PEARL Paleoecological Environmental Assessment and Research Laboratory







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Queen's University

G. Evelyn Hutchinson Award for A Mid-career Scientist to John P. Smol

Cited by Brian F. Cumming, Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario, Canada

The G. Evelyn Hutchinson Award is given to an aquatic scientist who has excelled, following the traditions set down by Hutchinson himself, in holistic research. An outstanding researcher, mentor and ambassador for science, John P. Smol is a truly exceptional recipient for the G. Evelyn Hutchinson Award. Few could rival his record in research, teaching, service, and public outreach. John received his Ph.D. in 1982. Since 1980, he has authored over 320 journal papers and chapters (including 10 in Science and Nature, and 3 in PNAS) dealing with a suite of topics on limnology, paleolimnology, and global environmental change. He has also completed 15 books – almost all in multiple printings – and another book nearing completion. In addition, his recent and highly praised textbook: Pollution of Lakes and Rivers: A Paleoenvironmental Perspective had sold out so quickly, he is now rapidly writing the 2nd edition. Four books that he has recently edited summarize the myriad of new approaches available to paleolimnologists. He has authored almost 600 conference presentations; many of these were invited and several were opening keynote addresses. John is listed as an ISI Highly Cited Researcher, one of only a handful of limnologists (and the only paleolimnologist) to reach this designation.

John was instrumental in moving paleolimnology from a largely descriptive science to a quantitative and precise science. He has played the pre-eminent role at melding paleoecological techniques with limnological studies. His work encompasses many aspects of fundamental and applied limnology. He founded and now co-directs the Paleoecological Environmental Assessment and Research Lab – PEARL, with over 30 researchers, consisting of students and research associates, devoting their efforts to studying the history of lake environments. His lab is not only world-renowned for its outstanding research excellence, but also for its high morale and contagious enthusiasm. As noted by Dan Livingstone “he does this in an easy, friendly way while maintaining a spirit of camaraderie that is the envy of all who visit his lab”. John’s team works on projects that range from the description of new bioindicators of environmental change, to the study of lake trajectories in the Arctic, to problems such as lake acidification and eutrophication, to studies of climatic change and UV penetration, to developing paleolimnological techniques to track salmon and bird populations, to working with archaeologists to decipher how past cultures have affected freshwater ecosystems. He has pursued an integrated approach, using several sub-disciplines (as reflected in his eclectic list of awards, from botany to geology to limnology to environmental issues), and multiple lines of evidence to interpret the paleolimnological histories of lakes. Amongst John’s greatest achievements, though, would include his massive work on the limnology and paleolimnology of Arctic regions, and he has now completed over 20 high Arctic field seasons.

John’s pre-eminence in science is recognized world-wide. Nothing can speak more strongly about the esteem in which he is held by his colleagues than the fact that, at the age of 30, he was asked to be founding editor (and continues on as co-editor-in chief with W. Last) of the Journal of Paleolimnology. This journal is now celebrating 20 years of publication. Some of the success of this international journal (currently ranked 2nd of the 17 limnology journals ranked by ISI for impact factors, and 1st of 17 in the immediacy factor) results from John’s continued stewardship as editor. John is now also Editor-in-Chief of a second journal: Environmental Reviews. In addition, he is involved with the editing of books (e.g., series co-editor of the new book series “Developments in Paleoenvironmental Research”, which currently has 13 titles) and is or has been on the editorial boards of a number of other journals (e.g., Limnology and Oceanography - Methods; J. Phycology, Int. J. Salt Lake Research, J. Limnology, etc.). He has recently enthusiastically agreed to co-edit an L&O special issue on climate change. In addition, he is a frequent organizer of conference sessions, including several at ASLO, as well on the scientific advisory committee for the upcoming SIL conference. John has served or serves on a large number of panels and review committees, which are simply too numerous to mention.

