George M. Woodwell Ph.D.

  • In memoriam
George Woodwell

In Memoriam
George M. Woodwell
October 23, 1928 – June 18, 2024

It is with immense sadness that we share the news of Dr. George Woodwell’s passing on June 18, 2024. We have lost a pioneer and a visionary, a deeply good person, and for many in our community, a mentor and dear friend.

Woodwell’s scientific inquiries hit on the biggest environmental issues of the late twentieth century, including DDT, nuclear radiation, and finally, what was, at the time, known as “the carbon dioxide problem.” His testimony at the first Congressional hearing on climate change in 1986 was remarkably prescient, and the issues he brought forth there—the threat of permafrost thaw, the importance of forests—have been enduring pillars of the Center’s work.

Dr. George Woodwell at his desk

In a time when the biological sciences were increasingly focused on the molecular and cellular level, Woodwell was steadfast in believing that ecosystem-level understanding was critical. He started and led ecological research programs within the University of Maine, Brookhaven National Laboratory, and the Marine Biological Laboratory before coming to the conclusion that the work the world needed required a new and independent organization of its own—one that not only did the science, but also actively helped decision-makers put it to use. He called it the Woods Hole Research Center; four years ago, we renamed ourselves Woodwell Climate Research Center. George Woodwell’s vision continues to guide our work and is infused in the very walls of our campus.

In addition to this Center that now bears his name, Woodwell was instrumental in the founding of preeminent U.S. environmental advocacy organizations—Environmental Defense Fund, Natural Resources Defense Council, and World Resources Institute. He also recognized the need for international policy and governance to address climate change, guided by global scientific expertise. He played important roles in the creation of what became the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which was recognized in 2007 with a Nobel Peace Prize, and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change—the treaty that has driven and guided international climate negotiations for more than thirty years.

Tom Stone, Foster Brown, George Woodwell, Walter Matherly, Katharine Woodwell, Skee (Richard) Houghton stand in front of Fisher House in an old black and white photograph.

Above: (Left to right) Tom Stone, Foster Brown, George Woodwell, Walter Matherly, Katharine Woodwell, Skee (Richard) Houghton

In addition to his intellect and foresight, Woodwell’s energy, wisdom, and wit were captivating. He had a remarkable ability to sustain outrage and indignation at environmental destruction, while simultaneously holding an abiding love of the natural world and a clear, positive vision of a better world for all, which he shared in his 2016 book, A World to Live In.

Woodwell leaves behind many devoted friends and family members, most especially his wife Katharine, who played her own integral role in making his vision a durable reality; his children and their spouses Caroline, (Chris DeForest), Marjorie, (Woody Swan), Jane, (Chris Soper), John, (Marie Hull); and his grandchildren Katharine and David Soper, and John and Robert DeForest.

​​The family welcomes gifts in George’s memory made to the George M. Woodwell Endowment Fund at Woodwell Climate Research Center.

A remembrance will be held at the Center on July 26; details to follow. In the meantime, please share your memories with us.