George Kukla

kuklafinalGeorge Kukla (1930-2014) passed away on Saturday, May 31, at his home in Suffern, NY from a heart attack.

George had been a fixture at Lamont for more than four decades. He came to the U.S. from his native Czechoslovakia in 1971 as a National Science Foundation Senior Fellow and was a Visiting Senior Research Associate at Lamont for two years, until he was appointed to the Senior Staff of the Observatory in 1973. He held the positions of Research Staff Scientist, Senior Research Scientist, Doherty Senior Research Scientist, and – since 2001 – Special Research Scientist.

A geologist and paleoclimatologist, George was an expert on the climate variations of the Quaternary and their causes, having extracted important information from loess sequences in Europe, North America, and East Asia. On the basis of his early work on the European sequences, George became a pioneering proponent of the orbital theory of ice ages.

Many at Lamont will long remember George’s elaborate picnics, or cookouts, in the woods behind the old Geochemistry Building. George is survived by his wife Helena, daughter Susan, son Michael and two grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held this Thursday afternoon and evening:
Date: Thursday, June 5th

Time: 4:30pm – 9pm

Wanamaker Funeral Home
177 New York Rt. 59
Suffern, NY 10901
(845) 357-0423

Please leave a reply below to share your fondest memories and stories of George.

21 Responses to George Kukla

  1. I first met George in 1987 at the INQUA congress in Ottawa, I was just back from China with Prof. An Zhisheng and I wanted to discuss with him about Chinese loess series as I have been invited by Prof Liu Tungsheng to come to China to start investigating the land snails preserved in these famous deposits. In 1988 I invited him to give the key lecture at the international meeting I organized in Dijon. We already had a great time with my former advisor he knew very well, Abbé Puisségur a Quaternary scientist and paleontologist. Since then we were in touch and in 1990 I went to Lamont-Doherty Geological Observatory as a visiting scientist on a NATO fellowship thanks to André Berger and Jean-Claude Duplessy support. I stayed there 2 years with my wife and our three daughters and already George took care of my family. He didn’t want us to stay on the Lamont Campus and found with Helen his secretary a nice house in Piermont. He slowly but surely became what he is and will remain forever, my second father, and the third grand-pa of our daughters. One of them even wanted to marry George because of his pool in Suffern while the third one called him “Grand-pa Tabasco”.
    This stay at LDGO has been the start of a long journey together with an extraordinary complicity. I have lot of good memories about George, some are very funny, because George liked so much life and making jokes, some are tougher like this painful fieldwork we performed in Ukraine while he was suffering from his hip and I was begging him to stop and return to USA for medical examination. But George was THE GEORGE, undestroyable, at least this is what he thought. I owe George a lot and for everything happened since my first stay, I know how influential George has been on my career and life. I am a Lamonter since 1992 and since then we have regularly published George and I. I learned from George that nothing is granted forever and one has to continue working hard to release the best of us. I learned from George to be as much as possible open-minded, even more that I was when arriving at Lamont. I learned also from George what is really providing services to the community. It is not necessary shining on top of the podium. George did a lot for a lot of people very simply but also very efficiently. He always had a special thinking to his home country and his colleagues left there. What an irony to learn about his death while being in Prague!
    I have been lucky to share some 27 years of tremendous friendship and collaboration, my family is proud to have the privilege to know, learn and share with George. I had also the privilege to know George from his family side and he and Helena were exceptionally good and great friends of mine, hosting me more that reasonably. I will never forget. He was also a loving husband, a cherished dad and grand-pa. He leaves a tremendous gap among us.
    George I miss you but I know that you joined those I consider as my heroes in my Pantheon. Have fun with Tungsheng, Nick, Jean-Pierre and Abbé Puisségur. I feel orphan but so proud to be your friend and colleague. I love you.

    • Rousseau Elina says:

      Miss you grand Pa Tabasco.
      You will be in my heart for ever.
      Do you Understand me Machine?

      Rest In Peace.

  2. Martin Visbeck says:

    Thank you for inviting me to at least two of the famous ‘pig fests’. You were one of those people who have made Lamont a special place.

    Rest in Peace.

