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Obituary: Roland Schlich (1932–2016)

29 April 2016

Roland Schlich, executive secretary (2002–2004), treasurer (2005–2015), and one of the founders of the European Geosciences Union, passed away on 28 April 2016 of illness.

EGU President Hans Thybo, who worked closely with Schlich for many years, says:

“Roland Schlich was a main contributor to the development of EGU, where he brought in his long-term experience as treasurer and chief executive of the EUG [European Union of Geosciences], as well as his experience from efficiently leading the organisation of the biannual meetings of the EUG in Strasbourg for many years. I recall with great pleasure the day when the two chief executives of EUG and EGS [European Geophysical Society], Roland Schlich and Arne Richter, met to find a way to unite these two organisations. In particular I remember the picture of these two competitors sitting united on a red sofa smoking a cigar as a symbol of the future relations. After the merge, they shared for some years the responsibilities as executive secretary until Roland took over the post of treasurer, which he held until last year. His broad understanding of accounting soon gave us an overview of the economic status of EGU, while he efficiently steered the finances. His vision was to ensure that EGU should have a strong financial basis to secure the Union against consequences of potential economic catastrophes. Roland was clearly the classic, responsible treasurer who always provided conservative budgets, that for a long time guaranteed substantial surplus. On a personal note, Roland had his own humoristic and discrete approach to other people. He had an immense taste for quality wines and it was a privilege to be guided through his superb wine cellar. EGU owes much to Roland for his fundamental contribution to building the organisation.”

Schlich was one of the founding members, treasurer (1981–1996), and chief executive (1996–2004) of EUG, an organisation that merged with EGS in 2002 to establish the EGU. He was instrumental in the unification process of EUG and EGS. Schlich kick started discussions with the then EGS Executive Secretary Arne Richter to reach a preliminary merger agreement, and then officially signed the EGU into existence, together with other EGU founding members, on 7 September 2002 in Munich. He remained part of the EGU Executive until last year.

In an interview for the EGU newsletter published in 2012, Schlich cited early career scientists as an inspiration for his work at the EGU, and highlighted his strong support for the EGU General Assembly travel grants scheme. “Young people often remember the first time they present in public. To me, this is the best publicity we can make for our organisation and one of the most important contributions we can make to the scientific process.”

Schlich completed his engineer diploma in geophysics and geology at the University Louis Pasteur (Institut de Physique du Globe de Strasbourg, now Ecole et Observatoire des Sciences de la Terre) in 1956. After a stint working for an oil company, his research career started at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS) with a expedition to the Antarctic during the International Geophysical Year (1957–1958). In charge of the geomagnetic programme, he wintered at the Charcot Station with meteorologist Jacques Dubois and glaciologist Claude Lorius in a small aluminium hut buried under the ice, located some 320 km inland, in the vicinity of the south magnetic pole.

Thybo recalls: “On leaving for Antarctica, Roland’s future wife Michelle gave him an 8mm movie camera with a large supply of film as a present. The recordings from Antarctica have formed the basis for a splendid movie about the pioneering scientific activities in the harsh polar environment.” The documentary, 365 Days Under Antarctic Ice by Djamel Tahi, is a register Schlich spoke fondly of.

Later, in 1968, Schlich moved into the fields of marine geology and geophysics and launched a long-term research programme in the Southern Indian Ocean. He received a Doctor of Science from the Université Pierre et Marie Curie (Paris VI) in 1974 with a thesis on the Structure, Age and Evolution of the Indian Ocean. He was head of the CNRS Marine Geophysical Laboratory (1972–1980) and served as deputy director for the Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris (1976–1979). He moved to the University of Strasbourg and served as director for the Ecole et Observatoire de Physique du Globe de Strasbourg (1980–1996). Between 1960 to 1998 he produced more than 180 scientific contributions, and supervised dozens of students.

Roland Schlich was a key figure in the history of European geosciences in general and the EGU in particular. The Union will be forever grateful for the work Schlich did to get the EGU up and running and to promote geoscientific discussion in Europe. He will be remembered fondly for his scientific achievements, passion for the geosciences, and forward-thinking attitude, as well as for his enthusiastic story-telling and good sense of humour.