Earth scientists include meteorologists, geologists, physicists, geographers, mathematicians, and much more, all dedicated to seeking out the answers to our biggest questions about the planet we call home. Read on to learn more about outstanding academicians in the field of earth sciences and the exciting and innovative contributions they are developing for the broad study of earth sciences.
Considering a degree in Earth science? Visit Our Earth Sciences Page, where you’ll find the best Earth science colleges and universities, career information, interviews with top Earth scientists, influential scholars in the field of Earth science, great books, a history of the discipline, online sustainability degrees, and more.
The Earth sciences cover more than just the ground below us. It is essentially a planetary science, as it studies all of the elements that make up the physical nature of our planet. This includes everything from temperature fluctuations at the Earth’s poles to the role of pollution in climate change. It includes four main areas of study: the biosphere, atmosphere, lithosphere and hydrosphere. There are nearly infinite subdomains within those areas. Some scientists employ a very narrow focus and others view earth science holistically, as a sum of all its parts.
What do earth scientists do other than write textbooks and scholarly papers? They help our governments protect their citizens from dangerous weather events or natural disasters such as volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, tornadoes, and tropical cyclones. They crawl around in the mud, rappel into dark caves, ascend mountain summits, and log hours observing, recording, and analyzing data they have collected, in hopes of advancing our understanding of the world around us.
Interested in majoring in Earth science? To learn more about the most popular degrees in Earth science, check out our Student’s Guide to Earth Science.
In what follows, we look at influential earth scientists over the last decade. Based on our ranking methodology, these individuals have significantly impacted the academic discipline of earth science within 2010-2020. Influence can be produced in a variety of ways. Some have had revolutionary ideas, some may have climbed by popularity, but all are academicians primarily working in earth science. Read more about our methodology.
Note: This isn’t simply a list of the most influential earth scientists alive today. Here we are focused on the number of citations and web presence of scholars in the last 10 years. There are other highly influential scholars who simply haven’t been cited and talked about as much in the last 10 years, whereas some new faces have been making a splash in the news, speaking events, and publishing, publishing, publishing. Our AI is time sensitive. To find some of the big names you might have expected to see here, we encourage you to use our dynamic ranking system and check influence over the past 20 and 50 years.Want more? Discover influential earth scientists throughout history:
Areas of Specialization: Tectono-Stratigraphic Evolution of Rift Basins, Salt Tectonics, Deep-water Sedimentology and Stratigraphy
Christopher Jackson, is a professor of geology at Imperial College London. He earned a B.Sc and a Ph.D from the University of Manchester. Jackson’s work has focused on the evolution of sedimentary basins through stratigraphic, structural, and geodynamic forces. His revolutionary work has earned him a reputation as the leading interpreter of geological and seismic data of his generation.
He is perhaps best known for his work on Expedition Volcano, which was a BBC-produced documentary of extraordinary depth, investigating two of the most dangerous volcanoes in the world, the Nyiragongo and Nyamuragira. Along with fellow researchers and scientists, such as Xand Van Tulleken, Jackson explored the geology of the crater floors and even spent a week camping next to a lava lake 350m down. They were hoping to provide insights that would be useful for early warnings before volcanic activity, as well as to better understand how proximity to the volcano was impacting the lives of everyday people.
Areas of Specialization: Mineralogy
Robert Miller Hazen is an astrobiologist and mineralogist. He earned a B.S. and S.M. in earth science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a Ph.D in mineralogy and crystallography from Harvard University. Hazen is currently the Clarence Robinson Professor of Earth Science at George Mason University and the Executive Director of the Deep Carbon Observatory, a global research study of the impacts of carbon. He is also a research scientist for the Carnegie Institution of Washington’s Geophysical Laboratory.
Hazen has spent much of his career collaborating with Larry Finger. Their partnership has produced significant contributions to the field of mineral physics, including the identification of more than a thousand crystal structures. By the 1990s, he felt that he had exhausted his questions about crystals and moved on to studying the chemical origins of life.
Areas of Specialization: History of Environmental Sciences, Science Policy, Philosophy of Science
Naomi Oreskes is a Professor of the History of Science, and an Affiliated Professor of Earth and Planetary Sciences at Harvard University. She earned a B.S. in mining geology from the Royal School of Mines of the Imperial College London. She went on to earn a Ph.D in geological research and history of science from Stanford University. Her body of work has encompassed geology, scientific methods, climate change, plate tectonics and the history and philosophy of science.
