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Obituary: Arne Richter (1941–2015)

04 August 2015

View of the Mausoleum
View of the Mausoleum (Credit: Mike Smith)

Arne Richter, executive secretary of the European Geosciences Union from 2002 to 2009, passed away on 2 August 2015, after a battle with illness.

EGU President Hans Thybo, who worked with Richter at the European Geophysical Society (EGS) as well as the EGU, says: “Arne Richter was a major contributor to the development of EGU, not least due to his enormous talent for innovative thinking in big terms and his drive to realise his ideas. When he began his term as Executive Secretary of EGS, I was impressed by Arne’s vision to increase the attendance of the general assemblies from 300 to 5000 participants in five years. At that time, Arne was probably the only person who believed in his vision, but time demonstrated that he was indeed right. Some of the secrets were that Arne immediately implemented the bottom up principle in the organisation, which rapidly made the meetings very popular, and he made EGS known to all geoscience institutions in the world through a series of bright yellow posters displaying the programme of the general assembly. Similarly, Arne was one of the first to see the strengths of new editorial principles and open access publishing, which now form the foundation of EGU’s successful publication series. He also always put the early career scientists in front whenever possible, which is the main reason that their union awards are named after Arne. Arne’s visionary thinking has been instrumental in building EGU up to being the premier geosciences union in Europe, which is building on the bottom-up principle.”

A physicist by training, Richter completed his diploma at the University of Hamburg in 1970 and a PhD in plasma physics at the University of Kiel in 1975. He then moved to the Max Planck Institute for Aeronomy (now Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research) in Lindau, where he became an active space scientist until his retirement in 2006. He co-investigated close to 20 space experiments, published over 150 scientific papers, reports and proposals, and contributed to around 200 papers presented as scientific talks at several national and international meetings and colloquia.

At the EGU, Richter had an instrumental role. He was secretary general and executive secretary of EGS — which merged with the European Union of Geosciences to form the EGU in 2001 — from 1988 until its formal extinction in 2003. As such, he was a key player in the founding of the EGU, becoming its executive secretary in 2002 and the member with ID#1 in the EGU database. In recognition of his work, he was bestowed an EGU Diamond Service Award in 2010.

He was also very supportive of researchers in the early stages of their careers. The EGU’s Arne Richter Award for Outstanding Young Scientists, a Union-level award formerly known as the Outstanding Young Scientist Award, recognises scientific achievements in any field of the geosciences, made by an early career scientist. From 2011 onward the EGU Council renamed the former Outstanding Young Scientist Award in honour of Arne Richter for his never-ending efforts to promote early career scientists.

Richter’s visionary attitude and entrepreneurial personality were reflected in his support of open-access, online publishing and in co-founding the Copernicus Society in 1988 and Copernicus GmbH in 2001. In the words of Ulrich Pöschl, an executive editor for the EGU journal Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics (published by Copernicus), Richter was a “a multi-talented character who has made a difference in scientific publishing”. He paved the way for interactive open-access publishing and public peer review, publishing concepts that today are inherent to most of Copernicus and EGU journals.

Arne Richter was an encouraging, passionate and insightful leader who will be thoroughly missed amongst the geoscience and publishing communities he helped shape and inspire.

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