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Laudation

Robert E. Dickinson and John Imbrie

On Feb. 1, 1996, President Rupp presented the Vetlesen Prize to earth scientists Robert E. Dickinson and John Imbrie. The following is an excerpt from Rupp's remarks:

"Thirty-six years ago, when Maurice Ewing received the first Vetlesen Prize, he noted that 'the study of the Earth is about where the study of physics was in the 1890's.' Thanks to Dr. Ewing and his work at Lamont-Doherty, and thanks to Robert Dickinson and John Imbrie and their colleagues, the Earth sciences have made a giant leap within a brief span of time. Yet each fresh discovery reminds us that these are still pioneering days, and that basic research still leads to radically new perspectives. Surely, at no time in history has there been a greater need than now for a strong national commitment and support for research in the Earth sciences."

The following is an excerpt from the remarks of John Mutter, acting director of Columbia's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory:

"The essential purpose of science is to produce understanding.

"I sometimes think we are so overwhelmed with information--from satellite remote sensing, from monitoring systems and survey vessels--that it is easy to believe that the purpose of science is merely to assemble information--knowledge from discoveries.

"However, if we don't bring understanding to the discoveries we make we have done little more than assemble or catalogue an array of sterile facts. That is where science begins--not where it ends.

"Dickinson saw that the climate system included not only the atmosphere, oceans and glaciers, but soils, forests, plants and people as well. Boundary interactions are some of the most difficult problems in physics and the interaction of physical systems with life forms can be thought of as one of the highest level simulation problems that face scientists today, but also one of the most critical to understanding the climate system. It is characteristic of Dickinson that he tackled this class of problem and the way to its solution.

"Imbrie is considered one of the founders of modern paleooceanography--the science of unraveling the history of the ocean's past conditions and circulation. His work laid the foundation for the famous CLIMAP Project. It was among the most ambitious scientific missions ever undertaken and it successfully answered one of Earth science's greatest mysteries: What caused the Earth's great ice ages? For many years geologists had known that the Earth experienced previous ice ages--no one understood why. Imbrie gave us the answer."

LAMONT-DOHERTY EARTH OBSERVATORY   ::   THE EARTH INSTITUTE   ::   COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY


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