Robert Arbuckle Berner, the Alan M. Bateman Professor Emeritus of Geology and Geophysics and a pathbreaking researcher, passed away Jan. 10 after a long illness.
Berner, who was 79 and a resident of North Haven, Connecticut, joined the Yale faculty in 1965 from the University of Chicago and taught until his retirement in 2007. He was the editor of the American Journal of Science from 1980 to 1990 and president of the Geochemical Society in 1983.
Jay Ague, chair of the Department of Geology and Geophysics, called Berner a “giant of geology.”
“Bob was one of the greatest geochemists and, more broadly, geologists who ever lived,” Ague said. “It is simply impossible to list all of his accomplishments. Much of his research centered on the quantitative geochemistry of sediments, and it’s not an exaggeration to say that he defined the field as we know it. He made seminal contributions to, for example, the geochemistry of sulfides and carbonates in the oceans, diagenesis, weathering, and geochemical cycling. He was a thoughtful teacher and mentor, inspiring a whole generation of geochemists who got their Ph.D.’s or did their postdoctoral research in his lab.”
Berner was born in Erie, Pennsylvania. He earned a B.A. (1957) and an M.A. (1958) from the University of Michigan. He earned his Ph.D. in geology at Harvard in 1962. In 1959, Berner married fellow geology graduate student Elizabeth Marshall Kay. They worked together for decades, collaborating on three books about the global water cycle. Berner also was the author or co-author of hundreds of journal articles, and was a Most Cited Scientist by the Institute for Science Information.
Berner’s many honors included election to the National Academy of Science in 1987 and an honorary doctorate from the University Aix-Marseille in 1991. In 2013, the Franklin Institute awarded Berner the Benjamin Franklin Medal in Earth and Environmental Science. He received various other scientific honors, including a Guggenheim Fellowship (1971) and six medals: the Huntsman (oceanography, in 1993), the Goldschmidt (1995), the Arthur Day (1996), the Murchison (1996), the Bownocker (2001), and the Vernadsky (2012). He also was a member of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences.
“Bob’s research in any one of the areas he studied would have made a spectacular career,” Ague said. “The fact that he made such fundamental contributions to so many areas makes his achievements and legacy all the more remarkable. Arguably his broadest impact has been in the area of carbon cycling. For example, Bob spearheaded the quantitative interpretation of the CO2 content of the atmosphere over the last 600 million years of Earth history. His work provided the basis for virtually all modern carbon cycling research going on today. This understanding of past CO2 levels and paleoclimates has provided an invaluable baseline of comparison for determining the impact of today’s anthropogenic CO2 emissions on the atmosphere and the associated climate change.”
Colleagues and former students also recalled Berner as an extraordinary mentor.
“My experience with Bob has been a guiding light and a badge I wear proudly,” said Timothy W. Lyons, a Distinguished Professor of Biogeochemistry at the University of California-Riverside. Berner was his Ph.D. adviser at Yale.
“It sounds corny, but I’ve described him as the Picasso of low-temperature geochemistry,” Lyons said. “He would dominate, or, more often, create a fundamentally new area of research and then blaze another path, often in a very different area of research, for others to follow. His impact runs so deep and in so many directions that it’s impossible to quantify.”
Lyons and others also spoke fondly of Berner’s passion for music, baseball, and wine. “He showed us the value of finding the right balance between the personal and professional parts of our lives,” Lyons said.
Berner is survived by his wife, Elizabeth; his three children, John (Cathy) of Houston, Texas; Susan Wenger (Mark) of Swarthmore, Pennsylvania.; James (Sheila) of Westport, Connecticut; and seven grandchildren, as well as a brother, Paul C. Berner, of La Porte, Texas. In lieu of flowers, donations in Berner’s name can be made to the Geology Graduate Research and Field Studies fund, c/o Chair’s office and Rebecca Pocock, P.O .Box 208109, New Haven, Conn. 06511.
2015年1月6日，中科院贵阳地球化学研究所陈玖斌研究员来同济大学学术交流，受邀做学术报告：重金属（非传统）稳定同位素Hg, Zn, Fe等在环境地球化学领域的研究应用。作为地球化学领域发展最快的一个方向，陈玖斌研究员的报告深入浅出，介绍了几种重金属同位素运用于河流、湖泊、大气粉尘等环境示踪研究的巨大潜力。
探索生命与时间的秘密：港大张素菁博士精彩报告 Probing into the secrets of life and time: a lecture by Dr. Su-Chin Chang at HKU
2014年5月30日下午，在海洋与地球科学学院及海洋地质国家重点实验室联合主办的周五学术论坛上，我们邀请香港大学地球科学系的张素菁博士做一个学术报告，她以“Applications of High-Precision Geochronology in Evolution”为题，探讨年代的精确测定对地球科学和环境演化研究的重要性，以她在加州大学伯克利分校读博期间，和在哥伦比亚大学、拉蒙特地质研究所进行博士后研究期间开展的工作为例，介绍了当前国际Ar-Ar同位素、U-Pb同位素高精度定年的最新进展，和国际EARTHTIME（年代学）实验室比较分析的计划概况。此外，她在报告中还列举了高精度定年在地球环境和生物演化中的运用实例，包括确定地球历史中第一朵开花植物的出现时间、我国东北热河生物群（中华龙鸟）的出现时间、二叠纪/三叠纪生物大绝灭的精确时间等。整场报告深浅结合，生动有趣，带领听众穿越地球历史，感受到地球科学不同学科交叉发展的巨大潜力，以及学者们对地球环境演化的孜孜不倦探索精神。