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Thornton named director of the Climate Change Science Institute at Oak Ridge National Laboratory

The U.S. Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory has appointed Peter Thornton as director of its Climate Change Science Institute, or CCSI, effective November 1, 2022.

CCSI was launched at ORNL in 2009, bringing together the lab’s multidisciplinary expertise and big science capabilities to predict the future of the planet’s climate and to evaluate potential mitigation solutions at the intersection of climate, clean energy, national security and environmental justice. ORNL’s modeling work informs solutions to meet the nation’s climate goals of a 40% reduction in global greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and net-zero GHG emissions by 2050.

“I am very pleased that Peter will help develop and guide new local, regional and national activities within CCSI,” said Stan Wullschleger, associate laboratory director for Biological and Environmental Systems Science. “Peter’s extensive expertise will ensure that our Earth system models provide the best projections of our changing planet and potential resilience strategies for our citizens, industry and society.”

Thornton, who succeeds Wullschleger as CCSI director, has been active in CCSI since its inception and has served as its deputy director since 2017. He also heads ORNL’s Earth Systems Science Section and is Distinguished R&D Staff.

“I am excited to lead ORNL’s Climate Change Science Institute as it provides a focal point for the lab’s efforts to address climate change as a fundamental challenge for the safety and security of humanity within the Earth system,” Thornton said. “CCSI has exemplified a collaborative approach to building a predictive, science-backed understanding of climate change, and I look forward to further work to apply our deep Earth system knowledge to exploring and implementing equitable mitigation strategies.”

Thornton’s work is influential in the field, and he has been recognized multiple times by Clarivate’s Web of Science as a Highly Cited Researcher. He leads a chapter on land cover and land-use change for the U.S. Global Change Research Program’s Fifth National Climate Assessment.

In addition to the impact of his scientific achievements, Thornton exemplifies ORNL’s core value of service by actively engaging in several community outreach activities. He is lead technical mentor for the student-led NASA CubeSat Launch Initiative at Robertsville Middle School in Oak Ridge, serves on the board of the Oak Ridge Public Schools Education Foundation, and has been a mentor to the First Robotics team at Oak Ridge High School.

Thornton began his career at ORNL in August 2008 as staff in the Environmental Sciences Division. He holds a doctorate from the University of Montana’s School of Forestry, a master’s degree in geography and environmental engineering from Johns Hopkins University, and a bachelor’s degree in biomedical engineering from Johns Hopkins.

UT-Battelle manages ORNL for the Department of Energy’s Office of Science, the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States. The Office of Science is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, please visit — Stephanie Seay