Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Researcher called Dr. God

Researcher called Dr. God
Credited with saving Lake Erie
By Eric McGuinness
The Hamilton Spectator
Burlington (Feb 5, 2007)

Richard Vollenweider, who wrote a life-saving prescription for Lake Erie, won the world's top environmental award and earned the nickname Dr. God from colleagues, died Jan. 20 after a long illness. He was 84.

The Swiss scientist's big breakthrough was determining that eutrophication -- runaway algae growth that can choke freshwater lakes -- could be controlled by limiting the input of phosphorus.

That led to phosphates being taken out of North American laundry detergents in the 1970s.

The research won him a Tyler Prize, which is considered the Nobel Prize of environmental science.

Ronald Reagan, then U.S. president, marked the occasion by sending a telegram telling Vollenweider that all Americans and Canadians owed him a debt of gratitude for his, "magnificent achievements."

Vollenweider delivered his milestone report on the role of phosphorus while he was working in Europe for the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

He was lured to the Canada Centre for Inland Waters (CCIW) in Burlington in 1968, when the plight of Lake Erie became a symbol of global environmental damage.

His model for controlling the plant nutrients phosphorus and nitrogen was written into the 1972 Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement between Canada and the U.S.

Jack Vallentyne of Hamilton, another pioneer in eutrophication research now retired from CCIW, said, "Dr. God is the saviour of the Great Lakes, that's for sure."

Vallentyne said the Dr. God title was a term of respect.

"His colleagues knew he was several levels above them.

"He knew things that the rest of us didn't and put things together about nutrients."

For his work at the OECD and CCIW, Vollenweider received an award of excellence from the Rawson Academy of Aquatic Sciences, shared the 1986 Tyler Prize with Swiss scientist Werner Stumm and was awarded the Naumann-Thienemann Medal of the International Society of Limnology in 1987.

He later received the Premio Internazionale Cervia for water resource management in the Adriatic Sea and membership in the United Nations Environment Program's Global 500 Roll of Honour.

He received an honorary degree from McGill University.

A brief memorial ceremony will be held at 1:15 p.m. on Feb. 12 in the auditorium at CCIW during the 42nd Central Canadian Symposium on Water Quality Research.