Thomas Kiørboe

Motivation for awarding The Carlsberg Foundation Research Prize 2019

Thomas Kiørboe is one of the world’s leading marine ecologists and has played a key role in our understanding of life in the ocean. He is recognised globally for his original and provocative scientific approach, and as a pioneer in many aspects of marine ecology.

Through his research and his time at both MIT in Boston and UC in Berkeley, he has managed not only to develop new methods but also to create important links in our understanding of ocean processes from the micro to the macro level.

Kiørboe’s research is notable for drawing effectively on two separate scientific disciplines: biology and physics. It is at the intersection between these two that he has come up with important results such as how nutrient availability combines with molecular diffusion and small-scale fluid motion to determine the structure of the marine pelagic food web – results that have been confirmed again and again by his numerous field surveys.

The same cross-disciplinary approach has featured in his epoch-making study of “marine snow” – tiny flakes of dead material that are hugely important for the ocean’s carbon budget and the global climate. Following tenacious research, Kiørboe has developed a simple mathematical description of the formation and significance of marine snow which is now a mainstay of many biogeochemical models of the ocean’s carbon budget.

As director of the Centre for Ocean Life, Thomas Kiørboe has inspired several generations of current and future marine scientists with his infectious energy and enthusiasm. But it is not only in his own specialist field that he has stimulated interest and engagement. As a passionate communicator, he is often to be seen at school events and science festivals and in the media, both in Denmark and abroad, where his fascination with the ocean and its ecosystems rubs off on children and adults alike.

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