Professor Sir Nicholas Shackleton, the eminent earth scientist, former director of the Godwin Laboratory for Quaternary Research in the Department of Earth Sciences and Emeritus Fellow of Clare Hall, has died at the age of 68.

Professor Shackleton, an Emeritus Professor at the Department of Earth Sciences since retiring in 2004, specialised in paleoclimatology, the study of how the Earth’s climate has changed over time. He was perhaps best known for identifying the role played by carbon dioxide and changes in the Earth’s orbit, and for his development of new techniques for the study of ice sheets.

He passionately believed that scientists could contribute to society and help predict future environmental change by first understanding past climatic changes and using geology to learn about the Earth’s environment.

Professor Shackleton was born in London on 23 June 1937 and gained a BA in physics at Clare College, Cambridge in 1961. He went straight into a research career at the University and in 1967 was awarded a PhD for his thesis on ‘The Measurement of Paleotemperatures in the Quaternary Era’. (The Quaternary is the most recent geological age in the Earth’s history, covering the last 1.8 million years.)

He became a Fellow of Clare Hall and was based at the University of Cambridge throughout his academic career. He also held a research post at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Geological Observatory.

Professor Shackleton won numerous awards and prizes for his research. He was made a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1985 and knighted in 1998. He received the Crafoord Prize from the Royal Swedish Academy of Science in 1995, became a Foreign Associate of the US National Academy of Sciences in 2000 and gained the Ewing Medal (American Geophysical Union) in 2002. In 2003, he was awarded both the Urey Medal (European Association of Geochemistry) and the Royal Medal of the Royal Society. The following year, he was awarded the Vetlesen Prize by Columbia University (US) and in 2005 he gained the Founder’s Medal of the Royal Geographical Society and the Blue Planet Prize.

Professor Salje, Head of the Department of Earth Sciences and President of Clare Hall, said: “We lost not only an outstanding academic, but also a close friend. Nick was one of the most imaginative scientists I ever met. He was also a keen collector of musical instruments and a good musician himself. He always found time to advise young scientists, help his colleagues in the department and inject wisdom into College life.

“During the last months, he himself initiated a Sir Nicholas Shackleton Visiting Fellowship in Paleo-Climate Research to help academics from abroad to come to Cambridge to continue work in this important field. We will do our outmost to bring his scheme to fruition.”

Professor Shackleton died on 24 January 2006.

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