Farewell to PAGES' co-chair
- Published: Monday, 12 December 2016 11:09
Positive answers to two seemingly unrelated questions have led to an outstanding career dedicated to ice-core research for PAGES' outgoing co-chair Hubertus Fischer.
'Do you ski?' and 'Can you cook?' were enough to lure Fischer away from other Master's thesis possibilities. "I could full-heartedly say yes to both."
The questions were posed in 1993 by his eventual University of Heidelberg MSc and PhD supervisor Dietmar Wagenbach, who promptly asked if Fischer was willing to help conduct research in Greenland. He went twice within two years, further fueling his passion for ice-core studies. "These two trips to Greenland in 1993 and 1994 were real expeditions," said Fischer. "We rode over 1000km over the ice on skidoos, drilling shallow cores every 50km. It was not with sled dogs of course, like in the old days, but it was really going 'into the unknown'.
"Deep ice-core drilling projects are more organized, so those two expeditions were my first and most lasting experience, because of the remoteness ... to be in the field, taking care of your science and yourself … the beauty of the ice sheet and the solitude. It was also exhausting!"
Along with field work in Greenland with the NorthGRIP and NEEM deep ice-core projects, Fischer went to Antarctica in 2002/3. "For me, Greenland was my first polar impression, an amazing experience, but the sheer size of the Antarctic was overwhelming."
Now, more than 20 years later, and with a world record under his belt, Fischer is rotating off as PAGES' co-chair, a role he has relished for the past six years.
"PAGES is not a paleoscience union or society – we bring paleo people together for the sake of paleoscience and of our planet," he said. "We have the mission to apply our knowledge to current societal challenges – climate change, change of biodiversity over time, unsustainable use of resources (soil, clean air etc) … all those things that the planet provides us for free and that we, unfortunately, take for granted.
"We in PAGES are very good at activating the community and providing results. Continuous and generous funding from the US and Swiss National Science Foundations made a big difference too – that continuity allowed us to set up such a large science program, to keep the community informed and to create a community spirit."
Fischer's first experience with PAGES was in 2005, as an invited speaker at the Open Science Meeting in Beijing. He then came to Bern on sabbatical to be the guest editor of a PAGES Magazine on ice cores and joined two Scientific Steering Committee meetings (Australia and Japan) as a representative of ice-core science. Heinz Wanner was PAGES' co-chair at the time, and asked if Fischer would be interested in taking over.
"PAGES is dear to me in many respects (he met his wife Leah in the PAGES office). It was nice to be able to make a difference in paleoscience beyond just producing your own results, as well as bridging the gap between knowledge creation and impact. I enjoyed that PAGES is supporting young scientists to become more responsible in their roles, through various working groups and the Young Scientists Meeting and I'll miss the friends in the Scientific Steering Committee - it's a really nice and dedicated crowd."
The transition from IGBP to Future Earth was the greatest challenge of his PAGES' tenure, and the 2013 PAGES Open Science Meeting in Goa, India, his top highlight. "I hope I leave PAGES in a well-ordered way. We've gone through many changes and turbulences, but we are in a 'steady stream' again – maybe not as big as the Mississippi as before, since climate science is moving slowly away from basic science towards societal impacts. However, with PAGES being the only Future Earth core project that deals with the long time scales of change relevant to assess the impact of greenhouse gas changes on many components of the Earth system (such as ice sheets, biogeochemical cycles, soils etc.), we have to make it clear why PAGES is important and no doubt we will. We have many new working groups highly relevant to Future Earth research and I have no doubt PAGES can make a valuable contribution to Future Earth."
Now Fischer will focus on his 'normal' roles in the division of Climate and Environmental Physics at the University of Bern, Switzerland, and as president of the Swiss Commission for Polar and High Altitude Research of the Swiss Academy of Sciences, as well as his dual grant-winning work with the Oeschger Centre for Climate Change Research. "In my group, we've developed completely new methods from scratch for gas analytics in ice cores using very small samples and at the moment we are the only group that can measure the whole suite of isotopes in CO2, CH4 and N2O and many other things on ice cores, which provide us with a deeper understanding of the changes and processes of these biogeochemical cycles in the past."
One of his main projects is the hunt for the world's oldest ice, i.e. the search for an Antarctic ice core going back 1.5 million years, and if everything goes according to plan he will be there when they start drilling in Antarctica as early as 2019/20. "I absolutely want to be there," he said. "In the old days, science was done in the field, but in recent years we've moved more and more away from that – it's all lab work and going into the field is a bonus."
On behalf of the PAGES community, we thank him for his passion and guidance during the past six years, and for saying yes, right from day one.
Response from H. Fischer: I am humbled by this feature and the thanks are all mine. PAGES has clearly changed my life in many ways. I wish PAGES continuing success in the future. With the current IPO, co-chairs and SSC and the striving paleoscience community I am not worried it will. See you all in Zaragoza for the PAGES OSM in 2017.