Born and raised in northwestern Nebraska, Jerry Mahlman received an undergraduate degree in physics and mathematics from Chadron State College, and an M.S. and Ph.D. in atmospheric sciences at Colorado State University. After a 3-year stay in the Meteorology Department of the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School in California, he accepted a senior research scientist position at NOAA's Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory (GFDL) at Princeton University. While at GFDL, he led the development of pioneering mathematical models of the transport of chemicals in the global atmosphere and of the circulation of the stratosphere. Those models are still heavily utilized today to address global air pollution questions, as well as a variety of problems relating to stratospheric ozone depletion and its interaction with the global warming problem.
In 1980 Mahlman was designated as a lecturer with rank of professor at Princeton University. In 1984, he was appointed as the director of GFDL. In that position, he became immersed in the interpretation of the science behind many of the public policy questions relating to stratospheric ozone depletion and to human-caused climate change. In that capacity, he has testified in numerous congressional hearings on ozone depletion and on climate change.
In 2000, Mahlman retired from GFDL and NOAA. Currently, he holds a part-time senior research associate position at the National Center for Atmospheric Research and is a consultant to the Pew Center on Global Climate Change in Washington, D.C. His main emphasis in both of these positions is as an interpreter of the science and implications of climate change to policymakers communities.