Dr. David W. Schindler OC, D.Phil., FRSC, FRS
Dr. David Schindler is an internationally celebrated scientist who has led efforts to protect fresh water resources in Canada and around the world. His groundbreaking research has served as a clarion call alerting authorities and the public to the effects of pollutants and climate change on the environment. His extensive service as a professor and mentor has encouraged others to join him in his work to care for Canada’s most precious natural resources.
David Schindler was born to Edward and Angeline Schindler in Fargo, North Dakota on August 3, 1940 and raised near Barnesville, Minnesota. He grew up immersed in three worlds – the routine of life on the large family farm, school life where he excelled in academics and sports, and the pleasure of weekends spent with extended family at one of the many lakes that dot northwestern Minnesota. David remembers that he would often while away the hours on a tractor with dreams of sitting on a favorite lakeshore.
An early affinity for lakes wasn’t the only element to shape David’s future. He enjoyed the guiding influence of his father and a favorite uncle who taught him to fish. He also benefitted from a high school teacher who fostered the love of science and discovery in students and a football coach who helped develop his leadership skills. Another influence came part way through David’s post-secondary studies. He had originally put aside his interest in biology due to a school counselor’s assessment that the field offered little prospect for advancement. During a summer break from engineering and physics classes, he worked as a research assistant to a biologist and discovered that the field actually held promise. He shifted his major to Zoology and earned a Bachelor of Science degree before going on to study aquatic ecology at Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar in 1962.
At Oxford, David began formulating the idea of studying water and ecology from a broad, interdisciplinary stance. David’s personal life also changed during this period with marriage and three children, Eva, Daniel and Rachel. After receiving his doctorate in 1966, he joined the faculty at Trent University in Ontario. In 1968 he was tempted away by a project that was tailored-made for his skills and interests. As founding director of the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans Experimental Lakes Project, Dr. Schindler began innovative large-scale experiments that would reveal serious changes taking place in Canada’s lakes.
The studies produced sobering proof of the destruction to the Great Lakes and other fresh water resources in Canada and the United States due to pollutants such as phosphate-based detergents and fertilizers. Although the results provoked strong resistance from some quarters, Dr. Schindler’s work eventually led to much needed North American controls to mitigate the effects of phosphates on fresh water systems. He then went on to conduct ground-breaking and equally important research into the effects of acid rain and climate change on the health and biodiversity of the environment.
In 1989, David decided to leave his position at the Experimental Lakes Area and move his career in a new direction. David and his wife, Suzanne Bayley, were looking for a place that would allow them both to continue their research and teaching careers. They found that place at the University of Alberta where Suzanne joined the Department of Biological Sciences and David became the school’s Killam Memorial Chair and Professor of Ecology. They settled on a farm near the small community of Wildwood, just west of Edmonton. The household also included the sizable kennel of sled dogs that the family had been raising and racing since 1980.
At the U of A, Dr. Schindler continued his cutting edge research with studies into fresh water shortages and the effects of climate change on Canada’s alpine and northern boreal ecosystems. In addition to conducting field and lab work, David mentors graduate students and offers courses that encourage a strong interdisciplinary approach to environmental science. He tries to prompt students to stretch their creativity, consider the economic, philosophical, social and political aspects of environmental studies and focus on doing work that is for the public good.
Dr. Schindler has received numerous prestigious international awards including the Stockholm Water Prize, the Volvo International Environmental Prize and the Tyler Gold Medal Prize, the Naumann-Thienemann Medal of the International Limnological Society and the Hutchinson Medal of the American Society of Limnology and Oceanography. He also received several national awards, including Canada’s highest honor for Science and Engineering, the Gerhard Herzberg Gold Medal of Science and Engineering, the Manning Award of Distinction for Innovation in Science and the Killam Prize from the Canada Council for the Arts. He is an Officer of the Order of Canada, a Fellow of the Royal Societies of Canada and London, a foreign fellow of the Swedish Academy of Engineering Sciences, and a member of the U. S. National Academy of Sciences. His leadership has been recognized by a long list of Canadian and international scientific organizations as well as ten honourary degrees from North American universities. In 2008 Trent University unveiled the David Schindler Endowed Professorship in Aquatic Studies to commemorate his contributions to the field.
Over the years, Dr. Schindler’s work has been widely used in formulating ecological management policy in Canada, the United States and Europe. Although he is anxious to see quicker and more expansive changes, David notes that the public and governments are giving greater attention to the science behind policy issues. That shift is due to the work of people like David Schindler. His lifetime of meticulous and pioneering research for the public good, combined with his passionate and forthright approach to environmental advocacy has made him an enduring role model for the generations of scientists who will continue moving the cause forward.