Francis Zwiers, SSC Award for Impact of Applied and Collaborative Work 2011

Francis Zwiers
SSC Award for Impact of Applied and Collaborative Work
At its Annual Meeting held in Wolfville, NS, June 12-15, the Statistical Society of Canada announced that Francis Zwiers is the 2011 recipient of the Award for Impact of Applied and Collaborative Work. The award recognizes outstanding contributions by SSC members in collaborative research and applied work, the importance of which derives primarily from its relatively recent impact on a subject area outside of the statistical sciences, on an area of application, or on an organization.
This year the award is presented to Francis Zwiers
“in recognition of his pioneering research at the intersection of climate science and statistics; for his fundamental contributions to the development of statistical methods for climate studies; for his national and international achievements in climate science; and for his outstanding record of public service.”
Born on April 21, 1951 in Steenwijk in the Dutch province of Overijssel, The Netherlands, Francis emigrated to Canada with his parents in 1956. He obtained a B.Math. in statistics and computer science from University of Waterloo in 1974. He then moved east for graduate studies, earning a M.Sc. in sampling theory from Acadia University in 1976 and a Ph.D. in time series analysis from Dalhousie University in 1980.
Environment Canada, the main home for his professional life, provided great opportunities for research, administrative and mentoring work. From 1984 to 2006 he worked as a research scientist in its Climate Research Division, climbing the ranks from level RES-02 to RES-05. Francis was Acting Chief (2000-01) and Chief (2001-06) of the Canadian Centre for Climate Modeling and Analysis of the Climate Research Division. He also served as Director (2006-10) of the Climate Research Division. His academic posts include Assistant Professor at University of Saskatchewan (1981-84), and Adjunct Professor at University of Victoria (1995-2008, 2010-present), University of Toronto (2010-present) and Simon Fraser University (2010-present). Since 2010, Zwiers is Professor and Director of the Pacific Climate Impacts Conssortium at University of Victoria.
Zwiers has authored or co-authored over 100 research papers and book-chapters covering a wide range of topics in climate science and statistics. His work is highly cited, averaging over 33 citations per item. Francis is co-author (with Hans von Storch) of the monograph Statistical Analysis in Climate Research (Cambridge University Press, 1999). The monograph has become the standard reference on statistical methodologies in the field of climate science. Keenly interested in mentoring, Francis has supervised or participated in supervisory committees of over 30 graduate students and postdoctoral fellows.
Francis Zwiers is acknowledged internationally as a world leader in the use of innovative statistical techniques for investigating a variety of challenging problems in climate change: the detection and attribution of change in the climate system, the analysis of temperature and precipitation extremes in present and future climates, climate predictability and variability, seasonal prediction, and the quantification of uncertainties associated with global climate models’ predictions. Fundamental understanding has emerged from his investigations. For instance, his recent work on detection and attribution has established a clear human influence in the observed changes in a variety of climate-related variables on global and regional scales: temperature and precipitation, and their extremes, atmospheric storminess and northern ocean wave heights, Canadian forest fires, high-latitude precipitation and most recently, precipitation extremes. Perhaps the most enduring impact of Francis’ work is that statistical science approaches have become an integral part of many facets of climate science.
An important element of his professional career is his effectiveness as a communicator of climate science and its application to societal changes. He is able to convey the important role that statistical science plays in establishing the validity of new research findings. The scientific areas in which he works are complex and difficult for non-specialists to understand. He is able to convey the essence of new research findings and their complexity in an understandable manner to both scientific colleagues and a broad range of audiences, including students, government officials and policy makers, and other non-specialists. One of his many accomplishments has been to raise the profile and credibility of Canadian climate science at home and abroad as a result of his ability to communicate his science. His publications that combine climate science and statistics, in prestigious journals such as the Journal of ClimateClimate DynamicsNature and Science, are frequently cited to have altered the way climate science is approached.
Zwiers typically works in a collaborative mode with colleagues in climate science as well as across disciplines. He is an unflagging advocate for the application of credible statistical approaches in climate science and, in turn, encourages colleagues in mathematics and statistics to tackle difficult climate problems with innovative approaches to data analysis and the detection of attribution of climate change. He has been a key player in multiple collaborative scientific activities in Canada, for example, the Canadian Climate Variability Network, supported by the Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospheric Sciences and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council.
His approaches have been adopted in the scientific activities and organizations such as the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), and the World Climate Research Program (WCRP). In the WCRP Francis has been a strong advocate for the establishment and application of sound statistical approaches in climate model intercomparisons for the evaluation of models and results. In the IPCC he was co-leader on the Chapter of the Fourth Assessment Report that presented the evidence supporting the key IPCC assessment that most of the warming during the past 50 years is very likely due to human influences on the climate system. As co-chair of the Joint WMO CCI/CLIVAR/JCOMM Expert Team on Climate Change Detection and Indices (ETCCDI), Francis brought to the committee statistical approaches for developing climate indices that were based on Canadian research in statistical climatology. The technology developed by ETCCDI has been transferred to users in hydro-meteorological services throughout the world.
Zwiers has been an effective and motivating mentor to students, postdoctoral fellows and young researchers, both in government laboratories and in his role as an Adjunct Professor at Universities of Victoria and Toronto, and Simon Fraser University.
Francis’ work has received numerous awards, including thePresident Prize from the Canadian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society, The Patterson Distinguished Service Medal from the Meteorological Service of Canada, the International Meetings on Statistical Climatology Achievement Award, and the WMO Award for Exceptionally Long Term Service to the Commission for Climatology. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada and the American Meteorological Society.
Francis lives in Victoria with his wife Donna. He has three adult children who have earned undergraduate and graduate degrees in computer science and applied mathematics. In his spare time, he does photography of birds and other subjects. When asked about how he got interested in statistics, he swiftly responded: “It was Jack Robinson’s introductory 2nd year level stats course at Waterloo that did the trick.”

The citation for the award reads: 

Francis Zwiers will deliver the SSC Impact Award Address at the 2012 Annual Meeting of the Society to be held June 3-6 in Guelph, ON.