The Marsh Awards 2019 – Winners announced! | Earth Sciences

The Marsh Awards, run in partnership between the Marsh Christian Trust and the Natural History Museum, recognise unsung heroes who have made a major contribution to the promotion of palaeontology, mineralogy or earth sciences.

The winners in three categories – the Best Earth Sciences Book of the Year, Palaeontology, and Mineralogy – were celebrated at an awards ceremony at Museum on the 13 December 2019.

The winners were:

  • Marsh Award for the Best Earth Sciences Book of the Year:
    In the Footsteps of Darwin: Geoheritage, Geotourism and Geoconservation in the Galapagos Islands, Co-authors Daniel Kelley, Kevin Page, Diego Quiroga, Raul Salazar
  • Marsh Award in Mineralogy: Dr Jolyon Ralph
  • Marsh Award in Palaeontology: Dr David Penney

The awards and prizes were presented by Mr John Bennett, MCT Ambassador. The well-received annual lecture was by Prof Ian Crawford on ‘The Future Exploration of the Moon’.

Winners of the Best Earth Sciences Book of the Year 2019 Marsh Award

The Marsh Awards Ceremony 2019


In the Footsteps of Darwin: Geoheritage, Geotourism and Geoconservation in the Galapagos Islands

Co-authors Daniel Kelley, Kevin Page, Diego Quiroga, Raul Salazar

Modern-day tourism is problematic – on one hand, tourism is an important contributor of income to cities and countries, and opens our eyes to new cultures, to history, and to the natural world. However, if not managed, tourism can be a burden to cities and cause irreparable damage to the environment. Overcrowding in Barcelona and Venice has pushed these cities almost to the breaking point, and damage to beaches such in Thailand are prime examples. In the case of Thailand, officials had to close Maya beach to try to stem the damage.

In the Footsteps of Darwin: Geoheritage, Geotourism and Geoconservation in the Galapagos Islands, is a contribution to Springer’s Geoheritage, Geoparks and Geotourism Conservation and Management Series which has been developed in conjunction with agencies such as UNESCO. Given the benefits, but also the very real difficulties of developing geotourism in a fragile ecosystem such as the Galapagos, this book is very timely.

Of course, the Galapagos are well known because of Charles Darwin’s visit, which changed natural history forever. His first impressions weren’t favourable – “Nothing could be less inviting – A broken field of black basaltic lava- everywhere covered by stunted, sun-burnt brushwood”. However, Darwin later says that “the natural history of these islands is eminently curious, and well deserves attention”, setting the stage for this book’s discussion of the history, and future, of these islands in our age of tourism.

The book comprises interlinked and very well-illustrated chapters, beginning with a discussion of the complicated geological history of the islands. The authors make the very important point that it is the geology and geodiversity of the Galapagos that shapes the ecology of the animals and plants that live there. The focus is often on these biotas, but the geology of the Galapagos, most notably the volcanos and associated features, has incredible potential to be important for tourism and for Geotourism. And, these ‘Geoheritage features’ are more robust and stable, and more amenable to visits by tourists, compared to the often fragile and endangered wildlife and plants.

Other chapters describe these amazing biotas, and provide a very interesting description of the evolution of National Parks themselves, first as a focus for collecting specimens in their early history, and then later with a shifting focus to conservation. The history of the Galapagos as a UNESCO World Heritage site is also discussed, with a frank discussion of some of the tensions and difficulties that have arisen. However, the focus is to the future, with a final chapter listing the Geosites available for tourism, including ones outside the Galapagos National Park.

This very accessible and compelling book on the Galapagos islands combines geology, ecology, history, conservation, culture, but with a firm focus on the importance and potential of geology and geological features- the Geoheritage of the Galapagos – to contribute to tourism as a positive driver for the Galapagos, and as the judges of the Marsh Award thought, setting an example for other parts of the world as well.

Winner of the 2019 Palaeontology Marsh Award

The Marsh Awards Ceremony 2019

Dr David Penney

David was born in Manchester in 1968, and like most children, he was dinosaur obsessed. His favourite book included scenes of a dinosaur excavation and this was exactly what he wanted to do, so he asked his mum where he could find dinosaurs for real. She told him that those in the book came from North America and that it was too far to go. He was devastated … he needed to engage with something physical, beyond the pages of a book, but this was back in the 1970s well before the days of regular air travel … and he was only 8-years-old. He soon found his childhood curiosity satiated with the myriad of bugs and spiders in his back garden. Fossils were now well and truly a thing of his past and he had no interest in them!

Fast forward 18 years to 1994 and he had just been awarded with a BSc in Zoology at the University of Manchester and was about to embark on a PhD researching parasite immunology. That was, until a lecturer in Earth Sciences who he had never spoken to before called him into his office. He was an expert in fossil spiders preserved in rock and was aware of David’s long-standing interest in spiders because he was the President of the British Arachnological Society, of which David had been a member for many years. It was also one year after the first Jurassic Park movie had been released, so fossil inclusions preserved in amber were kind of ‘sexy’ in research terms at that time … and so it was that David was offered a funded PhD position studying fossil spiders preserved in amber. Consequently, he considers himself an “accidental” palaeontologist … he just happened to be in the right place at the right time!