In 2004, she wrote an essay about evolving views on climate change, called Beyond the Ivory Tower: The Scientific Consensus on Climate Change, which has been cited by Al Gore. She also co wrote a book about the climate debate, called Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming, which surveyed views regarding climate change from a history of science viewpoint, and drawing parallels between climate change and other controversial scientific theories such as acid rain.
Areas of Specialization: Climatology, Atmospheric Sciences
Michael E. Mann is the director of the Earth System Science Center for Pennsylvania State University, a climatologist, and geophysicist. He has earned an A.B. in applied mathematics and an A.B. in physics from the University of California, Berkeley, before earning an M.S. and M.Phil in physics, an M.Phil in geology, and a Ph.D in geology & geophysics from Yale University. His work has resulted in new techniques for recording and evaluating past climate data and how to distinguish between useful climate data and statistical noise.
Mann is a prolific writer with more than 200 peer-reviewed publications to his credit. He has written three books about climate, including The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars: Dispatches from the Front Lines, and his co-authored work with Tom Toles, titled The Madhouse Effect: How Climate Change Denial is Threatening Our Planet, Destroying Our Politics, and Driving Us Crazy.
Areas of Specialization: Volcanology, Geoarchaeology
Clive Oppenheimer is a professor of volcanology at the University of Cambridge’s Department of Geography. He earned a B.A. from University of Cambridge, where he studied their Natural Sciences Tripos, and a Ph.D from Open University. Oppenheimer has done substantial research work in Antarctica.
While in Antarctica, where he spent 13 seasons, he lived and worked on Mount Erebus, which is Antarctica’s second largest volcano and the most active volcano in the Southern Hemisphere. He was even invited by the North Korean government, with a couple of colleagues, to study volcanic activity at Baekdu Mountain. He is a noted expert in geoarchaeology and volcanic processes.
He is well known on British radio, with appearances on BBC’s Radio 4 on broadcasts such as The Infinite Monkey Cage and The Museum of Curiosity. His book, Eruptions That Shook the World, inspired Werner Herzog’s film, Into the Inferno. He has been awarded the Royal Geographical Society’s Murchison Award and the Leif Erikson Award. He is a founding member of Cambridge Volcanology.
Areas of Specialization: Glaciology, Ice and Climate, Sea Level Change, Abrupt Climate Change
Richard Alley is the Evan Pugh Professor of Geosciences at Pennsylvania State University and among the most highly cited researchers in the world. He attended Ohio State University before earning a Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin–Madison.
Alley is a prolific writer with more than 240 scientific publications. He has specialized in the study of Earth’s cryosphere and climate change. He has been a highly-sought expert voice, testifying before the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation and the U.S. House Committee on Science and Technology.
He has been a critically important voice on the issue of climate change. In 2007, he shared the Nobel Peace Prize with former Vice President Al Gore and his colleagues on the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, for their work studying the stability of ice sheets and glaciers.
Areas of Specialization: Mineralogy
Isabelle Daniel is a mineralogist for the Claude Bernard University Lyon 1. She earned her bachelor’s and master’s in Earth sciences at the École normale supérieure de Lyon and her Ph.D from Claude Bernard University Lyon 1. She went on to also earn a master’s in geology from the University of Rennes. Her research has focused on mineral interactions under the most extreme conditions available and the extreme pressure or temperatures create conditions inhospitable for life. She also studies the biosignatures of early life in near impossible conditions.
In addition to her work as a mineralogist, Daniel is a professor for the Laboratoire de Géologie de Lyon and also Dean of the Observatory of Earth Sciences and Astrophysics of Lyon. She has been vice president of the European Mineralogical Union since 2016. She is chair of the Deep Energy Scientific Steering Committee for the Deep Carbon Observatory and co-chair of the Deep Carbon Science in the Context of Geologic Time Gordon Research Conference.
Areas of Specialization: Oceanography, Volcanology
Marcia McNutt is the 22nd President of the United States’ National Academy of Sciences. She earned a bachelor’s degree in physics from Colorado College and a Ph.D in earth sciences from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego.
Her accomplishments are vast. She has served as chief scientist on a number of major oceanographic expeditions and conducted notable research on volcanoes and the rheology of “young” volcanoes. She served as the president and CEO of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, during which time they built the Monterey Accelerated Research System, which is the very first cabled observatory to be placed in the deepest oceans. She has also been certified by the National Association of Underwater Instructors to be a scuba instructor and even trained with the United States Navy SEALs on underwater demolition and explosive handling.
