Photo: Jim Harrison
3rd Heinz Awards - 1996
Dr. George M. Woodwell received the 3rd Heinz Award in the Environment category for his pioneering research into the earth as a single biophysical system and his work in addressing the critical question of how to tailor human activities to save it. An ecologist pre-eminent among a small number of life scientists, he has devoted decades to studying the interaction of different ecosystems. In the process, he has achieved distinction in a remarkably wide range of activities associated with understanding and alleviating threats to the global environment.
Dr. Woodwell has also been an important force in bringing the science of ecology to public attention. The founder of the Woods Hole Research Center in Massachusetts, he is guided by a profound understanding of ecology and of the utter dependence of all living things on the integrity of nature.
An ecologist by profession and conservationist by conviction, Dr. Woodwell recognized from the start of his career that the biosphere is the sum of discrete ecosystems, some of which he has measured and defined through his pioneering research. During the 1960s, he was one of the first scientists to systematically investigate the effects of chronic exposure to ionizing radiation. This was followed by his research into the effects of persistent pesticides in the atmosphere, research that ultimately led to America’s ban on DDT. Dr. Woodwell’s work since then has centered on issues of global climate change and the formulation of rational policy responses to address this critical challenge.
Dr. Woodwell began his career by building a program of basic research and ecology at the Brookhaven National Laboratory. He then went on to found the Ecosystems Center at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, and some 10 years ago, established the Woods Hole Research Center. Besides publishing hundreds of scientific papers and books, Dr. Woodwell was also instrumental in the founding of such organizations as the Environmental Defense Fund, the Natural Resources Defense Council and the World Resources Institute. These organizations reflect both Dr. Woodwell’s scientific curiosity and his commitment to increasing the influence of scholarship on public policy.
To the discomfort of some of his peers – many of whom also praise him for taking personal responsibility for the planet’s preservation – Dr. Woodwell has never hesitated to confront national and international leaders with the disturbing implications of science. Not content merely to publish his findings for others to interpret and act upon, he has proved that scientists can take part in – and even lead – public policy debates without compromising their scientific integrity. His studies of global warming, for example, have placed him at the forefront of this often-contentious issue.
A distinguished scientist in many disciplines, including population biology, meteorology and forestry, no field of scientific investigation is off limits to Dr. George Woodwell’s inquiring mind. His scientific skills are matched only by his concern for the world in which we live, a combination that has made, and will continue to make, him one of the world’s most respected citizen advocates for the environment.
Note: This profile was written at the time of the awards’ presentation.