations, he argued that sulfate in ice cores is an important measure of the rate of volcanic activity, but that warming appears to result from ozone depletion by volcanic emissions of chlorine and bromine, which allows more ultraviolet-B radiation to reach Earth's surface, cooling the stratosphere and warming Earth. All eruptions deplete ozone, causing warming, but explosive eruptions, unlike effusive eruptions, also form stratospheric aerosols, which reflect and scatter sunlight, causing net cooling.[citation needed] He also argued that chlorine from man-made chlorofluorocarbon gases (CFCs) apparently caused the global warming observed from 1970 to 1998 by depleting the ozone layer, and that reduction of CFC emissions mandated by the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer led to the global warming hiatus from 1998 to 2013, during which relatively little change in globally averaged surface temperatures occurred. Ward argues that the eruption of Bárðarbunga volcano in Central Iceland ended the hiatus, with the eruption of 85 square kilometers of basaltic lava in six months. As with most effusive volcanic eruptions, this one did not form cooling aerosols in the stratosphere.[citation needed]


  1. ^ Endo, E.; Ward, P.L. (1974). "A prototype global volcano surveillance system monitoring seismic activity and tilt". Bulletin Volcanologique. 38 (1): 315–344. Bibcode:1974BVol...38..315E. CiteSeerX doi:10.1007/BF02599410.
  2. ^ Next Big Earthquake English
  3. ^ Next Big Earthquake Chinese
  4. ^ Next Big Earthquake Spanish
  5. ^ National Association of Government Communicators
  6. ^ Good Morning America Feature
  7. ^ Chaired a committee of government scientists
  8. ^ Partnership for Public Warning
  9. ^ FEMA Wireless Emergency Alerts
  10. ^ Ward, P.L. (1991). "On plate tectonics and the geological evolution of southwestern North America". Journal of Geophysical Research. 96 (B7): 12, 479–412, 496. Bibcode:1991JGR....9612479W. CiteSeerX doi:10.1029/91JB00606.
  11. ^ Ward, P.L. (1995). Subduction cycles under western North America during the Mesozoic and Cenozoic eras. Miller, D. M., and Busby, C., Eds., Jurassic Magmatism and Tectonics of the North American Cordillera, Geological Society of America Special Paper 299. Geological Society of America Special Papers. 299. pp. 1–45. doi:10.1130/SPE299-p1. ISBN 978-0-8137-2299-3.
  12. ^ Ward, Peter L. (2 April 2009). "Sulfur Dioxide Initiates Global Climate Change in Four Ways" (PDF). Thin Solid Films. 517 (11): 3188–3203. Bibcode:2009TSF...517.3188W. doi:10.1016/j.tsf.2009.01.005. Archived from the original (PDF) on 20 January 2010. Retrieved 2010-03-19. Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)

Selected publications[edit]

External links[edit]