Dieter Stöffler, 1940–2023

Dieter Stöffler

Credit: Museum für Naturkunde.

It is with profound sadness that we have to report that our dear friend, mentor, and colleague Dieter Stöffler passed away on the evening of Wednesday, April 5, 2023. Stöffler had retired from the Museum für Naturkunde in Berlin in 2004 but remained very active in research and contributed to postgraduate supervision until about 2018, when he became ill. He was 83 years old.

Stöffler must be considered a true beacon of planetary science in general, and one of the outstanding members of the Meteoritical Society. We assume that his name is well known to the majority of members as synonymous with the Ries impact crater, shock metamorphism, lunar science, meteoritics, and lithopanspermia.

Stöffler enjoyed a truly exceptional career. From 1974 to 1987, he was a professor of Petrography and Economic Geology at the Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität (WWU) in Muenster. Then he became the founding director of the Institute of Planetology and Professor of Cosmic Mineralogy at the WWU. In 1993 he transferred to the Museum für Naturkunde in Berlin and became a professor of Mineralogy and Petrography at Humboldt Universität zu Berlin (HUB). He was director of the museum until 1999, then director of the HUB Institute of Mineralogy until 2004, when he officially retired and became professor emeritus. Milestones achieved during this time were the establishment of the Münster Institute of Planetology and the restoration of the East Berlin Museum für Naturkunde to a world-class research and outreach institution. He successfully supervised no less than 20 diplomas/M.Sc. theses and 30 doctoral projects, published extensively, and provided the funding for a host of prestigious research projects.

Foremost among his research accomplishments is Stöffler’s seminal work on shock metamorphism. He and Wolf von Engelhardt established the concept of progressive shock metamorphism at — where else? — the Ries crater. This was followed by a huge number of petrographic studies on terrestrial impactites, lunar breccias, and meteorites. His shock classifications for major rock-forming minerals have been put to use by an entire generation of researchers since. His petrographic findings were calibrated by a series of shock recovery experiments. And, in the last decades, numerical modeling was widely employed by his group in cratering and shock studies. Stöffler’s legacy was built on the application of four lines of research: crater geological, petrographic, shock experimental, and numerical modeling studies.

Over five decades of active research, with numerous postgraduate students and post-docs, and in frequent collaboration with often international colleagues, Stöffler completed numerous projects, some of which involved large groups in the form of consortia. Some of the most memorable achievements of this work included crater studies: Sudbury, Haughton, West Clearwater, and a suite of Scandinavian craters. But throughout his career, Ries played a feature role.

Stöffler was the Principal Investigator of the International Continental Scientific Drilling Program’s Yaxcopoil-1 Drilling Consortium at Chicxulub. He classified Apollo rock collections from the Moon and extensively researched the shock effects and shock histories of meteorites. He was involved with pilot studies regarding asteroid and comet sampling missions, in close collaboration with European Space Agency and NASA committees. The successful Rosetta mission to comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko was initially based on Stöffler’s groundbreaking committee work. Together with scientists from the Deutsches Institut für Luft- und Raumfahrt (DLR) and Ernst-Mach-Institut für Kurzzeit-Dynamik, Stöffler developed a test program for the lithopanspermia hypothesis that suggested that primitive lifeforms could sustain high shock conditions, a fundamental requirement for transfer of life between planetary bodies.

No tribute to Stöffler would be complete without recognizing his dedication to public education and outreach. He spearheaded the establishment of a first-class planetary science museum in the city of Nördlingen, in the Ries crater, and followed this up by the development of the Zentrum for Ries-Krater-Forschung in Nördlingen (ZERIN) facility. These institutions have since been the foundation for the creation of the national Geopark Ries — ultimately becoming a Global Geopark Ries in 2021.

During his career, Stöffler was the recipient of national and international recognition for his achievements. In 1989, he received a highly prestigious Gottfried-Wilhelm-Leibniz-Price from the German Science Foundation. In 1991, he received a Letter of Honor from the City of Nördlingen for achievements in Ries crater research, and the asteroid 4283(1988) was named “Stöffler” in his honor by the International Astronomical Union. The Barringer Medal for Impact Cratering Research was bestowed on Stöffler by the Meteoritical Society in 1993, and in 1996 he was elected a Fellow of the Society. In Germany, Stöffler was elected a Member of the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences in 1995 and a member of the German National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina in 1998. Finally in 2003, he received the Ries Cultural Award for outstanding achievements in Ries crater research. Stöffler served the Meteoritical Society for many years, serving as president of the society from 1997 to 1998 and helping to organize the annual meeting in Berlin in 1996.

Stöffler taught us all so much, including how to do science right. His dedication to science and education, always striving for the best possible outcome, is an example for us all. He has been a cornerstone in many of our lives, and will be missed by us all.

— Text courtesy of Wolf Uwe Reimold, Natasha Artemieva, Lutz Hecht, Thomas Kenkmann, Falko Langenhorst, and Kai Wuennemann