Professor Sir Nicholas J. Shackleton, FRS (1937–2006)

Professor Sir Nicholas J. Shackleton, FRS (1937–2006)

ARTICLE IN PRESS Quaternary Science Reviews 25 (2006) 403 Tribute Professor Sir Nicholas J. Shackleton, FRS (1937–2006) Nick Shackleton came prett...

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Quaternary Science Reviews 25 (2006) 403


Professor Sir Nicholas J. Shackleton, FRS (1937–2006)

Nick Shackleton came pretty close to being the embodiment of science in its purest form. His entire scientific life was a relentless drive to push the scientific boundaries forward, by asking the right questions and then finding the best way to answer them. He was fully aware that one person alone, even one with his intellectual rigour, would not make a huge difference in the end, unless he could convince others to share in the same vision. He established his scientific credentials early on by redrawing our map of knowledge of oxygen isotopes and showing the stratigraphical opportunities that arose from that. He then proved his scientific integrity by freely sharing his superb datasets and ideas, often well before they were published. On several occasions I witnessed him swaying general opinion during scientific debates on specific issues or future directions of research. This was achieved not only through the sheer force of his intellectual argument, but also and fundamentally because people trusted him. They trusted that his views were not only sound, but were also dictated by the will to advance understanding rather than by private ambition. To the end, he continued asking people to consider re-dating a particular coral or speleothem sample or increasing the resolution of their record, pointing out the wider importance of their results, not unlike an orchestra conductor striving to achieve a better collective sound. He was always direct and honest in his assessment of scientific work, to the extent of terrorizing some of us, but that was always driven by the logic to make people improve their work. His door was always open to anyone with a sincere interest in science, no matter how junior. You would find him either typing on his computer, or standing by the light table poring over curves, or at the microscope. He always 0277-3791/$ - see front matter doi:10.1016/j.quascirev.2006.02.008

picked his own forams and when asked why he would not let others do it for him, he replied that he knew how to select the best specimens for analyses. There was something aesthetically pleasing about Shackleton isotope curves and it was only after having seen the number of samples that each single dot on a diagram represented, that I understood why that was. Rather than slowing down towards retirement, he produced some of his most influential work in 2000, the year before he was diagnosed with cancer. For almost 5 years he battled bravely and continued working, generating new data, writing new papers. The world of music was his other great love and he took care to devote as much time to it as science, playing music, going to concerts and building the finest private clarinet collection. He was famous in the music world for his knowledge of clarinet history and for his generosity, always happy to lend musicians period instruments to perform with, just as he was sharing his data with scientists. It is difficult to think of anyone else who has had such a profound and prolonged influence on so many aspects of geosciences. In part, this is because he produced the chronological framework within which we work, in part because he helped us understand how the climate system operates, but also because he has guided us to produce better science. I once asked him, which composer he thought he resembled most. ‘‘Stravinsky’’ he said, without hesitating, ‘‘because of the range of his work’’. Chronis Tzedakis Earth and Biosphere Institute, School of Geography, University of Leeds, Leeds, LS2 9JT, UK E-mail address: [email protected]