Renowned US scientist to talk about world’s water challenges

Published 16 August 2011

genelikensProfessor Gene E. Likens, famous for his discovery of the impact of acid rain in North America, is to give a public lecture at the University of New England about the water-related challenges facing the world.

“Solving the world’s water needs represents one of human society’s most urgent problems, given the critical role of water in the world’s economies, politics and general biotic wellbeing,” he says.

Professor Likens (pictured here) is on a two-week visit to UNE, where his host is Professor Martin Thoms, an internationally recognised expert on riverine ecosystems. The public lecture, titled “Water: The challenging interface between scientific understanding and policy”, will be in UNE’s Arts Theatre (Arts Lecture Theatre 1) at 6 pm on Thursday 25 August.

Professor Likens played a vital role in identifying the relationship between sulphur dioxide emissions from the burning of fossil fuels and acid rain. In recognition of his contribution to science, he received the US National Medal of Science in 2002 and, in 2003, the Blue Planet Prize (with F.H.Bormann) awarded by the Asahi Glass Foundation. He has won several other major awards, including the Australia Prize for Science and Technology (now the Prime Minister’s Prize for Science) in 1994. He was responsible for establishing two major research centres – the Hubbard Brook Ecosystem Study and the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies – in the United States.

“Major issues of human-accelerated environmental change currently affecting our planet include global climate change, stratospheric ozone reduction, land-use change, loss of biodiversity, invasion of exotic species, pollution of the biosphere, and infectious disease,” Professor Likens said.

He pointed out that all these factors were having an impact on the world’s inland waters. “There is a clear and urgent need to resolve the conflicts of use and abuse of aquatic ecosystems within the context of our planet’s finite freshwater resource,” he said. “Serious water shortages and water-quality problems have occurred in many areas around the world. And there are new water problems on the horizon – including contamination by antibiotics, steroids, hormones, other pharmaceuticals, and nanoparticles.”

In addition to being elected a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the American Philosophical Society, Professor Likens has been elected to membership of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, the Royal Danish Academy of Sciences and Letters, and the Austrian Academy of Sciences. He is also an Honorary Member of the British Ecological Society.

Everyone is welcome to attend the free lecture on Thursday 25 August by this eminent scientist, educator, and science adviser.