in memoriam - Udo Schwertmann (1927 – 2016)

On the 20th of January 2016, Professor Dr. rer. hort., Dr. hc. Udo Schwertmann died in his house in Freising-Weihenstephan, Germany, shortly after his 88th birthday after a more than fulfilled scien-tific life. He will be missed not only his family but also by the international soil science community and un-counted colleagues and friends all over the world.

Udo Schwertmann was born November 25, 1927, in Stade, Germany. After learning horticulture in a tree nursery he studied at first horticulture and then chemistry at the Technische Hochschule of Hannover (now Leibniz University of Hannover). He finished his Ph.D. in 1958 and his habilitation in 1961, both in soil science, in Hannover under the well-known promoter Prof. Dr. P. Schachtschabel. In 1962, he was a Fulbright Scholar and carried out research in the laboratory of M.L. Jackson at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

Based on his outstanding creativity and knowledge he was appointed full professor and head of the Institute of Soil Science at the Technical University of Berlin in 1964. Before he was appointed full professor and head of the newly founded Institute of Soil Science in Freising-Weihenstephan in September 1970 at the Technical University of Munich (TUM), he spent his first six-month sabbatical in southeastern Australia. He held his position as head of the Institute of Soil Science in Freising-Weihenstephan until his retirement in September 1995.

We certainly have to commemorate his work on the occurrence, formation and identification of iron oxides in soils, but also his work in soil clay mineralogy, soil erosion (starting already in 1972; extended laboratory and field studies [2 field rainfall simulators]), phosphorous in soil, cation ad-sorption, and soil acidity (acid rain). He first described the structure, formation and properties of the mineral „Schwertmannite“, named after him by the International Mineralogical Association.
Udo Schwertmann published more than 200 research papers, numerous book chapters and several monographs. Udo Schwertmann’s 1964 publication on the extraction of poorly crystalline iron oxide minerals from soils with oxalate has become the reference for investigating these minerals in soil science laboratories around the world and is continuously cited. “The Iron Oxides”, together with R. Cornell is still considered the bible on this topic. Udo Schwertmann’s legacy is forever connected with our understanding of the formation and properties of iron oxides in soils.

He was also the driving force for the adaptation of the USLE [Universal Soil Loss Equation] for conditions in Germany and Central Europe (published in German in 1987). His internationally acclaimed outstanding knowledge is also documented in the famous textbook, Scheffer Schachtschabel: Lehrbuch der Bodenkunde (Soil Science textbook), which he co-authored for more than 20 years.
Udo Schwertmann was a scientific leader, among others supervising 5 habilitations and ~30 PhD theses.

His institute was in high demand by several guest scientists from Australia, Brazil, Italy, Japan, Poland, South Africa, USA and some other countries, and from time to time he spent several weeks abroad. He served on the editorial board of several soil science and clay mineralogy journals and many advisory boards, e.g. DFG. His activities included service as Vice-President of the German Soil Science Society, Chairman of Commission VII of the International Society of Soil Science (now IUSS), and General Secretary and Vice-President of the Association Internationale pour l’Étude des Argiles (AIPEA). He is a former editor of Zeitschrift für Pflanzenernährung und Bodenkunde (now Journal of Plant Nutrition and Soil Science [JPNSS]) and has been a member of the editorial boards of Clay Minerals, Clays and Clay Minerals, Advances in Soil Science, and Geoderma.

Udo Schwertmann received numerous scientific awards. He became a Fellow of the American Society of Soil Science in 1992 and a member of the „Akademie der Naturforscher“ Leopoldina zu Halle, the oldest German Academy of Science. The Clay Mineral Society appointed him „pioneer in clay science“ in 1992 and a distinguished member in 1997. In 1995 he received an honorary doctorate from the Christian-Albrechts-Universität zu Kiel in Germany. In 1997 he was appointed honorary member of the German Soil Science Society. In 2005 he was awarded the Philippe-Duchaufour-medal of the European Geophysical Union „for outstanding research in the field of fundamental and applied soil science, with special emphasis on his contributions to soil mineralogy and genesis”. Prof Schwertmann was convinced that only the link between processes on the micro- and macro-scale enable us to completely understand soil formation processes under in situ conditions. The international soil science community, including his colleagues, students and friends, joins in expressing gratitude for having known and worked with Prof. Schwertmann. We will continue to cherish his memory.

By Dr. H.H. Becher, Süderbrarup


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Page created: 15.10.2016 | Page updated: 15.10.2016

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