Senator John Heinz


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The Heinz Awards


George Woodwell

Dr. George M. Woodwell receives the Heinz Award in the Environment 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.

No field of scientific investigation is off limits to Dr. Woodwell's inquiring mind. An ecologist of international standing, he is a distinguished scientist in other disciplines as well, including population biology, meteorology and forestry. 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 is excerpted from the commemorative brochure published at the time of the awards' presentation.


August 2009 - In his new book, The Nature of a House - Building a World that Works, George M. Woodwell, founder of the Woods Hole Research Center, details the challenges they faced in the design and construction of the Gilman Ordway Campus at WHRC, which was completed in 2003 in collaboration with McDonough + Partners. - Island Press

June 2005
- After 20 years of being the director of Woods Hole Research Center, Woodwell steps down and will become the center's senior scientist. He will be replaced as director by John Holdren, the director of International Affairs at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government and a former Heinz Award recipient. - The Boston Globe

September 2002 - Woodwell's latest book, Forests in a Full World, is released. The book covers the most prominent issues concerning the "climate's relationship to agriculture, forests, and energy uses." - Journal of International Wildlife Law & Policy

August 2002 - Woodwell's organization, the Woods Hole Research Center, and his affiliate the National Resources Defense Council are among several environmental groups that have together "filed a lawsuit to block the U.S. Navy and National Marine Fisheries Service from deploying a powerful new sonar system." The groups are concerned for the wildlife of the surrounding waters, believing that the machinery used in the new system will "maim or kill whales, dolphins and other sea creatures." - The Los Angeles Times

October 2001 - Woodwell receives the 2001 Volvo Environment Prize "in recognition of 40 years of research into the role humans play in damaging the environment." - Volvo Environment Prize Foundation

November 1997 - Woodwell takes part in a lecture series on environmental issues at Oregon State University. His talk, "Reason and Unreason in Science and Politics: Keeping the Heat on Governments to Cool the Earth" deals with his opinion that the United States needs "to stabilize greenhouse-gas emissions at a modestly reduced level." - The Oregonian
George Woodwell