Explorers

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As a young PhD student Birger Schmitz was much inspired by the article of Luis Alvarez and his son Walter Alvarez, proposing that a major asteroid impact led to the demise of Earth’s Mesozoic fauna, including all the dinosaurs. An article by Schmitz, partly critical about the work of the Alvarez team, rendered the attention of Luis Alvarez, who invited Schmitz for a post doc 1988 to 1989 in his group at the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory.

Schmitz has now studied the Cretaceous-Tertiary boundary clay at more than 50 localities worldwide, and has no longer any doubts that the asteroid that hit the Yucatan peninsula 65 million years ago is responsible for the faunal cataclysm terminating the Mesozoic era.

Back in Sweden, from 1990 Schmitz first built up research around the causes and consequences of the hot climate of the early Paleogene period (50-65 million years ago), a time when the Earth was ice-free and even alligators could live very close to the North Pole.

Schmitz is internationally most well-known for his subsequent work with reconstructing the meteorite flux to Earth during the Ordovician period, about 470 million years ago. Together with a local geologist and quarry workers he has for the past 20 years pursued the only systematic search for fossil meteorites on an ancient sea floor. The meteorites, 1 to 20 cm in diameter, are found when marine limestone is sliced for the industrial production of floor plates. More than 100 fossil meteorites have been found representing almost all fossil meteorites known to science.

Based on the meteorite finds Schmitz has found evidence for one of the most dramatic events in late solar system history. A several hundred kilometer sized body in the asteroid belt broke up just before the quarried limestone formed. For a couple of million years the Earth was bombarded with fist-sized to kilometer-sized bodies, an event probably also affecting the evolution of life. Schmitz research on the fossil meteorites has been supported by two grants from the National Geographic Society.

Since 2004 Schmitz is professor of Geology at Lund University. He has published more than 120 scientific articles and edited volumes on accretion of extraterrestrial matter on Earth as well as on the warm climates of the early Paleogene.

Schmitz was awarded the ”Outstanding Researcher” prize by the Swedish Research Council in 2002. He is an Affiliate Graduate Faculty member at Hawai’i University at Manoa, Adjunct Senior Scientist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, and Honorary Research Associate at the Chicago Field Museum. He has worked for many national research councils and foundations around the world, and served as the Chairman for the Geology and Geophysics Committee at the Swedish Research Council 2003-2009.

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About the Global Exploration Fund

The National Geographic Society has funded the work of curious and inquiring men and women in every corner of the Earth—filling gaps in human knowledge, sometimes in spectacular ways. Since 1888, National Geographic has awarded more than 10,000 grants representing a combined value of $153 million. Scientific field research, exploration, conservation, and adventure are the backbone of National Geographic’s grants, which have led to countless discoveries that continue to shed light on the planet’s rich variety and diversity—and help to preserve it. The results from fieldwork are shared with audiences around the world through an array of National Geographic media, including print, broadcast, and online outlets, as well as events, exhibitions, and educational platforms.

The Global Exploration Fund is a global initiative modeled on National Geographic’s century-long approach to funding research, conservation, and exploration projects through targeted grant programs. Supported through funding partnerships, National Geographic plans to launch regional Global Exploration Funds around the world. Each fund will rely upon an intensive peer-review process to evaluate projects seeking funding and an advisory board of scientific and innovation experts to help guide the program to achieve regional priorities. The grantees and outcomes supported by the fund will benefit from National Geographic media and outreach.

National Geographic launched the Global Exploration Fund in 2011 in Sweden to extend support to scientists, conservationists, and explorers from the Northern Europe region who are advancing research and exploring solutions for the benefit of the planet. In 2012, the Global Exploration Fund expanded to China with a dedicated Air and Water Conservation Fund designed to focus China’s most creative scientific and conservation talent on solving problems confronting the country’s air and water resources.

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