Kurt Lambeck AO

Honorary Doctor of Science

Citation delivered by Professor Colin Murray-Wallace, Professor in the School of Earth and Environmental Sciences of the Faculty of Science, Medicine and Health at the University of Wollongong on the occasion of the admission of Kurt Lambeck as a Doctor of Science (honoris causa) on 17 December 2015.
Deputy Chancellor, I present Kurt Lambeck.

Born in the Netherlands, Kurt Lambeck and his parents came to Australia in a converted troop ship as part of the ‘flotsam and jetsam’ of displaced persons after World War II. His parents, who were Dutch Resistance fighters, would become part of the diverse and vibrant fabric of Wollongong and surrounds. It is important that we acknowledge the many people, such as Kurt and his parents, who came to the Illawarra, and more broadly, to Australia, from around the world and poured their lives into enriching our community; culturally and economically. Many graduates here today have taken similar steps and can be inspired by the achievements of Kurt Lambeck, as we pause to reflect on the generous contribution that those who come to our shores have made to this region and this country.

Kurt went to Dapto Primary School and later, Wollongong High School, just down the hill from this University. These formative years in Wollongong were followed by study at the University of New South Wales, where Kurt had won a cadetship from the NSW Government to do surveying, something that he thought at the time was a terrible mistake, but would later reflect that this was his ‘first big break’.

Graduating in 1963 with a Bachelor of Surveying (1st class Honours) and as a recipient of the University Medal, Kurt would spend a year working ‘beyond Bourke’ before returning to the Netherlands on a graduate scholarship with a focus on geophysics and geodesy; the analysis and application of satellite data to geophysical and environmental processes. Proving that hard work and dedication are rewarded, Kurt received a scholarship to work in Greece and a subsequent scholarship to attend the University of Oxford, England and received his PhD from that University in 1967.

Going on to hold visiting appointments in Belgium, Britain, Canada, France, America, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden, Kurt joined the Australian National University in 1977 as a Professor of Geophysics in the Research School of Earth Sciences and has loyally served that institution since that time.

Appointed an Emeritus Professor by ANU in 2008, Kurt’s multidisciplinary expertise includes the mathematical modelling of geophysical data (mostly gravity anomalies) with real-world observations and the geochronology of sea-level changes, in order to produce the most realistic appraisals of sea-level changes – past, present and future. This is particularly important with the present concerns that climate change will lead to inundation of low-lying coastal areas – the home of a large proportion of humans. Professor Lambeck has published more than 300 papers on subjects in geophysics, geology, geodesy, space science, celestial mechanics, environmental geoscience and glaciology, as well as two books: The Earth’s Variable Rotation: Geophysical Causes and Consequences and Geophysical Geodesy: The Slow Deformations of the Earth.

To understand the importance of Professor Lambeck’s outstanding scholarship, it is perhaps best to quote the citation issued when he was awarded the 2012 Balzan Prize: ‘His findings have radically modified climate science’ and ‘revolutionized concepts in the geosciences crucial to our understanding of the solid Earth.’

A member of the Australian Academy of Science since 1984, Fellow of the Royal Society of London since 1994 and of the Royal Society of NSW since 2010, Professor Lambeck’s leadership is evident in his service as the President of the Australian Academy of Science from 2006-10 and service as the President of the Federation of Asian Science Academies and Associations since 2009.

While Professor Lambeck’s service and scholarship have been recognised through a number of prestigious appointments, such the Order of Australia, the Legion of Honour (France) and the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic, it is in seeing former students and work colleagues achieve greatness that gives Professor Lambeck satisfaction. Supported by his wife, Marguerite, Kurt has pioneered global scientific understanding in order to contribute to the wellbeing of Australia and in the service of human welfare.

The University of Wollongong is fortunate to enjoy Professor Lambeck’s service as an Honorary Fellow of the GeoQuEST Research Centre, whose interdisciplinary focus on environmental and climate change research has never been more pressing.

Deputy Chancellor, for his distinguished contribution to the Earth Sciences, his significant service at the international level and his outstanding leadership; it is a privilege and pleasure to present Kurt Lambeck for a Doctor of Science, honoris causa.