Climate scientist, FSU professor recognized

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By Charles Roop
April 13, 2017

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) - Professor Jeffrey Chanton remembers rolling into Tallahassee in his Ryder moving truck listening to the radio as Florida State was winning their championship football game.

"That was a good introduction into Tallahassee and Florida State University," Chanton recalled that moment in 1988 when he started as an oceanography professor.

Fast-forward to 2017, Chanton has his own accomplishment to celebrate. He was named the 2017-2018 Robert O. Lawton Distinguished Professor, the highest honor given by FSU faculty.

Candidates for the recognition are selected by their peers, and are judged on their research, teaching, and service accomplishments to the university.

Chanton grew up in Biloxi, Miss., and spent plenty of time sailing and boating on the water growing up. But he also had a love for chemistry.

He studied chemistry for his undergraduate degree, but wondered what to do with it.

“I was home in Biloxi and one of my high school friend's mother said 'why don't you go into oceanography? Because you like the outdoors and you like chemistry. Why don't you do that?'" Chanton reflected. “Well, that's a pretty good idea."

Chanton went to the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill for his masters his Ph.D. He earned his doctorate in 1985. He would be making that midnight trip in a moving truck to FSU three years later.

His research includes finding out where some oil from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010 went to. He discovered that some of the oil settled to the ocean floor, which could pose a risk to ocean life near the floor.

Chanton looked into climate change – specifically with peatlands and permafrost. He looked into how the defrosting of permafrost could play a role in increasing greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere. He also discovered that some of the carbon in northern peatlands might be safe from rising temperatures.

He never really expected to be where is today in his profession.

"When I was in college, I was so focused on my own educational experience, my classes and what I was doing,” Chanton said. “I really didn't look up and think about the big picture and what I was going to do.”

“I never expected that I would be a faculty member. It never occurred to me. But I have been very fortunate, and things have worked out really well."

Given the current political and social climate, Chanton says scientists should be reaching out to the public and explaining what science is and how it works.

"I can't think of a single more important endeavor for human beings to do than to question how the world works and learn about how and science is the way we do that in a systematic, rational manner."

One piece of advice he could give to future scientists and faculty: Reach out to younger people.

"Our lives are so short, and just when we get it all figured out we're old. So, we really have to focus on young people and convey what we understand to them. And there is nothing more important than education."

Chanton said he was thrilled and honored to receive this accomplishment, and that it gives him a chance to speak for the environment.

"There is seven billion people on this planet, and we do affect the climate. We do affect the water. Through good science and education we have to develop stewardship on this planet to take care of things for future generations."