Antarctic community mourns loss of science leader

Man wearing a hat covering ears
Former Chief Scientist Professor Pat Quilty (Photo: Glenn Jacobson)
Bay surrounded by ice taken from the airMan standing next to a tentTwo men looking at a book

The Australian Antarctic Division has paid tribute to a former Chief Scientist, Professor Patrick (Pat) Quilty AM, who died on Sunday (26 August). Professor Quilty led the Division’s science program for more than 18 years from 1980–1999.

The Director of the Australian Antarctic Division Dr Nick Gales said Professor Quilty had made an outstanding contribution to Antarctic science helping to establish Australia’s leading reputation in the field.

“His was a very distinguished career with Professor Quilty playing a leading role in the international Antarctic science community and publishing over 200 scientific research papers,” Dr Gales said.

After graduating in 1962 with a Bachelor of Science (Honours) degree from the University of Western Australia, Professor Quilty first visited Antarctica in 1965 as a field palaeontologist with the University of Wisconsin. He received his PhD from the University of Tasmania in 1969.

Professor Quilty was active in international Antarctic leadership serving as vice-president of the peak international Antarctic science body, the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research (SCAR) from 1994–1998. He also served as Chair of the 20th SCAR meeting in Hobart in 1988, as well as symposia on the Vestfold Hills and Macquarie Island.

At a national level, he was President of the Association of Australasian Palaeontologists, and was Federal Secretary of the Geological Society of Australia. He also served on both state and federal councils of ANZAAS. Professor Quilty convened the 17th Australian Geological Convention in Hobart in 2004, and the Mawson Symposium for the Royal Society of Tasmania in 2011.

After leaving the Australian Antarctic Division, Professor Quilty undertook teaching and research at the University of Tasmania. In later years, he was Honorary Research Professor at the University of Tasmania, School of Earth Sciences.

Awards and recognition

Professor Quilty’s significant contribution to science was recognised throughout his career.

  • Awarded Phillip Law Medal 2016
  • Member of the Order of Australia (AM) 1997
  • Distinguished Alumnus, UTAS 1997
  • Royal Society of Tasmania Medal 1996
  • United States Antarctic Services Medal 1974

Quilty Bay in the Larsemann Hills west of the Stinear Peninsula near Davis station was named by the Australian Antarctic Names Committee in recognition of his contributions.

The United States Antarctic Research Program named Quilty Nunataks, a group of nunataks extending over eight miles in West Antarctica, to recognise his contribution as field party geologist for their program.

Career highlight

In interviews, Professor Quilty stated that one of his career highlights was his discovery of fossil whale and dolphin bones at Marine Plain, in the Vestfold Hills near Australia’s Davis station. It is the only site in Antarctica where fossil vertebrates have been found since the continent was glaciated 34 million years ago.