Rosenstiel professor awarded endowed chair in earth sciences

Ben Kirtman, professor of atmospheric sciences at the Rosenstiel School of Marine, Atmospheric, and Earth Science, was named the William R. Middelthon III Endowed Chair in Earth Sciences to support research on disaster preparedness and climate variability—areas that reflect the commitment of philanthropist William R. Middelthon III to advance the school’s vital initiatives.

CORAL GABLES, Fla., May 19, 2023 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- William R. Middelthon III credits his grandmothers for cultivating his love for the environment—a passion that eventually led him to establish a plant nursery, South Florida Flower Tree. In the same breath, he explains that his Hurricane Andrew experience inspired him to establish an endowed chair in earth sciences after the Category 5 storm—which wasn’t predicted to hit South Florida until two days before landfall—destroyed his business some 30 years ago. 

Earlier this month, the Rosenstiel School of Marine, Atmospheric, and Earth Science at the University of Miami awarded the inaugural William R. Middelthon III Endowed Chair in Earth Sciences to Benjamin Kirtman, a professor in the school’s Department of Atmospheric Sciences. 

“I am honored to have the opportunity to establish this endowed chair," said Middelthon, a longtime supporter of the school’s research and education initiatives. “I believe that the school is doing important work in weather forecasting and natural disaster preparedness. I am proud to support its efforts.” 

“Endowed chairs leave a lasting legacy by serving as magnets for talent, which foster discovery,” President Julio Frenk said during the ceremony. “They enable the greatest institutions to have access to the finest minds—leading researchers, engaged educators, and eager students—who impact thousands of lives through their teaching, guidance, and innovation.” 

Middelthon’s support of the University began in 2010 when he met the late professor Robert Ginsburg, founder of the Rosenstiel School’s Comparative Sedimentology Laboratory, who stressed that funding was essential to advance research. 

Over the years, he developed a strong friendship with Roni Avissar, dean of the Rosenstiel School, and a deep appreciation for its ongoing research—particularly as it relates to forecasting of natural disasters—which led him to establish the endowed chair. He also offered Broad Key, with its dock and ocean-to-bay access, for use as the Rosenstiel School’s primary field station and has supported various initiatives at the school, including the Aircraft Center for Earth Studies and the Helicopter Observation Platform Fund. 

Kirtman, who also serves as director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Cooperative Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Studies and deputy director of the University’s Institute for Data Science and Computing, has dedicated his career to studying the variability and predictability of the Earth’s climate system by using atmosphere-ocean general circulation models. 

“I am deeply honored to be the first recipient of the William R. Middelthon III Endowed Chair in Earth Sciences,” said Kirtman. “This endowment will allow me to continue my research and teaching in the field of earth sciences and to make a positive impact through my work.” 

A fellow of the American Meteorological Society, Kirtman’s research spans a wide range of time scales, from the study of daily weather patterns to long-term trends. One of his most important contributions has been his work on improving the accuracy of climate predictions. By developing more sophisticated models, he has helped create a more accurate picture of the Earth’s climate system, which can help policymakers make better-informed decisions. 

Kirtman’s research also has shed light on how climate change is likely to impact different regions of the world, identifying potential risks from rising sea levels and changes in precipitation patterns to more frequent extreme weather events. 

The William R. Middelthon III Endowed Chair in Earth Sciences is part of the University’s Centennial Talents initiative, a bold plan to significantly increase the number of endowed positions by 2025 in celebration of the University’s centennial. To date, the University has secured 97 new talents. 

Avissar explained that the Middelthon Endowed Chair will further enhance the Rosenstiel School’s ability to conduct groundbreaking research in earth sciences, significantly facilitating advancements in weather forecasting, which will help businesses, communities, emergency planners, and resource allocators better prepare for potentially catastrophic weather. 

“Billy’s gift to endow a chair in earth sciences at the Rosenstiel School will ensure our school’s commitment to maintain a leadership role in furthering our understanding of our complex planet,” Avissar said. “I’m very grateful for Billy’s friendship and support of our school.” 

“Can I help people avoid that risk of loss of life? Can I give them an early warning?” Kirtman asked. “That’s something that you can get pretty excited about. This is an opportunity to do high-risk, high payoff science that has a direct local relevance.”


William R. Middelthon III Endowed Chair in Earth Sciences

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