Dan Vergano, Michelle Nijhuis, Times-Picayune win AGU journalism awards

Dan Vergano of USA Today, Michelle Nijhuis of High Country News, and The Times-Picayune have won the American Geophysical Union's 2006 journalism awards.

  • Vergano will receive the David Perlman Award for Excellence in Science Journalism--News for his article, "The debate's over: Globe is warming," USA Today's cover story on 13 June 2005.
  • Nijhuis will receive the Walter Sullivan Award for Excellence in Science Journalism--Features for a three-part series with the overall title, "Hot Times: Global Warming in the West," front-paged in High Country News on 24 January, 18 April, and 17 October 2005.
  • The Times-Picayune will receive a special award for its consistently excellent coverage of scientific research demonstrating the vulnerability of New Orleans to hurricanes and other environmental impacts in the years prior to Hurricane Katrina.

This year's Perlman and Sullivan Awards honor two writers on climate change, representing America's largest daily (circulation 2,300,000) and a twice-monthly newspaper, published by a nonprofit organization in western Colorado (circulation 24,000). The Times-Picayune is the only general circulation daily in New Orleans, with a pre-Katrina daily circulation of around 260,000.

In choosing Vergano's USA Today article, the Perlman Award selection committee said, "Rather than rehashing the debate of the existence of global warming and the accuracy of predictive climate models, his exceptional article...propels us forward through an emerging realization of the global, severe societal impact of global warming to the harsh economic, moral, and technical realities facing industry and policy makers. Mr. Vergano is unusually effective in revealing the linkages between the science of climate change and the complexity of technical and economic decisions facing its mitigation." The winning article may be read at http://www.usatoday.com/news/world/2005-06-12-global-warming-cover_x.htm

In recognizing the reporting of Michelle Nijhuis (pronounced nye-house) in High Country News, the Sullivan Award selection committee said, "This series of articles did a particularly good job of combining science, policy, and human interest in telling the story of global warming from a regional perspective. It was particularly well-written, discussing the techniques used to document paleoclimate throughout the western United States and how to estimate future climatic conditions. The articles include discussions of historical work of considerable interest as well as modern science so it is possible for the reader to see the progression of knowledge with time. By writing a series of articles on a common underlying topic, Nijhuis is able to illustrate the interdisciplinary nature of global warming research and its effect on nature....It is an excellent example of science writing for the public; engaging, informative, unbiased, and easy to follow." The winning series may be read at

The special AGU award to The Times-Picayune originated with a recommendation from AGU's Public Information Committee, which praised the newspaper's diligent efforts over a period of years to inform its readership about such matters as wetland preservation, land subsidence, levee reinforcement, storm surge, and hurricane prediction. In June 2002, the paper introduced a five-part series, "Washing Away," written by John McQuaid and Mark Schleifstein, with this banner warning: "It's only a matter of time before southern Louisiana takes a direct hit from a major hurricane. Billions have been spent to protect us, but we grow more vulnerable every day." A sampling of other articles from recent years includes:

  • "Eroded defenses" -- damage to barrier islands from Hurricane George and the resulting danger to the Louisiana coast (2002)
  • "Turning the Tide" -- relationship between oil and gas drilling and land subsidence (2003)
  • "Coastal erosion theories collide" -- oil production or geological faults? (2003)
  • "Scientists discuss solutions for 'dead zone'" -- call to rebuild hardwood forests upstream and wetlands along coast (2004)
  • "Forces of destruction" -- Hurricane Ivan's damage to highway bridges in Florida could be replicated here (2004)
  • "Arctic ice loss could hurt wetland efforts" -- melt could raise sea level and damage coastal wetlands (2004)
  • "Levees don't measure up, Corps warns" -- some are not actually as high as thought (2004)
  • "Katrina bulks up to become a perfect storm" -- much of eastern New Orleans could be flooded (August 28, 2005)

The AGU journalism awards will be presented during Honors Evening at the Ahttp:// MSA/SEG/UGM Joint Assembly in Baltimore, Maryland, 23-26 May [http://www.agu.org/meetings/ja06/]. The Sullivan and Perlman Awards are named for Walter Sullivan, late science editor of The New York Times, and David Perlman, science editor of the San Francisco Chronicle, respectively. These awards consist of a plaque and a $2,000 stipend. The special award to The Times-Picayune will consist of a plaque.


AGU is the world's largest organization of Earth and space scientists, with 45,000 members worldwide. One of its goals is to encourage excellence in reporting science news to the general public, through journalism awards, mass media fellowships, communications workshops for scientists, and other programs.

For information on the Sullivan and Perlman Award competition, see http://www.agu.org/sci_soc/sci_awards.html#sullivan. Although this page has not yet been updated for 2007, the rules will remain the same as for 2006, and eligibility and deadline dates are simply one year later.

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