JOHANNA MARTHA RESIG / 1932-2007
Expert studied sea fossils
World-renowned University of Hawaii researcher Johanna Martha Resig, called a role model for women in science, died Sept. 19 at Hospice Hawaii. She was 75.
"She was a very humble person," said Janice C. Marsters, principal at Masa Fujioka & Associates, who took many cruises with Resig. "She was extremely well known worldwide and loved by everyone she met. It's a huge loss to us."
Born in Los Angeles, Resig was an expert in a specialized field of micropaleontology, studying microfossils in ocean bottom sediments, said Brian Taylor, dean of the UH School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology.
"For those interested in tectonics, if submarine land was subsiding or rising, Johanna, from bugs in the sediments, could tell you what was going on."
Resig earned a master's degree in science in 1956 at the University of Southern California under a leading micropaleontologist. She then worked for the Allen Hancock Foundation, studying living foraminifera (microfossils) of the Southern California coast.
Her research papers are cited among pioneering applications of the field now known as environmental micropaleontology, said Marsters, who met Resig on a marine geology research cruise off Peru in 1986.
Marsters said she moved to Hawaii about 1 1/2 years later to work on a doctoral degree at UH and Resig was on her dissertation committee. The two became close friends, she said.
Resig went to Christian Albrechts University in Kiel, Germany, on a Fulbright grant for research in 1962. Her fellowship was extended, enabling her to earn a doctorate in natural science there in 1965, when she was recruited by the Hawaii Institute of Geophysics.
She was the first woman on the HIG faculty and the only one for many years, starting as an assistant micropaleontologist, Marsters said. She became an associate micropaleontologist in 1970 and had a joint appointment in 1990 as an HIG researcher and professor in the Department of Geology and Geophysics.
She studied microfossils around Hawaii and the Pacific Basin, participating in scientific cruises of the Deep Sea Drilling Project.
Chuck Helsley, Sea Grant emeritus researcher and former HIG director, said Resig "will be sorely missed. ... She was one of the old-style micropaleontologists that looked at bugs themselves. ... She was a tremendous walking encyclopedia... of the morphology of foraminifera."
Her expertise was in knowing how to extract microfossils from layers of the sea floor and "how to identify them through a narrow piece of time," he said.
"This is very essential expertise for making use of data coming from a research drill ship where we sample cores and want to know how old they are and what they tell is about chemistry in the past."
Such information was "one of the key steppingstones to making sense of the history of the ocean basins," he said.
Resig discovered and described five new species of foraminifera, including a group that "in the mammalian world would be akin to the discovery of a group such as primates," Marsters said.
Resig also was a dedicated teacher and mentor and an author of more than 50 articles in scientific books, journals and academic papers. She supported the arts and volunteered as a tutor reading to elementary school children.
She was a former editor of the Journal of Foraminiferal Research Group, member of the board of directors of the Cushman Foundation for Foraminiferal Research and member of the Society for Sedimentary Geology for more than 50 years.
She retired in 2001 as an emeritus professor, continuing her research in a small office in SOEST until early this year.
Marsters said they traveled to Scotland and Ireland in October. Her health began to fail upon her return and she learned in April she had inoperable cancer.
Survivors include sisters Mary Alley of Folsom, Calif., and Peggy Van Sickle of Austin, Texas, and many nieces and nephews.
Colleagues plan a private memorial service.