The Vetlesen Prize was established in 1959 by the New York-based G. Unger Vetlesen Foundation. Awarded for “scientific achievement resulting in a clearer understanding of the Earth, its history, or its relation to the universe,” the prize was designed to be the Nobel Prize of the Earth sciences.
The prize is administered by Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, one of the world’s leading Earth science research institutions, which convenes a committee from both its own ranks and those of other major institutions to judge nominations.
Competition for the Vetlesen Prize is open to any individual worldwide. The prize includes a cash award of $250,000 and a gold medal. The awardee is also invited to give a Vetlesen Lecture at Columbia University.
The Vetlesen Prize was established in 1959 by The G. Unger Vetlesen Foundation and is administered by Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory.
The prize is awarded for scientific achievement resulting in a clearer understanding of the Earth, its history, or its relation to the universe.
Designed to rank in its field in importance and honor with the Nobel awards, the Vetlesen is acknowledged as the premier prize in this area.
Competition for the Vetlesen Prize is open to any individual who can reside and work anywhere in the world.
Selection is made by a five-member jury appointed by the president of Columbia University.
The prize is awarded on average once every three years if the jury selects at least one worthy candidate during this period.
The awardee is invited to give a Vetlesen Lecture at Columbia University on the subject of their choice at a banquet co-hosted by The G. Unger Vetlesen Foundation and Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. The Vetlesen Prize is awarded publicly following the lecture.
The prize consists of a cash award of $250,000, a gold medal, and travel expenses to the Vetlesen Lecture for the awardee and the awardee’s spouse or other family member (if the awardee lives outside the New York City area).
2023 Vetlesen Prize Laureate
Physicist David Kohlstedt, whose pioneering experiments have shown how processes at inaccessible depths drive what happens on the planet's surface, is the winner of the 2023 Vetlesen Prize for significant achievement in the Earth sciences. Learn more about Kohlstedt's work and this prestigious honor, as well as about the April 26 Vetlesen Prize Lectures by Kohlstedt and 2020 Laureate Anny Cazenave.
A physicist who has illuminated the workings of the deep earth has won the 2023 Vetlesen Prize, considered by many to be the earth sciences’ highest honor. Over the last 50 years, David L. Kohlstedt of the University of Minnesota has performed high-pressure, high-temperature lab experiments to re-create processes at fiery, inaccessible depths that control much of what happens at the surface. The research has helped lay much of the basis for modern understanding of volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, the rise of mountain ranges and the opening of ocean basins.
2020 Vetlesen Prize Laureate
Geophysicist Anny Cazenave received the 2020 Vetlesen Prize for her pioneering work in charting modern sea-level rise and linking it with climate change. Learn more about Anny Cazenave and her work in this profile and this Q&A.
G. Unger Vetlesen & Vetlesen Foundation
Georg Unger Vetlesen was a Norwegian sailor and naval engineer who became a successful ship builder in the United States. He served as a commander in the U.S. Navy during World War II, and later became president and chairman of the U.S. company representing the Norwegian American Line. He also was a founder and chairman of the board of the Scandinavian Airline System, Inc. G. Unger Vetlesen established the foundation which bears his name shortly before his death in 1955. In addition to the Vetlesen Prize, the foundation provides support in the Earth sciences for institutions of excellence.
Georg Unger Vetlesen was born in the seaport city of Oslo, the son of a well-known Norwegian surgeon. From his early years, he loved the sea, and at the age of eleven signed on as a crew member on a ship bound for Copenhagen.
Later, he studied in England, earning degrees in naval architecture and mechanical engineering from the Imperial Institute of London, and worked with a British shipbuilding firm. In 1913, the young Vetlesen went to Canada where he worked as a miner. In 1916 he came to the United States, which henceforth was his permanent home. He was in the shipbuilding business for many years.
In the 1930’s the Vetlesens acquired the 202-ft. vessel Vema, a three-masted schooner on which they spent many pleasurable days at sea. The beautiful vessel, with her almost indestructible Swedish steel hull, is still active and has become renowned as one of the world’s most productive oceanographic research vessels. Vema was acquired by Columbia University in 1953 and was for many years a principal research ship of Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory (then the Lamont Geological Observatory). It was later purchased by a charter cruise company and restored to its former status as a luxury cruise ship.
During World War II, Mr. Vetlesen worked with untiring devotion both for his adopted country and his native Norway. His contribution to the rebuilding of the Royal Norwegian Air Force will always be remembered. In 1943 he joined the United States Navy, with the rank of Commander and was assigned to Special Forces headquarters in London to work with the Norwegian resistance.
After the war, Mr. Vetlesen served as president and chairman of the United States company representing the Norwegian American Line, and was a founder and chairman of the board of Scandinavian Airlines System, Inc., which began transatlantic operations in 1946. One of his main tasks during his later years was to help make a smooth-running organization of a company with three owners: Sweden, Denmark and Norway. His contributions to this end were remarkable.
G. Unger Vetlesen established the foundation which bears his name shortly before his death in 1955. In addition to the Vetlesen Prize, the foundation provides support in the Earth sciences for institutions of excellence.
The G. Unger Vetlesen Foundation
(founded in 1955 by the late Georg Unger Vetlesen)
One Rockefeller Center
New York, NY 10020-2102