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Robert Andrew Scott 1960-2012


A highly regarded geologist who devoted more than twenty years to Arctic research  

Robert Scott, who worked for 23 years at CASP (Cambridge Arctic Shelf Programme) at the University of Cambridge, died in the Intensive Care Unit at Addenbrooke’s Hospital, Cambridge, on 26th September 2012, aged just 51.  He had contracted pneumonia resulting from a very aggressive form of Acute Myeloid Leukaemia diagnosed only two weeks earlier.  He had recently returned from his last CASP field season in remote Taimyr, Arctic Russia, and from a family holiday in Sicily.

Robert was born on 19th October 1960 to Charles and Kathleen Scott in Goole, East Yorkshire. He was educated at Goole Grammar School, where as an outstanding student, he studied geology as an extra A level subject in his lunch breaks.  He gained his BSc in Geology from the University of Bristol in 1982, by which time he had already met his future wife, Mary, a student on the same course.  As an undergraduate, he gained much satisfaction from his geological mapping of the ‘Ord Window’, Isle of Skye, and a geochemical interpretation of the Precambrian volcanic rocks of the Malvern Hills. 

Robert secured a NERC / CASE Studentship at the University of Manchester, completing a PhD on the structure, stratigraphy and origin of metamorphosed stratabound mineralisation within the Argyll Group of Dalradian rocks near Tyndrum in Perthshire, Scotland.  His supervisors were Drs Jack Treagus and Richard Pattrick at Manchester and Stan Coats at the British Geological Survey. He loved the remote Scottish Highlands and spent many months under canvas, miles from the nearest habitation.  After his PhD, he spent brief spells working as a field geologist with a Canadian gold exploration company prospecting in Perthshire, and on the Nature Conservancy Council’s Geological Conservation Review in North Wales.  He then spent 18 months in scientific publishing at Elsevier in Oxford, where his skill with the editorial ‘red pen’ was firmly established: numerous CASP geologists would later recall Robert’s tireless pursuit of succinct and grammatically perfect scientific writing.

Robert joined CASP in 1989.  Over the next 23 years, he contributed formidable effort to unravelling the mysteries of the Arctic geodynamic jigsaw, establishing research projects focusing on plate reconstructions, sediment provenance and Cenozoic uplift and erosion.  Robert loved fieldwork and relished the challenges of the high Arctic, undertaking ten field seasons, including to Svalbard, the Canadian Arctic Islands, Polar Urals, Novaya Zemlya and the Taimyr Peninsula.

Robert was a warm and engaging collaborator across the Arctic academic and petroleum industry communities, and was well known for his encyclopaedic knowledge of the region; he was highly regarded for his ability in integrating local primary field observations into meaningful larger-scale interpretations.    His collaborative work included a joint project with the United States Geological Survey to produce an acclaimed GIS-based tectonic map of circum-Arctic petroleum potential, and Arctic field-based and sediment provenance studies with the Universities of Uppsala and Stockholm.  He participated in the 2004 ‘Bedrock’ expedition to southern Novaya Zemlya, a collaboration with the University of Uppsala, Swedish Polar Research Secretariat and Russian research groups; this was the first western geological expedition to Novaya Zemlya since the 1930s, and focused on the Precambrian to Carboniferous succession.  Robert returned to northern Novaya Zemlya in 2005, this time focusing on the Devonian to Permian succession, and identifying bitumen occurrences and hydrocarbon seeps, as well as sampling for apatite fission track studies.  In 2007, Robert turned his attentions to the Canadian Arctic islands, focusing on Axel Heiberg Island, and returned in 2009 to Ellesmere Island.  In 2010 and 2012, his focus was Taimyr in Siberia, as part of Swedish expeditions co-ordinated by the Swedish Polar Research Secretariat.  This work contributed to structural and tectonic interpretations of Taimyr, as part of the ongoing pan-Arctic multinational research programme, ‘Circum-Arctic Lithosphere Evolution’ (CALE), a five year programme involving UK, Swedish, Norwegian, Canadian, Danish, US, German and Russian geologists. 

Robert was always great company on tough field expeditions, where, day after day, he loved to hike miles across the tundra; he is remembered for his team spirit and quick humour.  He was a patient and generous supervisor of PhD students, well regarded for his ready willingness to develop young geoscientists.  He regularly chaired sessions and presented papers at international conferences including American Geological Union (AGU), American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG), Petroleum Exploration Society of Great Britain (PESGB) and International Geological Congress (IGC), and he served on the Geological Society’s Petroleum Group Committee from 2008 to 2011, contributing to the organisation of the series of Petroleum Geology Conferences.   He was an editor of conference reports, most recently ‘Sediment Provenance Studies in Hydrocarbon Exploration and Production’ (Special Publication 368 of the Geological Society of London, to be published 2014).   He also made a key contribution to the Geological Association’s ‘Geological Conservation Review Series – the Dalradian rocks of Scotland’ (2013).

Robert read very widely, especially enjoying travel and exploration books, and he was also an ‘armchair’ economist, historian and politician, and keen ‘Sudoku-ist’; his extensive bookshelves tell their own story. He loved travelling, was a keen wildlife photographer and helped instil in his children a shared passion for Alpine hiking. Robert was an expert organic gardener, vegetarian cook and bread baker, passionate about good home-grown food.  He loved classical and jazz music, and encouraged his children in all things musical.  

Robert is mourned  by Mary, his wife for almost 25 years,  daughter, Louisa (born in 1995), son, Alexander (born in 1998), mother, Kath, and brother, Peter, as well as by his many friends and colleagues at CASP and across the Arctic geological community.

In Robert’s memory, his family are donating an annual undergraduate prize ,’The Robert Andrew Scott prize for overall excellence in geology fieldwork’, at the School of Earth Sciences, University of Bristol.   This Summer, in Robert’s memory, Mary, Louisa and Alexander will walk 175 miles along the West Highland Way and the Great Glen Way in Scotland, to raise funds for ‘SOS Children’s Villages’ programme in Chipata, Zambia, and for Addenbrooke’s Charitable Trust (Intensive Care Unit) in Cambridge.  Any of Robert’s friends in the geological community who wish to sponsor them can do so at

By Mary Scott and Christine Brouet-Menzies (Managing Director, CASP), with contributions from Li Guo (CASP) and Vicky Pease (Stockholm University)