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2008 Awards: Citations, Replies

Wollaston Medal - Professor Norman Sleep

Finally we come to the Society's Senior Medal, the Wollaston, first given to William Smith in 1831, and this year awarded to Professor Norman Sleep of Stanford University.

Norm Sleep, as befits a Wollaston winner, is a supremely inventive and wide-ranging Earth scientist, possessed of an extraordinary curiosity and such a breadth of knowledge that it is almost impossible to characterise him. Norm studies the physical processes of the Earth's interior. His research has deeply affected our understanding of plate tectonics, of how plates move, and how that movement relates to deeper processes in the mantle. Mid-ocean ridge structure, where the crust is created, has been a particularly important element of his work; but he has also studied that elusive phenomenon, the mantle plume, and developed one of the first models of how fault zones might be lubricated by water.

However Sleep's influence extends beyond the rocky interior of our planet. His work with Kevin Zahnle on of NASA on the physical-chemical processes of the atmosphere is – there can be no other word – legendary. His work on sedimentary basins and their subsidence has brought major benefits to the hydrocarbon industry, and his work on hydrothermal systems has laid the foundations of a field that continues to generate amazing new science.

But, as James Bond's family motto has it - Orbis non sufficit: "The world is not enough". Sleep's curiosity soon shucked the surly bonds and extended well beyond our planet when he participated in a NASA study of the consequences of a large impact. He was among the first to realise that the effects of such a collision would spread far beyond the locality of the strike and could indeed encompass the entire planet. He has also speculated that in the very distant past Mars may have undergone plate tectonic processes not dissimilar to those of Earth. He has also speculated that in periods of heavy bombardment in the very distant past, Mars may have been a safer crucible for life than Earth.

Such a career has of course not gone unrecognised already. Professor Sleep is a Fellow of the American Geophysical Union, the Geological Society of America and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He has already been honoured with the Wegener Medal of the European Union of Geosciences, and the Bücher Medal of the American Geophysical Union.

Norm Sleep continues to be a marvellously fruitful source of new ideas – a major catalyst to the work of others, and almost a tourist attraction at scientific meetings, where his brilliant questioning – often seemingly weird and abstruse – dazzles the (and puzzles) audience and speaker alike until - sometimes weeks later - the scales fall and they too finally follow him along the path less travelled that makes all the difference.

Norman Sleep, it is our honour now to bestow upon you the highest award of the world's oldest geological society, in honour of your distinguished and exemplary contributions to our understanding of the Earth.

Norman Sleep replied:

President, honoured guests, Fellows of the Society,

Let me begin by thanking the Geological Society for this unexpected honour. William Wollaston obtained a rational view of the Earth by harassing the fruits of physics, chemistry, and biology. William Smith, the first Wollaston medallist, compiled data obtained for other purposes to obtain a coherent view of the Earth, the first geological map. I graciously accept the recognition of my efforts along these veins. I am humbled by list of previous Wollaston Medallists.

No modern scientist succeeds even modestly without the direct and indirect help of many. For brevity, I confine discussion to the formative years of my career. My interest in the slow vertical tectonics of stable continents derives from the work of James Hall, the Wollaston Medallist 150 years ago. I took geology classes in my freshman year, 1963 at Michigan State out of curiosity, learning that kilometres of Palaeozoic sediments lay beneath the surface. Hall’s results were then a centrepiece of geology. His sediments in New York and Michigan accumulated gradually at sea level with the surface slowly subsiding. However, the idea that basins subside because of thermal contraction of the underlying lithosphere by James Dwight Dana, the 1872 medallist, did not arise. I found it both troubling and intriguing that so little was known about how the Earth worked physically.

The plate tectonic revolution erupted about when I entered MIT in 1967. The evidence of vast horizontal movements in the ocean basins was overwhelming. Little was known about the physics of tectonics and even less on how to relate plates to land geology. Richard Naylor, an assistant professor, organized a seminar on the Appalachians to do something about the latter. I picked the sediments on the Atlantic passive margin from Hall’s work and the realization that it would be the last presentation of the term. A few simple plots showed that the concept of lithospheric thermal contraction started by Dan McKenzie that had just explained the topography of mid-oceanic ridges provided a reasonable explanation for the rate of subsidence. McKenzie’s insight that lithospheric stretching initiates basin development came later. It would have been difficult for me as a young scientist to continue without British assistance. On the basis of my paper in Geophysical Journal, Keith Runcorn invited me in 1972 to present at a conference at Newcastle. The geologists of an entire country were interested in bringing global geology and geodynamics ashore.

My stay at MIT and my subsequent assistant professorship at Northwestern broadened my scope. Pat Hurley, Robert Garrels, and Fred MacKenzie emphasised the link between geological processes and geochemical cycles. Nafi Toksoz introduced to the use of seismology and thermal calculations. Joe Andrews taught me how to do numerical calculations of mantle convection.

