Obituaries:Professor Wang Jingtai

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The Independent Online
Wang Jingtai was the founding Director of the Geological Hazards Institute of the Gansu Academy of Sciences in Lanzhou, and instrumental in setting up the research programme, involving collaboration with several Western European countries, which h as shed so much light on the catastrophic landslides characteristic of the thick wind-blown deposits ("loess") of north China.

This ambitious and innovative field research began, with the aid of European Community and Gansu provincial government finance, in 1987 and is not scheduled for completion until summer 1995. It is less than a year since Wang led a Gansu government delegation to France, Belgium, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom, and presented a memorable keynote lecture on modern dust-storms in China during the International Union for Quaternary Research/ Quaternary Resarch Association's conference at Royal Holloway, London University, on "Wind Blown Sediments in the Quaternary Record".

Wang was born of a farming family in Jing-Yuan County, Gansu Province, in 1935. His early promise was rewarded by a place in the renowned Department of Geology of Northwestern University in Xian, Shaanxi Province, from which he graduated with distinctionin 1960. He moved immediately to a Lectureship in the joint Department of Geography and Geology at Hua-Dong Normal University in Shanghai, where he taught Quaternary geology, mineralogy and lithology and worked on research into the sediments of the shallow offshore parts of the East China Sea and the recent history of its coastal changes, a subject dealt with in several of his early papers. It was consistent with this initial work that, in 1969, he moved to the Department of Marine Geology at Tong-ji University in Shanghai. The succeeding nine years saw his growth into a mature earth science researcher as he became involved in, and then directed, programmes in the sedimentology and evolution of the great deltas of the Chang Jiang (Yangtze) River and the Hwang He (Yellow) River.

After 18 years in Shanghai, Wang was spotted by the remarkable scholar Professor Shi Yafeng who, as Director of the Institute of Glaciology and Geocryology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, lured Wang back to Lanzhou, the capital city of Gansu. Wang turned to the challenge of glacial geology in remote regions of Tibet and Xinjiang with characteristic style and vigour. As a research associate he obtained wide experience of China's "wild west" and rose to the rank of Associate Professor and then to Dire ctorship of the Glacial Division of the institute. His researches and publications on the evidence for climatic change over the past two to three million years drew him into studies of glacier variations, glacial sedimentology, frozen ground research, gr oundwater variations and, most important, the history of the great lakes of China's west. Several of the papers he published at this stage in his life have proved to be milestones both in content and approach.

Yet a further challenge lay ahead. In 1985, he was asked to take on the task of setting up the Geological Hazards Research Institute in Lanzhou city as the first (and still the only) natural hazard research institute in China. As an initiative by a Provincial rather than the Central Government this was from the first a remarkable venture. As the institute's Director, Wang was quick to see its potential, and became involved in a range of research and engineering and applied geology. Landslides, a regularsource of fatalities in this part of China, occupied much of his attention.

It is a remarkable tribute to Wang's breadth of vision, however, that he never lost his almost child-like enthusiasm for the great puzzles posed by the Earth's changing climate as recorded in landforms and sediments. The enthusiasm lasted to the end. While in his hospital bed, he was involved (with one of his consultant surgeons) in drafting a new research programme in geomedical research.

Wang was a man of great modesty and compassion. Many young scientists from the United Kingdom are indebted to him for the fundamental role he played in ensuring that their doctoral research programmes were completed both successfully and with great pleasure.

Edward Derbyshire

Wang Jingtai, earth scientist: born Jing-Yuan County, Gansu Province 30 December 1935; Lecturer, Department of Geography and Geology, Hua-Dong Normal University, Shanghai 1960-69; Researcher, Department of Marine Geology, Tong-ji University, Shanghai 196

9-78; Research Associate, then Assistant Professor, then Director of the Glacial Division, Institute of Glaciology and Geocryology, Chinese Academy of Sciences 1978-85; Director, Geological Hazards Institute, Gansu Academy of Sciences, Lanzhou 1985-94; married Rong-Rong (one son, three daughters); died Lanzhou, Gansu Province 24 November 1994.