Areas of Specialization: Climate Change
Julie Arblaster is a scientist and professor at the School of Earth, Atmosphere and Environment at Monash University. She earned a Bachelor of Technology in Atmospheric Science from Macquarie University and an M.Sc. in atmospheric and oceanic sciences from the University of Colorado. She then went on to the University of Melbourne in Australia, where she earned her Ph.D. studying the drivers of southern hemisphere climate change.
Arblaster has focused her research on the mechanics of past, present and future climate change. By studying the history of climate change through a meteorological lens, she hopes to understand how greenhouse gases and human climate action will impact future climate conditions.
She is a member of the World Climate Research Programme Stratospheric-Tropospheric Processes and their Role in Climate steering group, the Australian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society, American Meteorological Society, Earth Science Women’s Network and American Geophysical Union.
Areas of Specialization: Biodiversity, Ecology
Jesse H. Ausubel is the Director of the Program for the Human Environment and Senior Research Associate at The Rockefeller University, chair of the Richard Lounsbery Foundation, a former executive of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, and an environmental scientist. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Harvard University and two master’s degrees from Columbia University.
Ausubel’s work over the course of forty years has spanned marine life to forests and farms, human population, energy and materials, and climate in an effort to elaborate the vision for a large, prosperous society that emits little or nothing harmful and spares large amounts of land and sea for nature. Ausubel has focused attention on technological solutions for environmental problems, including dematerialization, decarbonization, and land-sparing. Private foundations including Sloan, MacArthur, and Robert Wood Johnson have supported him, as well as US Federal government agencies, including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the departments of Energy and Defense.
Areas of Specialization: Human Geography
Sir Nigel Thrift is the Executive Director of the Schwarzman Scholars and a noted geographer. Thrift studied geography at the University of Wales, Lampeter and earned a Ph.D from the University of Bristol. He has been influential in the fields of geography and economics, and is even credited with inventing the term soft capitalism.
His work has extended beyond geography to the impacts of capitalism and labor markets. He has provided extensive leadership in his field, including as a Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research at University of Oxford and as Vice Chancellor at University of Warwick. In his position at Warwick, he emerged as a controversial figure in light of draconian cuts to research faculty which coincided rather unfortunately with some significant pay increases for himself. Students at Warwick have fiercely opposed these pay increases and remain opposed to them to this day.
Areas of Specialization: Tornadogenesis, Atmospheric Dynamics, Mesoscale Meteorology, Synoptic Meteorology
Paul Markowski is a meteorologist and expert on tornadogenesis and forecasting. He earned a B.S. in meteorology from Pennsylvania State University, and an M.S. and Ph.D. from the University of Oklahoma.
Markowski currently runs a research group that investigates tornadoes using computer simulations and state of the art instrumentation. He conducts studies of atmospheric dynamics, mesoscale meteorology and synoptic meteorology in an attempt to better understand how tornadoes are formed. These discoveries can help scientists and meteorologists provide better early-warning guidance through more accurate predictive modeling.
He has served as the Chief Editor of the American Meteorological Society’s Journal of Weather and Forecasting and serves on the President’s Advisory Committee on University Relations for the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research.
Areas of Specialization: Volcanology, Fluid Mechanics, Sedimentology
Sir Robert Stephen John Sparks is the Changing Wills Professor of Geology for the University of Bristol’s Department of Earth Sciences (where he has been since 1989) and one of the leading volcanologists in the world. Sparks earned a B.Sc and a Ph.D from Imperial College London. His work on igneous petrology and volcanology has been cited more than 10,000 times, making him among the ISI’s Most Highly Cited Researchers. His research has included fluid mechanics, sedimentology, and geophysics and included risk assessment for environmental hazards such as seismic disturbances and volcanic flows, deposits, and eruptions.
He has received significant honors, including the Murchison Medal of the Geological Society of London, the Arthur L. Day Medal of the Geological Society of America, the Arthur Holmes Medal of the European Geosciences Union, and was named a Commander of the British Empire in 2010. He has also provided influential leadership in his roles as president of the Geological Society (1994-1996), president of the International Association of Volcanology and Chemistry of the Earth’s Interior (1999-2003), and as president of Volcanology, Geochemistry, and Petrology (2008-2012).
