Roger McLean (Distinguished Fellowship)

Ctation for Distinguished Fellowship of the IAG Roger McLean
Conferred Cairns, September 2009

The Institute of Australian Geographers (IAG) honours Professor Emeritus Roger Fairburn McLean with the award of Distinguished Fellowship of the Institute of Australian Geographers for 2009. Professor Emeritus McLean is a Physical Geographer with an international reputation for his work on the geomorphology of coastlines and coral reefs. He is a joint winner with Al Gore and other Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change (IPCC) colleagues of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize. He is also a recipient of the Distinguished New Zealand Geographers Medal for 2003. Both Associate Professor Paul Kench (2003) and Professor Terry Healy (2005, p. 709) recognize Roger “as the ‘father’ of modern coastal geomorphology in New Zealand”

Roger, who has been involved in Working Group II IPCC activities since the early 1990s, is one of the 30 Australian scientists who have contributed to IPCC research. He has contributed as both a lead, and coordinating lead author to several IPCC publications. Most recently he was a lead author of two chapters (‘Chapter 6: Coastal systems and Low-Lying Areas’, and ‘Chapter 16: Small Islands’) in Climate Change 2007: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability, Contribution of Working Group II to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

The Australian Department of Climate Change recently invited/nominated Roger to attend the IPCC Special Report Scoping Meeting on Extreme Events and Disasters: Managing the Risks held in Oslo (Norway) 23-26 March 2009. As one of the four Australians who attended the meeting he reported on research results from the atoll island states of the Maldives (Indian Ocean) and Tuvalu (Pacific) in a presentation entitled ‘Impacts of weather, climate and sea level-related extremes on coastal systems and low-lying islands’. This invitation is “a measure of the esteem” in which he is held for his sea level research (UNSW@ADFA, 2009). This involvement continues his previous contributions to sea level and coastal research as Member of the International Geographical Union Commission on Coastal Systems (1984-2000); Leader of the UNEP/SPREP Preparatory Mission on the Implications of Climate Change and Sea Level Rise for Tokelau (1992); Member of the Steering Committee for IPCC Eastern Hemisphere Workshop of Sea Level Rise and Coastal Zone Management (1993); Chair of the Review Team for the South Pacific Sea Level and Climate Monitoring Project (1994-1995); Member of the Project Coordinating Committee for the South Pacific Sea Level and Climate Monitoring Project (1996-1998); Convenor of the Steering Committee for the Australian/SPREP Coastal Vulnerability Initiative for Atoll States (1996-1998); and Member of the Australian Expert Sub-Group Global Climate Observing System (1996-1997).

Roger’s field experience of reef islands and atolls extends throughout the Pacific (Tokelau, Fiji, Kiribati, Tuvalu), and Indian Oceans (Cocos (Keeling) Islands, Maldives). His PhD research took him to the Caribbean to work on the bioerosional processes of beach rock on the coasts of Barbados. He has also conducted research on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. In the early 1970s he was a key participant in the Royal Society’s Great Barrier Reef Expedition. In 1978, he co-authored the results of this expedition in a series of publications with Stoddart, Hopley, Scoffin, Polach, Caldwell and Thom in Phil Trans. Royal Soc. London A. More recently he has published a book review in Geographical Research ‘The geomorphology of the Great Barrier Reef: development, diversity and change’. He is also a co-author with Stoddart & Spencer of ‘Chapter 18: Coral Reefs’ in Quaternary and Recent Processes and Forms (1890- 1965) and the Mid-Century Revolutions, volume 4 of The History of the Study of Landforms or the Development of Geomorphology recently published by The Geological Society of London.

