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In Memoriam: Professor Paul Somerfield, PML Ecologist

1 August 2023

We are deeply saddened by the loss of our friend and colleague, Professor Paul Somerfield, who has passed away following a short illness.

Prof Paul Somerfield

Insatiably curious and passionate about all aspects of marine life, Paul joined PML in 1991 as a Higher Scientific Officer (HSO), initially working on the identification and taxonomy of meiofauna, then going on to lead numerous projects on a wide variety of marine topics; from bacteria to sharks. Prior to arriving in Plymouth, Paul completed his PhD on marine mites at the University of Dublin’s Trinity College and then spent time in Australia and South-East Asia pursuing his love of the underwater world through scuba diving (he would later become PML’s Diving Officer), and even working in a travelling circus!

Over the past three decades, Paul became a highly-respected and popular senior member of staff, serving on numerous international and national panels, committees and working groups and known by those he worked alongside for his impressive breadth of knowledge and inquisitive approach to solving problems.

Paul Somerfield analysiing fish samples

Above: Paul during fieldwork on board the RV Prince Madog

An accomplished writer, a skilled taxonomist and guru of statistical analysis, Paul’s initial work at PML was alongside his colleague, Dr Mike Gee, and focused on the study of benthic meiofauna, assessing the impacts of different types of pollution in UK coastal waters. Primarily working in PML’s Community Ecology group, which later became the Biodiversity group, Paul also worked alongside Professor Bob Clarke and Professor Richard Warwick, becoming heavily involved in the “Plymouth Routines in Multivariate Ecological Research” or PRIMER-e software and methods which are now well-established for statistical research in more than 130 countries globally.

In later years, Paul became renowned for his teaching on numerous PRIMER-e courses, giving his time generously to help participants explore and publish their data long after the courses had ended. Hundreds experienced first-hand his interest in all aspects of marine biology and his genuine love of helping people. Paul took great joy in helping others achieve their ambitions.

Paul speaking at The MERP final meeting

Above: Paul chairing the Marine Ecosystems Research Programme final meeting at the Royal Society

Paul was promoted to the role of Senior Scientific Officer in September 1997, and to a NERC Band 4 scientist in September 2002, later becoming science coordinator and lead PI of the NERC-Defra Marine Ecosystems Research Programme.  More recently, Paul also served as PI of the INSITE2 Programme project DREAMS, researching management options for decommissioning oil and gas infrastructure, and as Theme Leader for Biological Dynamics within the NERC marine National Capability programme CLASS.

Paul’s research predominantly investigated the distribution and functioning of biodiversity, particularly through the novel integration and analysis of compiled data to understand large-scale and long-term processes, and their implications for the ways in which we understand and model systems. This deep knowledge of biodiversity and commitment to doing science for a purpose saw him become PML’s inaugural Biodiversity Science-to-Impact Challenge Coordinator. He was regarded as an international expert on both meiofauna and on the application of non-parametric multivariate analysis, and his legacy includes the authoring and co-authoring of more than 150 peer-reviewed papers*, in addition to a number of books and chapters.

Paul’s wide-ranging commitments also included serving on the UK Biodiversity Science Committee, UK Scientific Diving Advisory Committee, Royal Statistical Society Panel for Statistics and Environmental Change, International Council for Exploration of the Sea Working Groups on the Effects of Climate Change on Benthos and Biodiversity, Council of the Marine Biological Association of the UK (MBA), the Education, Communication and Conservation Committee of the MBA and the UK Healthy and Biologically Diverse Seas Evidence Group - Benthic Subgroup.

Paul was made an Honorary Professor at the University of Plymouth in July 2023.

As impressive as his scientific legacy is, Paul will be remembered at PML, and beyond, for the thousands of inspirational interactions and personal acts of mentoring he has provided to his peers over the years. Paul often gave without taking and his desire to put the science ahead of his own ego was hugely admired. After more than three decades at PML, Paul’s academic DNA and approach to doing science are inseparably intertwined with those of the organisation. His work impacted right across the laboratory and his sad loss will be felt in every corner of PML. We will miss him terribly.

PML Chief Executive Professor Icarus Allen said:

“Paul made a huge impact during his long and successful career at PML. He was an excellent scientist with a keen eye for detail and a highly valued cross disciplinary mindset. A great strength was his ability to bring together people, their disparate scientific ideas and disciplines, to create new avenues of work often using his statistical skills as an integrative tool.

This is evidenced by his eclectic portfolio of work, ranging from benthic meiofauna, via microbial ecology to mangroves and fish.  He was a great advocate of multivariate statistical methods and opened my eyes to novel ways of interpreting both real world and modelled data.  

On a personal level I will also remember Paul as a friend, holding court in the Millbridge Inn, discussing science and the idiosyncrasies of life over a pint of Guinness.

Paul will be greatly missed at PML and in the wider marine research community and our thoughts go out to his family and friends”.

Paul is survived by his wife Tina and his daughter Annabel, to whom we extend our deepest sympathies.

In memory of Professor Paul Somerfield

Prof Paul Somerfield

* As of July 2023, Paul had published 152 ISI listed papers with an H index of 51 and an average citation of 74 per paper.



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