He was awarded my PhD in 1999 and just 3 years ago was awarded a higher doctorate, a DSc, based on almost 25 years of research. There have been many highlights, including demonstrating extinction resistance of spiders through the K/T event, co-radiation of spiders and their insect prey, and being at the forefront of applying computed tomography and the application of next generation DNA sequencing techniques to amber fossils. In 2004 he visited the Royal Tyrell Museum in the badlands of Canada, where some of the most spectacular dinosaur finds have been made. He was there to study their amber collection, but during his stay he got to visit a real dinosaur dig site … his childhood dream had eventually come true!

Unfortunately, he found the politics of academia rather unsavoury, so for the past 15 years most of his research has been done independently, albeit with an honorary affiliation to the University of Manchester, up until a year or so ago. This allowed him to pursue his own research interests and also to develop Siri Scientific Press, which he set up as a specialist publisher of palaeontology and entomology books back in 2008, with the aim of publishing books at the interface of academia and general public interest.

The interest of the public audience should not be underestimated when it comes to our academic output. To give an example, in 2010, David co-authored a computed tomography study of a fossil spider preserved in 50 million year old Baltic amber. They included an online (YouTube) supporting video of the remarkable reconstruction. As of last week, the video has had 191,000 views (which very roughly equates to 55 views per day for EVERY day, since it was posted online almost 10 years ago.

By contrast, the paper has been cited a mere 31 times. This 8-page paper is held behind a £35.00 paywall by the journal publisher, whereas his 128-page hardback book on fossil spiders has a retail price of just £32.00. The fact that Siri Scientific Press books get excellent reviews in scientific journals and also via public outlets such as Amazon indicates that he is achieving his objective of catering to both academic and public audiences.

He has now published more than 40 titles, half of which are devoted to palaeontology and David has no doubt that some of these books will be the inspiration for at least some future professional palaeontologists. It is also worth noting that two Siri Scientific Press authors have been past recipients of the Marsh Award: Dean Lomax in 2015, author of Dinosaurs of the British Isles and William Blows in 2016, author of British Polacanthid Dinosaurs. David is therefore extremely happy to accept this award and join these two researchers and the other esteemed recipients of the Marsh Award for Palaeontology.

Winner of the Mineralogy Marsh Award 2019

The Marsh Awards Ceremony 2019

Dr Jolyon Ralph

Jolyon Ralph has transformed the world of mineralogy by founding and developing the mineralogy database website mindat.org.

Jolyon’s journey in mineralogy started when he was five on a beach in Cornwall and was nurtured during his childhood visits to the, then, Geological Museum in South Kensington. Meanwhile, in 1982 he acquired his own computer and since then has never stopped programming. He attended the Royal School of Mines at Imperial College, but the computers won when he chose that as his career route, eliding his two burning interests.

Mindat.org began in 1993 as a simple program created by Jolyon in order to document his personal mineral collection it was never used by more than a handful of people as Jolyon was the only one who could add and edit data within it. The program saw several iterations before its launch as a website in October 2000 – the year prior to the launch of Wikipedia.

In 2014 Jolyon donated his ownership of mindat.org to the Hudson Institute of Mineralogy, a not-for-profit organization based in the US, in order to protect it and its legacy.

Mindat has become an essential resource within the mineral world, acting as the leading source of information regarding minerals and their localities. The site encompasses over 5 million pages detailing information on mineral species, rocks, localities, photographs, glossary entries, and more. Users include amateurs and professionals. The website saw over 4 million unique visitors and over 33 million-page views in 2018.

The mindat forum has allowed for a community of users to come together and explore the world of mineralogy together – amateurs are connected to experts, collectors to academia, allowing for a more comprehensive learning experience for all involved.

Sections of the website specifically dedicated to educational articles and other resources have made mindat an invaluable tool for educators. For example, addressing a younger demographic (ages 8-16), the article “Minerals of Minecraft,” authored by Jolyon, has been viewed nearly 2 million times.

The scientific applications of the mindat database have become increasingly significant in recent years. Of particular note is usage of the database in large-scale data-mining research projects such as the Mineral Evolution Project, where mindat data regarding mineral occurrences is being used to reconstruct the development of mineral species throughout Earth history.

Mindat.org is a dynamic database, and under the guidance of Jolyon, it continues to change and adapt to provide new tools for the exploration and understanding of mineralogy and geology. The impact of Jolyon’s work is monumental now and will only grow with time.

Further information about this winner can be found on the mindat site.

Previous winners

Palaeontology

  • 2018 Christopher Duffin
  • 2017 David Ward
  • 2016 William Blows
  • 2015 Dean Lomax
  • 2013 John Quayle
  • 2012 Peter Austen
  • 2010 Steven Sweetman
  • 2009 Stan Wood
  • 2008 Joe S.H. Collins

Mineralogy

  • 2018 Steve Rust
  • 2017 David Green
  • 2016 Roy Starkey

Best Earth Sciences Book Of The Year

  • 2018 Alan Graham (Land Bridges)
  • 2017 Eric Smith and Harold Morowitz (The Origin and Nature of Life on Earth)