Like James Hall, I would have been unable to do “small” science without the fruits of big science. He benefited from geological surveys, a major expenditure for frontier states. I have benefited from costly endeavours ranging from planetary probes to molecular genomics.

I close by thanking my wife, Sandra, for her love, patience and support. I thank colleagues, teachers and students who I have been unable to mention. I thank President Fortey for his kind remarks and the Geological Society for this palladium, the element first isolated by Dr Wollaston.

Lyell Medal - Dr Alan Smith

The Lyell Medal is named for one of the greatest, most prolific and most influential geologists of the 19th Century – Sir Charles Lyell.

Sitting through the latter portions of awards ceremonies, one may be forgiven for thinking (as winners' long lists of honours are read out) that there is much truth in the words of Matthew 12:13 – To them that hath shall be given. It is therefore a particular pleasure this year to be able beat this "Matthew Effect"; not with one of our more junior awards, but with one of our grander medals, which we give this year to a fine and original geologist of world class, who also (to date) sadly remains undeservingly undecorated – perhaps because he is refreshingly loath to put himself forward. We wish to reverse this lamentable state of affairs today.

Occasionally – very occasionally – one may read the record-sleeve blurbs of a composer of whom it is possible to write "there are no redundant works". This is true also of Alan Smith. It is necessary for the purposes of nomination for these awards to select eight examples of a candidate's work – but in Alan's case, you could, as they say, "throw a stick" - and come up with an equally fine selection.

Alan's first work was in the Belt Supergroup of the Western US and Canada, when he established much of the Belt's current stratigraphy. Then, having "earned his spurs" in what traditionalists would describe approvingly as "real geology", Alan then became one of the earliest pioneers of computing in our science. Using computers to make palaeogeographic and plate tectonic reconstructions, he began with perhaps the most famous of all: the classic 1965 Bullard, Everett and Smith reconstruction of the Central North Atlantic. This was enormously influential in changing geophysicists' minds about "continental drift" if only because the fit produced had now been objectively achieved, by a machine. This work led in 1971 to another of the most important papers of the era, namely his Tethyan reconstructions.

But Alan's work has also retained its roots in stratigraphy, where he did much of his early work. His syntheses of the Mesozoic and Cenozoic rocks of Greece have yielded new, clever ways of approaching that tectonostratigraphic problems, especially the emplacement of ophiolite complexes and related rocks. He has also maintained an interest in improving the geological time-scale over the past 40 years or so, culminating in the most recent collaborative work involving many authors, which appears to have become an international standard.

Alan Smith, few people have your grasp of geology and its underlying physics and mathematics. You richly deserve this long overdue recognition of a lifetime of enviable achievement.

Dr Alan Smith replied:

I was surprised and delighted when I had news of the award of the Lyell medal. It was a totally unexpected pleasure and a great honour for which I warmly thank my sponsors. Many colleagues and friends have helped me on my way, most of whom have been mentioned in another context. Today I will mention Eldridge Moores, my room-mate in graduate school in Princeton, who fired my interest in Greek geology; Harry Whittington, who supported my initial work there; and Dan McKenzie, whose theories have always been a source of inspiration, and, at times, puzzlement.

Quite serendipitously, I recently wanted to track down the origin of a metaphor attributed by Darwin to Lyell on the nature of the stratigraphic record that led me to look at some of Lyell’s works for the first time. During the course of tracking I learned that Lyell himself was apparently thrown out of Exeter College Oxford in 1820 and in 1864 wrote the Preface to the 6th edition of his Elements of Geology, not far from here, in Harley Street. In 1859 Charles Darwin elaborated on Lyell’s metaphor of the geological record, vividly describing it “as a history of the world imperfectly kept, and written in a changing dialect; of this history we possess the last volume alone … only here and there a short chapter has been preserved; of each page, only here and there a few lines”.

This metaphor naturally reminds me to mention the work of the UK Stratigraphic Commission (which meets episodically in the Council Room upstairs), characterized by one of its members as the best committee he has ever been on. The UKSC has written papers for Geology, GSA Today and other journals, that include discussions on how one might improve the understanding and dating of the stratigraphic record, but unfortunately British journals have tended to reject its work. In my own view, stratigraphers still have not yet developed appropriate ways of linking many parts of the terrestrial stratigraphic record to time. It can also be argued that some current methods of trying to do so actually prevent stratigraphy from becoming more of a science. From a broad viewpoint this is unfortunate because there will be many missions to Mars, the Moon and other planets in the next few decades (NASA anticipates a manned landing on Mars by 2020) that will doubtless produce extraterrestrial stratigraphic data which present methods may make difficult to link precisely to the evolution of the Earth. Had Lyell, with his all-encompassing vision of geology been alive today, one can speculate that he would vigorously have sought how to integrate these new, and often unexpected findings, with what we see on this planet.

