In memoriam Ingeborg Levin

14 February 2024
Ingeborg Levin in 2022 when she received the Alfred Wegener Medal of EU.

By Werner L Kutsch, ICOS ERIC Director General                      

I don’t remember from where to where I was travelling, I only remember that I was at a train station when Ingeborg called. “Werner! We have to talk about ICOS. I am concerned…” We had a long discussion about her concerns that helped me to re-adjust my viewpoints, helped me to further succeed as ICOS Director General. Ingeborg was much more than just a good colleague for me; she was a good friend. In a way we wish that good friends are: showing solidarity, being open and clear with critics, direct but always caring and full of empathy. 

I am grateful for having this friendship for almost two decades. We first met in CarboEurope IP (2004 – 2007) where she was on the Executive Board and I as a postdoc running a cluster of eddy covariance stations. CarboEurope IP was the fundament for ICOS and Ingeborg one of the initiators of the ESFRI proposal that put ICOS to the first ESFRI Roadmap in 2006. We continued our cooperation during the ICOS Preparatory Project (2008 – 2013) and the national negotiations for ICOS Germany. 

In 2011 we achieved national funding for ICOS Germany, which included the ICOS Central Laboratories in Jena and Heidelberg. Ingeborg became responsible for the implementation of the Central Radiocarbon Laboratory (CRL) that she and her team built up with awesome enthusiasm and finally handed over to Samuel Hammer, who had done his PhD during the CarboEurope times and worked with her since then. 

Ingeborg had no children but a large academic family. She was a wonderful teacher and supervisor thoroughly bringing out the best in her students. And she was able, even happy and proud, to let them grow as postdocs. As a mentor, she inspired young scientists through her genuine interest in their work and her openness to discussing scientific ideas, leaving a lasting impact on the next generation of researchers. Inside ICOS, Sam Hammer, now Director of the CRL and Ute Karstens, now leading scientist at the ICOS Carbon Portal, may be the best examples of this attitude: academic children became siblings.  
Ingeborg passed away last Saturday, 10. February 2024.  

The last time I met her was in November last year when we visited the CRL with members of the ICOS Scientific Advisory Board. The day before the ICOS General Assembly had secured the membership contributions for the next five years. Ingeborg and Sam were guiding us through the lab and suddenly Ingeborg turned to me and said: “If you see that, you know that all the efforts have been worth it, don’t you?”  She was proud and happy. 

And these efforts were much more than uncounted concept papers, proposals, presentations to and negotiations with stakeholders. The foundation for all that was an enormously rich and creative scientific life. She has been the pioneer of radiocarbon measurements in atmospheric CO2. Once she had realised their potential as independent validation for inventory-based greenhouse gas emission estimates, she untiringly worked for a global network to measure atmospheric radiocarbon.

With these long-term observations she laid the foundation for our current understanding of the global carbon cycle long before the word ‘research infrastructure’ was invented. Her profound knowledge on radiocarbon eradiated into other disciplines beyond atmospheric sciences. In 2020, Ingeborg received the Alfred Wegener Medal by the EGU, the final remark of the laudation was: “It is hard to imagine what the fields of atmospheric sciences and biogeochemistry would look like today without Levin’s contributions. Her work practice over decades is a shining light of integrity, rigour and dedication, and she is an important role model for young scientists (male and female) everywhere.”

Farewell, Ingeborg, we will miss you.


You are warmly invited to participate in Ingeborg’s Kudoboard, filling it with your memories and thoughts of Ingeborg.
A memorial event will be organised in Heidelberg University on the 1st of March, 2024. 

A story about Ingeborg on ICOS website when she received her Alfred Wegener Medal of EGU in 2020.