Clough Medal Lecture 2023/24

Tony Prave presentation

Tony being presented with Clough Medal 2023-24

Our annual Clough Medal lecture took place on 28th February at the Grant Institute, Kings Buildings Campus, University of Edinburgh and also broadcast online. The audience for this years’ lecture was well over 100 (50+ in person and 54 on line).  Whether the fact that the lecture was preceded by a “pizza and pop” event, kindly supported by a donation from an EGS Fellow, or whether it was cohort of Tony Prave’s supporters from the University of St Andrews, it did make for a great atmosphere on the evening.

Graham Leslie, Chair of the Clough Committee had the honours of explaining that the Clough Medal was established in 1935 and is given each year to a person who has contributed to a geologist whose original work has materially increased the knowledge of the geology of Scotland and/or the north of England, or one working in Scotland or the north of England who has significantly advanced the knowledge of any aspect of geology.

The medallist for 2023/24 was Professor Antony (Tony) Prave (School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of St Andrews) who gave a lecture entitled “There is nothing left to learn about this scrap of NW Europe”.  He was presented with his medal by Mark Wilkinson, President of Edinburgh Geological Society.

Tony Prave started his academic career at The City University of New York in USA, before coming to the University of St Andrews in 1996 as a Senior Lecturer.  For the subsequent 27 years, he has carried a wide range of research; with two programmes having had particular scientific impact: that concerned with the Neoproterozoic, and that with the Palaeoproterozoic. In each case the modus operandi has been the same: (1) meticulous and painstaking fieldwork conducted from a base of deep theoretical knowledge and an open mind; (2) careful screening of samples through petrography and geochemistry; (3) advanced isotope geochemical analyses; and (4) imaginative interpretation of the data within the geological and field context. The impact of his published oeuvre has been substantial and paradigm changing.

Tony has brought new ideas, fresh thinking and novel approaches to study of the Dalradian sequences in both Scotland and Ireland. The complex geological – and especially metamorphic – history and the paucity of robust geochronology resulted in a wealth of opinion and speculation, sometimes dressed up as coherent theory. One grizzled veteran is known to have grouched about Prave’s “Olympian disregard of 40 years of research on the Dalradian”, but as his lecture demonstrated, it was merely that he pointed out that the evidence-base for previous thinking was weak.  Instead, Tony conceived fresh ideas from carefully selected samples of carbonate that might be suitable for carbon isotope chemostratigraphy – pace the adherents of metamorphic overprint – and in this he was spectacularly vindicated (Prave et al. 2009 J.Geol.Soc.Lond.). He has also had significant projects in Namibia and Death Valley, and was a central player with Simone Kasemann and others in applying novel isotopic approaches (including boron, calcium and magnesium isotope ratios) to some classic “Snowball Earth” sections in Namibia.

For the Palaeoproterozoic and the consequences of the Great Oxidation Event (oxygenation of the Earth’s surface) around 2.4Ga, Tony thorough work originated at the Loch Maree Group, became a key player in the multinational Fennoscandia Arctic Russia – Drilling Early Earth Project (FAR-DEEP). He was closely involved in successful funding initiatives to ICDP and NERC and was co-editor on three substantial volumes (each exceeding 500 pages) published by Springer in 2012/13. He followed this success with a similar-scale international drilling project on equivalent age sequences in Gabon.

The vote of thanks was given by Prof Tony Fallick FRSE, FRSA, FMinSoc (Clough Medal, 2013/14). He paid tribute to Tony’s perseverance in proving the doubters wrong on so many occasions and to ensuring that it’s the rocks that cannot lie.  It had been Tony’s ideas and drive that had brought success to the excellent teams both at University of St Andrews and also further afield, and in so doing he is a truly worthy recipient of the Clough Medal.  He asked for thank you from the audience present and online for the speaker and this was duly done by all.

If Fellows weren’t able to attend physically or virtually, a recording of the lecture is available here.