  3. Very sad news indeed. George was a living legend in paleoclimatology. The kind of humor that one would think everlasting.

    My strongest memory of George is a joke. One of these jokes that only George could make to colleagues. I guess it was in 1991. I was a young scientist working at NASA/GISS. One day, Wally Broecker organized a meeting at Lamont to hear the latest news from ice core science. He invited me for the occasion, together with Jean Jouzel who was around. We gave our talks and chatted about science with the assembly. And then George invited Jean and me to a restaurant nearby. The discussion was quite serious and I was so intimidated to discuss science with such “big names”.

    At the end of the meal, George turned toward me, asking very seriously “you work on bubbles, dont’ you ?”. I humbly answered “well yes indeed, I work on greenhouse gases trapped in bubbles in ice cores”. I then expected – quite afraid by George – a kind of nasty and hard scientific question about our experimental work. Instead, George simply answered : “OK, now I’ll show you what are real bubbles !”. And here we are, leaving the restaurant, jumping in his big American car, driving toward an unknown destination. After a while, George parks his car next to a bunch of trucks all parked along the road. Next to them, a bar for truck drivers. George looks at Jean and me with his big smile, quite happy of his joke, saying : “here we are, this is Bubbles !”. That was the name of the bar for truck drivers… We got in to drink a beer, and we got the big surprise of facing a nice set of beautiful (and nearly fully naked) women dancing on the bar… Only George could put a prominent scientist like Jean Jouzel and a young immature scientist like me in such embarrassing situation, with him laughing like hell !

    Rest in peace, George. Paleoclimatologists will never forget your contribution to our science, nor your fantastic sense of humor.

  4. Zhongli Ding, President, CHIQUA says:

    We, the Quaternary community in China, are utterly saddened by the news that George passed away last Saturday on the 31st of May. We lost a scientific hero and driver in our field of loess and Quaternary paleoclimatology.

    George was a great friend of China; the friendship has extended to at least three generations of Chinese loess scientists. His early collaboration with Chinese colleagues helped China’s loess and Quaternary paleoclimate research merging into the international community, which eventually led to the establishment of the Chinese loess records as one of the most complete long-term archives of the past climate. His scientific work and advice had stimulated and encouraged numerous Chinese colleagues in the study of loess. Indeed, many of the present leading players in the field of loess and Quaternary paleoclimatology in China have had direct interaction with and benefited from George who had always been a close colleague and an inspiring mentor as well as a true friend. George participated numerous fieldwork in China. His style of working and his experience, dedication and humor during the fieldwork have left vivid memory with those who had chance to work with him.

    George had suffered some health troubles in the past years. We were immensely touched when he made his best effort to visit China again and shared his reflections and insightful thoughts with us. Many of us have hoped to see George again at either conferences or at Lamont. But the giant and a very special friend had left us. It is hard to find words of consolation except we can say that George’s pursuit for deeper understanding of the causes of past climate changes through the study of loess deposits will continue to be an attractive and flourishing field in China and other parts of the world.

    Rest in peace, George.

  5. Richard Seager says:

    George, you will be dearly missed as one of the great characters of Lamont.
    Oddly it was at one of the pig roasts that I first met Gary Comer who was on, I think, his first visit to Lamont. Wally had taken Gary out to the pig roast in the woods behind old Geochem on a barren winter day. Regardless of the chill, George was there tending his fire in his hopelessly old jeans hanging around his lower midriff and wearing on top nothing but a loose and somewhat unsavory white undershirt while all around cheap beer and wine flowed together with beans and pork. The talk was climate but with George’s characteristic mix of keen insight, salty wit and the near profane. Given this was Gary Comer’s intro to Lamont, maybe can take some development tips from George!
    It was always a delight to talk with George over the years and learn from his unique inquiries and his work shaped countless efforts to unravel Quaternary climate mysteries. But let’s also recognize that George was a pioneer in the study of snow, albedo and modern day high latitude climate variability and change. In that context, George was one of the first people I met at Lamont in 1983. His then collaborator, David Robinson (now at Rutgers) had recently visited Liverpool University for a meeting (if I recall correctly) and I tracked David down at Lamont and, hence, George. I immediately loved Lamont.
    In addition to his greatness as a scientist, George will always be known for his humor. I can recall many occasions when at the end of a long day of a workshop and everyone was exhausted, George would bring things to a much welcomed conclusion either by wheeling in the drinks cart or with a comment that no one could top. E.g. after a talk on the possible influence of solar variability on climate, George ended proceedings by getting up and saying “in support of your idea on the influence of the Sun on the climate, I would like to share some preliminary research I have done that shows that it is warmer during the day than the night”. Laughter. Applause. The end. Beer and wine opened.
    Thanks, George, it was great, and you will be remembered with admiration, respect and affection.

