The Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research AWI and the GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Sciences are well-known and highly respected research institutions that have been advancing German marine research internationally in many fields for decades. A significant contribution to the reputation, also in the polar sciences, of the two institutes was made by their director, Professor Dr Jörn Thiede, geologist and marine scientist. Now the well-known scientist has died unexpectedly shortly after his 80th birthday. Both institutes jointly publish an obituary of their former director. PolarJournal brings excerpts from the obituary.
Jörn Thiede was born in Berlin on April 14, 1941, and as a child experienced the horrors of World War II and the difficult years of reconstruction, even after moving to Kiel. After leaving school, he studied earth sciences in Kiel, Vienna and Buenos Aires, a passion that had gripped him since his schooldays. In 1967 he finally finished his studies in Kiel and went to the University of Arhus (DK) to work as a lecturer for “Exogenous Geology”. His interest from land-based geology to marine geology brought him back to Kiel, where he successfully completed his doctorate in 1971 and further established himself internationally. From 1973 to 1975, Jörn Thiede worked in Bergen, Norway, as a university lecturer and associate professor and as a sedimentologist on the Deep Sea Drilling Project Leg 39 in the central Atlantic.
His move to Oregon State University in 1974 marked the beginning of a lifelong collaboration with Erwin Suess, whom he later appointed to the Research Centre for Marine Geosciences (GEOMAR), which he had newly founded. Both were interested in oceanic upwelling regions. In 1977, he was appointed to the chair of historical geology at the University of Oslo, and Norway became his second home. Here he was involved several times in deep-sea drilling projects, which resulted in several widely cited publications and awakened his devotion to paleo-oceanography. His focus as a paleo-oceanographer on the sediments of the seabed as “the most complete diary of Earth’s history”, as he called it, enabled a deeper space-time understanding of the development of the oceans and the Earth. While in Norway and participating in the YMER Arctic expedition, he also grew fond of the Arctic Ocean.
In 1982, Jörn Thiede returned to Kiel to take up the chair of palaeontology and historical geology, primarily to research the history of the northern latitudes and the Arctic Ocean. In the mid-1980s, the DFG set up a working group on the question of how to strengthen the marine geosciences in Germany – and the result was that in September 1987, GEOMAR was founded as an affiliated institute of the CAU, and Jörn Thiede was appointed as founding Director. He was able to convince the state government to build an enormously visionary new building on the Seefischmarkt site in Kiel, including considerable investment in deep-sea research. With clever appointments from Germany and abroad, he developed GEOMAR into one of the best ocean research centres in the world. Despite many important management tasks, Jörn Thiede continued to participate in sensational expeditions – including with the research icebreaker POLARSTERN and the Swedish ODEN, which reached the North Pole on 7 September 1991.
This was followed in autumn 1997 by his appointment as Director of the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research (AWI) in Bremerhaven, where Jörn Thiede was appointed Professor of Palaeoceanography at the University of Bremen. During this time, he designed important large-scale projects such as the merger with the Biological Institute Helgoland and the integration of the coastal stations Helgoland and Sylt, the extension of the AWI at the double lock Bremerhaven, the midlife conversion of the research icebreaker Polarstern and the new construction of the German research station on Antarctica, Neumayer III. Through cooperation in polar research, especially with the Arctic littoral states, he particularly deepened the cooperation with Norway, France and Russia. The Arctic station AWI-IPEV in Ny Alesund was also built under his aegis. Jörn Thiede worked tirelessly to build up international polar research, serving as President of the European Polar Board from 1999-2002 and President of SCAR, the International Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research, from 2002-2006. He was also Vice-President of the Helmholtz Association from 2003-2006.
Even after his retirement in 2007, Jörn Thiede continued his activities in international cooperation and the support of young scientists, first as professor of “Geology and Climate” at the Danish Geo Centre in Copenhagen from 2008-2011, then with the award of the “Megagrant” from the Russian Ministry of Education and Research and the Cathedra for Paleoclimate Research in Russia since 2010.
Jörn Thiede has received many awards in recognition of his scientific achievements, including the Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Prize of the DFG (1988), the Cross of Merit on Ribbon of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany (1995), honorary citizenship of the city of Bremerhaven (2010) and the International Willy Brandt Prize (2011). Among the international awards, the Murchison Medal of the Geological Society (London), the Grand Prix d`Océanographie of the Fondation Rainier III de Monaco, the Chevalier de l’ordre national du Mérite, France as well as the Honorary Fellow of the EUG and Honorary Doctorates of the University of Gothenburg, Sweden and St. Petersburg State University are to be highlighted. From 1991, Jörn Thiede served as a member of the Academy of Sciences and Literature Mainz, from 2004 and ACATECH, and as a member of the National Academy Leopoldina from 2007. He was a member of the Royal Norwegian Academy of Sciences, the Academy of Natural Sciences – Russian Federation, the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS), the Royal Danish Academy of Sciences, and the Academia Europaea.
Jörn Thiede’s tireless, cheerful and ambitious work at our sites and for Earth system sciences worldwide, as well as his forward-looking expeditionary spirit, are and will remain an inspiration to us. With Jörn Thiede, the world of polar science loses an important and influential integrating figure.
Obituary AW & GEOMAR, edited by Dr. Michael Wenger, PolarJournal