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Top world scientists honour Southern Cross oceanography professor


Sharlene King
5 September 2018

The world’s largest organisation of earth and space scientists has honoured Isaac Santos, a professor of oceanography based at Southern Cross University’s National Marine Science Centre in Coffs Harbour.

Professor Isaac Santos was awarded the 2018 James B Macelwane Medal from the American Geophysical Union, which has more than 60,000 members worldwide.

This is the first time the award has been won by an Australian scientist.

The Macelwane Medal recognises ‘significant contributions to the geophysical sciences by an outstanding early career scientist’.

Professor Santos, an Australian Research Council Future Fellow working on water quality and the coastal carbon cycle, said he was deeply honoured.

“This medal validates my decision to build a career in Coffs Harbour at the National Marine Science Centre. It shows one can achieve excellence and international prominence working from a regional university,” said Professor Santos.

“It also validates my approach of seeking insight from the local community to help inform my choice of research topics. Working with water quality on the Coffs coast has given me so many opportunities to research a topic people care about, and to build a strong sense of community belonging.

“While this is an individual award, it is only possible with the ingenuity and hard work of my students and colleagues who make work fun, productive and meaningful. Working with students from all over the world provides unique inspiration and insight.”

Professor Santos’ research has focused on submarine groundwater discharge, an invisible water pathway that has been put in the “too hard basket” for decades. He has revealed how groundwater contributes to water quality at a multitude of iconic coastal sites such as mangroves, coral reefs, estuaries, and beaches in Australia and overseas. The research relies on a vision of building a portable laboratory to obtain real time and high precision observations in situ.

AGU medals are widely regarded as the highest honour in the field of Geological and Planetary Sciences. They recognise exceptional individuals for their scientific body of work, sustained impact, excellence in scientific research, education, communication, and outreach.

The University of Queensland’s Professor Ling Li nominated Professor Santos for the award.

“Isaac is a highly productive, creative, and energetic scientist highly regarded by his students and peers,” wrote Professor Li.

“He is an unselfish colleague who has demonstrated great skills when supervising students and has established a highly successful research group. Such leadership, combined with his great ability in developing collaborative research and in building first-class research infrastructure has helped to ensure long-lasting impacts of his work.”

The James Macelwane Medal has been given annually since 1962. Professor Santos will collect the medal at the Union’s annual meeting in the USA in December.

Professor Susan Nancarrow, the University’s Deputy Vice Chancellor (Research), congratulated Professor Santos.

“This medal highlights the National Marine Science Centre’s outstanding reputation internationally. We achieved the highest rating of ‘well above world standard’ in the fields of Oceanography and Fisheries, in the last Excellence in Research for Australia national assessment exercise.

“Professor Santos has been an inspiration to his students and colleagues and has shown full commitment to the University’s values of excellence and collegiality while leading by example.

“He is a global citizen who has performed research all over the world with his students. He is also making a significant impact in our regional communities with his coastal water quality research.”

Further developing Marine Sciences in Coffs Harbour as an area of excellence is one of the priorities of Southern Cross. From 2019, the Marine Science and Management degree will be offered from Coffs Harbour at the National Marine Science Centre. Students will have access to world leading infrastructure and expertise and will be able to rub shoulders with world leaders in their field, such as Professor Santos.