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The Wollaston Medal

The Wollaston Medal is the highest award of the Geological Society. This medal is normally given to geologists who have had a significant influence by means of a substantial body of excellent research in either or both 'pure' and 'applied' aspects of the science.


The 2014 Wollaston Medal winner is Maureen Raymo


Finally, we come to the Wollaston Medal – the Society’s senior medal and highest accolade, first awarded to William Smith in 1831. This medal has never before been awarded to a woman. We are glad to be able to set that right today in presenting our most prestigious accolade to Professor Maureen Raymo of the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, Columbia University.

Maureen Raymo is a palaeo-oceanographer who has had a truly profound impact on Earth System Science over the last three decades. Her reputation rests on three major achievements. During the 1980s she developed the controversial uplift-weathering hypothesis to explain the onset of cooling during the Cenozoic. She conducted seminal stratigraphic research, based on the deep-sea oxygen-isotope record, which is now internationally recognised as the fundamental global stratigraphic template for the last five million years. She has also performed groundbreaking work on sea levels in the Plio-Pleistocene, integrating geological observations with glacio-isostatic adjustment models.

Maureen RaymoMaureen Raymo rose to prominence as Bill Ruddiman’s graduate student at Lamont-Doherty, when they jointly proposed the uplift-weathering hypothesis to explain why the global climate cooled and led to the onset of Antarctic glaciation around 34 million years ago. The suggestion that uplift of the Himalayas and the Tibetan Plateau resulted in a drawdown of atmospheric carbon dioxide through the chemical weathering of silicate minerals remains a fruitfully controversial hypothesis, stimulating a significant body of subsequent research. It is the most important idea in Cenozoic climate change to emerge in the last 30 years.

In the 1990s and 2000s, during which time she moved to MIT and the University of Boston before returning to Lamont-Doherty, Maureen Raymo was central to many of the most significant developments in the astronomical/orbital interpretation of deep-sea oxygen isotope records, and what they tell us about Cenozoic climate and sea-level change. This work culminated in the 2005 publication (with Lorraine Lisiecki, in the journal Paleoceanography) of the ‘LR04 Stack’ of benthic oxygen isotope records covering the last 5.3 million years, which measures global ice volume and deep ocean temperature.

The Stack provided the palaeoclimate community with two widely applicable stratigraphic tools: a common timescale, and a correlation target for the vast number of paleoceanographic records that have since been collected worldwide. Not surprisingly, this work has been cited nearly 2,000 times.

Realising that the Pliocene (with atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations greater than 400 parts per million) provides one of the most important geological analogues for a globally-warmed future, Maureen Raymo has led the international PLIOMAX project to investigate and refine our understanding of global sea levels during this period. This has led to seminal collaboration with geophysicists, notably using glacial-isostatic adjustment models to establish Pliocene sea level, and comparing these with the observational database.

Maureen Raymo, you are a profoundly important figure in marine geology, palaeoceanography, climate and Earth System science. Your ideas and creativity have set the agenda for 30 years. It therefore gives me the greatest pleasure to acknowledge your outstanding achievements by adding to your many awards, the Wollaston Medal of The Geological Society of London.


Thank you Mr President, Society Council, ladies and gentlemen, my friends and colleagues.

This is an amazing and wholly unexpected honor to be awarded the Wollaston Medal of the Geological Society and I’d like to thank, wholeheartedly, the Society and especially those members who nominated me. This award has also nourished a deep gratitude I feel for the many opportunities I have had over the years, opportunities that led me to this moment.

Early in my career, I had the great fortune to work with, be taught by, and be inspired by some of the very best scientists in my field, including two former Wollaston winners, Wally Broecker and Nicholas Shackleton. Along side John Imbrie and my thesis advisor William Ruddiman, these four scientists had a profound influence on my intellectual development as a young scientist in graduate school in the 1980s. At the same time, I shared classes and long nights in the lab with an incredible cohort of fellow graduate students at the Lamont-Doherty Geological Observatory and three of these scientists in particular, Delia Oppo, Christina Ravelo, and Terry Plank, have shared decades of friendship and been an ongoing source of strength and inspiration.

The most wonderful thing about a life as a scientist are the relationships and friendships you build with people around the world; in the lab, in the field, at meetings, during months at sea, at summer schools, in this room… I want to thank all the colleagues, collaborators, and students with whom I’ve had the privilege of working, debating, writing papers, sharing meals and travels, and teaching over three decades. In particular I’d like to acknowledge one of my former post-docs, Lorraine Lisiecki, now a professor at UC-Santa Barbara, whose determination and technical prowess brought the now iconic LR04 stack to fruition. A special thanks also goes to Jerry Mitrovica for opening up the world of sea level theory to me.

Lastly, I must thank my family, parents, children Victoria and Daniel, and partner Steve for all their love and support over years that were not always smooth sailing. When I was eight years old we lived in London for a year, my father Chet Raymo studying at Imperial College. With him, I visited the prime meridian in Greenwich, the Science Museum, the Geology Museum, the Royal Geographical Society Headquarters, and many other places. And nearly every weekend, my brother, sister and I rented stools, drawing boards and a clutch of colored pencils for a big copper penny at the Natural History Museum and drew pictures of the animals. That was the year I first began to consciously think of myself as a scientist. Over my entire life my father supported, inspired, and cheered that ambition. There is a wonderful symmetry to being here, back in London at the Geological Society, receiving the greatest honor of my career. I am deeply grateful and moved. Thank you everyone.

You can read more about Maureen Raymo, the first woman to be awarded the Geological Society's most prestigious medal, on the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory website.