28 January, 2006

In memory of Nick Shackleton

Nick Shackleton, one of the pioneers of palaeoclimate research, died last week. By developing the methods required to measure oxygen isotope variations in ocean sediment cores (or, more correctly, in the shells of foraminifera which were preserved in them), he was able to construct a complete record of the waxing and waning of the polar ice sheets. He further showed that these changes could be linked to variations in the shape of the Earth's orbit and could thus be used as a basis for dating the cores. Isotope stratigraphy is now routinely used by scientists worldwide to date and correlate past climate changes.

One of the things that I really enjoyed as an undergraduate at Cambridge was the fact that lectures were given by people at the top of their field; if you want to to enthuse and excite the students, nothing beats someone who is enthused and excited themself telling you about their research. It was no therefore no surpise that the isotope stratigraphy lectures were handled by Nick himself. He was the archetypal academic, sandals and all, and prone to go off on a tangent in the middle of a lecture; but just being in the same room as someone of his stature was an experience. In fact, he and his cohorts almost convinced me to go down the palaeoceanography path, until I found how much I disliked picking forams.

The Cambridge Quarternary Group have a more detailed summary of his life and work here, and have posted some of the tributes which they have received since his death here.

It is sad news, but Professor Shackleton developed an entire subdiscipline of Earth Science and worked at the forefront of it until he died, made a number of fundamental contributions to our understanding of the planet's climatic history, and is warmly remembered by all. That's not a bad legacy.

1 comment:

Ingrid Pearson said...

Dear CJR thanks for this comment about Nick Shackleton. He was a truyl remarkable man and I'm so sad that my time with him was so short. I'm delighted that you were inspired by Nick, and I know that he would've been happy to know this too.

With best wishes from
Dr. Ingrid Pearson
(Nick's partner)