Finally, I thank the retiring President for his generous remarks and the Society itself for believing that I have produced one or two things that have some merit.

Murchison Medal – Dr Mike Searle

This medal is named for Sir Roderick Impey Murchison, founder or co-founder of the Silurian, Devonian and Permian Systems, and a prodigious traveller and mapper. This year it is our great pleasure to award it to another prodigious traveller and mapper, Doctor Mike Searle of Oxford University.

Mike Searle is one of the world's pre-eminent structural geologists and an expert, recognised worldwide, on the geology of the Himalayan and Karakoram mountains.
He began his career working on the structures and metamorphism along the base of the ophiolite thrust sheet in Oman, laying the foundations for the interpretation of the supra-subduction zone origin of ophiolites. Mikes work in restoration of thrust sheets across entire mountain ranges led him to those most iconic of mountain ranges, the Himalaya, where he has now worked every year for the last 28 years. This work spans the entire spectrum of geology from the presently active to Precambrian times, and from sedimentary rocks to metamorphic and granitic rocks.

Mike Searle and his many students have pieced together the history of the Indus-Tsangpo suture and the Greater Himalayan ranges, working from Pakistan and India through to Nepal and Bhutan, gradually covering the range's entire length as far as Burma. These Herculean feats of original mapping and field structural analysis he has combined with metamorphic, thermobarometric and radiometric dating techniques to tease out complex orogenic histories. Amongst several new models derived from this work, the "channel flow" hypothesis for the Greater Himalaya has been built partly on Searle's work and that of his co-workers and students. More recently he has expanded his field studies to some of the large strike-slip faults of Asia, the Karakoram, Sagaing and Red River faults, in Burma, Thailand and Vietnam. He has written over 120 papers, a book “Geology and Tectonics of the Karakoram Mountains” and has co-edited four Special Publications of the Geological Society of London.

Searle's original research, of which it has been possible to give only the sketchiest of outlines, has been enhanced by his ability to spark the enthusiasm of others, by supervising students, organising meetings, and editing volumes.

Mike Searle, in these times of increasing specialization you have been a refreshing influence in thinking broadly about the planet's tectonic conundrums, ably bridging the divide between observational and theoretical scientists. It is my pleasure now to confer upon you the Murchison Medal of the Society.

Mike Searle replied:

Mr. President, I am truly honoured to receive the Murchison Medal and I thank you and the Geological Society for this award. Since my undergraduate mapping project on the Loch Eriboll region in the Scottish Highlands, Murchison’s favourite outcrops, I have been fascinated by the large-scale structures of mountain belts. This work unraveling the complex geological histories along the Himalaya and Karakoram is however not mine alone. I would particularly like to thank my closest collaborators, colleagues and friends. Dave Waters is the most gifted of all metamorphic petrologists and his expertise in thermobarometry has been totally invaluable. Randall Parrish, Steve Noble and their colleagues at the NERC Isotope Geoscience Laboratory have provided not only the best U-Pb dating laboratory in the World, but their input into unravelling the most important 4th dimension, Time, has also been invaluable. Rick Law is my latest co-conspirator in field and structural studies along the Himalaya, most importantly in the Everest region of Nepal and Tibet. This work has been a true collaboration and any advances I may have made in continental tectonics could not have been accomplished without their input, advice and friendship.

In addition I have benefited enormously from excellent discussions with numerous others amongst whom I would particularly like to acknowledge Tony Watts, Asif Khan, Brian Windley, John Dewey, Roger Bilham, Peter Molnar, Laurent Godin, Rolf Pedersen, Maarten deWit, Marc Stonge, Ian Alsop, Philippe Agard, Andy Carter, Sun-Lin Chung, Chris Morley and Andrew Mitchell.

We have been lucky at Oxford having some of the finest PhD students and I would like to sincerely thank all of them who have worked in some outlandish places in Oman, and along the Himalaya, Karakoram and Tibet. It has been a pleasure supervising them all. I must however apologize to several of my PhD students for landing them in middle of war zones; Ben Stephenson in the middle of the Kashmir conflict, Peter Hildebrand for surviving the Afghan Mujahadeen conflict along the northwest frontier of Pakistan, Simon Gough for surviving the Kohistan fundamentalists, and Mike Streule for ably negotiating ‘donations’ at gun point with the Nepalese Maoists. Finally thanks to NERC for funding 22 years of postdoctoral fellowships at Leicester and Oxford, the best job one could possibly ask for!

William Smith Medal - Professor Martin Sinha

The medal named for the Father of English Geology, William Smith, was first awarded in 1977 and is given in recognition of excellent contributions to applied and economic aspects of geology.

Professor Marin Sinha (University of Southampton) is a marine geophysicist whose academic work has led to the development and application of a technique called Controlled Source Electromagnetic Sounding (CSEM). This method first found use in locating fluids at mid-ocean ridge settings – that is, magmatic and hydrothermal fluids - but it has now been successfully applied to hydrocarbon mapping.

