2007 Gilbert H. Cady Award - Response by Andrew Cunningham Scott
Firstly, I would like to thank Jack Crelling for his kind words and secondly the Coal Section of the Geological Society of America for the honour of presenting me with the Gilbert H. Cady Award. I feel particularly proud to be the first Briton and only the second non-North American to receive the award. I am also pleased as Cady spent some time at Yale University where I have just spent a sabbatical year as visiting Professor.
I think that coal geology must be in my blood as many past generations of my family worked in the coal mines of Scotland. While undertaking a coal project for the Royal Scottish Museum in the Douglas coalfield near Coalburn, I spent some time researching my family history in the nearby village of Lesmahagow in Lanarkshire. My family had lived there from at least the mid 17th century until my father left at the start of World War 2. I discovered that my great- great grandfather, great grandfather and grandfather had all worked the coal in the exact area I was researching and that the family home of 1841 was on the edge of the opencast mine. I was thrilled by this connection and published some of my work on the coals in 1999. Who says that coal does not run in the genes?!
I was introduced to geology by a family friend at the age of nine and was encouraged by my uncle Robert Fraser, a coal miner himself. As a schoolboy I was enthused to study geology at London University by Ted Rose, and he not only became my teacher but later a colleague at Royal Holloway. Bill Chaloner introduced me as an undergraduate to fossil plants and I followed on as a PhD student under his guidance. I am pleased that he is now emeritus Professor in the Geology Department at Royal Holloway. There are many that I would like to thank: those with whom I have worked and of course my many research students. I would like especially to mention a few: Margaret Collinson, who has been a friend and co-researcher since we were research students together and who is now a colleague of mine at Royal Holloway; Jean Galtier, who collaborated with me on many papers; John Calder, who gave me the chance to work at Joggins and who has always supported my multi- and inter-disciplinary approach to coal geology; Jon Gibbins who introduced me to the industrial aspects of coal and Ian Glasspool who has been my PhD student, post-doctoral research assistant and now collaborator for the last few years. I also thank my wife Anne and my family for their long-suffering support, enabling me to indulge my various geological passions!
My interest in coal geology, palaeobotany and charcoal from wildfire was kindled in my first month as a PhD student, working on charcoalified plants from the Carboniferous Coal Measures of Yorkshire. I was fortunate to discover the earliest conifer and only after a year of my studies had a paper published in Nature. I should have realized that publishing in Nature is not that easy, as it has taken 33 years for me to have another one published recently, on the Cobham lignite, which spans the Paleocene-Eocene boundary!
My combined interest in coal and palaeobotany was to have another unexpected benefit. I was invited by a member of the Royal Household to come to Windsor Castle to examine some early 17th century drawings of ‘lignites’ from the Queen’s Royal Collection. I was asked to write a catalogue of nearly 200 drawings made by Prince Federico Cesi, the Duke of Acquasparta and founder of the Accademia dei Lincei. When I initially saw the drawings, mainly of fossil woods, it was not possible to identify much. However, in the collection there were also the oldest known field sketches of the fossil localities. Over the next seven years I managed to relocate the sites in Italy and re-collect fossils. This enabled me to make sense of the drawings made for this ancient study to understand the nature of fossils. This project indulged my interest in geology, history and art all at the same time! Some of the sketches showed plumes of smoke rising from the ground and in contemporary correspondence it became clear that these were from underground coal fires! I was honoured that Prince Charles launched the book at Windsor Castle in 2001.
Marie Stopes, one of my heroines, was the only other lecturer at London University to be interested in palaeobotany and coal. Like her, I worked initially in palaeobotany. Like her, I became interested in and published on the origin of coal balls. Like her, I then became interested in coal and in coal petrology. However, Marie Stopes is probably best known in Britain for her work in setting up birth-control clinics, which still today carry her name. I can assure you that I do not plan to follow in that line of work!
I am a passionate believer in a holistic approach to the study of coal and coal geology, integrating petrology, sedimentology, palaeontology and geochemistry and I am pleased that this aspect of my work has been recognised by this award.
Again I thank you for this honour that you have paid me.