In memoriam: Professor Trevor Platt FRS
7 April 2020
It is with deep regret that PML has to report the passing of Professor Trevor Platt FRS, following a short illness.
Professor Platt is well renowned in oceanographic circles, having been a giant in furthering understanding of the ocean and how it functions to sustain life on Earth.
Born in Salford, England in 1942, Professor Platt first entered academia six decades ago as an undergraduate at the University of Nottingham in the UK, before going onto study for an MA at the University of Toronto; in 1970 he gained his PhD in biology from Dalhousie University, Nova Scotia, Canada. He became Head of Biological Oceanography, in 1972, and acting Director in 1976 at the Bedford Institute of Oceanography, Nova Scotia, where he had been researching phytoplankton ecology. Phytoplankton was to become the common thread throughout his future research studies, but not exclusively. His own curriculum vitae sums up his wide ranging interests which included: “physiological ecology of marine phytoplankton; thermodynamics of the open ocean ecosystem; influence of physical structure of marine environment on populations living in it; theoretical ecology; submarine optics, with particular emphasis on importance of microorganisms to light penetration in the sea; size structure of marine communities; remote sensing of ocean colour; ocean carbon cycle and climate change; ecological approach to fisheries management”.
Such was his knowledge and grasp of broader oceanography that he could apply these and his skills to a wider range of issues, challenges and fundamental questions about how the ocean functions and how it impacts upon our lives as inhabitants of this planet. It was this targeted eclectic approach to marine science that ensured Professor Platt would have a glittering career, holding many prestigious offices, positions of influence and opportunities to further push the boundaries of oceanographic understanding. His output over the decades has been prodigious with more than 320 academic publications to his name, which generated more than 22,000 citations; one paper cited 23 of his publications in its list of references.
Throughout his career Professor Platt’s contributions to oceanography have been recognised in the form of numerous awards, medals and honours. In 1982 he was awarded the APICS-Fraser Gold Medal for “outstanding research by a young scientist”, this medal was established in 1972 to recognize Atlantic Canadian scientists, under the age of 40 years of age. The award recognised his work in unravelling the relationship between biological productivity and the physical environment. Much of Professor Platt’s research was truly ground breaking, just two years later came his next award - the Rosentiel Award for “his work combining theory and technology that changed perceptions about phytoplankton population dynamics, firmly establishing the importance of discontinuous distributions in controlling productivity. Recently he has focused on developing an analytical definition of photosynthesis based on physiological mechanisms and supplying ’holistic’ modelling techniques to marine ecosystems”.
Recognition in Canada was topped off by being elected to the Royal Society of Canada in 1990, and the awards from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Canada of Prix de Distinction in 2007, followed the next year by the Prix d’Excellence.
In 1992 he was given the Huntsman Award in recognition of ‘fundamental and wide-ranging research into the functioning of pelagic ecosystems, especially of the open ocean, and critical computations of global oceanic algal productivity’.
1998 saw the American Society of Limnology and Oceanography present Professor Platt with its highest award, the G. Evelyn Hutchinson Award. In the same year he was elected to the Fellowship of the Royal Society of London where his citation includes: “Trevor Platt has made several distinguished contributions to oceanography and theoretical ecology. He provided a full description of the photosynthesis/irradiance relationship for phytoplankton. He applied spectral analysis to the spatial distribution of plankton and studied the dynamics of marine food chains as a function of organism size. He has also measured phytoplankton production in the open ocean using satellite observations with an approach based on his own bio-optical theory of primary production in the sea.”
The International Council for the Exploration of the Seas (ICES) celebrated its 100th anniversary at the 2002 Annual Science Conference in Copenhagen in early October, where Professor Platt and his collaborators were awarded the honour of the best scientific paper of the conference, for their paper titled, Ecosystem variation and fisheries: Operational test of the Match-Mismatch Hypothesis. Indeed such was Professor Platt’s standing that he was much in demand as a visiting lecturer and became visiting Professor at some of the world’s leading institutions including: the Scripps Institution of Oceanography; Pontifica Universidad Catolica de Chile; State University of New York; European Institute for Advanced Studies in Oceanography, Mallorca; and the National Institute of Oceanography, Cochin. His reputation led to him being called upon as Chair of many high-level groups and committees, those of the Scientific Committee on Oceanic Research (SCOR), NATO and ICES being of note. He was especially proud of his long association with the Partnership for Observation of the Global Ocean (POGO), first as a visiting Professor in 2005, and between 2008 and 2015 as its Executive Director.
2006 saw him awarded the Timothy Parsons medal for excellence in ocean sciences, “in honour of his outstanding contributions to the fields of biological oceanography and marine ecology, the thermodynamics of the open ocean ecosystem and an ecosystem approach to fisheries management”. In the 2006-2007 Science Annual report of Fisheries Canada, Professor (then Dr). Platt is described as “a leader in interdisciplinary oceanographic research, a pioneer of new quantitative methodologies and the use of satellite remote sensing data for measuring ocean processes. He is a major influence internationally, serving with the International Geosphere-Biosphere Program, the Scientific Committee on Ocean Research, the Joint Global Ocean-Flux Study and the International Ocean Colour- Coordinating Group.”
In 2007 he was one of the scientists honoured for their contributions to the Fourth Assessment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The IPPC shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with US Vice-President Al Gore for their efforts “to build up and disseminate greater knowledge about climate change, and to lay the foundations for the measures that are needed to counteract such change.”
Plymouth Marine Laboratory was delighted to welcome Professor Platt to join its team in 2008 as Professorial Fellow, where he split his time between his research and his Directorship of POGO. In true Trevor fashion his impact was immediate, generating novel areas of research, boosting PML’s international credentials and reputation, and cascading his knowledge and experience to upcoming, early career and other PML researchers.
He was a firm believer in sharing his knowledge, nurturing the next generation of scientists and above all providing encouragement and guidance to countless young researchers. Many of them will have seen Professor Platt as on a pedestal, someone to be admired a true role model, but he was always ready to share his experience and debate opinions, in a quiet, considered, sometimes provocative, whilst always supportive tone.
Professor Platt’s science whilst pioneering and game changing in its excellence, was also practical and applicable. Latterly his work with colleagues on remote sensing had especial relevance to food security and human health in developing countries. He was recognised in 2014 with the award of the Jawaharial Nehru Science fellowship, to work ‘on the ground’ in India. This opportunity was part on an initiative by India to attract a handful of the world’s leading scientists “sharing their knowledge with local scientists and creating new research areas in "cutting edge" science”. His links with India remained until the end and true to his passion and drive was involved in bringing on young scientists through training programmes aimed at improving water, quality, reducing potential for disease and so prolonging the lives of others.
Professor Trevor Platt FRS made a difference and leaves a legacy that will continue to influence for a better and more equitable world.
Professor Icarus Allen, Chief Executive of PML said:
"I am personally greatly saddened at the news that Professor Trevor Platt has passed away. When Trevor joined PML he brought with him a wealth of knowledge, and an incredibly innovative mind, but also a desire to make a difference to the world in which he lived. For those of us who were fortunate to have worked alongside Trevor we also got to know a man that was generous with his experience, a scientist who was always happy to share his ideas with others, and most importantly someone who nurtured the next generation of young scientists, not just at PML but much further afield. Trevor’s passing will leave a huge chasm in the world of marine science and the efforts towards a sustainable planet, but also in the hearts of many who knew him as a respected scientist and a friend. Many, many people will grieve his death, but our special thoughts are with his widow Shubha Sathyendranath.”