What more perfect example could there be of the cross-fertilization of pure and applied, than a novel technique developed as part of the integrated geophysical study of mid-ocean ridge processes, pressed into service to define the habitat of oil within sedimentary traps? This revolutionary new technique has allowed far higher-resolution imaging of the distribution of hydrocarbons and reservoir geometry than ever before, and now permits their detection in areas (like those beneath normally highly reflective layers like basalts) where many other techniques are relatively blind.

As a result of this fruitful application, a spin-out company, Offshore Hydrocarbon Mapping Ltd began operations in 2002 and was listed on the alternative Investment Market of the London Stock Exchange shortly afterwards.

Martin Sinha, this recognition, and your company's spectacular market capitalisation, provides ample evidence of your work's commercial significance and it is my pleasure now to present you with the William Smith Medal, of which you are such a worthy recipient.

Dr Sinha replied:

President, Fellows, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I feel enormously honoured to receive the William Smith Medal.

The Earth sciences seem to provide almost endless scope for study, fascination, and bafflement. As scientists and teachers we are driven on both by pleasure in what we know, and by excitement at what we might discover. For us, this can make earth science a happily sociable activity. For others it must seem more like an obsession, and one that life as an academic scientist positively encourages - which can hardly make us the easiest of people to live with. So I’d like to begin by thanking the three people who have been closest to me over the years, and whose unfailing love and support have been so important – my wife Pam, and my daughters Rhiannon and Ellie.

As a graduate student in Cambridge I was enormously fortunate to have Keith Louden and the late Drum Matthews as both mentors and PhD supervisors. Their distinctive approaches to doing science taught me important lessons about far more than geophysics, and I’m hugely grateful to them.

Research for me has always been very much a collective, rather than a solitary occupation. Over the years in Durham, Cambridge, Southampton and at sea I have worked with many outstanding and delightful colleagues – co-investigators, sea-farers, post-docs, graduate students, engineers and technicians – all of whom have enriched both my working life and the science that we have done together. They are too many to mention them all, but there are three individuals whom I feel I must mention specifically. They are Stephen Constable, Christine Peirce and Lucy MacGregor. Looking back, the most important, successful or ground-breaking science to which I have contributed has been done while collaborating with some or all of this trio. Their ideas, knowledge and tenacity have always inspired me to do better, and I thank each of them and all my other colleagues over the years.

Lastly, thank you to you, the Fellows, for your attention and to the Geological Society of London for this great honour.

Coke Medal - Professor Jim Rose

The second of this year's Coke medals goes to a scientist who has devoted his career to the study of process geomorphology and environmental change in the Quaternary – Professor James Rose of Royal Holloway, University of London.

Jim Rose can count many contributions to our understanding of the Quaternary to his name, including the revision of the stratigraphy of East Anglia and Eastern England, reconstructing the pathways of its ancient rivers, including the proto-Thames and the "Bytham" – the largest river in pre-glacial England. His understanding of glacial bedforms, especially drumlins, and his recognition and application of palaeosols as climatic and stratigraphic indicators, has been truly insightful. He has also developed a sophisticated understanding of how temperate latitude landscape systems respond to climate changes (and hence indirectly to Milankovitch forcing).

This has made Jim a key figure in our current understanding of how the British landscape developed, and how it was linked to the habitation of these islands by our ancestors. It will come as no surprise then that he is now a leading player in the Leverhulme-funded Ancient Human Occupation of Britain project based at my own professional home, the Natural History Museum.

Jim is a tireless worker, editing 15 books and Editor-in-Chief of Quaternary Science Reviews (the highest impact Geoscience research journal in 2007), publishing 94 peer reviewed papers (plus 18 ‘discussions’ showing that he is not shy of controversy), 24 book chapters, and organising over 40 conferences, field meetings and workshops. He has supervised 38 researchers and held 76 grant awards, and has played a leading role in establishing Royal Holloway's Centre for Quaternary Research as a world class facility.

Professor Rose, in recognition of these achievements and your tireless work in promoting UK Quaternary science both internationally and within the UK Higher Education System, it gives me particular pleasure to add to your growing list of honours, the Coke Medal of the Geological Society of London.

Jim Rose replied:

President, Fellows of the Geological Society, Ladies and Gentlemen: It is a very great pleasure and honour to be one of the recipients of the Coke Medal in 2008 and I would like to thank all those who have supported my nomination and those who have made it possible for me to do the work for which I have been recognised: my wife Penny, my research students, associates and friends, and my colleagues in the Departments of Geography at Birkbeck and Royal Holloway of London University where I have spent my working career.

I am particularly pleased to receive the Coke Medal as this is for ‘contributions to geology as is the case with the Lyell and Murchison medals, but in addition recognition may be given to significant service to geology …… resulting in benefits to the community …… [and] extended to include scientists …… outside the main fields of geology’. As a geographer I have always believed in the need to link science theory with human activity, and this has never been more important than now.

