Utrecht University perfmafrost researcher wins Vening Meinesz Prize

9 April 2014

Earth scientist Jorien Vonk has won the Vening Meinesz Prize. She is investigating the influence of melting permafrost on the climate. Vonk is the first woman to have won this prize of 10,000 euros for the best earth sciences research by a researcher who has gained his or her PhD within the past five years.

Jorien Vonk with jury chair Cor LangereisJorien Vonk with jury chair Cor Langereis

Dr Jorien Vonk is a specialist in the area of global warming and ecosystems in the Arctic region. Her research reveals that old carbon that was frozen solid in the soil is mobilised as a result of global warming. It is subsequently broken down in the aquatic systems downstream. This not only has major consequences for the food webs in lakes, rivers and coastal seas, but also for the emission of greenhouse gases: the warming up of Arctic ecosystems enhances global warming due to the emission of greenhouse gases.

Vonk is currently doing research in Siberia into Yedoma, an old form of permafrost that looks like frozen mud. It is comparable to frozen peat. Yedoma contains just as much carbon as all of the living mass on earth put together. The current climate change, which occurs more strongly in Arctic regions, can cause the organic material in the Yedoma to defrost and convert into the greenhouse gasses carbon dioxide and the 20 times stronger methane. That could be a tipping point for the entire climate system on earth.


Jorien Vonk studied at the VU University Amsterdam and gained her doctorate from Stockholm University. After that she worked at the renowned ETH in Zurich before returning to the Netherlands as a member of staff at Utrecht University (geosciences) and the Arctic Centre of the University of Groningen. She combines various scientific disciplines: geology, marine geochemistry (the cycle of chemical elements in seawater) and hydrology. She is the first female winner of the Vening Meinesz Prize, which was awarded for the first time in 1965.

About NWO

With a budget of 625 million euros per year, the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO) is one of the biggest funding bodies for scientific research in the Netherlands. NWO promotes quality and innovation in science by selecting and funding the best research. It manages research institutes of national and international importance, contributes to strategic programming of scientific research in the Netherlands and brings science and society closer together. Research proposals are reviewed and selected by researchers of international repute. More than 5000 scientists can carry out research thanks to funding from NWO.


The selection committee was particularly impressed by the independent and entrepreneurial manner with which Vonk has pursued her career. Besides numerous small grants, she has acquired a Rubicon and a Veni grant for individual researchers from NWO. She did that independently without being embedded in a research group with big names. That enables her to follow her own course. To date that has yielded 19 publications in peer-reviewed journals such as Nature, Nature Geoscience and PNAS. Her considerable foreign experience has given her an impressive international network. For example, she participates in the Polaris project, a project funded by the American National Science Foundation for which she provides leadership to fieldwork in Siberia for a period of one month. She is also aware of the importance of communicating about scientific research. She is contributing to a series in the De Volkskrant newspaper in which researchers are followed in their daily work and she is also developing teaching material for geography teachers.


Vening Meinesz Prize

Jorien Vonk received the prize of 10,000 euros during the 12th Nederlands Aardwetenschappelijk Congres on 9 April in Veldhoven. NWO Earth and Life Sciences awards this prize to the most highly promising earth scientist who has recently gained his or her PhD. The Vening Meinesz Prize is named after one of the founding fathers of the Dutch Earth sciences and has been made possible by the legacy of professor Felix Vening Meinesz himself. The prize is intended for the funding of research-related costs.


Source: NWO

Further information

NWO, Information and Communication Department, tel.: +31 70 344 07 41