Catherine O’Riordan named executive director of the Ecological Society of America

Thursday, 8 February 2018
For Immediate Release

Contact: Alison Mize, 202-833-8773 ext. 205, gro.asenull@nosila


Washington D.C.—The ESA Governing Board announced today that Dr. Catherine O’Riordan, interim co-CEO and chief operating officer of the American Institute of Physics (AIP), will join the Society’s staff as its new executive director on April 16. O’Riordan, an ocean scientist and highly accomplished association executive, will be only the third executive director in ESA’s 100+ year history.

“I am excited about this opportunity to lead ESA in furthering its important mission: disseminating knowledge, building strong communities of ecologists, and increasing the understanding among policy makers and the public of the role ecology plays in solving pressing global challenges,” O’Riordan said. “The science of ecology is becoming even more interdisciplinary, and ESA members connect all of the facets of the field.”

O’Riordan has deep roots in the ecological research community, as well as in interdisciplinary science. Originally trained as an engineer, she developed physical and numerical models of ecological and biological systems to better understand river and estuary ecosystems.

Following an extensive search, ESA’s Governing Board unanimously selected O’Riordan from an outstanding field of candidates because of her rare combination of leadership experience with scientific associations, excellent program management and business skills, knowledge of public policy, and background with research.

ESA President Richard Pouyat remarked, “I am very excited by the energy and leadership experience Cathy brings to ESA. Given the many societal challenges we face today, she is well poised to lead ESA in identifying science-based solutions for the environment that also provide benefits for human well-being.”

In her role as AIP’s Interim co-CEO, O’Riordan oversees AIP’s programs and activities including services to its ten Member Societies, Physics Today magazine, and other news, education, awards, advocacy, and history programs. She came to AIP from the Consortium for Ocean Leadership in Washington, D.C., where she directed ocean research and education programs including U.S. participation in the Integrated Ocean Drilling Program, an international program of basic research in marine geosciences. Prior to that, she led public affairs and other programs at the American Geophysical Union.

“O’Riordan is uniquely qualified to bring scientists and policy makers together. She also prioritizes expanding inclusivity and diversity within the science of ecology,” Pouyat commented.

For O’Riordan, the opportunity to lead at ESA continues a lifetime commitment to scientific achievement, advancing scientific policy, and broadening opportunities for participation. “I look forward to working with the ecological community to raise ecology’s profile and cultivate a diverse group of students to become the next generation of ecologists,” O’Riordan said.

Following her Bachelor of Science in mechanical engineering, O’Riordan collaborated with ecologists and biologists to study the impact of pollution on water quality and the ecosystem in Massachusetts before attending graduate school in water resources and civil engineering. She studied the concentration boundary layers that form above benthic bivalves, in the turbulent flow regimes found in estuaries. While conducting research in France for six years, she investigated the transport of organic material and sediments in the Seine River and estuary. She also has experience in numerical modeling of geochemical cycles in Mediterranean coastal waters as part of a multi-nation collaboration in the European Union.

O’Riordan holds a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from Case Western Reserve University and an M.S. and Ph.D. in Civil Engineering, Water Resources, and Environmental Fluid Mechanics from Stanford University.

She succeeds Katherine S. McCarter, who served with distinction as ESA’s executive director from 1997 until the beginning of this year. Upon her retirement in January, ESA’s Board bestowed McCarter with the title of executive director emeritus.

The Ecological Society of America, founded in 1915, is the world’s largest community of professional ecologists and a trusted source of ecological knowledge, committed to advancing the understanding of life on Earth. The 9,000 member Society publishes five journals and a membership bulletin and broadly shares ecological information through policy, media outreach, and education initiatives. The Society’s Annual Meeting attracts 4,000 attendees and features the most recent advances in ecological science. Visit the ESA website at