I have always been interested in understanding how the Earth’s surface works, the way it responds to the various forces acting on it, and how these forces change over time. My research contributions have included discoveries such as the way glaciers deform their beds, the consequences of short-lived periods of valley bottom devastation by powerful rivers, and the very complex responses of the land surface upon to the dramatic climate changes that have turned areas like Britain from glacial or periglacial to Mediterranean – and back again (many, many times). I sincerely believe that the understanding of the causes and nature of these changes, their form, and the rates at which they occur (sometime unimaginably quickly), must be a priority for geoscience, because this is where we live. Surely, the importance of this understanding is highlighted every time a physical catastrophe occurs somewhere around the world.

I hope that I have contributed a small amount to this understanding and I thank the Geological Society for recognising this.

Coke Medal - Dr Nigel Woodcock

The first of our two Coke medals this year goes to Dr Nigel Woodcock of the University of Cambridge, a world-renowned expert in structural geology, sedimentation and tectonics.

Nigel Woodcock began his career (which has since produced 140 substantial papers) on the field-based unravelling of ophiolite sequences in Greece and the Middle East. However his work always displayed a deeper theoretical scope that allowed the mechanics of the structures he described and untangled to be better appreciated and understood. These insights included innovative work on the geometry and kinematics of strike-slip fault/fold belts, the quantitative assessment of strike-slip tectonics at plate boundaries, the significance of duplex geometries within strike-slip belts, and the statistics of 3D orientation data.

Nigel's fieldwork in Wales broadened our understanding of sedimentation and tectonics in its Lower Palaeozoic basins, and he was able to clarify the geometry of major slump structures in relation to tectonic ones. He developed the now accepted model of basinal turbidite confinement by tilted fault blocks, itself closely linked to contemporaneous strike-slip faulting and deformation. This led him to develop a sequence stratigraphic scheme for the whole of Wales – work he then extended, through boreholes, to the subsurface rocks of East Anglia, and to the Lower Palaeozoic of the Lake District and the Isle of Man. He has also supervised 22 doctoral students, and is well known as an inspirational teacher and field leader. With Rob Strachan he has produced a standard text on the geology of Britain and Ireland.

Nigel, in recognition of this work as well as your contributions to environmental geology and this Society, I have great pleasure in awarding you the Coke Medal.

Dr Nigel Woodcock replied:

I am honoured to accept this Coke medal. Perhaps now is the time to admit that I really planned a career in the family freight and travel business, and therefore to do Geography at university. Having the wrong A levels, I chose Geology as the next best subject. I owe it to the department at Manchester, and to Jack Treagus and Robin Nicholson in particular, for showing me that research in structural geology was more interesting than selling holidays. Three years with John Ramsay’s inspirational research group at Imperial College confirmed this view. Then, in a roulette game that spun John’s research students into many UK geology departments, I luckily landed on Cambridge. There, bright students and brighter colleagues have made teaching and research a lifelong pleasure.

Throughout my career, I have learned from many research collaborators. Alan Smith introduced me to Tethyan geology, and taught me plate tectonics. Alastair Robertson persuaded me in turn to Cyprus, Turkey and Oman, and taught me sedimentology. Eventually, the British Lower Palaeozoic – particularly Wales, where I had done my PhD research – exerted its peculiar pull. During the 80s and 90s, a succession of stimulating research students taught me how the Welsh Basin formed, filled and deformed. Outboard on the margin of ancient Avalonia, the Isle of Man and northwest England have subsequently proved geologically fruitful. Here I learned much from the complementary skills of Barrie Rickards and Jack Soper. Lastly, Rob Strachan has been a supportive partner in the modern crime of writing a textbook.

My thanks go to these and many other colleagues and students who have nourished much of my research, and to the Society for recognizing the results today.

Bigsby Medal - Professor Chris Ballentine

The humble isotope will form the basis of a Society-sponsored session at the British Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in Liverpool this September, in recognition of the multifarious uses to which stable and unstable isotopes can be put in unravelling Earth history. It is therefore a great pleasure today to recognise among our awards one of the UK's foremost isotope geochemists – Professor Chris Ballentine of the University of Manchester.

Chris specialises in the use of noble gas isotopes to investigate the evolution of the terrestrial mantle, crust and atmosphere and also to study the origins, mass and transport mechanisms of fluids in sedimentary basins.

Early on in his career Chris recognised that noble gases and their isotope compositions are key tracers of dynamic processes. Since then his theoretical work with these tracers has shown that chemical mixing is efficient across the deep mantle phase-change. This was a key contribution in overturning the long standing but erroneous ‘layered-mantle’ model and allows us to better define the basic structure of our planet. His careful analysis of volcanic gas samples has provided a breakthrough in identifying the accretionary mechanism of deep planetary volatile acquisition – or ‘how the Earth got its gas’. Chris has pioneered the same tracer gases in applications such as quantifying the role of groundwater in hydrocarbon deposit formation, the safe geological disposal of nuclear waste and how natural CO2 gas deposits can be used to understand the safe geological disposal of anthropogenic CO2.