  6. I met George first in 1988 at the international conference in Dijon organized by Denis. Since then I admired him and was proud that I could benefit so much. He was a scholarly father-figure and mentor to me. Unforgettable is our fist common field work at Kutna Hora, Czech Republik, in June 1993 where he made me understand “marker loess”, “pellet sand” etc. Many other common filed trips, e.g. to Achenhei (France), Nussloch (Germany), and Ukraine followed. We experienced 9-11 together in Kjiv (Ukraine) and this was the only time I saw him anxious because his wife Helena had her office in Brooklyn. Next day he could get her on the phone and learned that nothing had happened to her and his family.
    I was extremely happy to win George as a keynote speaker at the 1st “Loessfest ’99” in Heidelberg and Bonn, Germany. At this opportunity he managed my first contact to Slobodan Markovic and we became a kind of lucky “loess triumvirate”.
    George once invited me to give a talk at LDEO under the title “Can TL dating ever deliver reliable ages?” Apparently, I could convince him partly, and we cooperated on one of my most important papers (Z. Geomorph. NF 48, 2004).
    It was always delighting for me to meet George. It is with great sadness now for me not to see him again, but keeping him in mind for ever.

  7. Guy Seret says:

    In May 1979 I met George in the Vosges (France). In 1981, George went again in this area where we spent 4 days in order to interpret the Grande Pile site among the 3 main expansions of the glaciers.
    With my wife, we had several times the great pleasure to have George at home in Belgium where his was just as a member of my family.
    Once, we had to climb on an old slagheap to find some old fine-grained black marble samples. George carried 3o kg of these samples to Berlin for Michael.
    I never will forget our experience of drillings with George in Les Echets, Bavaria, La Grande Pile.
    With my wife Leona, we spent some pleasant days in Longbow Rd where the dear Helena was so accommodating.
    We must deplore that the annual Kukla Klan in Anno Dominici 2013 will be the last one.

  8. I met George in the early 1970s when he left Czechoslovakia for the USA. I was at the infancy of my carrier and he was one of the very few in the world to be deeply interested by my work on the astronomical theory of paleoclimates. Needless to say that George, through his pioneer work on the relationship between loess and climate, was a great defender of Milutin Milankovitch. It is now more than 40 years that I had the pleasure and privilege to discuss with George about the Milankovitch theory and more recently about the global warming. He came many times in Louvain la Neuve and, with Helena, they became friends of all my family. My daughters were very proud to have him attending their first holy communion. But his first visit was already memorable. Coming from Paris, he missed the right platform at the Brussels railways station and arrived in Ottignies-LLN after midnight. The taxi driver could not find our home (very few houses in LLN and no GPS at that time!). George took the right decision asking the taxi to look for the only light on the campus. It must have been the computer center where he knew that I was most of the time. Indeed one of my friends there welcomed him and offered him a room. Who might refuse something to George? It is why the bell rang home at 6:30 in the morning with a smiling George glowing with happiness.

