Fontes, J-C

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Jean-Charles Fontes


Jean-Charles Fonte 1936 (France) - 1994 (Mali)


Professor Fontes was a former student of the Ecole Normale Sup+rieure at Saint-Cloud. His stay during the early 1960s at the Laboratorio di Geologia Nucleare in Pisa represented a turning point in his scientific development. This laboratory was one of the most important centers for isotope geology in Europe and was host to many isotope geochemists active at that time. He became a full Professor at the University of Paris-Sud in 1984 and was elevated to 'classe exceptionnelle' at the same University in 1992. At the end of 1993 he took leave of absence from the University to become Head of the Isotope Hydrology Section of the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna. He was well known to the United Nations as he had acted on about 30 occasions as an expert for the IAEA, UNESCO, UNDP and the WMO.

Whilst a French National, he was, in reality, a citizen of the world. Through his distinguished career he was involved in more than 40 major missions and joint studies in North Africa, the Middle East, Far East, South Africa, South America, North America, Australia and of course Europe. His wide travels are certainly not the only reason for his enormous impact on geochemistry in the last two decades.

His keen intellect, great wit and intellectual cunning made him an exciting and influential collaborator. His infectious enthusiasm for his science was such that highly motivated research teams developed around him wherever he worked. He was one of the truly great geochemists of his time. His prodigious output is evidenced by the fact that he was the author of around 300 publications, around 200 of these in refereed journals. He was also responsible as co-editor with Peter Fritz for the landmark publication Handbook of Environmental Isotope Geochemistry. His influence continues through the many students who are now working in different countries.

His strong influence around the Globe was matched by his influence on science in France. He was Head of a CNRS Research Unit, a Member of the National Committee of CNRS and a Member of one of ORSTOM's scientific committees.

Apart from being on the Editorial Advisory Board of the Journal of Hydrology, he was also a member of the Editorial panels of five other international journals. The IAEA has lost a dynamic leader. The University of Paris Sud has lost one of its best Professors, the world a truly great geochemist and most importantly, to those of us fortunate enough to have worked with him, a close friend and exciting colleague.

Professor Jean-Charles Fontes tragically died as a result of a road accident in Mali in February 1994

Hydrological Achievements[edit]

Prof. Fontes made valuable scientific contributions to the use of isotopes in hydrology and palaeohydrology, including his leading role as Head of the Isotope Hydrology Section of the IAEA in Vienna.

Reference Material[edit]

Source: Allison, G. B., 1994,Obituary: Jean-Charles Fontes, Journal of Hydrology 161: 1-2

Source: Peter Fritz, Roberto Gonfiantini and GianMaria Zuppi, 1994, Obituary, Jean-Charles Fontes, Rodiocarbon, 36(1), ix-x

Major Publications[edit]


Fritz, P and Fontes, J.C. (Eds.), 1980. Environmental isotopes in groundwater hydrology. In Handbook of environmental isotope geochemistry. Vol. 1. Elsevier.


Fontes, J.C. and Garnier, J.M., 1979. Determination of the initial 14C activity of the total dissolved carbon: A review of the existing models and a new approach. Water resources research, 15(2), pp.399-413.

Fontes, J.C., Yousfi, M. and Allison, G.B., 1986. Estimation of long-term, diffuse groundwater discharge in the northern Sahara using stable isotope profiles in soil water. Journal of Hydrology, 86(3), pp.315-327.

Andrews, J.N., Fontes, J.C., Michelot, J.L. and Elmore, D., 1986. In-situ neutron flux, 36 Cl production and groundwater evolution in crystalline rocks at Stripa, Sweden. Earth and planetary science letters, 77(1), pp.49-58.

Gasse, F., Fontes, J.C., Plaziat, J.C., Carbonel, P., Kaczmarska, I., De Deckker, P., Soulié-Marsche, I., Callot, Y. and Dupeuble, P.A., 1987. Biological remains, geochemistry and stable isotopes for the reconstruction of environmental and hydrological changes in the Holocene lakes from North Sahara. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology, 60, pp.1-46.

Gasse, F., Lédée, V., Massault, M. and Fontes, J.C., 1989. Water-level fluctuations of Lake Tanganyika in phase with oceanic changes during the last glaciation and deglaciation. Nature, 342(6245), pp.57-59.

Gasse, F., Téhet, R., Durand, A., Gibert, E. and Fontes, J.C., 1990. The arid humid transition in the Sahara and the Sahel during the last deglaciation.

Gasse, F., Arnold, M., Fontes, J.C., Fort, M., Gibert, E., Huc, A., Bingyan, L., Yuanfang, L., Qing, L., Melieres, F. and Van Campo, E., 1991. A 13, 000-year climate record from western Tibet. Nature, 353(6346), pp.742-745.

Fontes, J.C., 1992. Chemical and isotopic constraints on 14C dating of groundwater. In Radiocarbon after four decades (pp. 242-261). Springer New York.

Fontes, J.C. and Matray, J.M., 1993. Geochemistry and origin of formation brines from the Paris Basin, France: 1. Brines associated with Triassic salts. Chemical Geology, 109(1), pp.149-175.

Fontes, J.C., Melieres, F., Gibert, E., Qing, L. and Gasse, F., 1993. Stable isotope and radiocarbon balances of two Tibetan lakes (Sumxi Co, Longmu Co) from 13,000 BP. Quaternary Science Reviews, 12(10), pp.875-887.

Barker, P., Fontes, J.C., Gasse, F. and Druart, J.C., 1994. Experimental dissolution of diatom silica in concentrated salt solutions and implications for paleoenvironmental reconstruction. Limnology and Oceanography, 39(1), pp.99-110.

Fontes, J.C., Gasse, F. and Gibert, E., 1996. Holocene environmental changes in Lake Bangong basin (Western Tibet). Part 1: Chronology and stable isotopes of carbonates of a Holocene lacustrine core. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology, 120(1), pp.25-47.

Rhodes, T.E., Gasse, F., Lin, R., Fontes, J.C., Wei, K., Bertrand, P., Gibert, E., Mélières, F., Tucholka, P., Wang, Z. and Cheng, Z.Y., 1996. A late pleistocene-Holocene lacustrine record from Lake Manas, Zunggar (northern Xinjiang, western China). Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology, 120(1), pp.105-121.

Gonfiantini, R., Roche, M.A., Olivry, J.C., Fontes, J.C. and Zuppi, G.M., 2001. The altitude effect on the isotopic composition of tropical rains. Chemical Geology, 181(1), pp.147-167.


Fritz, P., 1997, Saline groundwater and brines in crystalline rocks: the contributions of John Andrews and Jean-Charles Fontes to the solution of a hydrogeological and geochemical problem, 12(6):851–856, doi:10.1016/S0883-2927(97)00074-7