Certified Professional Soil Scientist, Professor Rob Fitzpatrick recognised for outstanding contribution to acid sulfate soil science
Acid Sulfate Soils are one of the nastiest soils in the world.
When disturbed, acid sulfate soils can create significant environmental damage, water contamination and decades of ongoing soil issues.
Recently, at the 9th International Acid Sulfate Soils Conference in Adelaide (IASSC), Certified Professional Soil Scientist Professor Rob Fitzpatrick was awarded the Pons Medal for outstanding contribution to acid sulfate soil science and practice by the International Union of Soil Sciences (IUSS) Acid Sulfate Soils Working Group.
The Pons medal is named after the late Leen Pons, Professor of Regional Soil Science at Wageningen University in The Netherlands, who was a leading figure in early acid sulfate soil science, and in the organisation of international acid sulfate soil conferences.
The medal is awarded by International Union of Soil Sciences (IUSS) Acid Sulfate Soils Working Group to an outstanding scientist who has led distinguished service and contributions to the field of acid sulfate soil science through publication, innovative research, leadership and education.
The award was presented by Dr Anton Bowman and A/Prof Vanessa Wong, Chair and vice-Chair of the IUSS Acid Sulfate Soils Working Group. A/Prof Vanessa Wong spoke to Professor Rob Fitzpatrick’s career at the conference. “Rob has always been prepared to take the path less travelled, and this has been demonstrated with his pursuit of inland acid sulfate soils in Australia and worldwide, although acid sulfate soils have been traditionally identified in coastal environments.
Rob and his colleagues have work to identify and map the location of acid sulfate soils in many inland wetlands highly vulnerable to droughts. The droughts cause these soils to dry and produce sulfuric acid, causing severe and long-term damage to ecosystems and infrastructure.
In the national emergency brought on by the Millennium Drought (2007 – 2010), which lowered water levels in wetlands, lakes and rivers throughout the Murray-Darling basin in Australia – Rob brought his encyclopaedic knowledge of acid sulfate soil chemistry and processes plus intrepid fieldwork to environmental mitigation and recovery work.
Rob was the first to establish inland acid sulfate soils as a new mineral exploration sampling medium for deeply buried or blind Pb and Zn sulfide orebodies. Rob has also included these soils in the Atlas of Australian Acid Sulfate Soils, which he conceived, developed and continues to lead. This Atlas allows anyone in Australia to ‘check before they dig’ and avoid inadvertently disturbing acid sulfate soils.
Internationally, Rob has participated and contributed papers to all the international symposia/conferences of the IUSS Acid Sulfate Soils Working Group from the 4th in Vietnam, 1992; 5th in Australia, 2002; 6th in China, 2008; 7th in Finland 2012; 8th in USA, 2016. He has improved classification schemes for soils such as the use of schwertmannite as a diagnostic criterion, in addition to jarosite and other properties, in the recognition of sulfuric materials in the Australian and other international soil classification systems. Rob has supervised 21 PhD, 8 MSc and 10 honours students. Rob is known for his infectious enthusiasm about acid sulfate and other kinds of soils. He is a soil science leader in all respects.
You can learn more about Acid Sulfate Soils on the Soil Science Australia website at: soilscienceautsralia.org.au/as
The page also includes links to the Atlas, the Acid Sulfate Soils Accreditation, the National acid sulfate soils identification and laboratory methods manual and other resources to help you learn more about Acid Sulfate Soils. You can also connect with a suitably qualified soil scientist or professional in the management, identification or regulation and evaluation of acid sulfate soils.
Photo: Professor Rob Fitzpatrick (right) receiving the Pons Medal from A/Prof Vanessa Wong, vice-Chair (left) and Dr Anton Bowman Chair (middle) of the IUSS Acid Sulfate Soils Working Group. Photo credit Dr Emily Leyden