UVic geologist wins Kyoto Prize for research

Paul Hoffman in the Mackenzie Mountains of the Northwest Territories. Photo subm
Paul Hoffman in the Mackenzie Mountains of the Northwest Territories. Photo submitted.
University of Victoria Adjunct Professor Paul Hoffman has won the Kyoto Prize for his tenacious research of Earth’s geological history.

Dr. Hoffman’s immense field research spanning 60 years in Arctic Canada and Sub-Saharan Africa is crucial to our understanding of the Earth’s surface-knowledge that students now, and for many years to come, will build upon in their academic pursuits."

--Lisa Kalynchuk, UVic vice-president research and innovation
Widely considered to be the Japanese equivalent of the Nobel Prize, the Kyoto Prize from the Inamori Foundation is presented internationally to individuals who have made significant contributions in the fields of science and technology, arts and philosophy. Hoffman is the first geologist and third-ever Canadian to be recognized.

Hoffman’s research career notably argued the "snowball Earth hypothesis," which explained existing evidence that glaciers had previously existed at sea level in what are now the warmest parts of the world. The theory proposes that there have been times in Earth’s history where the planet’s surface was nearly entirely frozen, with no liquid water exposed to the atmosphere.

At the time, the theory was rejected by scientists as implausible, believing there was no mechanism for the planet to come back from an extensive glaciation. Hoffman recognized the theory was testable, deciding to conduct geological surveys in Namibia to study 600-million-year-old glacial deposits. Those surveys showed signs of life ceased immediately after glaciation-a result consistent with the hypothesis.

Hoffman began his career as a research scientist for the Geological Survey of Canada, where he made waves studying plate tectonics. In 1992, he joined UVic’s School of Earth and Ocean Sciences where he started his research into snowball Earth. He continued that work during his 14-year appointment as the Sturgis Hooper Professor of Geology at Harvard University, and then returned to UVic in 2011 as an adjunct professor actively engaged in research.

Kyoto Prize recipients are awarded 100 million yen (approximately CDN $850,000).

Read the full profile on Paul Hoffman.

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Keywords: award , environment , earthquake , international , administrative , climate , , strat plan category of people , place and planet , SDG15 , life on land

People: Paul Hoffman , Lisa Kalynchuk