Dr. Tsaihwa James Chow in laboratory, 1965.

Obituary Notice: Pioneer in Isotope Geochemistry: Tsaihwa J. Chow


Dr. Tsaihwa J. Chow, a geochemist with a long association with Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego, died at UCSD's Thornton Hospital on Wednesday, June 21, 2006, after a prolonged battle with Parkinson's Disease. He was 81 years old.

Chow was born in Shanghai on October 13, 1924, and received a B.S. degree in 1946 from the National Chiao-tung University in Shanghai, an M.S. degree from Washington State University in 1949 and a Ph.D. degree from the University of Washington in 1953.

After leaving the University of Washington, he worked with geochemist Clair Patterson at Caltech from 1955-1959, establishing a long-term collaboration. Their ground breaking research papers on lead isotopes in oceanic sediments, particularly in ice sheets in Northern Greenland and Antarctica, ultimately led to the recognition that human-produced lead production was a worldwide and major pollution problem.

During his long association with Scripps Institution of Oceanography, beginning in 1959 and continuing until 1988 when he became an emeritus research scientist, he worked as a geochemist on a series of topics of importance to the geochemistry of the ocean. After his arrival at Scripps Oceanography he put his efforts into the study of lead isotopes in seawater, sediments, manganese nodules and in environmental samples. Of particular note was a scientific paper he authored on the occurrence and significance of lead isotopes in pelagic sediments. The environmental importance of the use of lead isotopes was made clear by his studies of these isotopes in gasoline and aerosols in 1965 in the Los Angeles Basin as well as in other environments.

Chow extended his interests in the study of various other elements (potassium, rubidium, barium, indium, and nutrients) in the ocean, working with his colleagues at Scripps Oceanography. Throughout his years at Scripps, however, his main focus remained on the studies of lead and lead isotopes in nature. Through the use of his unique mass spectrometer at Scripps, Chow had been one the foremost pioneers in the applications of lead isotope geochemistry in the natural environment.

Chow received the Ishibashi Prize in Marine Chemistry from the Research Institute Oceanochem in Kyoto, Japan, in 1989.

In addition, Chow also was among the first Scripps scientists to act as a "Scientific Ambassador" of Scripps Institution of Oceanography to geochemical science colleagues in the People's Republic of China, not only through his active participation in research studies in China, but also through his own financial support of some early ventures of publication of scientific efforts in oceanography and geochemistry in China. This interaction began after 1972 when official delegations of scientists in China and the U.S. began exchange visits. Chow was one of the Scripps faculty members to officially welcome the delegation of oceanographers from China who visited Scripps in April 1978. Chow visited China in 1979 and later years at the invitation of the Academica Sinica of the People's Republic of China.

A memorial meeting will be held on Saturday, July 22, at 10:30 am, at El Camino Memorial Park, 5600 Carroll Canyon Road San Diego, CA 92121.

Chow was a resident of La Jolla, California.

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