Emeritus Professor Roger McLean (Australia-International Medal) Citation

Conferred Hobart, July 2019

Emeritus Professor Roger McLean, UNSW (Australian Defence Force Academy)

Roger McLean’s life has been enmeshed in the discipline of geography. From his days at Gisborne Boys High in New Zealand through his years at Canterbury, ANU, Auckland and UNSW (Australian Defence Force Academy) to becoming an Emeritus Professor, his academic world has revolved around research and teaching geography. His distinguished career spans six decades.

Roger is an esteemed geographer with a longstanding interest in coastal geomorphology and physical geography of tropical islands and atolls. His particular interests include extreme events, including storms; decadal to millennial scale coastal, coral reef and reef island change, and implications for their future conditions. His reach of field work sites is expansive, extending well beyond Australian and New Zealand shores to islands in the Pacific and Indian Oceans and coasts of Papua New Guinea, and the Caribbean. Roger’s work has greatly contributed to an enhanced understanding of the impacts, vulnerability and adaptation to climate change and sea-level rise. His influence on the discipline of geography within Australia, and in the Pacific region, has been substantial.

Acknowledgment of Roger’s prowess as a researcher and for his service to the discipline has been validated through a number of awards and fellowships including Distinguished Fellow of the Institute of Australian Geographers (2009), the Distinguished New Zealand Geographer Medal; Erskine Fellow, University of Canterbury, Christchurch, New Zealand; and National Science Foundation Fellow, Pacific Marine Station, Tomales Bay, California, USA.

The array of journals in which Roger’s work has been published since his first paper on beach rock in Barbados in Marine Geology (1967) is staggering. Up until the beginning of 2018 he had published 151 papers, including pieces in highly prestigious journals such as Nature, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, Journal of Biogeography, and Progress in Physical Geography. These works reveal his sustained passion and interests in far flung peripheries and places being worked by the tireless efforts of sediments and sea.

One theme that runs through Roger’s work is his determination to understand changes at decadal to millennial time scales using physical and biological indicators. Since Cyclone Bebe struck Funafuti in 1972, Roger has maintained records of the impact on a bank of coral rubble swept up by storm waves. This is testimony to his conviction and dedication in the importance of long-term monitoring and establishing trends in changes to coastal landform conditions. As a more local interest, he has maintained long-term monitoring with regular, meticulous measurements of beach change north of the Moruya Airport, in New South Wales. His records from 1973 to the present remain one of the longest running programs of beach monitoring anywhere in the world.

Since 1993, Roger has been an active participant in the world-wide activities of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). He received recognition for his shared input for contributions to the IPCC process through a Joint Nobel Peace Prize in 2007. But what is truly remarkable is Roger’s role as a Lead Author on coastal matters, in particular, on small island systems from the Second Assessment Report (1994-5) to the Fifth (2014). Very few Australians have been so intensely engaged in the IPCC process for the duration of four assessment reports. This has been an intense and very time-consuming task involving an enormous effort in discussion and review of contentious information required by policy-makers and politicians that continues to have an impact in current world affairs.

Roger has been engaged with an impressive number of geographical and scientific bodies, both academic and professional. This includes long-term membership of the Coastal Commission of the IGU (1984-2000), the IAG (President 1995-98; Vice President 1993-95, 1998-2001), and the National Committee for Geography of the Australian Academy of Science (1995-98) and professional or practical.

Roger made a strong contribution to the 1988 International Geographical Congress held in Sydney (IGU), as the Organising Committee’s New Zealand representative. From this role he provided continued advice as Trustee of the Geographical Congress '88 Fund for the Institute of Australian Geographers, to support Australian postgraduates and others attend subsequent IGU Congress meetings. This is an important legacy for the IAG. More recently, for his expertise on potential impacts of climate change on communities in island countries, Roger has been sought out to participate in workshops and in projects on sea level rise and coastal management in Asia and Pacific regions. He has served both the Australian Government and the United Nations. AusAID has sought technical advice from Roger for monitoring programs, and assessment of the work of others.

It is clear from his contributions in both professional service, in research, and in teaching that he is a team man. Field work has been his passion and this is seen in the way he loves working with staff and students on field excursions. But it is in the number of different scientists from around the world that have undertaken joint studies with him that demonstrates his incredible capacity to work with others. This is perhaps a key reason why his long-standing role with IPCC has been so successful.

Roger’s colleagues and students recognise his dedication and achievements, and honour him for his lifetime work that has meant so much to so many in Australia, New Zealand and internationally.


Emeritus Professor Bruce Thom, University of New South Wales (AM, FTSE, FIAG).
Professor Patrick Hesp, Flinders University.
Professor Colin Woodroffe, University of Wollongong.
Associate Professor, Mike Hilton, University of Otago.