Chris, you have also been one of the driving forces behind the Manchester Isotope Geochemistry and Cosmochemistry Research Centre, which brings together facilities and projects for the study of extraterrestrial, deep Earth and crustal processes. For this and your many other services to the Earth sciences, please accept the Society's Bigsby Medal for 2008.

Chris Ballentine replied:

I don’t think I ever considered not being a scientist. With both of my parents working for the Met office, talking about the way the world around us worked was just the way I grew up. Keith O’Nions at Cambridge however, was responsible for introducing me to geochemistry and supervised my PhD there. I remember three pieces of advice: 1) Keep things simple. One good measurement is worth a thousand poor ones. 2) Once you have done ‘Good Science’ you will always recognise it again; and, 3) something I am only now appreciating, don’t avoid service. It is the duty of good scientists to make sure ‘Good Science’ is recognised and funded.

How can I mention everyone I need to thank! Alex Halliday at the University of Michigan and later at the ETH-Zurich provided the best mentor that a postdoctoral scientist could possibly have with his pure energy, motivation and great science. My work on the mantle would not have been possible without Peter Van Keken (University of Michigan); and without Barbara Sherwood Lollar (University of Toronto) our understanding of noble gases in crustal fluid systems would have only limped along.

My PhD students and postdocs Dan Barfod, Zhou Zheng, Stuart Gilfillan, Greg Holland, my colleagues in Manchester: Ray Burgess, Jamie Gilmour and Ian Lyon and my good friends and collaborators Damon Teagle, Kevin Burton, Derek Vance, Don Porcelli, Bernard Marty and Dave Hilton – many thanks.

BUT. None of my science would have been possible without the patience and understanding of my wife Rosalind and my two children John and Michael. We have lived in some great places, but it is not easy to be uprooted every few years to move continents just because your husband has chosen to be a geoscientist.

Geochemistry does has it moments though – and this is certainly one of them. Once more Richard, thank you and the Geological society for this award.

Aberconway Medal - Dr Richard Davies

We often hear of academics who leave the groves to become successful applied geologists. However in celebrating this year's winner of the Aberconway Medal, we meet an individual who has gone the other way – leaving industry to become an academic, developing a successful research team of his own and pioneering the use of oil industry data within academe.

Professor Richard Davies of the University of Durham was made professor at the age of only 37 and has set up the Centre for Research into Earth Energy Systems (CeREES). He has become pre-eminent in the use of oil industry data to understand sedimentary basins - including their fluid flow patterns, igneous geology, petroleum geology, soft sediment deformation, structural geology, deepwater sedimentology, mud volcanoes, the application of seismic data to basin analysis and the use of seismic data to understand chemical diagenetic processes – the latter involving entirely an new technique.

In pursuing this work Richard has striven develop better relationships between academe and industry and launched the Petroleum Geoscience Scholarship programme and the Petroleum Geoscience Database in conjunction with PESGB. Most recently – including in the May issue of our magazine Geoscientist, which went out with the 2007 Annual Report, he has written and spoken about LUSI, the Sidoarjo Mud Volcano in Indonesia, which has been responsible for 13 fatalities and the dispossession of 30,000 people – promoting the view (against considerable opposition) that the volcano was created as a result of hydrocarbon exploration drilling.

Richard is involved in various industrial liaison groups within the GSL the IODP and at Durham University and in all of his activities he has striven to break down the barriers between industry and academia.

Richard Davies, you have made an outstanding contribution to applied geology and you are therefore a worthy recipient of the Aberconway medal of the Geological Society of London.

Richard Davies replied:

I am delighted to accept the Aberconway medal which is awarded to geoscientists that have worked in applied geology. My applied geology has been with the oil and gas industry initially working in Mobil and ExxonMobil and now as an academic I use oil and gas industry data to better understand a wide range of fundamental geological processes in sedimentary basins. It is my firm belief that there is a huge potential for more collaboration between academia and industry and that we are failing to make the most of the relationship in the UK.

Working on research where one wants to tap into the fundamental scientific questions but also produce something that is relevant to the private sector is not always easy - but it can be done and there are many examples of fantastic science seeded by commercially acquired data or private sector funding. I sense industry and academia need to talk more about where our interests overlap, but also about what industry needs from universities in terms of undergraduate and postgraduate training.

There is still a surprising degree of misunderstanding between academic and industry professionals, perhaps in part because not enough people have worked in both sectors or perhaps because we need to talk more. I am pleased to accept this award as it is given to geoscientists from both industry and academia that have strived to make the collaboration work. My ambition is to continue to help develop communication between industry and academia.