Areas of Specialization: Surface Hydrology, Soil Physics, Hydrogeophysics, Hydrometeorology
Jasper A. Vrugt is an assistant professor at the University of California, Irvine, a part-time associate professor at the University of Amsterdam, and holds a joint position at the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and the Department of Earth System Science. He has earned an M.S. and a Ph.D from the University of Amsterdam. His research has focused on systems (both man-made and of natural origins) and the way that systems behave and influence the environment. His work has led to the publication of more than 100 peer-reviewed papers, covering topics as diverse as hydropower, engineering, computational science, and irrigation.
He is known for his work on soil physics, hydrogeophysics and hydrometeorology. He has received the Donath Medal (or the Young Scientist Award) from the Geological Society of America, the Outstanding Young Scientist Award from the European Geosciences Union, and the James B. Macelwane Medal of the American Geophysical Union – the first scientist to ever receive all three prestigious honors.
Areas of Specialization: Sustainability Science
Krístin Vala Ragnarsdóttir was born in Iceland. She is Professor of Sustainability Science with the Institute of Earth Sciences and the Institute of Sustainability Studies at the University of Iceland. She also served as the University of Iceland’s Dean of the School of Engineering and Natural Sciences from 2008 until 2012. Vala was the first woman to serve as Dean of a School at the University.
Ragnarsdóttir obtained her bachelor’s degree in 1979 from the University of Iceland, her master’s degree in 1981 from Northwestern University, and her PhD in 1984, also from Northwestern. Before returning to the University of Iceland, Ragnarsdóttir held the position of Professor of Environmental Sustainability at the University of Bristol in the UK.
In addition, Ragnarsdóttir is also Distinguished Fellow at the Bristol-based Schumacher Institute, former Vice President of the New Hampshire based Balaton Group, and Fellow of the London-based Academia Europeae, the Icelandic Academy, and the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters.
Areas of Specialization: Marine Ecology, Interactions Between the Environment and Human Well-Being
Jane Lubchenco is a professor at Oregon State University. She earned a B.A. in biology from Colorado College, and an M.S. in zoology and a Ph.D in marine ecology from Harvard University. Her research has included work on promoting sustainable practices to balance human/environmental impacts.
She has provided exemplary leadership in the sciences. She served as the President of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and during her tenure, sought to promote a scientists’ “social contract”, which outlines the ethical and moral obligations of scientists, in their interactions with the public. She has also served as president of the International Council for Science and the Ecological Society of America. She served as the Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere, as well as the Administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for a four-year term beginning in 2009. As the first woman to lead NOAA, she guided the efforts following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and worked on legislation to prevent overfishing. She also worked to improve the processes and guidelines dictating the efforts of scientists under her purview, creating a Scientific Integrity Policy that allowed scientists to have a voice and be able to speak with the public.
Areas of Specialization: Economic Geography, Urban Restructuring
Jamie Peck is the Managing Editor of Environment and Planning A: Economy and Space, Canada Research Chair in Urban & Regional Political Economy, and Professor of Geography at the University of British Columbia. He earned a B.A. and Ph.D. in geography from the University of Manchester.
Peck considers himself an institutional political economist, and focuses his research on labor regulation, economic geography and statecraft. His most recent books are Offshore: Exploring the Worlds of Global Outsourcing, Fast Policy: Experimental Statecraft at the Thresholds of Neoliberalism and Constructions of Neoliberal Reason.
Areas of Specialization: Geophysics, Geodesy, Geology
Kurt Lambeck is Emeritus Professor of Geophysics at the Research School of Earth Sciences at the Australian National University and former President of the Australian Academy of Science. He earned his undergraduate degree from the University of New South Wales and a Ph.D. from the University of Oxford.
His early research focused on Earth’s gravitational pull and the cause of fluctuations in planetary rotation. He has also studied the relationship between ice volumes, the oceanic and continental lithosphere and sea level change, using the last glacial cycle as the basis for his study.
His multi-disciplinary approach has yielded critical insights into how sea level, terrestrial gravity and the internal structure of the planet. Drawing from oceanography, paleoclimatology, geodesy, geology, and geophysics, he has been able to adopt a more global, nuanced view of climate science.
Areas of Specialization: Dynamic Meteorology, Atmospheric Tides, Iris Hypothesis
Richard Lindzen is an atmospheric physicist and retired Alfred P. Sloan Professor of Meteorology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He earned an A.B. in physics, and an S.M. and Ph.D. in applied mathematics from Harvard University.
