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Helmut Weissert

Helmut Weissert
Helmut Weissert

The 2013 Jean Baptiste Lamarck Medal is awarded to Helmut Weissert for his fundamental contribution to the application of carbon-isotope geochemistry to stratigraphy and palaeoceanography.

Helmut Weissert is a pioneer and world leader in the application of carbon-isotope geochemistry to stratigraphy and palaeoceanography. He has made major contributions to characterising and understanding changes in climate and the global carbon cycle through the Mesozoic, including the origin of major carbon-isotope shifts and the origin of oceanic anoxic events. His detailed interpretations of the carbon-isotope record have been instrumental in improving understanding of how the carbon cycle functions through feedback mechanisms linking the atmosphere, biosphere and geosphere.

Weissert’s research hinges on the integration of isotope stratigraphy with fieldwork, lithostratigraphy, sedimentology, palaeontology and palaeoceanography to obtain a more complete view of palaeoenvironmental evolution and the interaction of past climate with the biosphere. This has been instrumental in showing that stratigraphic correlation and palaeoenvironmental reconstructions can be greatly improved by an integrated approach combining biostratigraphy and carbon-isotope stratigraphy. The detailed correlation of sediment sections across large distances has led us to recognise major perturbations of the carbon cycle, changing palaeoceanographic conditions related to tectonic and volcanic events, and their influence on the global climate and environment, including the extinction events at the Permo-Triassic and the Triassic-Jurassic boundaries.
Weissert’s ‘natural laboratory’ and scientific playground have always been the Alps and the surrounding terrains with their exceptional outcrops – however, he has also studied sedimentary successions all over Europe as well as in Oman. Additionally, he has been involved in diverse projects ranging from ophiolite geochemistry to Holocene climate change.

Weissert has an extraordinary passion for sedimentary geology and a catching enthusiasm for science as a whole. He has supervised numerous MSc and PhD studies, and he is an excellent field geologist who has inspired multiple generations of young geologists through his teaching and field courses in the alpine realm. His teaching quality was recognised in 2006 with the Goldene Eule, the yearly prize given by the students to the best teacher of each department of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich (ETH).

Weissert continues to promote Earth sciences on the international scene; he has been a member of the Integrated Ocean Drilling Program Science Planning and Steering Committee, and in 2010-2012 was chosen to be an European Consortium for Ocean Drilling Research distinguished lecturer. He has served as President of the Platform Geosciences of the Swiss National Academy and, since 2012, has been a member of the executive board of the Swiss Academy of Sciences.