Anderson graduated summa cum laude from the University of Washington in 1975 with a double major in chemistry and in oceanography. In 1981 he was awarded his PhD in Chemical Oceanography from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology - Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution Joint Program in Oceanography. Since 1981 he has been at the Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory, rising through the ranks until reaching his current position of Ewing-Lamont Research Professor in 2010. Along the way he has taught chemistry of the ocean and of continental waters and served as Associate Director for the Observatory (2003 to 2008), when he oversaw the construction of the Comer building for the Geochemistry Division.
As a student, Anderson was convinced that naturally occurring radionuclides could be used to quantify the rates of key processes in marine biogeochemical cycles. Some of the essential principles were defined initially in the paper by Bacon and Anderson (1982). GEOSECS, the first program to systematically study the chemistry of the ocean at a global scale, was then demonstrating the value of synthesizing results from diverse sources. In 2000, following these principles, Anderson teamed with international scientists as architects of a program to study the marine biogeochemistry trace elements and their isotopes, GEOTRACES. The value of using radionuclides to establish rates is shown in Anderson et al. (2009), where rapid changes in the circulation of the ocean around Antarctica were first demonstrated to be responsible for the release of CO2 to the atmosphere as Earth emerged from the last ice age. Work on this project led to a partnership with George Denton to synthesize records from the ocean and from land, respectively, to define features that characterized Earth’s last transition from ice age to interglacial conditions (Denton & Anderson et al., 2010). By elucidating the important role of ocean circulation, it was possible to determine that the low atmospheric CO2 levels of the Pleistocene ice ages was due to increased storage of CO2 in the deep ocean (Anderson et al., 2019). Now, a growing number of synthesis papers from the GEOTRACES program (Anderson, 2020) are exploiting naturally occurring radionuclides to establish rates of processes that regulate the chemistry of the ocean, such as the delivery of dust from the continents, the sinking flux of biogenic material exported from the surface ocean, and the accumulation of sediments world wide, bringing to fruition Anderson’s dream in graduate school.