Lindzen has made substantial contributions to the field, with papers published on topics such as hydrodynamic instability, planetary atmosphere, atmospheric effects, Hadley circulation, heat transport and climate change. He holds a skeptical view of climate change and has questioned the validity of the computer models used to forecast climate.
His most recent work has explored the idea of Earth acting like an infrared iris, called the iris hypothesis. In this theory, he studies the feedback loop between CO2 levels, atmospheric conditions and planetary warming. While strenuously rejected by many other scientists, Lindzen has openly questioned the validity of current climate models due to their handling of water vapor and surface temperature.
Areas of Specialization: Geochemistry, Igneous Petrology
Terry Plank is professor of earth science at Columbia University and for the Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory. A noted volcanologist and geochemist, Plank has studied the chemistry of volcanic minerals, and studied the development and emergence of magma flows. She earned a bachelor’s degree in earth sciences from Dartmouth College and her Ph.D from Columbia University.
Her interest in volcanos dates back to her time at Dartmouth College. Her professor took her class to the Arenal Volcano in Costa Rica, and from there she was hooked. Her research has taken her to the Aleutian Islands, the American Southwest, Iceland, the Philippines, and throughout the Pacific Ocean’s “Ring of Fire”. Plank has published noteworthy works about how sediments from the ocean floor end up as lava, and how this change occurs.
She was awarded a MacArthur Genius Grant in 2012 and received the Geological Society of London’s Wollaston Medal in 2018. She is a fellow of the Geological Society of America, the American Geophysical Union, the Mineralogical Society of America and the Geochemical Society.
Areas of Specialization: Marine Geophysics, Tectonics, Paleomagnetic Methods
Bruce P. Luyendyk is Professor Emeritus of marine geophysics at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and a geophysicist and oceanographer. He earned his B.Sc. in geology and geophysics from San Diego State University and a Ph.D. from the Scripps Institute of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego. He completed his postdoctoral studies at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.
Luyendyk has studied marine geology around the world, from the tectonics of southern California to the paleoclimate of Antarctica. He has helped discover deep-sea hydrothermal vents and even has a mountain named for him, Mount Luyendyk in Antarctica.
He has led two expeditions of the Deep Sea Drilling Project, which has sought to better understand Earth’s geological past, leading to discoveries that have supported models and theories related to sea floor spreading. He named Zealandia, a lost, eighth continent that has slipped beneath the sea.
Areas of Specialization: Geodesy, Tectonics, Volcanology, Geophysics & Geodynamics
Philip England is a geophysicist and a professor of geology for the Department of Earth Sciences at the University of Oxford. He earned a B.Sc in physics from the University of Bristol and a D.Phil from the University of Oxford.
He has spent his career studying continental tectonics, and using theoretical models rooted in seismology and geology to understand how plates are formed and reformed. His current research interests include an assessment of the risk of tsunami in the Mediterranean, tectonic plate boundary shifts, and stress in the Alpine-Himalayan Belt, among others.
He has taught at University of Cambridge and Harvard University, as well as Oxford University. He has also served as the Chair of Geology at Oxford University as well as Head of their Department of Earth Sciences. He was elected as a fellow of the Royal Society in 1999.
Areas of Specialization: Ecology, Biology, Environmental Science
Pamela Matson is the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Professor in Environmental Studies and a Senior Fellow at Stanford University’s Woods Institute for the Environment. She completed her undergraduate studies at the University of Wisconsin–Eau Claire, where she studied biology. She went on to earn an M.S. in public and environmental affairs from Indiana University Bloomington, a Ph.D in forest ecology from Oregon State University, and postdoc studies at the University of North Carolina.
After school she took a position as a researcher at the NASA Ames Research Center in California, where she investigated atmospheric conditions in the Amazon Rainforest. She went on to a position with the Environmental Science Policy Management Program at the University of California at Berkeley, before becoming Dean of Stanford University’s School of Earth Sciences.
Areas of Specialization: Oceanography, Climatology, Geophysics
Gidon Eshel is a research professor at Bard College, specializing in oceanography, climatology and geophysics. He attended Technion – Israel Institute of Technology before transferring to Columbia University, where he earned an M.A., M.Phil. and Ph.D. in mathematical physics. After graduating, Eshel was a postdoctoral NOAA Climate & Global Change fellow at Harvard University’s Department for Earth & Planetary Physics. He has also since served as a staff scientist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute and a professor of geophysics at the University of Chicago.
He is best known for quantifying the geophysical consequences of agriculture and diet, most recently through his work studying livestock, land and water use, and correlations to pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.