Melillo says his inspiration for the soil warming experiment came from the Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest, another LTER site, where he conducted doctoral research under Professors Herb Bormann and Garth Voigt. He credits Bormann, Voigt, and other F&ES faculty, including George Furnival, Bill Smith, Tom Siccama, and George Woodwell, with teaching him the importance of a systems view in understanding the complexity of the environment. He says F&ES also taught him that ecosystem science is a team endeavor.
“I was in a particularly exciting cohort of graduate students,” he said during a recent interview. “A number of us were working on research projects at Hubbard Brook, so we were able to learn a lot from each other and generally have a spectacular time. My fellow students, together with an exceptional faculty, made my time at the School a “golden period” in my education.”
After earning his Ph.D., he was recruited to work at Woods Hole by Woodwell, an early proponent of global change research. Woodwell was in the process of establishing The Ecosystems Center, focusing on large-scale problems of the environment, including human disruption of the carbon cycle and its implications for climate change. Melillo initially thought he’d seek a university position after spending a couple of years at the Center, but he loved the work and thrived on interactions with his fellow researchers. “I couldn’t imagine being in a more exciting research environment than Woods Hole to deal with the problems I was interested in,” he said.
Melillo, who now also holds an appointment as Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Brown University, is broadly interested in the impacts of human activities on terrestrial ecosystems. His pioneering research includes field studies at sites from the Brazilian Amazon to the Swedish Arctic, and simulation modeling at the global scale. In the 1990’s, he helped design the Terrestrial Ecosystems Model (TEM), a first of its kind model used to predict the long-term terrestrial impacts of global climate change. He has published more than 300 peer-reviewed articles, two ecology textbooks, and three edited volumes on biogeochemistry, and is an elected member of the National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the American Philosophical Society. He also served as lead author of the earliest reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), for which he was co-recipient, with more than 100 of his colleagues, of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize. In the mid-1990s, Melillo served as the Associate Director for Environment, Office of Science and Technology Policy, in the Office of the President. He continued to act on his interest in the intersection of science and policy as he co-led the first three National Climate Assessments for the U.S. Global Change Research Program
(2000, 2009 and 2014).