UC Berkeley Professor Emeritus, Amazon Expert Dies at 93

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Amazonian geography expert and UC Berkeley professor emeritus of geography Hilgard Sternberg died March 2 in Fremont from natural causes. He was 93.

Sternberg was born in 1917 in Rio de Janeiro to a German father and Irish mother. His father named him after scientist Eugene W. Hilgard, a founding dean of the UC Berkeley College of Agriculture in the 19th century. Sternberg earned both his bachelor's and master's degrees from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro - formerly known as the University of Brazil, Rio de Janeiro. He earned a doctorate in 1956 from Louisiana State University for a thesis on the Mississippi River and a doctorate in geography from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro in 1958.

While studying in Brazil, Sternberg became the executive secretary of the International Geographical Union and organized the first congress in Rio de Janeiro. His passion to learn and explain the physical geography, ecology and anthropology of the Amazon continued throughout his career and were explained in works, such as the "Water and People in the Floodplain of Careiro," which critics said broke new ground with its focus on the Amazon near Manus Island and the people living along its banks.

His son Ricardo Sternberg described his father as generous and obsessive about helping those in need. He was also very dedicated and serious when it came to his family.

"When they asked him a question, he gave it his full attention," Ricardo Sternberg said.

Hilgard Sternberg served as chair of geography of Brazil from 1944 to 1964 at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, where he founded the Center for Research in the Geography of Brazil before joining the staff in the geography department at UC Berkeley in 1964.

As a professor on campus, he focused on studying the human impact on the environment, according to his sons Ricardo and Leonel Sternberg.

His wife Carolina Sternberg often accompanied him to the field. Fluent in Portuguese as well as English, she worked with him writing scripts.

"It was a working team," Leonel Sternberg said.

Leonel Sternberg, a biologist, said he worked with his father on a project trying to abate fires in the Amazon for approximately two years, attempting to identify the type of vegetation that was causing the combustion.

"He was a pioneer in investigating the Amazon and famous for his carbonate pot charts, used to get an idea of how the lands were changing," Leonel Sternberg said.

At age 93, Hilgard Sternberg was still working on articles and planning projects. He worked throughout the Amazon while he was a professor and continued that work after he retired.

His last project was a study of the relationship between the levels of evaporation and water levels in the lakes at the Serra dos Carajas in Brazil.

"Some people say live every day as if it were your last," Ricardo Sternberg said. "My father lived his life as if he had his whole life in front of him, as if he would live forever."

He is survived by his wife Carolina Sternberg; his three sons Hilgard Sternberg Jr., Ricardo Sternberg and Leonel Sternberg; his two daughters Maria Mangiola and Cristina Rausch; six grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.


Contact Theresa Adams at [email protected]

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