Celebrating the life of renowned Canadian-American scientist David Schindler

Schindler conducted numerous groundbreaking studies during his career in efforts to protect freshwater around the world

  • Mar 05, 2021
  • 600 words
  • 3 minutes
David Schindler Expand Image

The world has lost one of the 20th century’s leading conservation scientists. Limnologist David Schindler died on March 4, 2021, at the age of 80. His cause of death is not known at this time.

Schindler had served as the Killam memorial chair and a professor of ecology at the University of Alberta in Edmonton since 1989 and during his 50-plus-year career he was awarded most of the planet’s top environmental science prizes, including the inaugural Stockholm Water Prize (1991), the Volvo Environmental Prize (1998), the Gerhard Herzberg Gold Medal (2001) and the Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement (2006). He garnered more than 30 such honours in total and held 13 academic or honorary degrees from universities in North America and around the world. 

He was appointed an Officer of the Order of Canada in 2004 in recognition of his pioneering large-scale investigations of whole lakes as director of the Experimental Lakes Area in Kenora, Ont., (of which he was a co-founder) and his acid rain research and other studies that resulted in specific protection measures for world freshwater resources.

He was also honoured with the Alberta Order of Excellence in 2008 and was a Fellow of The Royal Canadian Geographical Society, the Royal Society and the Royal Society of Canada. In 2020, Canadian Geographic named Schindler one of its 90 greatest Canadian explorers of all time

Dozens of tributes to Schindler from a who’s who of Canadian scientists and conservationists hit Twitter on March 5, 2021, in response to a tweet from his friend, “fishing companion” and fellow professor of ecology at the University of Alberta, Mark Boyce, sharing news of Schindler’s passing. 

“We’ve lost a wonderful scientist and a leader in conservation science,” wrote David Galbraith, head of science at the Royal Botanical Gardens in Burlington, Ont.

“David Schindler was a very impressive scientist and a more impressive human being. He was a greatly influential academic, educator and an unflinching voice for conservation,” wrote ecologist Chris Fisher.

“I feel fortunate to have spent my graduate student years at the @UAlberta where I was able to learn from Dave and [his wife] Suzanne. I learned a lot from them both, not only ecology but also engagement and the social fabric of science,” wrote ecologist and carbon cycle scientist Merritt Turetsky.

Schindler was born in Fargo, N.D., and grew up in Minnesota Lake, Minn. He received a bachelor’s degree in zoology from North Dakota State University in 1962, then studied aquatic ecology at Oxford University, where he began considering an interdisciplinary ecosystem approach to studying water and ecology. He received his PhD in ecology at Oxford in 1966. He then spent two years as an assistant professor in the biology department at Ontario’s Trent University before co-founding the Experimental Lakes Area. 

“I would like my grandchild to remember the warnings I’ve given,” Schindler told Canadian Geographic in an interview conducted after he “technically” retired from the University of Alberta in 2013, “that we can’t press the Earth any more than we’re pressing it now. We have to back off a bit — either in our personal demands or in the size of the population — or they’re not going to have such a great future.”

Prophetic words from a giant of environmental conservation who will be sorely missed. Hopefully his life’s message will not.


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