Tom Berman (1934-2013)

Tom Berman (1934-2013)

Berman, TomProf. Tom Berman always wanted to see the Galapagos Islands. At the age of 79 he managed to get there for the first and last time in his life. He died on 13 April while hiking alone on a nature trail in one of the islands. Apparently he took off from the main path and fell on his forehead. To his last day he was healthy, professionally active and extremely productive.

Tom was born in 1934 to a Jewish family in the Czech Republic. Just before the onset of World War II, in 1939, his parents had the amazing foresight and courage to send Tom, their 5-year old son, alone, on the “Kindertransport” train with several hundred other refugee kids, from Prague to Holland, then by ferry to London, to foster families in Britain. This saved Tom’s life, while his parents and nearly all other family members perished in the Nazi concentration camps. Tom was lucky to have a new home and was raised by loving foster parents in Scotland. As a teenager Tom immigrated to Israel in 1952, and settled in Kibbutz Amiad. He later studied Agriculture for his BSc at Rutgers University (1956-1960), and continued with PhD studies in Microbiology at MIT (1960-1964). During his stay in the USA he married Debby, whom he met earlier in Israel and had 2 daughters. The young family returned to Israel and Kibbutz Amiad in 1964 where his third daughter was born.

In Israel, being a young and promising scientist, he was invited to establish the Kinneret Limnological Laboratory as one of the research laboratories of the then new Israel Oceanographic & Limnological Research Ltd. He was one of the founders of the Kinneret Limnologi­cal Laboratory in the late 1960s, its director from 1969-1970 and again from 1986 till his retirement in 1999, a research scientist at the lab in between his terms of directorship, and an active emeritus researcher after his retirement.

Jointly with Collete Serruya, Tom formulated the basic, interdisci­plinary approach of limnological research based on extensive long term lake monitoring that would become a hallmark of the Kinneret Lab policy over the years. They fostered the close ties between monitoring and research, understanding that this combination forms both the basis for future research and the basis for recommendations regarding the management of the lake as a main source of drinking water for the State of Israel. This approach provided an example of how to conduct ecosystem research and contribute to the Kinneret Limnological Laboratory becoming well known internationally.

Throughout his career, Tom nurtured research ties with limnologists and oceanographers all over the world. In the pre-internet era, he did this by spending several sabbatical years at other research institutes (1970-71: Scripps Institute of Oceanography, California; 1976/77: University of Georgia, USA; 1982: Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences, USA; 1985/86: the University of Hawaii; 1991: the Institute for Meerekunde, Univerisity of Kiel, Germany; 1993: Institute for Ecosystem Studies, Millbrook, NY), by additional short-term visits as research fellow in other countries, by participating in many international scientific meetings, and by hosting overseas guests at the Kinneret Limnological Laboratory.

Tom Berman was an active and prolific microbial ecologist, with a feel for where the scientific wind is blowing and making sure he is always at the frontier. He made major contributions in a wide range of fields. He was one of the first to demonstrate that alkaline phosphatase activity could be used as an indicator of algal P limitation. He pioneered in studies of algal extracellular release of DOC. He discovered deep chlorophyll maxima in Lake Tahoe and in the Eastern Mediterranean, and boasted for the deepest Secchi disc record ever made (54 m, in the Eastern Mediterranean. He studied the uptake of inorganic N and P by phytoplankton and bacteria, and later explored the role of DON and DOP as nutrient sources for phytoplankton in freshwaters. He was one of the pioneers in studies of Protista and the microbial loop. He developed C flux models for Lake Kinneret. Recently he initiated studies of transparent exo-polymers (TEP) in freshwater and their role in desalination technology. Tom Berman published nearly 200 articles in peer-reviewed journals, his most cited articles are listed below.

Tom had a great sense of humor. As a limnologist that grew up in Scotland he published an unsolicited paper in the Journal of Irreproducible Results, entitled: On the nature and numbers of monsters in Loch Ness.

