Wolfgang H. Berger

1993 Balzan Prize for Paleontology with Special Reference to Oceanography

For his pioneering work in paleoceanography using micropaleontological methods to decipher the geological history of our oceans and its climatic implications.

Wolfgang Berger (1937 – 2017) is one of the pioneers in a new field of sciences, in paleoceanography, developed by using marine microfossils not only as stratigraphic tools but also as carriers of environmental information.

Many of his efforts have been devoted to the understanding of the oceanographic factors which control the seasonally and geographically fluctuating organic production, its flux to the ocean floor and the preservation and dissolution of calcareous planctonic organisms, especially foraminifera and coccolithophorida. He used their state of preservation as an indicator of deep water reactivity. Dissolution processes are of special importance for the global carbon dioxide budget because at present half of the deep sea floor is covered by calcareous oozes.

Berger began his oceanographic studies with the investigation of processes in the recent oceans and in cooperation with other scientists and his own students he applied all modern methods from the application of sedimentation traps in the ocean water column to measurements of isotope ratios of Carbon or Oxygen, including material from corals, molluscs and fishes.

As an active participant in the Deep Sea Drilling project, he then transferred these results to former periods in Earth history, especially the Tertiary and the Pleistocene with its transition to modern times.

By many original approaches such as the reconstruction of paleodepths of the oceans – by “backtracking” – or by stressing on the effects of currents on the biogenous sedimentation in the – geologically – changing deep sea basins, he was able to develop an impressive scenario of the evolution of our modern oceans and its implications to oceanic and atmospheric climates. He demonstrated that climatic changes often occurred in abrupt steps: an important message for our actual reflections about “Global Change”.

Berger’s imaginative research is characterized by his capacity to integrate all branches of oceanographic science: physical, chemical, biological and geological/geophysical. In his investigations he covers timespans from annual layers to millions of years, he combines global aspects with special situations, e.g. productivity in upwelling areas or the characteristics of the carbonate cover of the Ontong-Java-Plateau in the Southwest Pacific and its environmental implications. General and original ideas combined with detailed micropaleontological studies on sediment cores on board and in the laboratory made his work exemplary.

With his broad view on the whole ocean and its historical evolution he stimulates substantially and continuously the current approaches and ideas in paleoceanography.

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