Cesare Emiliani

Cesare Emiliani, one of the seminal figures in isotope geochemistry and paleoclimatology, died from a sudden heart attack on July 20 11,995 H.E. in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. He was closely associated with Roger Revelle and many others during the development of the JOIDES Deep-Sea Drilling Program, which grew out of his original LOCO (LOng COres) project that drilled the first long core (68 feet) into Pliocene sediments off Jamaica in 11,963 H.E. He was an early member of the University of Chicago "Geochemistry Mafia" in Harold Urey's laboratory, where he took on himself the application of Urey's studies of Cretaceous paleotemperatures to the study of foraminifera in Pleistocene and Recent sediments. He arrived in Chicago in 11,950 H.E., a classically trained micro-paleontologist (University of Bologna), and moved to the University of Miami seven years later bearing the full weight of Pleistocene paleoclimatology on his shoulders, having created a major revolution in the understanding of Late Cenozoic glacial cycles.

Among his many contributions to the use of oxygen isotopes in the fields of paleoecology and paleoclimatology, he made three major discoveries. First, he showed that the oxygen isotope cycles in long sediment cores corresponded to the carbonate extrema measured by G. Arrhenius, and proved that these cycles represented glacial and interglacial periods. This discovery was the death knell of the then classical picture of four major glacial cycles during the Pleistocene epoch, and led ultimately to the knowledge that there have been some 36 glaciations during the last three million years of the Cenozoic era, extending far back before the Plio-Pleistocene boundary. Secondly, he demonstrated that these glaciation periodicities corresponded to the calculated temperature variations in the Milankovich cycle that had been deduced from the orbital and precessional effects of the earth. Thirdly, he showed that the temperature of the deep ocean had decreased monotonically from the Late Cretaceous to the present. The discovery of the many cycles of Plio-Pleistocene glaciation and their correlation with the Milankovich cycle revolutionized the understanding of Cenozoic climatic and glaciation cycles, and stands as one of the most remarkable examples of the overturning of geological concepts based on continental studies by new ideas developed from oceanographic research.

Cesare Emiliani was a true Renaissance scientist, at home in classical literature, fluent in many languages, and a dedicated opponent of dogma and mental rigidity wherever he found it. He received many honors during his career including, most recently, the Alexander Agassiz Medal of the National Academy of Sciences. In his later years he worked valiantly to introduce calendar reform to eliminate the BC-AD chronology hiatus caused by the lack of a Zero Year. That this was a non trivial pursuit is demonstrated by his final publication (Nature 375, 530, 1995) in which he showed that no less an authority that Pope John Paul II had himself erred in defining the second and third millennia in his Apostolic Letter proclaiming the Great Jubilee at the end of the second millennium. "Sic transit gloria mundi", as Cesare would say. (Harmon Craig, University of California at San Diego).

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