The major themes of Roger’s research have included: the impact of extreme events on coral and oceanic islands (e.g. a longitudinal study of the impact of Hurricane Bebe on Funafuti atoll; and research after the Sumatran tsunami with Paul Kench, Robert Brander, Scott Nichol, Scott Smithers, Murray Ford, Kevin Parnell and Mohamed Aslam); the reconstruction of Holocene and recent sea level history (e.g. for Kiribati, Coco (Keeling) Islands, Christmas (Kiritimati) Island, and the Maldives); the role of sea-level change in the formation and evolution of atoll islands (e.g. co-authored publications with Professor Colin Woodroffe including ‘Microatolls and recent sea level change on coral atolls’ in Nature; and publications with Paul Kench and Scott Nichol on reef-island evolution in the Maldives); the vulnerability of reef islands and atolls to climate change and sea-level change (e.g. Kiribati, Tuvalu, Maldives).

Roger has served on the editorial board of Ocean and Coastal Management; been a journal referee and reviewer for several international journals; as well as publishing widely in geographic and scientific journals including: Geology, Nature, Sedimentology, Search, Journal of Biogeography, Marine Geology, Journal Royal Society of New Zealand, South Pacific Journal of Natural Sciences, Progress in Physical Geography, Coral Reefs, Philosophical Transactions Royal Society of London, New Zealand Geographer, New Zealand Journal of Geology and Geophysics, New Zealand Journal of Marine and Fresh Water Research, Earth Science Journal, Canadian Journal of Zoology, Bulletin of Marine Science, Sedimentary Geology, Atoll Research Bulletin, Journal of Coastal Research, Earth Surface Processes and Landforms, Geomorphology, Geographical Research.

Roger’s contributions to the IAG during his terms as Vice President (1993-1995; 1998-2000) and President (1995-1998) are highly valued by Australian geographers. During these terms, he served on the Editorial Advisory Board of Australian Geographical Studies (1997-2000), and was involved in the early negotiations for the journal to be published by Blackwells. He was instrumental in redefining the objects of the Institute, and the criteria for membership. Several new awards were approved by Council during his terms including the Australia-International award, and the IAG Postgraduate award. He represented the IAG at numerous meetings and committees including the National Committee for Geography. The IAG acknowledges Roger’s leadership and mentoring of young researchers, and it is fitting that he was the first IAG nominee Trustee of the Geographical Congress ’88 Trust which has enabled early career geographers to attend International Geographical Congresses. He has always been keen to ensure financial support for postgraduate students to attend IAG conferences both in Australia and New Zealand. He has also encouraged postgraduates to share their research at conferences and in publication, and was co-editor with Kesby, Stanley and Olive of Geodiversity: Readings in Australian Geography at the Close of the 20th Century the refereed/edited 1998 IAG conference proceedings. The publication of this volume in Roger’s words “provided an opportunity for postgraduate and ‘junior’ geographers to gain experience of the publication process”.

Professor Emeritus Roger McLean has also been an important leader and mentor to other academic colleagues, professional and technical staff, and postgraduates during his 20 years of service at UNSW@ADFA (1986-2005). This included 12 years in the role of Head of Department/School, Geography & Oceanography UNSW@ADFA. He has continued this leadership and mentoring role as Professor of Geography/Visiting Fellow/Professor Emeritus in the School of Physical, Environmental and Mathematical Sciences (PEMS), UNSW@ADFA.

One of Roger’s favourite lines is “good as gold, chief”. His contribution to Australian geography thus far has definitely been a golden one, and he is worthy of the award of Distinguished Fellowship of the IAG. It is fitting that this award be made in Cairns, a location not far from the reef which Roger explored in the Great Barrier Reef Expedition of 1973. Here is the award chief….

Ms Julie Kesby, Dr Paul Tranter, Mr Laurie Olive, Dr David Paull, Dr Jiashu Shen (24 August 2009).


Healy, T.R., 2005, New Zealand, Coastal Geomorphology and Oceanography, in Encyclopaedia of Coastal Science, M.L. Schwarz (ed.), Kluwer Academic Publishers, pp. 709-714.

Kench, P. 2003, Oration for the Distinguished New Zealand Geographers Medal awarded to Roger McLean, accessed 20 July 2009,

UNSW@ADFA, 2009, ‘Contributing climate change expertise’, Research Matters, Campus News, 26 March 2009, accessed 21 July 2009,