'Father of Paleotempestology' To Receive Lifetime Achievement Award


A man wearing hip waders stands in front of a large mangrove tree

Kam-biu Liu in the Florida mangroves

– Photo credit: Kam-biu Liu

BATON ROUGE - Kam-biu Liu, the George W. Barineau III professor and chair of the Department of Oceanography & Coastal Sciences, has long been credited as the father of paleotempestology, or the study of ancient storms. Now his work in that field is being recognized by the American Association of Geographers’ Climate Specialty Group, with a Lifetime Achievement Award.

Kelsey Ellis, chair of the Climate Specialty Group, noted that Liu’s research has advanced many areas of research in the paleoclimate field, and that his involvement in the group has helped shape the field of study. “Kam-biu is receiving this award because of his prestigious research in climate science and his support of climate initiatives within the American Association of Geographers,” she said. “Notably, since 1997, Kam-biu has organized a series of sessions on hurricane research at the annual AAG meeting. These sessions have provided unparalleled networking opportunities for geographers, including students, faculty, and other scientists, studying hurricanes from a wide variety of approaches.”

Liu studied geography at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, before completing Master’s and PhD at the University of Toronto. His work as a geographer centers around better understanding ancient climates and vegetation by recreating them, using geological data such as fossilized pollen and sediment cores.   

“Much of my research focuses on how climate has changed in the past (especially the last 20,000 years since the peak of the last ice age) and how the Earth’s ecosystems have responded to these climatic changes,” Liu said. “I have published on the paleoclimate and vegetation changes in various climatic regions in the world, including the Amazon Basin and the Andes, the Tibetan Plateau, Central Asia, the Yangtze River delta and coastal China, East Africa, subarctic Canada, Central America, the Caribbean region, and of course, the Gulf of Mexico coast.”

This research interest in paleoclimate and vegetation gave way to paleotempestology with his arrival at LSU in 1984. From childhood, he had held a fascination with typhoons coming in around the coast of his native Hong Kong, and Louisiana’s hurricane prone coast provided the perfect laboratory for him to investigate the long history of these giant storms.

Liu began to take core samples from lakebeds, looking for remnants of sand pushed in by the storm surge of a long-ago hurricane. The study of these layers of sand gave new insight into the number of hurricanes an area had experienced over a long period of time.

Although he works in ancient timescales, Liu’s work has a big impact on the modern day, as his historical reconstructions provide information crucial to understanding modern climate. “My research outcomes contribute to a better understanding of the long-term history of several major climate systems and phenomena on Earth, such as the hurricanes and typhoons, the Asian monsoon, the westerlies, and the El Nino-Southern Oscillation,” he said. 

This is Liu’s second lifetime achievement award from the AAG.  “It is extremely unusual for an AAG member to be recognized with a Lifetime Achievement Award from more than one specialty group, but Dr. Liu has now been recognized with this award by both the Paleoenvironmental Change and the Climate specialty groups.  This attests to the cross-disciplinary contributions that he has made in his research,” said Robert Rohli, a fellow DOCS professor and member of the Climate Specialty Group. 

Liu will receive the award during the American Association of Geographers’ annual meeting on March 25th in Denver, Colorado.