Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences

New CIRES Director: Waleed Abdalati

New CIRES Director: Waleed Abdalati


The Council of Fellows and University of Colorado Boulder have selected Waleed Abdalati, Ph.D., as the new director of the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES). Abdalati currently is a CIRES Fellow, professor in the Department of Geography at the University of Colorado Boulder and director of the CIRES Earth Science and Observation Center (ESOC). He will take office July 1, 2013.

“It is an honor to be selected as director of an organization full of such talented people doing such important work,” Abdalati said. “The depth and breadth of the outstanding scientists at CIRES and the societal importance of the research we do make CIRES a truly special place.”

Abdalati’s research focuses on using satellites and aircraft to understand how Earth’s ice cover, particularly glaciers and ice sheets, is changing and what those changes mean for life on the planet. He became ESOC director in 2008 and led the Ice Cloud and land Elevation Satellite-2 (ICESat-2) Science Definition Team, developing capabilities to map and understand changes in ice-sheet elevations by using space-based laser altimetry.

Abdalati earned a bachelor of science degree from Syracuse University in 1986; a master of science degree from the University of Colorado in 1991; and a Ph.D. from the University of Colorado in 1996, working with CIRES scientist Konrad Steffen. He went on to work as a scientist at NASA for 12 years before returning to CIRES.

“This appointment has special meaning for me because I earned my Ph.D. at CIRES 17 years ago, and back then, I never could have imagined serving as its director,” Abdalati said.

From January 2011 to December 2012, while on leave from the University of Colorado, Abdalati was NASA’s chief scientist, advising Administrator Charles Bolden on NASA science programs and strategic planning. He has published more than 60 scientific papers and technical reports; lectured to a wide range of audiences throughout the world, including scientists, policy makers, the media, and the general public; and received many notable honors and awards, including the NASA Exceptional Service Medal and, from the White House, the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers. Abdalati now brings that expertise to his new role as CIRES director.

“CIRES is a highly respected voice in the international environmental research community and, for nearly 50 years, has conducted cross-disciplinary science that helps NOAA carry out its mission to better monitor and understand our oceans and atmosphere,” said Robert Detrick, Ph.D., assistant administrator for NOAA’s Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research. “We congratulate Dr. Abdalati on his selection, and we look forward to working with him in his new position.”

Dr. William M. Lewis, Jr., has been at the helm of CIRES serving as interim director since the retirement of the previous CIRES director in the summer of 2012. CIRES has thrived under Dr. Lewis’s leadership, successfully adapting to the budget impacts of federal sequestration and securing the next five years of its core funding to support its collaborative work with NOAA, according to Stein Sture, vice chancellor for research at the University of Colorado Boulder.

“Bill’s efforts on behalf of CIRES, NOAA, and the university have strengthened CIRES and positioned the institute well for continued success in the coming decade,” Sture said.

“I am looking forward to helping CIRES fully realize that success,” Abdalati said.