Woodwell, George Masters (1928 – ) American Ecologist

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George Masters Woodwell (1928 )
American ecologist

A highly respected but controversial biosphere ecologist and biologist, Woodwell was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts. With his parents, who were both educators, Woodwell spent most of his summers on the family farm in Maine, where he was able to learn firsthand about biology, ecology , and the environment .

Woodwell graduated from Dartmouth College in 1950 with a bachelor's degree in zoology. Soon after graduation, he joined the Navy and served for three years on oceanographic ships. After returning to civilian life, he took advantage of a scholarship to pursue graduate studies and earned both a master's degree (1956) and a doctorate (1958) from Duke University. He began teaching at the University of Maine and was later appointed a faculty member and guest lecturer at Yale University. Throughout most of the 1960s and the early 1970s, Woodwell worked as senior ecologist at the Brookhaven National Laboratory. It was there that he conducted the innovative studies on environmental toxins which earned him a reputation as a nonconformist ecologist. In 1985, he founded the Woods Hole Research Center, a leading facility for ecological research.

A pioneer in the field of biospheric metabolism , Woodwell has worked to determine the effects of various toxins on the environment. One of the many studies he conducted examined the effects of radiation exposure on forest ecosystems. He used a 14-acre (5.7 ha) combination pine and oak forest as his testing area, and found that the time needed to destroy an ecosystem is far less than that which is necessary to rejuvenate it. He continues to investigate the effects of nuclear emissions on the environment.

Beginning in the 1950s, Woodwell worked with the Conservation Foundationnow part of the World Wildlife Fundin investigating the pesticide DDT. Woodwell and his colleagues were the first to study the catastrophic effects of the chemical on wildlife and, in 1966, were the first to take legal action against its producers. DDT was banned in the United States in 1972.

Much of Woodwell's work has focused on the hazards of the greenhouse effect . He has provided valuable information for hearings on environmental issues, and has been instrumental in developing similar data for the United States and foreign government agencies. Not only is Woodwell concerned about radiation, chemicals , and global warming, but like Paul Ehrlich , he warns that population growth must be kept in balance with any ecosystem development.

While he does publish articles in professional journals, Woodwell produces a number of works for more publications with a broader audience. He considers it imperative that the general population play a key role in saving the planet, and his work has appeared in periodicals such as Ecology, Scientific American, and the Christian Science Monitor.

Woodwell maintains membership in the National Academy of Sciences and is a past president of the Ecological Society of America .Heis also a member of the Environmental Defense Fund and Natural Resources Defense Council . In 2001, Woodwell was awarded the Volvo Environmental Prize.

[Kimberley A. Peterson ]



Gareffa, P. M., ed. Contemporary Newsmakers1987 Cumulation. Detroit, MI: Gale Research, 1988.

Woodwell, George M., ed. Earth in Transition: Patterns and Processes of Biotic Impoverishment. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1991.

, et al. Ecological and Biological Effects of Air Pollution. New York: Irvington, 1973.


Grady, D., and T. Levenson. "George Woodwell: Crusader for the Earth." Discover (May 1984): 446+.

Houghton, R. A., and G. M. Woodwell. "Global Climatic Change." Scientific American 260 (April 1989): 3644.

Woodwell, George M. "On Causes of Biotic Impoverishment." Ecology 70 (February 1989): 1415.

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Woodwell, George Masters (1928 – ) American Ecologist

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