Dr. Catherine Nigrini (right) with Dr. Isabella Raffi in the JOIDES Resolution Paleolab during ODP Leg 199.

Catherine Nigrini

Our dear friend and colleague Catherine Nigrini (nee Clark), born in Toronto, Ontario, died peacefully in her sleep due to complications from lung cancer on the morning of Thursday, 13 January 2005. This was a sad day for the scientific community, and especially for the radiolarian community. She was predeceased by her husband, Andrew, and is survived by her daughter, Jennifer, and her son, Peter.

Cathy completed her primary education at Branksome Hall, Toronto, Canada. She earned a Bachelor’s of Science in Geology in 1962 at Trinity College, University of Toronto, and was awarded the Coleman Gold Medal for Geological Sciences. In the summer of 1962 she carried out initial investigations of Radiolaria in the experimental MOHOLE cores for William R. Riedel, Scripps Institution of Oceanography (SIO). Four years later she received her Ph.D. in Micropaleontology from the University of Cambridge. From 1964 until 1965 she worked as a postgraduate research geologist at SIO, engaged in investigation of radiolarians in pelagic sediments from the Indian and Atlantic Oceans. From 1965 to 1968 Cathy was a Visiting Scholar and Research Associate at Northwestern University, where she continued her detailed stratigraphic studies of radiolarians in Quaternary sediments at selected localities in the three major ocean basins. She was closely associated with William R. Riedel and many others at SIO and the Deep Sea Drilling Project (DSDP) during her productive paleontological career.

As a Consulting Micropaleontologist or Associated Investigator, Cathy participated on numerous U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF)-sponsored projects with William R. Riedel, SIO; as a Consulting Micropaleontologist for the CLIMAP Project and for James P. Kennett, Graduate School of Oceanography, University of Rhode Island, on the NSF-sponsored “Cenozoic Paleoceanography” project; as an Associate Investigator and Consultant with David A. Johnson, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, on several NSF sponsored projects; and as a Consultant for Joseph J. Morley, Lamont-Doherty Geological Observatory, Columbia University, for the Joint Oceanographic Institutions/U.S. Science Support Program (JOI/USSSP) project: “North Pacific Neogene Biostratigraphy and Paleoceanography: Analysis of Leg 145 Sediments. She was principal investigator on the JOI/USSSP project “Biostratigraphic Study of Radiolarians” for Ocean Drilling Program (ODP) Legs 150 and 165.

Cathy published numerous papers, adding greatly to the knowledge of Cenozoic radiolarians, both in respect to taxonomy and to biogeographic and stratigraphic distributions. She participated in six oceanic research voyages and was one of the first women to sail on the Glomar Challenger (1968, DSDP Leg 2, from Hoboken, New Jersey to Dakar, Senegal). This journey produced fundamental evidence for the existence of seafloor spreading and for the theory of plate tectonics. In later years she sailed on the Glomar Challenger (DSDP Legs 23, and 85) and the JOIDES Resolution (ODP Legs 117 and 199), examining radiolarians from the Arabian Sea and the central equatorial Pacific. These investigations established which taxa were related to upwelling conditions, and thus can be used to identify assemblages indicative of regional upwelling. Cathy was also an invited foreign participant in the JADE/SHIVA cruise of the French research vessel Marion Dufresne in the Pacific and Indian Oceans working closely with Jean Pierre Caulet and other scientists as a visiting professor at Laboratoire de Geologie at the Museum National d’Histoire Naturelle Paris.

Since Cathy first met Ted Moore, when she was a postdoc at SIO and Ted was a graduate student, they worked together on several projects, including Leg 199. One of the enduring legacies of Leg 199 will undoubtedly be the revision of tropical radiolarian biostratigraphy. The opportunity to tie radiolarian biostratigraphic events directly to magnetochronology provides the first direct ties between the tropical siliceous microfossil record and the absolute timescale of the Paleogene. A remarkable number of problems, such as evaluating diachrony of extinction events and discovering connections between evolution and tectonics, can be addressed with a highly calibrated timescale of biological evolution. Thus, the recovery of continuous sedimentary records with uninterrupted sets of distinct Cenozoic geomagnetic polarity chrons from the paleoequatorial Pacific Ocean proved to be a major success of Leg 199 in the placement of new constraints on the late Paleocene and early Eocene equatorial position using paleomagnetic and micropaleontologic indicators.

Throughout her career Cathy realized the necessity and usefulness of taxonomic guides to aid radiolarian workers through the cumbersome systematics to uniform species concepts applicable to modern practice of paleontology. In 1979, together with Ted Moore, she published “A Guide to Modern Radiolaria,” followed in 1984 by “A Guide to Miocene Radiolaria” with Gail Lombari. Under a contract with the Ocean Drilling Program, Cathy initiated the preparation of a volume containing stratigraphic range charts and a catalog of Cenozoic radiolarian photographs and descriptions. This volume, “Cenozoic Radiolarian Stratigraphy for Low and Middle Latitudes,” was accompanied by a set of 60 prepared radiolarian zonal reference slides to be kept on board the JOIDES Resolution. In 2001, this informative and useful tool for sea-going and novice Cenozoic radiolarian paleontologists was added to the ODP Web site. Cathy’s notion to build a relational radiolarian database, to capture all available knowledge for the next generation of paleontologists and stratigraphers, is well under way in collaboration with Jean Pierre Caulet. The RadWorld database currently contains references to the original descriptions and type species of 2527 genera and the original descriptions of almost 7000 species of Radiolaria, data that are updated on the Museum National d’Histoire Naturelle, Paris and the Radiolaria Organization Web sites.

Cathy spent 28 years in the United States living in Lexington, Massachusetts, and La Habra, California. During this time she was active in the lives and education of her two children through parent-teacher organizations, volunteering in the schools, and working in the high school library system. Five years ago Cathy and her husband Andy came home to Canada, settling in Canmore, Alberta. Cathy spent equal time pursuing her love for radiolarians, the database RadWorld, quilting, hiking in the Canadian Rockies, and traveling. She held many volunteer positions throughout her career. Since moving to Canmore she dedicated a great deal of her time to the development of the Canmore Museum and Geoscience Centre.

Cathy spread sunshine wherever she walked. A brilliant scientist and very positive and insightful person, she taught us many valuable lessons, particularly organizational skills, attention to detail, and sense of perfection, and has earned an everlasting place in our hearts. She will be sorely missed by her family, friends and colleagues who have enjoyed her friendship and benefited from her guidance.