Heiko Pälike

MARUM, Centre for Marine Environmental Sciences, University of Bremen

2016 The Asahiko Taira International Scientific Ocean Drilling Research Prize Winner

Heiko Pälike was awarded the 2016 Asahiko Taira International Scientific Ocean Drilling Research Prize at the AGU Fall Meeting Honors Ceremony, held on 14 December 2016 in San Francisco, Calif. The Taira Prize is a partnership between AGU and the Japan Geoscience Union (JpGU) and is made possible through a generous donation from the Integrated Ocean Drilling Program Management International (IODP-MI). The prize honors an individual for “outstanding transdisciplinary research accomplishment in ocean drilling.”


The centerpiece of Heiko Pälike’s work is the development of tuned timescales in critical intervals of the Cenozoic era. He opened up new and unknown regions to precise timescale generation and then applied this timescale to extract properties of Earth and solar system orbital motion and to solve ­first-​­order questions about Earth’s climate system and Earth system sensitivity. The approach of this work is located at the frontier and intersection of solar system astronomy, geochronology, stratigraphy, Earth system modeling, paleoceanography, and a mathematical analysis of the interaction between the component systems while applying transdisciplinary approaches in novel ways to constrain critical Earth system parameters.

Heiko Pälike’s research combines a fundamental mathematical understanding of orbital mechanics and its application to forcing of climate. Since early in his career, he has combined this approach with the active design of drilling expeditions to gather and interpret marine geological data in a paleoclimatic context.

An early paper, written with the late Nick Shackleton in 2000, demonstrates how geological data can be used to extract and calibrate astronomical parameters. In 2006, another paper provided an elegant demonstration of the power of astronomically tuned records to reveal the mechanisms controlling climate change at a whole range of timescales, using quantitative models to marry observations and theory.

One of his major contributions was the design and execution of a research project using the unique capabilities of the R/V JOIDES Resolution, applying geological principles developed through ocean drilling (detailed plate tectonic reconstructions and integrated stratigraphies), to locate the best possible drilling locations for a paleodepth transect in the equatorial Pacific, which allowed a major refinement of the understanding of the carbonate system over Cenozoic time. Parts of this work were published in a seminal paper involving all Expedition 320/321 participants in 2012.

Heiko Pälike has also taken up high-level responsibilities in the International Ocean Discovery Program (IODP) scientific strategy by cochairing the Science Evaluation Panel, contributing to the JOIDES Resolution Facility Board, and promoting the ­high-​­level scientific aims of ocean drilling through his deep involvement in the IODP New Ventures in Exploring Scientific Targets (INVEST) Renewal Meeting and codesigning the current science plan for IODP for 2013–2023.

As recipient of the Taira Prize, Heiko Pälike is honored for his outstanding transdisciplanry contributions to the problem of Earth climate system reconstructions and the extraction of astronomical parameters from geological data.

—Michael Schulz, Center for Marine Environmental Sciences, Bremen, Germany


I feel extremely honored to receive the prestigious Taira Prize. First, I would like to thank Michael Schulz for his kind and generous citation and AGU, JpGU, and IODP for establishing the Taira Prize to recognize research enabled by international scientific ocean drilling. I am grateful to my mentors who introduced me to marine research, foremost Paul Wilson and the late Harry Elderfield, who supported me to apply for a Ph.D. in Cambridge. I cannot overemphasize the encouragement I received from the late Sir Nicholas Shackleton, who allowed me to learn so much about how the planet (and science) works, and was always open and excited to apply new methods to hard and exciting problems, and who introduced me to Jim Zachos, who was on sabbatical in Cambridge in 2000. Nick also introduced me to my postdoc advisor Jan Backman, and to participating in my first Ocean Drilling Program Expedition, 199, to the equatorial Pacific in 2001, which was a perfect deadline to finish my Ph.D. project with Nick in time to travel to Honolulu to join the JOIDES Resolution. The co–chief scientists Mitch Lyle and Paul Wilson assembled a fantastic international team of scientists, many of whom became my lifelong friends and colleagues and who together represented my first experience of the great “family” of scientific ocean drilling. Nothing can be more exhilarating than awaiting the next “Core on Deck!” call over the intercom, and knowing that no one else has seen the treasure archive of ocean and climate history to be retrieved from several kilometers below. Colleagues and friends from that first cruise were involved in our research on the climate history of the Paleogene, and I would particularly thank Hiroshi Nishi, Ted Moore, Steve Hovan, Tom Janecek, Carrie Lear, and Helen Coxall in addition to the co–chief scientists. After this first cruise, Jan Backman, Ted Moore, and Mitch Lyle encouraged and supported me in writing my first drilling proposal, which later turned into IODP Expeditions 320 and 321 in the equatorial Pacific, and on which I was allowed to sail as co–chief scientist. I particularly thank Nobu Eguchi for moving this proposal through the IODP panels, with a memorable AGU town hall in 2003. I thank my host institutions in Cambridge, Stockholm, Southampton, and Bremen for their incredible support, and finally I thank my wife and family for supporting me throughout this incredible journey.

—Heiko Pälike, MARUM–Center for Marine Environmental Sciences, University of Bremen, Bremen, Germany