KWI Karst Award for 2020: Prof. Stein-Erik Lauritzen

The Karst Waters Institute will present the 2020 Karst Award to Dr. Stein-Erik Lauritzen, Professor of Speleology and Quaternary Geology at the University of Bergen, Norway, at the 9th Conference Climate Change: The Karst Record (originally scheduled to be held in Innsbruck, Austria, in June, 2020 but canceled due to COVID-19).  This location is appropriate because Dr. Lauritzen organized the first karst climate conference, in Bergen, in 1996.

Dr. Lauritzen received a Cand. Real. (Candidatus realium) degree from the University of Oslo in 1979 with a major in organic chemistry.  He remained at the University of Oslo as a research associate until 1985 but switched his research interests from organic chemistry to nuclear chemistry.  In 1987 Dr. Lauritzen joined the faculty of the University of Bergen where he advanced to full professor in 1999.  He very early recognized the importance of speleothem age-dating and established a laboratory for uranium-series isotope measurements.  Very much the international scholar, Dr. Lauritzen has traveled widely to the karst areas of the world and has held appointments at the Racoviță Institute of Speleology in Cluj, Romania and the Karst Institute of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences in Postojna, Slovenia.  Generous in sharing his expertise, many of his papers are co-authored with karst researchers throughout the world.

Dr. Stein-Erik Lauritzen is an outstanding example of what cave and karst science is all about. As befits a scientist with the title of professor of speleology, Dr. Lauritzen’s 160+ technical papers span almost every aspect of the cave-related sciences but can be divided broadly into three categories:  Geomorphology of caves and karst landscapes, karst processes and aquifer studies, and paleoclimate, paleobiology, and archaeology.  At the basic data end of the scale, there are cave maps and scientific cave descriptions.  There are descriptions of stripe karst, there are hydraulic interpretations of scallops, there are interpretations of the origin of maze caves.  On the more theoretical end of the scale, there are analyses of the dissolution process and the hydraulics of karst water flow.

Perhaps the most important discovery in the karst-related sciences is that isotope and trace element profiles in speleothems provide a high resolution climatic record.  The ability to use uranium/thorium isotope dating to provide an absolute time scale for the speleothem record has moved cave science from the fringes to the mainstream of science.  Dr. Lauritzen is one of the pioneers in this endeavor.  He established the first Quaternary uranium-series dating laboratories in Scandinavia and has continuously updated this laboratory as new experimental experiment techniques appear.  His published work includes paleoclimate and also applying isotope dating to paleontological studies.