Professor Harry Elderfield 1943 - 2016

Harry ElderfieldHarry was one of the great world-leading scientists, a true gentleman and the academic father of oceanic trace metal chemistry.  He was awarded the Challenger Medal in 2012 for his sustained contributions to the Society and his field of research. He is seen in the photograph on the right carrying out pore water extractions aboard the RRS James Cook in 2013 (photo credit Mervyn Greaves).

Harry was one of the foremost scientists of his generation, as is reflected by the many honours he was awarded over his lifetime. He was recognised for his contributions with several notable awards including the Lyell Medal in 2003, the Urey Medal of the European Association of Geochemistry in 2007 and the V. M. Goldschmidt Award in 2013. He was awarded many Fellowships during his career and was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society in 2001.

Harry was Professor of Professor of Ocean Geochemistry and Palaeochemistry at the Godwin Laboratory, Department of Earth Sciences, Cambridge University. Harry’s work has showed how and why the chemistry of the oceans, atmospheric carbon dioxide and global temperature have changed over time.  One of his most important contributions was the establishment of new tools for analysing seawater through studying the chemistry of fossils buried in deep-sea sediments. His work has had a far-reaching impact on our knowledge of the Earth’s makeup.

Like many of us in the field, I carried out my PhD under Harry’s supervision. His mentorship and friendship and extraordinary intellect sustained my efforts for many years.  One of the highlights of our work together was our British-Russian Atlantic Vents Expedition in 1994, where Adam Schultz and I served as co-Chief Scientists, and Harry was the Expedition Leader. Harry was an exceptional collaborator in the lab, on the ship, in the office – always bringing new insights, intellectual energy, and quiet challenge to the problem at hand.  His legacies to marine science are the huge number of scientists whose careers he stimulated and the ideas that have transformed our understanding of the ocean and Earth system.  His death is a great loss to the Challenger Society and to the world-wide community in which we carry out our work.


Rachel Mills, President Elect, April 2016.