IN MEMORIAM – EWART ADSIL FITZPATRICK (1926-2018)
We have lost Fitz. Ewart Adsil FitzPatrick - one of the world's top pedologists - passed away on January 18, 2018. We have lost a great scientist, a great personality and a good friend. Fitz (as everybody knew him) was born in Barbados on 17th October 1926. As young fellow he was strongly interested in boat building, sailing and cricket! Formal education started at Harrison College; then in 1948, under the supervision of Prof. Frederick Hardy, he received a Diploma at the Imperial College of Tropical Agriculture (DICTA) in Trinidad (West Indies). His final year project focussed on Soil Classification and soil characterisation at the institute farm. He left the West Indies to join the newly formed Department of Soil Science at the University of Aberdeen (Scotland), as the first PhD student! In 1951, he received the PhD under the supervision of Dr Williamson (Head of Department) with a thesis on the formation of soils around the upper Deeside. Then Fitz was assistant (1951-54), lecturer (1954-69) and senior lecturer (1969 until retirement) in soil science at the University of Aberdeen.
Fitz was one of the leading international experts in soil science. He was active for over 55 years both in teaching and research mainly in pedology, micromorphology and soil classification. He produced over 90 publications including seven books (some translated into Spanish and Chinese). His books - written very carefully in terms of content and beautifully illustrated - have forged many generations of soil scientists. In soil microscopy, he really produced two landmark books. ”Micromorphology of Soils” (1984) and ”Soil Microscopy and Soil Micromorphology” (1993) became standard textbooks for scientists and PhD students in the field. He also produced three interactive CDs: "Interactive Soils" (1999), "Horizon Identification" (2003) and "Soil Microscopy and Micromorphology" (2005).
The studies conducted by Fitz and his many collaborators were decisive in the development of soil micromorphology, soil classification, and glacial and periglacial soil features. These achievements were partly due to Fitz's huge experience of soil geography. He sampled and studied soils from more than 25 countries (including all of Europe, Russia, Australia, Argentina and the United States). Thanks to this activity he built up a comprehensive collection of soil thin sections, now held by CRISP (University of Napoli). He was also leader of the very successful Aberdeen-Spitzbergen expedition in 1954 to investigate the relationship between permafrost and indurated layers in the soils of Scotland. After this experience, he published in the Journal of Soil Science (1956) the correlation between the indurated horizon and fossil permafrost, a property with important practical implications. In 1965, he published his single author Nature paper about relationships between soils and glacio-fluvial outwash; this also made some changes in fundamental thinking of the last Ice Age in the UK. He made important additional contributions on deep rock weathering, soil structural changes, enchytraeid worms in soils and calcrete development.
In micromorphology, he developed new methodologies such as sample preparation (e.g. acetone replacement), the production of thin sections (combining very large size with very high quality), applications of submicroscopic techniques, visualization of soil permeability (methylene blue), and application of remote sensing image processing techniques to quantify micromorphological soil features.
He brought about major changes in soil micromorphology, especially in descriptive systems, and nurtured his own vision of the way ahead for future challenges. In this respect, he deeply questioned the micromorphological “scientific Jargon” being used only by very specialised scientists. Instead, his approach was simple but powerful, favouring terminology that could be used by any soil scientist. Basically he was hoping to disseminate micromorphology in the rest of soil science; somehow this is happening now.
Indeed, he tried to change soil classification as well, but here – despite his great efforts –Fitz possibly just managed to sow some good seeds. Hopefully these seeds will germinate in due course. Fitz also worked to create bridges with all disciplines close to soil science including botany, geomorphology, glaciology and archaeology. When he retired he did not think for a minute to stop, and immediately learned to use software to create educational multimedia CDs for students and scientists alike.
He taught soil science for over 50 years; his lectures were inspirational to many undergraduates and postgraduate students. In the same period he supervised – with much dedication and attention to detail – many students (about 28 MScs and 24 PhDs) from many different countries, and participated and co-organized numerous international courses on soil micromorphology (Argentina, the United Kingdom and Italy) and disseminated his knowledge through numerous seminars and conferences organized in over 19 countries. Fitz's impact on soil research and teaching was based on the magic combination between his scientific culture and his warm and enthusiastic personality.
For his achievements, he received several awards including the silver medal of the British Society of Soil Science (1989) with his student, the Kubiëna medal of IUSS (1996), fellow of the Royal Geographical Society (1999) and the Philippe Duchaufour Medal of the EGU (2006). I feel that perhaps one of his major recognitions was also the sincere admiration of colleagues and students listening to his explanations in front of the complex beauty of a soil profile.
He never really stopped working. At the age of over ninety – in the care home where he lived his last years – he was still producing an update of his .xls file with the very last version of his soil classification system.
Fitz will be sadly missed by his family, his wife Morag, his children, Clare and Brian and his four grandchildren. Fitz leaves a great legacy of knowledge, scientific culture and investigation techniques. It is now up to us to put his teachings and visions to good use!
By Fabio Terribile