Hönisch receives 2018 Paleoceanography and Paleoclimatology Willi Dansgaard Award

Bärbel Hönisch will receive the 2018 Willi Dansgaard Award at AGU’s Fall Meeting 2018, to be held 10–14 December in Washington, D. C. The award is given in recognition of the awardee’s “research impact, innovative interdisciplinary work, educational accomplishments (mentoring), societal impact, or other relevant contributions and to acknowledge that the awardee shows exceptional promise for continued leadership in paleoceanography or paleoclimatology.”



Bärbel Hönisch, 2018 Willi Dansgaard Award recipient
Bärbel Hönisch

Motivated by the need to understand the contributions of anthropogenic carbon emissions to global warming and ocean acidification, Bärbel Hönisch has devoted most of her career to developing and applying geochemical proxies to reconstruct paleo ocean temperature, carbonate chemistry, and atmospheric pCO2. In particular, she and her students have led efforts to identify and quantify the physical and chemical influences on the partitioning of boron and its isotopes from seawater into biogenic carbonates, specifically foraminifera and corals. This work required years of painstaking laboratory-based culturing experiments of foraminifera involving the meticulous manipulation of carbonate system parameters, complemented by field-based studies of core top samples. The findings of this pioneering work now provide the basis for applying boron in fossil shells to reconstruct ocean pH.

Bärbel has also led the way in validating and applying results of the B calibration studies in reconstructing past ocean pH and pCO2 across climatically critical intervals of the Cenozoic. This includes investigations of Pleistocene glacial/interglacials and the mid-Pleistocene transition, the results of which support a high degree of sensitivity in climate and ice sheets to greenhouse gas forcing. She also extended the application of B isotopes to deeper time by reconstructing the long-term trend in seawater B isotopes (in benthic foraminifera), as well as applying the B proxies to the extreme greenhouse periods of the Eocene, most notably in quantifying the pH changes caused by ocean acidification during the Paleocene–Eocene Thermal Maximum. She also organized and led workshops focused on ocean acidification and the development of a community paleo-pCO2 database.

Bärbel has also taken on key leadership and editorial duties for the AGU oceanographic/paleoceanographic communities and has been recognized for her exemplary mentoring of students at Columbia University.

Bärbel Hönisch’s unwavering commitment to research, her collegiality and leadership, and her selfless community service merit recognition with the Dansgaard Award.

—James Zachos, University of California, Santa Cruz


I thank Jim Zachos for his generous comments, as well as my other nominators and the AGU Paleoceanography and Paleoclimatology Award Committee for selecting me for the Dansgaard Award. I feel honored and humbled in view of the many excellent colleagues who are equally deserving of this recognition.

Joining the fields of paleoceanography and paleoclimatology has been one of the greatest experiences of my life—recognizing the role of small organisms in the global climate system, diving for planktic foraminifera in the open ocean, sailing across the seas, puzzling over information recorded in the laboratory today or thousands and millions of years back in time, and all that with colleagues and friends who are living and working in every corner of the planet. How privileged are we to call this work!

And yet none of this could be done single-handedly, and it is certainly not always easy. I feel spectacularly lucky to have worked and to continue to work with a brilliant group of students, postdocs, and colleagues at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and around the world, who share their ideas and expertise and raise challenging questions, who graciously accept my notorious edits and send me the same in return, who rejoice in successes, and who provide support when science (and life) gets difficult. Every challenge comes with new opportunities, creative solutions want to be found, new experiments are to be conducted, and all of this works best when we join our cumulative expertise and complement each other’s work. Despite all the knowledge that our field has accumulated already, there are so many more questions to answer and substantial discoveries to be made. I am greatly indebted to my students and collaborators for making this such a fantastic journey; it is a great honor to be a member of this remarkable community.

—Bärbel Hönisch, Columbia University, New York, N.Y.

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