    Our collaboration started dealing rapidly with what George liked very much: simple models to relate the astronomical forcing to past climates. Our earliest joint paper was presented at the First scientific conference organized by the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts in Belgrade in 1979. I remember very well the enjoyment of George playing with what we named the Astronomic Climate Index and the Insolation one. The following year he was invited professor in my Institute and we presented this index idea at the International Alfred Wegener Symposium. It was followed by a joint paper with George as a first author published in Nature and dealing with “the Orbital signature of interglacials” well before the paleoclimate community started to worry about warm climates (thanks to Qiuzhen Yin this paper was reminded at the last PMIP meeting, just 3 days before George left us). George was a real pioneer not only in loess and in defense of Milankovitch, but also in the promotion of the interglacials as an important topic for the future generations. We all remember that he was a co-convener of the 1972 historical conference on how and when will our interglacial end. Our very active collaboration has continued well after he was invited professor a second time in LLN in 1988. He never missed the opportunity to please people and always accepted very kindly invitations. Some of us will remember the Erice school in 1980, the Milankovitch meeting in Lamont in 1982 and more recently the 2004 Milankovitch anniversary in Belgrade, the 2007 loess and monsoon symposium in Beijing and the 2008 paleoclimate international symposium in Louvain La Neuve. In October last year, when visiting George and Helena in Suffern, we were still planning to write a joint paper on how we might reconcile our (opposite!) views on the global warming and the future of our interglacial.

    We will definitely miss George. He was a great scientist and a true personality in paleoclimate research. He is one of those who never took himself too seriously and there are full of anecdotes and jokes he liked to do. He was not only funny but also provocative and it was never easy to know what he had really in mind. I also, like Jean and Jerome, was invited to the very famous “Bubbles café”, but I (neither Helena) still do not know what he was expecting really when, in a one-star-Michelin- guide restaurant, close to LLN, he asked me once to have salt and pepper to “season” his marvelous desert fully made of lovely cakes!

    Salut George, I am sure now that, there above with Milutin, you know whether we will enter soon into glaciation or not.

  9. David Walker says:

    Many at Lamont knew George Kukla much better than I did. My favorite remembrance of George is one in which George figures indirectly. A photo of the Pope giving Wally Broecker an audience graced Wally’s office for some time. The Pope in characteristic bent, upward-looking posture is addressing Wally under a verbal balloon in which is written something like…”So, do you know George Kukla?” If you understand why this is hilarious, you understand George’s impact and why he will be missed.

  10. Christine Hatté says:

    I’ll always remember our first meeting: I was young scientist and he was a so Famous name in paleoclimatology… he came to me after my presentation and proposed me to further discuss afer the meeting… I was very tense and stressed out … and proud at the same time!! The George Kukla wanted to talk to me! We went to be the bar, he offered me a very large dark beer and we spent several hours talking about isotopes and loess … it was the most beautiful induction for a young paleoclimatologist. Many thanks George! You’re a so special person. I won’t never forget these couples of hours.
    Rest in Peace
    Christine Hatté (France)

  11. Christopher Lepre says:

    George was a great guy. He always reminded me to keep science in perspective and that the most important things in life were family and friends. The Kukla home was opened to my family, where we enjoyed swimming, wine, good food and conversation. He led such an interesting life, telling stories about the Nazi and then the communist occupation of his homeland in Czechia, sharing cigars with Che Guevara, his advisement to Nixon about the coming ice age, being arrested in Cuba during the Bay of Pigs, his appearance on the David Letterman show, and exploring India looking for the perfect limestone for cement factories. He would entertain my endless questions about ice, albedo, and insolation, and I would listen to him exalt Milankovitch. One of his early scientific pursuits was human origins. He recognized how geology and understanding human evolution went hand-in-hand. He was well versed in the archaeology of Europe especially the sites associated with loess deposits. In 1975 George contributed “Loess Stratigraphy of Central Europe” to the edited volume “After the Australopithecines” which was an outgrowth of one of the first international conferences that brought together the leading minds on the subjects of stratigraphy, ecology, and culture change in the Middle Pleistocene. We swapped stories about archeological sites, and I will miss this tremendously. Thank you George.

  12. Ray Bradley says:

    I have many happy memories of George, from various trips that I took with him to China, Russia, Austria, Czechoslovakia and Belgium. Some of these memories were amazing scientific discoveries (for me, but not for George) like when An Zhisheng, Bill McCoy, Steve Forman and I worked at Luochuan with George. George measured magnetic susceptibility every 10cm down the loess sections and in the evening we would plot up the data, which slowly revealed a record that beautifully paralleled the marine benthic isotope record. For me, that was magical.

