Leaders in climate science continue MIT legacy with professorship

Susan Saccoccia | MIT Spectrum
Monday, November 1, 2021

From MIT Spectrum.

FOR A COMBINED TOTAL OF MORE THAN 80 YEARS, Professors Peter H. Stone and Paola Malanotte-Rizzoli have taught and conducted research within MIT’s Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences (EAPS). Endowing a professorship has enabled the couple to extend their shared legacy, Malanotte-Rizzoli says.

In July 2021, EAPS welcomed its first Peter H. Stone and Paola Malanotte Stone Professor in Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences: Arlene Fiore. An atmospheric chemist with 25 years of teaching and research experience, Fiore comes to EAPS from the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences and Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University.

“This professorship embodies and continues our shared legacy,” says Malanotte-Rizzoli, a professor of physical oceanography. Over the years, she and her husband have mentored hundreds of students, postdocs, and researchers who now lead distinguished careers of their own. “Professor Fiore is a superb teacher, mentor, atmospheric chemist, climate specialist, and researcher.”

Fiore brings to EAPS 25 years of experience encompassing both climate science and atmospheric chemistry. After earning her PhD from Harvard University, she held a research scientist position at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory before joining Columbia University. She is a cofounder of the Earth Science Women’s Network and has won several awards, including the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers.

“She is a superb teacher, mentor, atmospheric chemist, climate specialist, and researcher,” says Malanotte-Rizzoli. “Climate science is the science of the future, bringing together all of the earth sciences. She brings to MIT the breadth and depth of expertise to move the earth sciences forward and meet the greatest challenge of the 21st century: climate change.”

“We belong to MIT, and this professorship expresses our shared legacy to our Institute,” Malanotte-Rizzoli says.

Stone and Malanette-Rizzoli were early adopters of cross-disciplinary collaboration. “When we started, in the ’70s, the earth sciences were very specialized,” says Malanette-Rizzoli. “Yet Peter was already a pioneering investigator of climate change.” At the forefront of atmospheric research, Stone wrote and co-authored seminal papers on global warming. Malanotte-Rizzoli has developed climate, ocean circulation, and ecosystem models that synthesize datasets from multiple disciplines to chart the world’s oceans by region.

Stone earned his PhD from Harvard in applied physics and joined MIT in 1972 as a visiting professor of meteorology. As a full professor, he later headed the Department of Meteorology and Physical Oceanography from 1981 to 1983 and was the first director of MIT’s Center for Meteorology and Physical Oceanography from 1983 to 1989. Known for his excellence in teaching, he was also a major contributor to the climate model at the Goddard Institute for Space Studies and earned two NASA achievement awards. He retired from MIT in 2007.

Raised in Venice, Italy, Melanotte-Rizzoli earned her doctorate in quantum mechanics at the University of Padua. She later earned a second PhD in physical oceanography from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. She joined the MIT faculty in 1981 and married Stone in 1987. News of their engagement surprised colleagues. “On the outside, our personalities are very different,” she says. “In things that are important to us, we are twins. Our marriage was made in heaven.”

In 1992, Malanotte-Rizzoli was named professor of physical oceanography, and from 1997 to 2009 she directed the MIT-Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution Joint Program in Oceanography and Ocean Engineering. In 2007, she cofounded the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology Program and led its development of a climate-coupled ocean/atmosphere model of the South Asia Maritime Continent. Since 1995 she has been a consultant to the Modulo Sperimentale Elettromeccanico project in Venice, which in 2020 successfully deployed mobile flood barriers.

For this year’s 17th International Biennale of Architecture, curated by Hashim Sarkis, dean of the MIT School of Architecture and Planning, Malanotte-Rizzoli crafted an exhibit entitled “The Resilience of Venice.” Promoting what she regards as the abiding values of MIT, she has stocked the installation with t-shirts that say, “MIT: Merit, Integrity, Truth.”

The couple announced their professorship on May 28, 2015. “We belong to MIT, and this professorship expresses our shared legacy to our Institute,” Malanotte-Rizzoli says. “Being part of MIT is not our career. It is our life.”

Photo: Sarah Bastille