Tom was one of the founding fathers of SIL’s Group on Aquatic Primary Productivity, GAP (jointly with Mitsuro Sakamoto, Zvy Dubinsky and Max Tilzer) and its first chairman, from 1980 till 1992. Through its bi- or triennial International Workshops, GAP introduced the concept of true “work” meetings where both freshwater and oceanic researchers bring specialized equipment and carry out collaborative “state of the science” studies during the Workshop that are then published after peer-review.

At the SIL meeting in Budapest in August 2013 a special session was held to commemorate Tom. After an opening presentation entitle ‘Tom – the man and the scientist’, with photos from his long scientific career, colleagues and past-time students gave presentations on scientific topics MASHIKIM to Tom’s research interests, and highlighting Tom’s input to those studies, whether direct or indirect. The room was full throughout the session, during some lectures there were no seats available.

Tom was a gifted writer, and wrote not only science but also English poetry of which he published 2 volumes (“Shards”, and “Rambles”). Tom Berman left behind his wife Debby, his three daughters, Ilana, Rena and Ora and seven grandchildren.


Berman T 1970. Alkaline phosphatases and phosphorus availability in Lake Kinneret Lake Kinneret. Limnol. Oceanogr. 15: 663-674

Berman T 1972. Profiles of chlorophyll concentrations by in vivo fluorescence: some limnological applications. Limnol. Oceanogr. 17: 616‑618

Kiefer DA, O Holm Hansen, CR Goldman, R Richards & T Berman 1972. Phytoplankton in Lake Tahoe: deep living populations. Limnol. Oceanogr. 17: 418‑422.

Berman T & O Holm Hansen 1974. Release of photoassimilated carbon as dissolved organic matter by marine phytoplankton. Mar. Biol. 28: 305‑310

Berman T 1976. Release of dissolved organic matter by photosynthesizing algae in Lake Kinneret, Israel. Freshwat. Biol. 6: 13‑18.

Dubinsky Z & T Berman 1976. Penetration of light energy in the waters of Lake Kinneret. Limnol. Oceanogr. 21: 226‑232.

Berman T, P Walline, A Schneller, J Rothenberg & D W Townsend 1985. Secchi disk record: a claim for the eastern Mediterranean. Limnol. Oceanogr. 30: 447‑448.

Berman T 1987. On the Nature and Numbers of Monsters in Loch Ness. J. Irreproducible Results 33: 19.

Stone L & T Berman 1993. Positive Feedback in Aquatic Ecosystems: The Case of the Microbial Loop. B. Math. Biol. 55: 919-936.

Hadas O & T Berman 1998. Seasonal abundance and vertical distribution of Protozoa (flagellates, ciliates), and bacteria in Lake Kinneret, Israel. Aquat. Microbial. Ecol. 14: 161-170.

Berman T & Shteinman B 1998. Phytoplankton development and turbulent mixing in Lake Kinneret (1992-1996). J. Plank. Res. 20: 709-726.

Berman T, C Bechemin & S Y Maestrini 1999. Release of ammonium and urea from dissolved organic nitrogen in aquatic ecosystems. Aquat. Microbial Ecol. 16: 295-302.

BermanT & S Chava. 1999. Algal growth on organic compounds as nitrogen sources. J. Plankton Res. 21: 1423-1437.

Hart DR, T Berman & L Stone 2000 Seasonal dynamics of the Lake Kinneret food web: The importance of the microbial loop. Limnol. Oceanog . 45: 350-361

Berman T & Y Viner-Mozzini 2001 Abundance and characteristics of polysaccharide and proteinaceous particles in Lake Kinneret . Aquatic Microb. Ecol. 24: 255-264.

Berman T & D Bronk 2003 Dissolved organic nitrogen:a dynamic participant in aquatic ecosystems. Aquat. Microb. Ecol. 31: 279-305

Pinhassi J & T Berman 2003. Differential Growth Response of Colony- Forming α- and γ-Proteobacteria in Dilution Culture and Nutrient Addition Experiments in Lake Kinneret, eastern Mediterranean and Gulf of Eilat. App. Environ.Microbiol. 69: 199-211

Berman T & M Holenberg 2005. Don’t fall foul of biofilm through high TEP levels. Filtration + Separation 5: 30-32.