There is much we can learn from each other and that there is exciting science yet to be worked on - particularly now that the supply of sustainable energy and the search for dwindling petroleum reserves has become so important.

R H Worth Prize - Dr Ian West

The R H Worth Prize rewards those who make distinguished contributions to geology as amateurs, or whose work encourages amateur geological research, and our winner this year amply fulfils all those criteria.

Dr Ian West's contributions to amateur geologists worldwide consists primarily of his extensive series of web pages covering the geology of the Jurassic Dorset Coast – Geology of the Wessex Coast of Southern England – consisting of hundreds of pages and thousands of images with information about all aspects of the geology of this classic region – including multiple field excursion guides. Ian is also an enthusiastic field guide himself and continues in his retirement to lead field courses on Jurassic Coast and World Heritage Coast geology.

This site was set up in 1997 – which is to say something approaching the late Miocene in Web chronology. He has continued to add to it and include information on areas outside his beloved Dorset – including field trips to the Pyrenees, Yorkshire Coast, Cyprus, as well as information on sedimentological topics based on his own research. His site receives about half a million hits every week, which means that Ian has almost certainly reached, educated and encouraged more amateur geologists than many another individual academic in the UK.

Ian, you exemplify the model recipient of the RH Worth Prize, which it is my great pleasure to present to you today.

William Smith Fund - Professor Tim Lenton

The William Smith Fund this year is awarded to Professor Tim Lenton of the University of East Anglia.

Phenomenally active in the last decade Tim Lenton has made the theory and modelling of the Earth system his own. Charting the complex feedbacks between lithosphere, biosphere, oceans and atmosphere, Tim has demonstrated his expertise in modelling the global climate system.

Greatly influenced by the Gaia theory and Daisyworld model of Wollaston medallist James Lovelock, Tim tackled one of its major criticisms – perceived conflict with Darwinian evolution – by demonstrating it to be more apparent than real. He has since led the development of the GENIE Earth system model, which models the carbon-climate system at intermediate complexity. He has shown that he is not afraid to ask truly big questions, especially about major transitions in Earth history. He has led the effort to incorporate biological evolution and ecology into the Earth’s evolution, proving himself a natural leader, full of new ideas and able to inspire those around him – a fact confirmed recently by the award of a Philip Leverhulme Prize and a European Geosciences Union Outstanding Young Scientist Award.

Tim Lenton, please accept the William Smith Fund of the Geological Society of London.

Murchison Fund - Dr Arwen Deuss

The Murchison Fund this year is awarded to an outstanding young scientist, a leader among her generation in the field – Dr Arwen Deuss of the Bullard Laboratories, Cambridge University.

Arwen’s research interests span a broad range; but her most significant contributions to date include making the first observation of an inner-core shear wave, and her comprehensive studies of mantle discontinuities. She discovered that the 520 km discontinuity, for example, is laterally highly variable, displaying a double or “split” personality under some regions of the planet. Her recent Science paper on the 660 km discontinuity showed that its complex behaviour is consistent with phase transformations in pyrolite – a particularly significant finding, as earlier studies had argued against the presence of pyrolite.

Arwen Deuss, you are an exceptionally ingenious and dedicated scientist, equipped with a probing inquisitiveness that has led you time after time to innovative approaches and novel revelations.

Please accept now the Murchison Fund of The Geological Society of London.

Lyell Fund - Professor Kathy Willis

The Lyell Fund this year is awarded to Professor Kathy Willis of the Oxford University Centre for the Environment.

Prof. Willis's research focuses on the relationship between long-term ecosystem dynamics and environmental change, and she is a staunch advocate of the need for long-term experimental records. One of the barriers to gaining a proper understanding of future environment and ecosystem interactions is that most scientific studies are based on short-term datasets rarely spanning more than half a century. This presents a static viewpoint of biodiversity where the present is regarded as a 'stable' norm that must be maintained, protected or restored.

Kathy’s work in the Long-term Ecology laboratory therefore concentrates on reconstructing ecosystem responses to environmental change on timescales ranging from tens to millions of years, and the applied use of long-term records in restoration ecology and biodiversity conservation.

Kathy Willis for your interest in the deep-time aspects of environmental science, please accept the Lyell Fund of The Geological Society of London.

Wollaston Fund - Dr Sanjeev Gupta

The Wollaston Fund this year is awarded to Dr Sanjeev Gupta of Imperial College London.

Sanjeev Gupta is a sedimentologist who specialises in the relationships between sedimentary accumulations and contemporaneous tectonic movement. He was among the first to link large-scale basin drainage evolution to tectonic mechanisms. He has helped demonstrate that basement faults influenced the early history of the Alpine foreland, demonstrating that all cannot be explained by flexural forebulge uplift alone. His work has shown how spatial and temporal patterns of rift basin stratigraphy can be readily explained in terms of the evolution of a fault population.

