Published: Sept. 16, 2019

Mark Serreze

The Department of Geography is proud to announce Professor of Geography Mark Serreze has been named a University of Colorado Distinguished Professor by the Board of Regents. Mark is the director of the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC).

This is the highest honor awarded to faculty across the 4 campuses of the CU system—distinguished professorship. After the CU campuses nominate faculty for the award, President Mark Kennedy then reviews the nominations and, with the recommendation of the Distinguished Professors Committee, forwards the candidates' names to the Board of Regents. In order to receive this distinction, candidates must demonstrate exemplary performance in research or creative work, have a record of excellence in classroom teaching and supervision of individual learning, and exhibit outstanding leadership and service to the profession. Only 106 faculty members have received the distinguished professorship since its inception in 1977. 

Mark Serreze“If I have achieved anything in my career that merits this recognition, it is because of the support that I have received from my family, colleagues and the University of Colorado,” said Serreze. “I have had the rare and enviable opportunity at this University to stand not alone, but as one in the midst of excellence.”

Mark received his doctorate in geography from CU Boulder in 1989 for his work in Arctic sea ice variability. Today, his work focuses on the rapid changes occurring in the Arctic. He is one of the most published scientists in his field. His work has significantly improved our understanding of the Arctic’s role in global climate. His books include the award-winning textbook “The Arctic Climate System” and last year’s “Brave New Arctic: The Untold Story of the Melting North,” which has received critical acclaim for its impact on audiences beyond academia. Under his leadership, NSIDC continues to be the world’s leading source for data and information about our planet’s snow and ice.

Mark recently answered questions about his research and life:

As you know, the title “distinguished professor” is an honor that recognizes distinguished scholarship, excellent teaching and outstanding teaching and service; what reaction do you have to receiving this honor?

I always strive to be the best I can be in research, teaching and service to the University of Colorado and I bleed black and gold. But to receive recognition as a distinguished professor is very unexpected. I look at those who have preceded me and they seem so much more deserving. Simply put, I am humbled. 

If you were to briefly tell an audience of high-school students why they should study the cryosphere, what would you say?

Snow and ice are cool! The cryosphere acts as the natural refrigerator of our planet, and in many parts of the world, the water that slakes our thirst and that we use for agriculture and other purposes comes from snow and ice. Where would winter sports be without snow and ice?  But it also presents hazards, ranging from avalanches to slippery roads to even ice cream headaches. 

The world needs more people who know about the many facets of the cryosphere.

NSIDC is perhaps best known for tracking the Arctic sea-ice minimums each year; what would you like the general public to know about the center besides this?

The public needs to know that NSIDC has a mission: "To be the authoritative data management and science center for cryospheric data and research. We advance understanding of Earth's frozen regions and the changes taking place to inform decision making in service to humanity and Earth."  We are proud of what we do, because what we do is very important. And we are proud to pursue our mission as part of the University of Colorado. 

The National Academy of Sciences has expressed concern that several factors are limiting the ability of labs like yours to attract enough talented graduate students and post-docs; is this also a concern of yours, and, if so, do you have any observations about the topic?

Our country needs to invest heavily in science. We need more science at all levels of education, from K-12 and beyond, especially in areas such as mathematics, physics, biology and chemistry. Students who want to pursue careers in science must be supported. We must provide our educators the resources that they need, and recognize, financially and in other ways, the huge responsibilities that they carry.   

Agencies like the National Science Foundation, NASA, NOAA and the National Institutes of Health that support basic research need to be viewed as crown jewels of our nation and given the full support they need to lead us into the future.  

When did you know that you would devote your career to the study of snow and ice?

While I had inklings as a child while growing up in Maine where winters were very real (I have some horror stories about things like daredevil sledding and riding ice floes down the Kennebunk River), I think the real decision point was back in 1982, when I first visited the Arctic as a young graduate student. It was a magical day when I stepped off that ski-equipped Twin Otter at the top of an ice cap into a world of pristine white. I knew then I had found my calling.  

For additional coverage, see:

-CU Boulder's Colorado Arts and Sciences Magazine

-CU System News

-CU Boulder Today