A day to celebrate women in Science: Kiek Jelgersma

October 16 is Ada Lovelace day, a day to celebrate inspiring women in science.

What a great opportunity to write about two women geoscientists who I admired and knew.

First I will write about Dr. Saskia Jelgersma, better known as ‘Kiek’ (for Saskia). Kiek passed away in May of this year at age 82. There is an excellent obituary in English of her on the site of the Telegraph: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/obituaries/9317540/Saskia-Jelgersma.html. Do read it.

Kiek was a Quaternarist – she worked her entire career on the Quaternary, more specifically on the Holocene, the most recent 10,000 years of Earth history. Hers is the yet to be improved Holocene Sea Level curve of the Netherlands, the result of her PhD dissertation in 1961. To produce a scientific result that stands uncontested for this long is an astonishing accomplishment and points to her drive for perfection.

Kiek was fearless, loud, and – at times – abrasive. She was also loyal to the core, passionate about her science (and about anything else she happened to delve into). I met her a few times and became friendly with her (that wasn’t easy). I think she was the only working female geoscientist in the Netherlands for the first 15 years of her career. And there weren’t very many afterwards, certainly not until she retired (for a few years around 1990, I was one of them).

The Telegraph obituary mentions that she was awarded the ‘Van Waterschoot van der Gracht’ medal of the Royal Netherlands Geological and Mining Society (www.kngmg.nl) in 1997 at a special symposium (organized in her honour), entitled ‘Sea level and Science Fiction’. Yes! That’s true, I was president of KNGMG at the time and I organized that symposium and I had the privilege of presenting her with the medal. It was the first time I wrote a citation speech, and I discovered I loved doing that. Maybe this was the first and only time that Kiek was quiet, subdued, but only for a minute. When I finished reading the citation, she came up to the podium and whispered to me ‘this is a big moment for me, a big moment…’ (in Dutch ‘een groot moment’). To this day, she is the only woman ever awarded this medal, the highest honour of KNGMG.

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About earth science society

I am an earth scientist. Understanding earth is essential for the well-being of our global society. Earth is fascinating, science is fascinating and a better understanding of both can help society forward. This blog attempts to make a contribution to raising awareness of these issues.
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