More recently, Dr Gupta has used the geomorphology of rivers and high resolution stratigraphy to constrain responses to fault movement. He recently hit the headlines with a paper in Nature describing the “megaflood” that finally cut Britain off from the continent, and he is now reaching for the stars in his work on valley systems carved by catastrophic floods on Mars.

Sanjeev Gupta, please accept the Wollaston Fund of The Geological Society of London.

Distinguished Service Award - Mr Neil Ellis

Our second Distinguished Service Award today goes to Mr Neil Ellis, who for the past 15 years has been publications manager for the Geological Conservation Review of the Joint Nature Conservation Committee, the JNCC.

Neil Ellis is an unsung contemporary hero of British geology. He has produced 31 of the 33 GCR volumes published so far of the planned 45 volume series that assesses and documents the Earth science Sites of Special Scientific Interest, protected by conservation law for representing Britain’s rich and varied geological heritage. When complete this project will detail some 3000 sites conserved for their geological value. No other country in the world has attempted such a review, let alone seen it to completion.

With infinite care and patience Neil has managed to cajole countless academic authors to produce what they promised - and sometimes, even to length and on time.

Neil, the contribution of people like you, who successfully promote the public face of geology in a professional way, is often unaccountably and inadvertently overlooked. So it is my great pleasure today to award you the Distinguished Service Award of The Geological Society of London.

Distinguished Service Award - Dr Peter Wigley

We now come to the Society’s Distinguished Service Awards, presented for outstanding contributions to geology by professional, administrative, organisational and promotional means.

The first of this year’s two DSAs goes to a geologist who began his career in the oil industry in the 1970s, and who has been consistently involved in adopting and adapting leading-edge computing technology to digitise, organise, manipulate and otherwise present existing geological, geophysical and geographical data so as to increase its accessibility and usefulness.

Since becoming a leader in this fast-changing field Peter Wigley has become, from the mid 1990s, increasingly involved with the Society; principally through advising the Library on its digitisation. He was consulted, for example, over the digitisation of the Murchison correspondence, and over the past few years he has played a major guiding role in the digital exploitation of the Society’s map collection. It was through his good offices the Library acquired all the geological maps from the former BP map collection - and prior to cataloguing, he generously met most of the cost of storing these maps himself.

More recently Peter has been involved in creating the online digital map index of the Library’s maps using GIS – which is now hosted on our new website. Finally, he has been the principal force behind the newly released DVD ““Strata” Smith – his 200-year legacy”, a Society first.

Peter, your contribution to this Society over the past decade has amounted to thousands of hours of your and your family’s time, and a considerable financial cost to yourself – and all done without the slightest thought of public recognition. It is therefore my pleasure to present to you today, with the Society’s thanks, its Distinguished Service Award.

President’s Award - Dr Luke Skinner

Our final President's Award goes to Dr Luke Skinner, a talented young Quaternary palaeoclimatologist. Already a laureate of the EGU, who in 2006 awarded him their "Outstanding Young Scientist Award", and now a Royal Society Research Fellow in the Department of Earth Sciences at Cambridge, Luke works on millennial scale variability in climate, using marine records. He has already published many impressive papers on this subject, using multiple proxy records to document rapid changes in the temperature of the deep ocean.

Luke Skinner, it is my great pleasure to present you with the President's Award of The Geological Society.

President’s Award - Mr Steven Smith

The second of this year's three President's Awards goes to Steven Smith. After gaining a First class honours degree from Durham in 2005, Steven was awarded a University of Durham Doctoral Fellowship to work on a project entitled Fault zone weakening in low angle normal faults. The origin and evolution of low-angle normal faults is highly controversial because they are not predicted by traditional fault mechanics. However, they are now widely documented in a variety of tectonic settings and recent studies have suggested that some examples are able to move over long timescales because they are unusually ‘weak’. To assess this idea, Steven has used detailed field, textural, and geochemical analyses of a spectacular example of a low angle normal fault exposed on the Island of Elba, Italy. In addition to several publications based on his PhD work, Steven has also produced papers from his final year undergraduate research projects including a microstructural study from East Greenland and a pioneering analysis of folds using digital mapping techniques.

Steven, it is my pleasure to confer upon you today the President's Award of The Geological Society.

President’s Award - Dr Madeleine Humphreys

Our first President's Award goes this year to Madeleine Humphreys of Cambridge University, where she is a junior research fellow in Trinity College. Madeleine is a highly talented volcanologist and igneous petrologist, who already boasts an impressive series of publications focusing on the processes that affect magma during its ascent through the crust. She recently won the Cambridge University Sedgwick Prize, as well as the Clough & Mykura Fund of the Edinburgh Geological Society and numerous other prizes.

Madeleine Humphreys, please accept the President's Award of The Geological Society of London.