    But the memories that flood back are of all the fun times we had, laughing about the crazy places we stayed (like the hotel with a bathroom so full of water that George carried up bricks so we could traverse the room on stepping stones). He always seemed to have a briefcase full of everything you might ever need, including a huge variety of pills for every ailment. But we never had any confidence that he remembered which ones were for what. He would tip them all onto a table and (seemingly at random) push different colored ones towards you, assuring you that they would fix you up. And they usually did.

    On a trip to Obninsk, I met George at the JFK departure gate of the flight to Moscow; he was doubled over in pain and looked terrible. I said, “George, you look terrible– what’s wrong?” “Kidney stone” he replied. “You can’t get on a 12 hour flight with a kidney stone! You need a doctor”. But of course, he did. Getting off the plane in Russia, he seemed to be much better– “Ya, I peed it out”, he said. He was a tough guy!

    George never took himself too seriously and was always ready to make you smile. After speaking at UMass, we were on our way to have a nice meal somewhere when he turned to me and growled, “Ray, I feel like a prostitute”. Well, we got our money’s worth, George. You were always good value.

    I am forever grateful for the friendship George gave me, and for showing so well that you can be a serious scientist and not take yourself too seriously. That is a great legacy from a great man. Thank you George.

  13. Sidney Hemming says:

    George Kukla was a spark of fun and humor and he’ll be greatly missed. The pignics were legendary, and Wally’s stories about him are also pretty hilarious. Beyond just fun interactions with him on campus, I remember two outings. One time I was invited to the Friday afternoon drinks with him and Wally in Piermont. I laughed so much from the silliness of it all that my mouth muscles hurt. Another time, George, TL and I went up to a glacially polished hill near Greenwood lake with quartz pebble conglomerate. George had recently had a hip replacement and it was exceptionally hot. George refused to carry water, but brought a bottle of wine to the top. He marched up the hill like a young man. He just assumed we were all going to go skinny dipping in the lake- I won’t confirm or deny the outcome. Then we stopped and had some beers on the way back. Never did hear how the Be-10 dates came out. George was one-of-a-kind and an amazing personality.

  14. Yochanan Kushnir says:

    When I arrived at Lamont, over two decades ago, I knew only few of the the people here. I recall though, that when I met George for the first time, I was surprised to find out that he knew where I belonged and what I was interested in. No encounter with George, whether in a meeting or on the Lamont Campus grounds, was without a hello, a comments or two, sometimes a question that revealed new angles that I did not think about. George was inspiring, kind and witty to his last days. I will miss seeing him around and will lament never making it to any of his pig roasts.

  15. Peter deMenocal says:

    George was unique in so many ways and he’s left a lasting mark on Lamont and those who knew him. It’s hard to walk these halls knowing I won’t hear his low, gravelly voice calling out to say hello. The forest pignics were something everyone who attended will remember – the smoke, jugs of cheap wine, bugging pot of baked beans, loaves of italian bread – all with friends and strangers gathered around the fire. George led these were great enthusiasm and they are some of my fondest memories of the magic of his personality and of Lamont community. After one pignic I remember walking back to the office to head home and noticed George’s big station wagon parked near Geochemistry slightly inclined for some reason. The next day I learned that the car had been jacked up on cinder blocks with George and his group of visiting distinguished Chinese scientists inside trying to reverse, wheels spinning in the air. The prankster? Our own Wally.

    George was intellectually generous, gracious, and always wonderful to me. He will always be a iconic personality to remember, a warm and jocular guy, always ready with his own views, with an embracing view of people and life. We will miss you greatly George .. keep an eye on us.

  16. Mike Evans says:

    Sad news, but such wonderful stories by which to remember George. I recall his insightful questions during Wally’s Friday seminars and Colloquium, and a picnic or two, during my time at Lamont. I will miss him.