John has been awarded over 25 medals, awards, and fellowships since 1990. For example, John’s pre-eminence in science has been recognized with the award (1990) of the E.W.R. Steacie Memorial Fellowship, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council’s highest award for young scientists or engineers. In 1991 he received a citation for “...outstanding contributions ...” to the U.S. National Acid Precipitation Program (NAPAP). The Botanical Society of America awarded John their 1992 Darbaker Prize for his work on algae. In 1993, he was presented with the North American Lake Management Society (NALMS) Research Award for “outstanding research in lake restoration, protection and management”. In 1993 he was also awarded the National Research Council’s Steacie Prize, as Canada’s most outstanding young scientist. John was elected a Fellow of the Arctic Institute of North America in 1993. In 1994 he was presented with the Queen’s University Prize for Excellence in Research. He has chosen by the Canadian Society of Limnologists as the 1995 Rigler Prize winner, and the Canada Council awarded him a Killam Fellowship (1995-1997). In 1996, he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, Academy of Sciences. In 1997, he was presented with the University of Helsinki Award Medal, representing the field of physical geography, as well as the Geological Association of Canada’s (GAC) Past-Presidents’ Medal, for outstanding contributions to the geosciences. The GAC also elected him as one of their few Distinguished Fellows. In 1999, he was presented with the Turku Academia Medal. In 2000, he was named the Canada Research Chair in Environmental Change, and in 2001 he was presented with the Royal Society of Canada’s Miroslav Romanowski Medal (environment medal), and in 2002 with an Ontario Researcher of Distinction award. In June 2003, St Francis Xavier University conferred an honorary Doctor of Laws (LLD) degree on John for “…for his contributions to lake ecology and understanding the underlying causes of environmental change…”. In 2003, he was awarded one of three NSERC Award for Excellence prizes, and in December 2004 he was awarded Canada’s highest scientific and engineering honor: the Gerhard Herzberg Canada Gold Medal for Science and Engineering “…for his efforts in bringing paleolimnology to world attention, and for discoveries, innovative techniques and research protocols that are influencing public policy on issues related to climate change, water pollution and the protection of the Arctic environment”. Last summer, the Canadian Quaternary Association of the Geological Association of Canada presented John with the W.A. Johnston Medal, which is the life-time achievement award offered by CANQUA for professional excellence in Quaternary research for his work on paleolimnology. In May 2007, the University of Helsinki will bestow on John the degree PhD (honoris causa) for his outstanding contributions to aquatic sciences.

One must add that, in addition to his research prowess, John is an excellent and inspirational teacher and mentor. Perhaps the most telling evidence of his talents as a mentor is the continued and steady success of his graduates at securing excellent academic jobs. His dedication to his graduate students and post docs (he has mentored over 70 of them, and without a single withdrawal!) is legendary. This fall, John was the recipient of the inaugural Award for Excellence in Graduate Supervision; a new award recognizing excellence in graduate student supervision. Meanwhile, his undergraduate courses are often over-subscribed, and he was twice awarded the Biology Department’s Best Professor Award. In March 2000, he was awarded the W. J. Barnes Teaching Excellence Award, Arts and Science Undergraduate Society, which is “the highest tribute the Society can pay to an individual for teaching excellence”. Completing a large sweep of teaching awards, John was also the recipient of the 2006 Chancellor A. Charles Baillie Teaching Award, perhaps the university’s highest award for education. His teaching, however, goes beyond Queen’s boundaries. For example, he is frequently a visiting professor or guest lecturer at many universities. He is well known in political circles as a never tiring advocate for the environment and the importance of scientific research to reach sound policy decisions. Rarely does a week goes by that John is not being interviewed by the media. He has worked tirelessly for a number of aquatic societies. John also frequently volunteers his time to local environmental groups, as well as public education.

As evidenced by the impressive range of his publications, awards, and other accomplishments, John Smol exemplifies excellence in scholarly limnological research. Perhaps John was best summarized by David Schindler, one of his nominators, who concluded his letter by saying “John is simply a fine human being, who always has time to discuss problems of others. No task is too large or too small for him. He is one of the most generous individuals I know, regardless of discipline”.

This is a remarkable career record for any scientist. However, the award holds special significance to John, as he is an “academic grandson” to the Hutchinson legacy, as his Ph.D. supervisor was S.R. (Ted) Brown, one of Hutchinson’s students. John is committed to demonstrating the importance of sound scientific principles when it comes to addressing such critically important issues as water quality and ecosystem management. We can only wonder what else he has in store for his future research, teaching, and outreach activities.

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