  17. Dennis Kent says:

    I was a 3rd year graduate student at Lamont when George arrived in 1971 and happened to be pushing into print my first paper that happened to deal with the correlation of the oceanic record of Pleistocene climate change (in this case, ice rafting cycles in North Pacific deep-sea sediments) with the continental record of the Ice Ages. The usual problem was there were a lot more cycles in the deep-sea stratigraphic record than the four or so named glaciations in the European and North American hagiography of their geomorphic expression. I didn’t realize it then but George already had the answer because he showed that the continuous loess stratigraphy of Central Europe in fact contained about as many climate cycles as the deep-sea record whereas the evidence for the standard Ice Ages in Europe was biased by tectonically-controlled terrace deposits. He had been an early proponent of the Milankovitch theory of climate change and suggested “the evidence sufficient to reintroduce the insolation curve to Quaternary research” (Kukla, 1968, Current Anthropology). He was also one of the first to use magnetostratigraphy as an independent means for land-sea correlations, for example, linking lake cycles in the Great Basin and Central European loess cycles that he studied to carbonate curves from Equatorial Pacific deep-sea sediments studied at Lamont with a tie-point at the Brunhes/Matuyama reversal boundary (Eardley et al., 1973, Geological Society of America Bulletin) and then famously dating the climate cycles in Chinese loess with magnetic susceptibility (Kukla et al., 1988, Geology). For this and much more, George’s tenure at Lamont was a major coup for the institution and climate research, instilled by his levity and kindness of spirit and love and understanding of the science. We certainly had a good time working on the Venice core. It will take a while to get used to his closed office door across the way.

  18. Igor Parra says:

    In 1994 during the last 6 months of my doctorate thesis in Montpellier, I shared my working station with George who was there as a CNRS special guest , invited by Denis. What a chance and what an opportunity to meet him everyday; with George everyday was a happy one, something that is not a daily event in a French Lab. I learned a lot with him both at day, paleoclimate stuff, and at night, because he invited me every week at least a couple of nights to talk about everything, and to drink both good and expensive french wines along some delicate cheeses and other french delikatessen. Che Guevara appeared seldom in our talks because he was his scientific attaché for geological matters during his cuban “period”. His smart and strong criticism about dictatorships built up a common ground beyond paleo winds, paleo dunes, conveyor belts, pollen LGM and Next Interglacial…. His personal experience during German occupation of his country was terrible in a very direct way, since two very young classmates were kidnaped by Gestapo, and killed because writing on the wall of their school some phrases against the invaders. His tale of the soviet occupation of his country was deep, moving and clever. A grand paleoclimatologist very concerned about his own living time.
    We meet again in Barcelona, Rome and frequently in New York. Every time I knew that George was a bright bohemian (from Bohemia, his native land), extremely well educated both in science, and in the human art of living the life generously and intensively.

  19. Dear Family & Friends & of George,

    The sudden news of the sad demise of George Kukla brought back a cascade of memories of the time spent with him, especially in the field.

    We had an occasion to work with him in Kashmir during winters in the 1980s. He couldn’t have been very young, but he could walk for miles on snow-clad mountain slopes and river banks wearing ordinary canvas shoes. We were lucky that our toes were not frost-bitten!

    Often we had to cross rivulets walking on wooden beams precariously balanced over a pile of rocks. A couple of times he fell down; luckily the snow softened the fall but George bravely came out of the snowy mess to reach the bank. He could eat much hotter food then we Indians and drink hard liquor without much effect.

    From him we learnt to read the geological sediments like pages of a book written in different languages which the techniques of radiocarbon, paleomagnetism could provide a dated sequence and climatic information could be gleaned through a variety of proxy markers like pollen, stable isotopes, other fossil remains etc. Field work with him under inclement conditions was rendered a great fun. Difficult climbs & poor food never bothered him much. He made the atmosphere so light and jolly that it made the rigors of hard field work turn into pleasant adventures.

    I would like to convey my deep sorrow at the passing away of a great scholar and a dear friend. I convey my hard felt sympathies to the breaved family and friends.

    D.P. Agrawal,
    East PokharKhali, Almora,
    Uttarakhand India 263601

  20. I am strongly shocked to hear the sad news that Professor George Kukla suddenly passed away. I had the privilege of knowing George for many years since I was very young. Since then, George’s publications have constantly been one of the crucial sources of respiration of my research. Myself has also been fortunate to benefit from his constructive inputs when I met him in China or elsewhere during the past years. He is indeed a good friend of all the loess colleagues in China. By his untimely passing away, our research field has lost one of its best leaders. He will be greatly missed by all who knew him with admiration, respect and affection.

Comments are closed.